Seafoam is gearing up to celebrate its 5th birthday, so I couldn't wait to share our newest addition to the Seafoam line-up with you. I'm beyond excited to finally welcome a long time personal favourite from Australia, Kokoh & Koi.
We speak to founder Kendall Layt about her inspirations and what's it like to run a small swimwear label.
Hi Kendall, could you tell us a little more about yourself and your journey to Kokoh & Koi?I was born in a small costal town on the South Coast of New South Wales in Australia. Growing up, the only thing we had to do was go to the beach and a bit of sport, I started surfing at 15. When I finished school I moved up to the Gold Coast and then travelled a lot through Indonesia. Through travelling I gained connections and somehow ended up working in a Surf Camp in Portugal, which lead to a season of surf down in Morocco. This was back in 2008, so the waves were fairly uncrowded back then! I never studied anything business, I was just creative and knew that the 9-5 grind was not something I ever wanted to be a part of. I just wanted to surf and be on the beach. Starting a label just sort of fell into place (with a shitload of hard work). I do mostly work on the brand as my sole income, however the reward really comes from the people I work alongside, the opportunities to travel and connections with some beautiful customers.
When did you start Kokoh and what inspired you to launch your own label?
I’ve had a tonne of jobs from surf instructor, retail assistant, flight attendant.. I was always trying new things but nothing ever felt like it was the right path for me. When I begun KOKOH back in 2013, it just felt right, I’d always wanted to make swimwear… making it happen just took some time. The inspiration just came from genuinely wanting what I was creating and not being able to find it anywhere (7 years ago independent swim labels where almost impossible to come by.. hard to imagine in today's market!)
What are the most important values behind Kokoh & Koi?
Eco-friendliness is definitely a winner for me, however I manufacture in Bali and it’s not always easy to access the exact fabrics I need. I just do the best I can. My main motivation is to stay close with the beautiful people I work with on the Island. I have a 7 year relationship with a small factory and most of the staff have been there since I begun. I have deep roots here and at least once a year get over there and spend some time in the sewing and cutting rooms with them. I feel they are so important to the high quality of my products - I know they see a lot of brands move in and out, finding cheaper factories… I’d work with them forever if I could, they are my friends - actually it’s like a family.
Your designs have been immensely loved since the start, but with popularity come certain challenges. How do you deal with these challenges, such as copy cats etc.?Ask me this 5 years ago and I’d have a 2hr rant on the ***** that think it’s ok to steal my art and call it their own haha. Now I just stay in my space of creativity and try to ignore the rest. I can’t control what other people want to put out there, I can be authentic to myself and my brand and to the people I work with.
What made you change the name of your label from Kokoh to Kokoh & Koi?
I was actually STRUGGLING on my original @KOKOHbikini Instagram page. With the change in algorithm after FB purchased the platform, my 76,000 (organic) followers stopped growing, engaging, liking etc etc - it felt really lousy to see all that hard work, stop working. When I look back at that page I also see a time in my journey where I was a little lost. I got wound up trying to compete with other brands around me. I’d hired models who’d cost me a fortune, some of those images were far off what I knew the brand to be. After a LOT of contemplation, I changed KOKOH bikini to Kokoh & Koi, and started fresh. I added in apparel and accessories that are under the “Koi” name, while “Kokoh” remains the swim. I really just needed to start again and reassess my brand, get to know it again. It actually took me in a complete circle and it’s been the best change, I feel K&K is more connected to authentic waterwomen & that is direction I want the label to evolve.
Could you give us a little insight into the design and manufacturing process of your collections?
I create all the prints myself, mostly by hand. Generally I start with a mood board, colour palette and theme and then just see where that takes me. All artwork is sent to a printer in Bali, I deal with a woman there who’s around my age so I’m always trying to gauge what she thinks of them. Once the print is finalised it’s sent to my factory for sampling. It’s quite funny, in the sampling process when I can’t be in Bali, I will get pics of all the girls in the factory wearing my gear so I can see how it fits etc - they never look too impressed with having to be the model haha. After samples are approved I run into bulk production. I try to maintain 2 collections a year, and I’m lucky to have a factory who is willing to produce small collections mid season to keep things fresh - I try to see the advantage is being small - for some bigger labels and factories, this is just not possible.
Do you have an all-time favourite Kokoh piece you’ve created?
OMG… I have no idea! I see a print and a piece for over 6 months before it hits the online store so in my mind its old news, I’m already onto the next thing! I really love things at first, and then I get tired of looking at them. If it was someone else work I’d be all over it, because it’s my own I pick the flaws - I need to give myself some more credit. I do LOVE the Baja High Pant though - I’d say this is my fave at the moment.
Do you still get a lot of time in the water next to running Kokoh & Koi?
Never as much as I’d like. I have a 1 year old now so getting to do anything is a struggle let alone surf. If the world settles by 2021 my husband and I have a HUGE trip on our minds so hopefully that all goes to plan… I would love to be back surfing the tropics every day.
If you could go surfing anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
I’d be back in the Maldives. My friend has spent the whole lockdown there surfing empty, perfect waves… her Insta is killing me.