mailife - - Contents - Karishma Kasabia: KHÒLÒ

Over cups of chai on a lazy Sun­day af­ter­noon, I con­nected with Karishma Kasabia, cre­ative di­rec­tor of Aus­tralian woman’s cloth­ing la­bel, Khòlò. With roots in Fiji, Karishma speaks of her jour­ney to be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful fash­ion de­signer, the chal­lenges along the way and her can­did out­look on life as a busi­ness­woman, wife and mother. Tell us about the name of your la­bel, Khòlò – what is the mean­ing be­hind it? Af­ter a lot of con­tem­pla­tion, I fi­nal­ized the name which is some­thing my son Aarav says all the time. It is the Gu­jarati word for ‘open’ – such a ba­sic word. But re­ally, it has been a jour­ney for me per­son­ally to “be­come open”, to un­ravel, to un­learn and to be open to what comes. Hence, Khòlò. Did you al­ways want to be a de­signer?

I kind of stum­bled into it when I started school­ing in New Zealand, which was half way through fifth form, and in my last year one of my friends said to me : why don’t out try graphic de­sign? I used to do physics, chem­istry, his­tory, none of the arts but I would doo­dle in my physics ex­er­cise book be­cause I hated the sub­ject. So I lis­tened to my friend and en­rolled into de­sign in my last year and ended up get­ting the best marks. I loved it so I ap­plied to study de­sign af­ter high school but I ini­tially didn’t get in be­cause I only started my port­fo­lio for ap­pli­ca­tion half way through the year, which meant I only had six months’ worth of work to show. It was my sis­ter Dar­shana who opened up my pa­pers when we were in Fiji over school break and saw that I got high dis­tinc­tion in de­sign. She urged me to just give them a call and told me I had to let them know how good I was. And it worked! I came back to Auck­land to do a face to face in­ter­view at AUT and they ac­cepted my ap­pli­ca­tion. Tell us what your first stint with fash­ion de­sign­ing or is this your first?

I ac­tu­ally did a lit­tle bit when I was in AUT do­ing the graphic de­sign de­gree. You had an op­tion to do an elec­tive on fash­ion de­sign. Although I think the main idea in my mind at that stage was a bit of a bar­rier for me. I had this mind­set that the fash­ion in­dus­try was about per­ceived ar­ti­fi­cial beauty. I was never slim or felt par­tic­u­larly pretty so I didn’t feel like it was my in­dus­try. It wasn’t un­til years af­ter­wards that I started de­sign­ing scarves un­der the brand name Kish & Evie with my hus­band Vivek. Then when my son Aarav was born, I could not deal with that and the de­sign agency I was also run­ning called Kish & Co. I think your body goes through shifts when you have a kid, I read a book by Mia Freed­man called Work, Strife, Bal­ance. She says in the book that af­ter each of her three chil­dren she had a mas­sive year long pe­riod where her in­ter­est in ca­reer dropped. I think that hap­pened to me and it was an op­por­tu­nity to reshuf­fle my life and make it au­then­ti­cally what I wanted. Dur­ing my first stint with fash­ion de­sign, I was do­ing things I didn’t know I was un­happy about. In a work­place you should be go­ing into it happy as much as you can on a re­al­is­tic level. With Kish & Evie, my pas­sion was di­luted. I was happy with the

