Glitter Trotter: Today, we are talking to Kui.Sun of the Kenyan Fashion brand Koi.ncidence. This is a no coincidence for us – we were actively seeking her attention and her time. Once you hear her story and her ideas, you will be too! Welcome, Kui.Sun! Before we talk about your brand, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Kui.Sun: Fun! Yes, let me introduce myself. I am Kui.Sun. I am a designer, a mother of two, a philosopher, a spirit-whisperer, a life-long learner, and many other things. I really do not like boxing myself into a particular role or image. And as you get familiar with my brand, you will see that fluidity -- the freedom of being, who you chose to be in the moment -- is what makes Koi.ncidence unique. Everything is a play – play of words, role play, dress-up play… This is the genesis of Koi.ncidence.
GT: We definitely need more of that – more play – especially in today’s world of constant crises.
Kui.Sun: I agree. I also think we often think of “play” as something light and superficial, yet there is nothing more serious and philosophical than play. I will talk about that in a minute. Meanwhile, back to where Koi.ncidence started.
My brand launched when I had my first child in 2013. But I don’t want you to think that I was a stereotypical young mom, who had to put her career on hold to raise children. No, Koi.ncidence was actually born because I had a serious revelation when I had my first child.
You see, at the time I got pregnant, I had been training as an architect. And I had a love-hate relationships with my chosen path. Sometimes it was an archi-wonder – and sometimes it was an archi-torture. I liked it, but I did not love it. And when my daughter was born, I realized that this was not the profession, which would allow me to balance work and motherhood.
Surely, these days you can hire help and be a working mom and see your children for 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening. The main thing that I’ve realized, when I had my first child, was that our future is literally embodied in our children. So, if we want to have a better future, we have to focus on who “pours” what into them. Can we really trust that a stranger, however qualified and kind, can instill our personal and family values into our children? Can we ensure that a stranger can “show” them the future we want them to build and live in? And why would we even want strangers, hired help, to do so? I didn’t, I wanted to be the source of knowledge, wisdom, and values for my children – and architecture, the hours, would not allow me to do so.
I needed something new to do and to earn me income. The change was scary, I was in a state of panic for days. I prayed a lot, and I literally asked the spirit, “What can I do that is fun and hands on, that I would be passionate about, and that would allow me to raise my child? In my time of transformation, what can I hold on to?”
Kui.Sun: And the spirit said, “Tinker. You’ve been tinkering for a long time for yourself. Now, tinker for another.”
GT: What does this mean?
Kui.Sun: Well, it’s about how I started my business. You know, my mom keeps “treasures” like many women of her generation – when her earrings would break, she would put them aside but never throw away. And I would tinker with those “treasures” – make something new out of them.
GT: So, your business started from those little “treasures” that you’d gotten from your mom?
Kui.Sun: Yes and no. I think it would be more accurate to say that my business started from the sense of style and interest in fashion that I got from my mom. The funny thing is, she is not even aware of it or does it consciously. She is one of those rare people, whose style just oozes naturally. Her style is very different from mine; I would never dress the way she dresses. But there is something special about the way she uses fashion and clothes to highlight her personality, which is what I believe I inherited from her.
When she was younger, she used to work with the Face of Africa, these were fun times. I remember coming to her office once in a while and watching those Nubian women, the gorgeous giants of Africa. I knew I would never be as tall as them and I would never be a fashion model. But I also believed that my place was in the fashion world – adorning those African royalties with clothes, accessories, and bags that would speak of the generational culture and knowledge, and our roots as deep as the color of their skin.
When I was younger, I was really thin; and finding clothes that fit me was always a challenge. You know, you find something that fits your hips – but the waist is too large, and vice versa. So, I first started adjusting my clothes to fit my body; but it quickly went much farther than I originally planned -- I started adjusting my clothes to fit my personality, just like my mom. Interestingly, my mom would get really upset with me, she would be like, “I just bought you those pants, and you’ve already chopped them up!” She never realized that things that were upsetting her, actually came from her – she was the inspiration!
GT: It sounds like your mom was an important inspiration for how your brand “looks” and “feels.”
Kui.Sun: Yes, my mom was the "icon" that helped me shape the image of my brand. She was also one of the two main sources of supplies for me; the other one was thrift markets. So, I would get her old kiondos and sweaters and remake them into something new and different. Quite soon, my friends and people around me started asking me to sell my pieces, which I did. And that’s how it all began. So, when the spirit in me told me to go for it, I was like, “Okay, let me try.” I produced my first collection, while taking care of a newborn; the collection consisted of upcycled and reborn kiondos, bags, and broken accessories that were either thrifted or came from my mom and my aunties’ closets. At the time, I could not afford to buy any new supplies – no did I really need to as my pieces seemed to have all found their new homes since then.
GT: And how did you spend your profits? New supplies?
Kui.Sun: You are kidding me! Everything went into diapers. That’s the life of a new mom! But that collection kick-started my thinking about fashion in a more conceptual manner.
