This article is part of our Rising Stars segment. This series is dedicated to in-depth interviews with up-and-coming labels, bringing you an insider's perspective to building a brand. If your label wants to be considered for an interview, then don't hesitate to get in touch. Meanwhile, for more emerging talent, check the Blog regularly to see new interviews in our Rising Stars series.
Kochetkov - Taipei, Taiwan
While on a trip to Taipei I wanted to discover what the local scene had to offer. I searched numerous obscure online forums, but only seemed to find references to brands all-too-common. This was until I chanced upon a post describing a local brand run by a non-local. I delved deeper to investigate, and the conclusion was a pleasant surprise: a streetwear brand helmed by a female, producing womenswear exclusively.
hs = HYPERSUPPLY – AK = Aly
hs: Could you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
AK: I grew up in Toronto and Vancouver, and I guess I was pretty bored there – I really, really wanted to be a designer, or just to work in the fashion industry any way I could.
I learned about sewing when I was a kid, my mum’s best friend was a costume designer for movie sets so she taught me everything. I learned more about fashion and business when I went to Japan.
I was always inspired by Yohji Yamamoto, Y-3 and all of that. So it was just awesome to work in Tokyo at Son of the Cheese. It was amazing in the sense that I learned so much being just an intern for them. Also, I was the only girl that was working for these skater boys; I love skater boys, I love skate society, I love everything about it. It inspires me, and all my friends are skater boys – it was so macho and so tough. At times it was frustrating, just as me being a woman and stuff.
It was like my boss and all were kind of like ‘senpais’, your mentors. None of them even finished middle school because they were skater boys and kinda refracted from mainstream society so it was like that was it. They laughed at me for wanting to go back to University; they never studied anything about fashion, they just got a computer and put their designs on screens and I’d never even conceptualised that; I’d always romanticised [the creative process in] fashion.
After that my visa was over, I was unceremoniously kicked out and I moved back to Canada. But while I was also in japan, I met some contacts in Taiwan and it seemed like a really amazing option for my next step just because i was looking into starting my own thing after but I didn’t see how to do that in Canada.
Back in Vancouver, I worked at a little bridal shop as another apprenticeship just hand sewing wedding dresses. Then, I got out to Taiwan and just got straight into Kochetkov.
hs: You mentioned you were inspired by Yohji. At that period of time, there were also designers like Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake who seem to have changed the game a little by changing the actual shape of clothing outside of figure-hugging attire.
AK: Yohji for me was about masculine fit, or giant fit for women–like he would put giant oversized trousers and wrapped them around a woman, it was so crazy. Issey Miyake would deconstruct a dress and put it back in different places on a person. The shapes were amazing and deconstruction was just a total new concept. Their shapes inspire me and there’s so much going on.
hs: There's has clearly been a very heavy Japanese influence on you. How did you first get interested in the different themes out there?
AK: I always like to watch something or have white noise while i am sewing, so I would just put on documentaries about different subcultures or fashion scenes. I came up on some Japanese scenes like ‘Gyaru’, a style they had in the early 90s where they would paint their face super super-tanned and big white circles around their eyes. The term just means ‘gal’, or ‘gal style’.
I started watching documentaries about Yohji Yamomoto and all these different designers, just a lot about the culture and fashion scene. Of course, I got into movies and anime too.
hs: Let’s take the timeline back to when you first arrived in Taiwan. What were your first thoughts?
AK: The community here is pretty small, there are so many people here but the design and fashion community here is small. Everyone is so open and keen to collaborate so there’s so many supportive people with such creative minds. There is so many amazing talented people here; i just kind of gotten contacts and its really easy to access manufacturers here and to get wholesale fabric, rent some space and do whatever you want.
It’s ultimate D-I-Y country, you can really build whatever you want. Just outside (of where I’m living), its a build-your-own-house street; every single store is just different tools and materials; there is a store just for the wheels on your chair! You can get anything you want in Taiwan.
hs: Did you always know you wanted to start your own brand?
AK: Yeah I did, I always wanted to work in fashion, that’s for sure. I never believed I could actually run something on my own, I really thought there was some special way of breaking into the fashion industry. I really wanted to just do good design and get paid for it; like get paid really, really well for it. To do that, you would have to work for someone else, someone who is already established and amazing.
Even when I published my first and second collections, I didn’t want to say that this was my brand, I just said that it was my portfolio. But when I had my very first interview and people started calling it my brand, or ‘Kochetkov’, and people started asking for orders, I was like okay, this is my brand.
hs: What would you say is different about the reality of starting your brand versus the way you envisioned it in the beginning?
