KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — Bored with ready-to-wear children’s clothing, sisters Natasha and Natalia Navin decided to start their own children’s clothing line Kooshboo.
“I found that there was a gap in the market for children’s clothing that is good quality and also have a bit of soul. I shopped around and found it’s all the same things everywhere and it’s really boring. It’s all the mass-produced stuff, there is not much soul at all,” said Natasha.
Starting their own business has always been at the back of the sisters’ minds but they never really took action until 2014.
After having kids, they realised that it was the right time to start and Kooshboo was born.
As they grew up in a multi-cultural environment — their father is from India while their mother is half-Chinese, half-Malay — both of them have been exposed to beautiful fabrics and colours. In fact, they used to live in India when they were young so naturally Kooshboo’s first collection reflected a similar theme.
Labelled as boho chic, Kooshboo’s collections feature details such as hand-blocked motifs, hand-painted batik and hand-embroidered rosettes by refugee women.
The homegrown brand prides itself for being eco-conscious by using natural breathable fabrics like cotton that mimics the softness and sheen of silk. “This is renewable material that is 100 per cent natural but it is processed to make it look like silk or satin,” explained Natasha.
From the beginning, Natasha and Natalia decided they wanted the brand to be 100 per cent natural because that’s something they are passionate about.
Kooshboo evokes that kind of spirit with the fabric used and their designs. Natasha also believes that children should wear Kooshboo clothes to play outside and enjoy the “fragrance” of Nature. That is why the name Kooshboo was selected as it means fragrance in Hindi.
Natasha spent five years studying architecture in Australia and a year in France. She was inspired by the local scene in those countries where there were a lot of small, artisanal brands. “It was natural for us to tie back to our nostalgia about Indian inspiration and we thought that we can do something here, something special that perhaps other people will like as well,” she explained.
To ensure that the business is sustainable, Natasha even enrolled in a pattern making course. Although she doesn’t create the prototypes for the clothes, she knows what is required so when she talks to the manufacturers, they understand what they want for the label.
The first collection Kooshboo released in 2014 was the Haveli collection which drew inspiration from India. Over the years, the collections have different inspirations but they retain the same philosophy of having “soul” in the designs.
“Even though the collections may look very different: one may be about loud colours, the next might be very pastel but we feel like the concept is there,” said Natasha.
Kooshboo releases three collections annually: Spring/Summer, the Eid and Christmas or Chinese New Year. In between, they also have capsule collections from time to time.
The inspiration is their own children who are also models for the label. Sometimes, they also rope in friends who have children to model for them. In 2015, Jimmy Choo sponsored Kooshboo to be part of Malaysia Fashion Week. Although it was fun for the kids, it was a lot of work for the parents so they haven’t done another show since.
The design process starts with an inspiration. For example, it can be a place, a mood or something which spurs the colour palette followed by sourcing for the materials. This is followed by designing the garments piece by piece. Natasha still does things manually so everything is sketched on paper.
Once the design is done, the piece is made into a sample and perfected until the results are satisfactory. After sampling, Natasha will digitise the designs making it easier to reproduce the drawings.
It can take up to approximately one year from designing to seeing that piece of clothing on the shelves in the stores. Working with small factories with about six people, Kooshboo does not produce many pieces.
For the latest Eid 17 collection, there were three designs for the young ones plus a new addition, a kaftan for mothers. It was the first time Kooshboo designed for adults because nowadays mothers love to match their outfits with their children. Since Kooshboo started, a lot of customers have requested adult versions of their designs.
Surprisingly, a lot of French parents buy Kooshboo outfits for their kids. Natasha revealed that 50 per cent of the customers are locals and the other 50 per cent are expatriates. “When you go to the shops they do all sorts of things that is very cute. Kooshboo is not about cute, it’s more about elegance,” said Natasha.
Even though Kooshboo has its own online store and social media accounts, Natasha loves to engage with her customers at pop-up stores. Other than pop-ups and their online shop, Kooshboo is also available in physical stores such as TriBeCa in Bangsar Village II, Robinsons and Kita Kita.
You can also buy Kooshboo in Singapore at Kids Walk. “We are going to open our own store soon. It will be opened in Great Eastern Mall. It’s quiet but it’s a quality crowd. We’ve done pop-ups there at least four to five times,” said Natasha.
Kooshboo clothing uses European sizing starting from 3 months up to 11-years-old. The pricing starts from RM60 to RM200. Natasha said that some customers find it pricey and Kooshboo is working towards making it more affordable while retaining its standards.
Natasha adds, “We will not run away from being 100 per cent natural. We will keep working hard to inject soul into our products and our clothes which was the original idea. So I guess I’ll just keep going. Whether it’s block printing from India or hand-painted batik in Malaysia or hand-embroidery by refugees, it might be different things but at the end of the day the idea is that we have something special in our clothes.”