prod­uct, but with each piece my first in­stinct was: will this make me money to not? So I just closed ev­ery­thing. I told ev­ery­one we’re sell­ing Kish & Co and we’re clos­ing Kish & Evie. I wasn’t go­ing all out, tak­ing big risks, tak­ing mas­sive leaps and I think a part of me which is an artist felt sur­passed be­cause I wasn’t al­low­ing my­self to be that way. Is that the main dif­fer­ence be­tween Kish & Evie and Khòlò? Yes, def­i­nitely! With Khòlò, it’s all guns blaz­ing - no hold­ing back. We could go to hell or we could end up cre­at­ing some­thing truly amaz­ing. It is ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fy­ing. A friend of mine re­cently told me that if you’re not scared, you should be wor­ried. You should be in so deep that you have to stand tippy toes to keep your head above the water. I am not com­fort­able at all and that’s a good place to be. I feel peo­ple should have that ner­vous­ness about what they do. What is the de­sign aes­thetic be­hind Khòlò? I think it is hugely in­flu­enced by two pre­dom­i­nant things, first is my graphic de­sign his­tory which is en­tered in min­i­mal­ism. I re­mem­ber learn­ing that you throw ev­ery­thing on the page and then take out ev­ery­thing. It was about how much ex­cess you could elim­i­nate. So with the col­lec­tion I feel like that’s what I am do­ing every time I de­sign a piece. Do we re­ally need this here? Can we leave it a solid colour? It is some­thing you can def­i­nitely feel in the un­der­tones of the col­lec­tion. Where there is some­thing su­per heavy on a fab­ric, the rest of the fab­ric will be plain. You can see it in the Frida Khalo blouse which has ab­so­lutely packed em­broi­dery work on the cuffs. That is two days worth of hand em­broi­dery if not more on a sin­gle cuff. But then, on the rest of the blouse there is noth­ing. There’s this a quiet­ness which lets the em­broi­dery speak. You can also see in the Leela Le­henga Set, the top has front and back em­broi­dery and the skirt is just lay­ers of quiet and se­date chif­fon. The second aes­thetic is rooted in the im­por­tance I place on the ex­pe­ri­ence of wear­ing a piece from Khòlò. For me, when I de­sign a piece, I am al­ways think­ing about where some­one’s eyes will go. I think about that a lot. When I first sketched the Leela Le­henga, peo­ple were like: you don’t need this em­broi­dery in the back as well, it would still sell with em­broi­dery just on the front. But for me, when you walk away from the man you want to be check­ing you out, he should see that em­broi­dery. There should be some­thing for his eyes. I feel the same about the Anita dress which on the col­lar of the front has a lit­tle bit of em­broi­dery. I think the most beau­ti­ful part of a woman is the dé­col­letage and this dress is all about that. At the back of the dress though, I have placed a zip. The ex­pe­ri­en­tial aes­thetic was key to the de­ci­sion be­cause a lot of women would ask their lover to do up the zip and I’ve in­cluded this re­ally beau­ti­ful bead­ing work there for his eyes. I al­ways think about things that way: does this give you the sen­sa­tion of beau­ti­ful? And what is that beau­ti­ful? Is it in the way some­thing flows around your hips, or the way it doesn’t? My pieces have been thought about very holis­ti­cally. It is not a twodi­men­sional sketch when I am de­sign­ing it. I think of what it would feel like with all the sen­sa­tions en­gaged. Can we see any in­flu­ences on the col­lec­tion from your up­bring­ing in Fiji? For the long­est time, I couldn’t fig­ure out why I kept go­ing back to flo­rals with this col­lec­tion. I spent days just look­ing up dif­fer­ent kinds of floral de­signs and each piece in the col­lec­tion has heavy hand em­broi­dered floral pat­terns. I only re­alised this re­cently and