AK: Hmm, you need a lot of money, and I thought that once you start, you have to go full-on and you can’t stop. I was always pressured that you would have to have this amount of pieces for a collection and it has to be released the season before and all of that. I thought I was going to sink because I was so not prepared for any of that at all.
So instead, I just really put that aside; I’ll get my group of friends and I’ll make some clothes and we’ll shoot together and whatever time that comes out in, that will be the time it comes out in. Even for exhibitions, that will just be that; and it just has a name, no summer or winter whatever.
What I have learnt is that maybe I’ll build up, maybe it will take like three years or four years or next year until I follow the ‘norms’
hs: How was the timeline like between the time when you just arrived and the time when your brand started to become established?
AK: Maybe about…five months. I landed in Taiwan April 2016 and went to Tokyo to shoot the first collection in June 2016 – that was actually faster than I remembered!
I was studying Chinese for a few months, had a few nanny jobs – which was what I was doing on the side in Japan also. I spent all my time learning Chinese, hanging, sewing on the side and doing my nanny jobs and slowly got to that.
hs: How did things progress from there?
AK: I just kinda posted on Instagram a little bit, I actually still don’t have much of a following but this online platform called ‘girls are awesome’ approached me and they wanted to do an article about me just because they really liked the shoot.
After the article went up, I got really, really popular and slowly got more orders and more feedback. It wasn’t even that much to be enough but it was enough for me to make another collection and call it ‘Kochetkov’, and that was it. I just named it after myself because the collections are stories that I know and my experiences, stuff like that.
hs: How would you describe your experience during the first collection?
AK: I made that collection out of just meeting my friends in Tokyo, so I kinda just designed each suit specifically for that girl. Some of them were models and some of them were photographers and just creatives in general. When we all got together, they all put their own thing into it and we just did what we always used to do together – sitting on a rooftop, drinking and smoking. It was so amazing how you can just conceptualise something as simple as your memory and the clothes you could imagine these people wearing, and then put it back out.
I got the fabrics in Taiwan, I brought my sewing machine too, to Taiwan. I had a small room, bought two machines and all the fabric. I just slept on the floor, like my sewing stuff was more important than me.
hs: You are very much focused on womenswear, can you tell me why?
AK: I think it was more out of spite that I was always wearing men’s clothes on myself just because its more comfortable or more fashionable even, and I wanted to make men’s clothes that were actually fit for women’s clothes. Like that kind of idea.
I felt that in so many women’s brands out there, or just brands that are designed by men for women, so little effort went into women’s clothes production (in street wear specifically). Not many pieces were being considered, and it was taken for a fact that girls would buy into the men’s collection no matter what.
I wanted to make clothes that I wanted as well. Like everything that I make, I have and I wear, and it’s my style – just a slouchier fit but made for women’s shoulders or hips.
hs: Would you say that this issue within streetwear is more prevalent in East Asia?
AK: Yeah, definitely, but also, in East Asia there are so many options in general – it is an amazing place for fashion. There are so many small businesses, it’s such a market where you could buy anything and sell anything, there are so many opportunities here with so many different sub-genres and fashion culture, styles and options for everyone.
My stance is not anything different from what other brands stood for in the past, I’m just doing it on a smaller scale and in my own way. I just want to have a good time and make clothes, make women feel better in an industry that makes you feel like shit.
hs: Is there a a muse that embodies the ethos of your brand?
AK: Actually, it’s funny; there’s someone out there that I’m inspired by, she’s a Japanese model named Sara Mary.
I was such a fan of her in high school, I had some Japanese magazines that my Japanese friends gave me, and I saw her in them and thought, “wow she’s so cool!” I even wanted a haircut like her! Magazines were a big part of my teen life, like i-d and love, these tiny little magazines that were maybe like 30 pages long changed me a lot.
It was so funny because she turned out to be my boss’s wife! That was crazy, she was always my idol and she is really cool.
hs: Who takes the photographs for the Lookbooks?
AK: Also female photographers, I like to keep the whole production just female based. The first one was shot by Miri Matsufuji, the second by Mari Kojima, a Japanese girl living in Taiwan who I’m super close with. Third one was shot by my sister and then back to Mari after that.
hs: What kind of vibe are you trying to capture and put out?
AK: Honestly I might just call it ‘cool clothes for lazy girls’ - I just really wanted to make it look like that, just recreating stuff that me and my friends would normally do. In my last shoot called ‘Baobei Vibes’, there were two parts to the lookbooks: one in a skatepark where we all just chilled and skated a little bit, and the other was on the beach where we were all hung-over, dying. I just wanted to portray the vibe that I always get when I’m with my friends - just fucking cool and really lazy.
hs: What did being in Taiwan and Tokyo bring to your brand that you would have lacked by remaining in Canada?
