Markoo’s point of view.
The design duo behind the Canadian label’s instinctually cool, effortless aesthetic.
IN THE EVOLUTION of Toronto-based label Markoo—a portmanteau of co-founders Tania Martins and Mona Koochek’s surnames—the city itself has played a strong supporting role. Both Martins and Koochek immigrated there as children with their families, from Portugal and Iran, respectively, and the friends-cum-collaborators met during the early-2010s heyday of the Queen West neighbourhood, when the then cheap rent fostered a vibrant haven for all things art and design. Martins had recently closed the boutique she co-owned and Koochek had just graduated with a background in environmental studies when the pair took a leap of faith and started their brand.
Nearly a decade later, Markoo has acquired a cult following for its modern spin on nostalgic elements and pieces that exude a cool, no-fuss attitude. “Our references often come from the subcultures of the ’80s and ’90s, which we then translate through a more contemporary lens,” says Koochek. “In the city during those decades, hip hop, skate culture and even the grunge scene were big parts of growing up, so those aesthetics definitely find their way into the designs, albeit indirectly.” The result is effortless, special pieces that have authority on their own but can also act as the building blocks of a wardrobe.
The brand’s latest collection acknowledges the heaviness of the world this year with a stronger focus on practicality—looks that feel easy and have presence but in a quieter way—while continuing to incorporate intricate and bold elements. “We actually kept going back and forth on whether we should just make a collection that’s even more directional than usual to counter the mood the pandemic had set, but really there was more truth and inspiration in being aware of and in tune with where people and life were really at,” says Koochek. “Fashion is, after all, a reflection of the culture and times.”
“We design everything together,” says Koochek. “One of us might throw an idea on the table, and then we’ll start dissecting it. The idea might start with a silhouette or a detail we feel could be interesting in the collection, or it might start with a print or specific fabric. Once we have a direction that feels good to us and a few core ideas, we chip away, piece by piece, designing what we hope are items that people will love and buy and keep in their wardrobes for years. There is always a core aesthetic that we work around, and each collection is a dance of staying true to that aesthetic while evolving and making sure the collections feel fresh and relevant.”
“It’s not possible to know how many challenges there really are [in starting a brand] until you’re actually in it,” says Koochek. “For us, the biggest challenge has been that we jumped into creating a label without any financial backing and are still totally financially independent, making it very challenging to get exposure. Fashion is a very expensive business to get into and operate in, so keeping your head above water is a big struggle and takes a lot of commitment and grind.”
“We’re feeling optimistic,” says Koochek. “We want more than ever to make clothing that is beautiful and moves to its own beat. I think when someone starts a designer brand, they are actively protesting the idea of fast fashion and this overarching homogenized culture of cheap disposable clothing. We’re looking forward to creating, pushing our own boundaries and hopefully being a part of a generation of designers that pushes the industry to become more sustainable and produce ethically while aiming to be more accessible than, say, the really big fashion houses.”