shared it with my hus­band Vivek: that flo­rals re­mind me of the seren­ity I feel every time I go back home to Fiji. Even the sim­ple task of mak­ing the marigold gar­lands from flow­ers our gar­den as a child, I feel was the ear­li­est form of med­i­ta­tion we didn’t even know we had. I think the flo­rals in my col­lec­tion are a pur­suit of my child­hood. How in­te­gral is your re­la­tion­ship with your hus­band, Vivek, to Khòlò? It is fun­da­men­tal. You know how they say don’t have a child un­til your re­la­tion­ship is steady be­cause a child will high­light all the cracks? It’s the same with a busi­ness. I think this time around we can see a huge dif­fer­ence com­pared to when we started Kish & Evie. We have both al­ways had our own busi­nesses and his tra­jec­tory of growth when work­ing with an artist was chal­leng­ing in the be­gin­ning. He comes from a dou­ble Masters de­gree in fi­nance back­ground and his fam­ily own a tex­tile busi­ness in In­dia. In the be­gin­ning he would look at a busi­ness purely from a fi­nan­cial value per­spec­tive, and I would only look at it from a cre­ative value per­spec­tive. With Khòlò, he will look at pieces I have de­signed, and watch the hand em­broi­dery in mo­tion and say: Karishma, this is beau­ti­ful. Sim­i­larly, for me, I now have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the num­bers to know how many pieces I need to cover my pho­to­shoot, trips to In­dia to visit the em­broi­ders, mar­ket­ing and pro­duc­tion. So there is a part of me that has be­come a re­al­ist and a part of him that has be­come an artist. Own­ing a busi­ness is like ren­o­vat­ing a house — your bud­get is go­ing to blow out and you can’t have a part­ner who gets scared, or takes over or doesn’t have faith so I feel very for­tu­nate to have Vivek. He be­lieves in what I do and just hangs in there for me even though the risk is there for him as well be­cause our mort­gage is on the line and time with our son is on the line. There have been so many times he has filled in gaps like do­ing my stock takes for me or giv­ing me fi­nan­cial ad­vice. Hav­ing that buf­fer place is so im­por­tant, be­cause that’s where you come home to rest your head every night and you can’t have the op­po­site of that — you don’t want to be walk­ing on eg­gshells. Hav­ing a busi­ness is an all con­sum­ing thing and not hav­ing that safe place to land would be re­ally hard. You men­tioned your son, Aarav — how do you bal­ance a young fam­ily with that of a new busi­ness? The truth is, there is no bal­ance. Some months you will be re­ally into work and some months you will be re­ally into your fam­ily. It’s about flex­i­bil­ity where some nights you are an amaz­ing wife and you will have din­ner ready and some nights you will just have to get take-out. Pur­suit of that bal­ance on a day to day ba­sis sucks and I have learnt to just let go. Do what you love and strive to stay happy and that’s the goal. And if you can’t achieve that goal, that’s okay, let that go as well. are not good enough but if you just change the voice in your head to ‘you are amaz­ing, this is beau­ti­ful’, then you change the en­ergy around it. Sur­round your­self with women who raise you. Think of how you feel when you meet some­one: do I feel crap or do I feel good? Do I feel hope­ful or do I feel beaten down? Ask your­self those ques­tions be­cause then you know whether that per­son is good for you or not on this ven­ture. Be ready to live on less. You may have peo­ple around you who are go­ing on hol­i­days, or are car­ry­ing de­signer hand­bags, and all the things that you might want. Just be pa­tient and re­mind your­self that it is your not time yet. When you start a busi­ness you start to no­tice all the peo­ple around you who are earn­ing good, fixed in­comes. You will not start out mak­ing that money and you can­not hold that against your­self. You just have to wait it out. On the con­trary, you will have to get ready to in­vest money. If we didn’t make the money that we made when we sold Kish & Co, I don’t think I would have had the courage to take this kind of risk with Khòlò. You have to make prod­uct be­fore­hand, you have to make sam­ples be­fore­hand, you have to spend money on pack­ag­ing, mar­ket­ing and brand­ing. You can’t launch with­out that so get ready to save up, and start putting money aside. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other de­sign­ers and reach out to the other cul­tures for in­flu­ence. It is re­ally diff as an in­dus­try. I’ve had to do a lot of that. Start­ing from the bot­tom, I was do­ing ev­ery­thing my­self with this col­lec­tion. PR agen­cies wouldn’t touch me, buy­ing agents and sell­ing agents wouldn’t touch me be­cause I was un­known in the in­dus­try. So there is an aw­ful early on stage where you will have to do it solo and suck it up. As you know, de­sign isn’t a sub­ject which is of­fered or ex­am­ined in Fiji’s ex­ter­nal ex­ams. Do you have any ad­vice to young peo­ple in Fiji who aspire to be­come de­sign­ers but don’t have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as you had once you moved to New Zealand? I don’t think we should ever mis­guide a child and say you shouldn’t be do­ing this, and you should be do­ing that. By do­ing so we could po­ten­tially dis­credit some­thing they could be amaz­ing at. Ev­ery­one is born with some­thing which in­trin­si­cally feels right to them. They might grow up to be an amaz­ing doc­tor, but if they don’t want to be a doc­tor, they are liv­ing a re­ally un­happy life. By lim­it­ing the op­tions of what young peo­ple can and can­not pur­sue, we are cre­at­ing un­happy lives, putting them in boxes and that is a re­ally scary and detri­men­tal place to be. The re­ally cool thing now I that it is al­most like ed­u­ca­tion is so 1950s. My ad­vice for any­one in Fiji who has dreams of do­ing some­thing in the de­sign in­dus­try is to start on­line. If you don’t have much money to start on, just buy a $30 course and try it out. The other piece of ad­vice is to learn off other peo­ple. Noth­ing I’ve ac­tu­ally learnt in my de­gree has to any de­gree made me. It has been all the things I have done af­ter­wards, so I feel like young peo­ple in Fiji shouldn’t use the sys­tem as a crutch to not pur­sue de­sign. You should take it upon your­self to go and be what you want to be, take the risk and don’t worry about what other peo­ple have to say about that.

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