AK: There’s a better community, the underground culture is much better; well there is an underground culture, which is not present in Vancouver.
There are more people who inspire me who are also doing their own thing. It was more of a community of smaller-scale designers, amazing music scenes, and going out at any time at night into the morning, I just couldn't do that in Vancouver.
In Asia, the community might be harder to find but it is so open and you can find so many creative minds, and you can also work with anyone you want, just as long as you know how to talk to them.
hs: Now that you are based in Taipei, would you say most of your customers are from Taiwan and East Asia?
AK: Most are from Japan, but I also get a lot of orders from Canada and America too. I do my bigger shows in Japan; all the venues I have ever done in Japan have been places I have worked at before like bars, and I would just put on a free event or a pop-up shop where people come drink and chill, buy some stuff if they want to.
So it’s in japan that I would get the most orders but I am coming up with a Taipei exhibition so that should be good.
hs: Has your work been well-received so far in Taipei?
AK: Yeah, a lot of people get really excited about it; a lot of girls are really keen to work with me, model with me, hang with me, come to the studio and it’s really nice. A lot of people order too, it’s just hard to get around because I don’t speak Chinese that well and in Taiwan you have to speak Chinese to really get into it.
It’s hard, I still model on the side so I think that is how I get into contact with people who might want to work with me. Otherwise, it’s pretty well-received; people seem to get excited. The Taiwan crowd is awesome.
The only thing I can say is that in Taipei, my clothes are considered expensive. Due to the economy and market here, the prices are lower. In Tokyo, my clothes are considered cheaper and in Canada, it’s a little bit harder to sell because you have to compete with H&M and Forever 21 so it’s hard to convince them to pay like $50 for a tank top when they can go buy it for $8 somewhere else.
hs: What kind of feedback do you get from the people who buy your clothes?
AK: People love it, I make it so it fits really well, like a slouchy fit so it’s really good for one-sizing, so people tend to really like that because you get a really relaxed fit. I get a lot of people sending me their photos and stuff like that, so it seems to work really well.
The hardest part is posting; mailing stuff is always a bitch because even when you get tracking, it still goes missing sometimes. It sucks! I have lost a lot in the mail!
hs: Looking at your clothing, I have noticed a neutral palette going on, is there a reason behind it or is that how you prefer to dress yourself?
AK: I guess my previous collections have been… I can’t say why – I actually haven’t noticed that. Personally, I like to dress kind of more colourfully. I think it depends on the collection – in the last one, half the options were white and the other half were painted in all these different colours, so I would consider that less neutral.
hs: Is your website the only outlet for people to buy things from you?
AK: Yeah, everything is through the website, unless I have a show and that is just something extra. I also have a stockist in Taiwan.
hs: How many people work with you, or is it literally a one-woman operation?
AK: It’s just me. I do a lot of collaborations like I’ve done collaborations with local Taiwanese, but otherwise it’s just me – I live in my studio, I wake up and I work on my machines. I make stock like maybe every two weeks to fill out the orders. It’s all made by hand, in-house.
hs: Is that something you can keep doing – everything by hand?
AK: No, probably not. There are some pieces that I would always make by myself, but let’s say I want to do t-shirts – which I am, like my next collection has t-shirts with printed stuff – so that goes to manufacturers. I would always make the base of the garment and send it out to either get it printed, embroidered or get some tags on it, so I guess it’s not all me.
hs: What are your plans for the future, and where would you say you are now on the scale of those plans?
AK: The invitation to London Fashion Week next year, that is kinda huge! They actually invited me to the upcoming one but it was too short of a notice, so they decided to move it to next year. That’s changed a lot for me but otherwise, it’s just to keep going. The collections are only getting bigger and bigger, and with each collection I get more money to use on the next one.
I hope one day I can get a partner. I would love to share the work with someone.
hs: You mean a production partner?
AK: No, I’m ok with the work – I would love to have a partner do the business and marketing part for me.
I hope that they can make me famous! I love the creating part, I can do this forever – I can just really make clothes forever. I don’t even need anyone to buy it, I’ll probably just do this forever in spite of that, but I do want to live a life, and you know go on nice vacations, take care of my mum, stuff like that, so I need someone to keep my money in order, tell me when I’m doing something stupid or whatever.
hs: Is there anything else that you want to let our readers know?
AK: I guess I just want people to know… I want the girls who wear my clothes to have a good time, and to feel like they could do whatever the fuck they want in my clothes and that’s just it! There’s a lot wrong with this industry, but there are a lot of amazing brands out there, a lot of amazing designers who have taken a stand. My stand is just to make sure that girls who want to have a good time can do it in my clothes - Women For Women.