GT: How so?
Kui.Sun: I started thinking about the concept of “his and hers” clothes, which from my perspective was too restrictive. I like fluid clothes; gender fluidity is a really important idea behind my clothes. And I am not talking here about androgenous or unisex clothes; and I am not trying to feminize men and masculine (can this be a verb?) women. The idea is that a man can wear my clothes and look manly, while a woman wearing my clothes can still look girly. Or you can wear my clothes as a man and look girly, if that’s what you want. My clothes allow you to explore your identity because they do not box you into a pre-defined one. For example, the tunic that I am wearing is designed as a men’s top; but when I am wearing it, it turns into a girly dress.
GT: I love this tunic; it looks very genuine on you – as if it was always meant to be yours.
Kui.Sun: Maybe it was, but it really can be anyone’s – it is fluid. When I was thinking about the fluidity, I thought the best example of it would be a girl borrowing clothes from her boyfriend’s wardrobe. You know how it is – you stay overnight thinking tomorrow will be an easy day, and then an important meeting pops up and you raid your man’s closet looking for something that fits the occasion and highlights your personality in all the right ways. This is where our pieces will work the best – yes, they belong to your boyfriend, but they fit you and the occasion so well that it actually looks like you’ve always been preparing for this meeting.
GT: What a cool concept! In your clothes, the wearer always looks like it’s all planned.
Kui.Sun: Exactly! But I went much deeper into this thinking, because the idea of gender roles and gender fluidity has always been of huge interest to me. I am sure you have girlfriends, who always complain that they have to be more masculine at work, but then are expected to come home and totally transform into this ideal image of a woman, who cooks, cleans, and raises babies.
GT: For sure! I am one of them.
Kui.Sun: Well, I believe we look at it all wrong. We believe that men should move through life as men, and women should move through life as women. Yet, we all have both masculine and feminine traits in us – we should accept the existence of both and the fact that we play those male-female cards based on the situation we are in, based on what we need or how we feel in the moment. This is the essence of authenticity – being able to reconnect with the man and woman inside you and bring them to light through the way you present yourself, including through your personal style and choice of clothes.
GT: This really rings a bell for me, because I often find myself in a world of powerful men, but I do not want to be one of them. I want to be powerful but remain me, the woman I am, and I’ve become.
Kui.Sun: This is it, you nailed it! This idea of gender roles is nothing but powerful propaganda – you want to be powerful like a man, then act like a man. And my response is always, “Why?” There is strength in being a woman. It is actually more powerful to remain, who you are – to be a successful woman in a men’s world. Your ways are different from those of men, but those are the ways that move you forward – your lane will never be crowded, you will never have to change your DNA, because it’s all going to work for you.
All of these – gender fluidity, authenticity, genuine energy – are so important for my brand. I don’t want to just cover your skin with my clothes. It is important for me to fill you with beauty, philosophy, with this craving for life that fills you in with high frequency and then bubbles up to the surface as your authentic self.
And these thinking, these ideas define how I design my clothes and what clothes I design. I always look back at my culture and my roots because that’s where I find deep meaning. Going back to my tunic, there is some philosophy in its design – it is made in a traditional leopard print, it’s ventilated for the hot weather, it’s long yet open. Ultimately, it’s power clothing, which lets you establish your power without disturbing another or being disturbed by them. I view every process, every piece through the prism of cultural significance and philosophical meaning.
GT: Was it always like this for you?
Kui.Sun: Yes, ever since I started, I would always look for esoteric connections between materials. I would literally place all my “treasures” in front of me and start a “conversation” with them, trying to understand, who goes where. I am not designing a structure as an architect would do. I am connecting things that already seem to be “attracting” each other. It’s like, “Oh, this shell is calling me, it wants to go with this camel bone, and they both now want this pendant.” It’s an iterative process, almost spiritual. And it often depletes my energy, so I have to take a break and do some yoga or meditate to replenish my energy and do it all over again.
GT: With such an effort going into the design, each of your pieces is truly unique and truly rare – because I cannot imagine you producing large collections.
Kui.Sun: You are right. It takes a lot of time to come up with an idea, a concept for each individual piece. But I really like doing that, I like explaining my ideas and tinkering with them, yet I no longer like tinkering with actual stitching. So, I recently decided to outsource tailoring, and focus on where I truly add value – thinking and designing.
Koi.ncidence as a brand started with my jewelry. And I still feel that jewelry is where I can and do my magic. I still collect old, broken jewelry. I still try to match pieces based on the connections they already have. And I follow spirits and let the pieces find their wearers. Once the right person is there, the sale goes quickly and easily. I keep my prices relatively low -- that’s how I can ensure that insiders, my people, can afford to get a piece of my culture. Some designers set the price-range intentionally high targeting foreigners, outsiders with high purchasing power. For me, it is important that the pieces go to the right people, because that’s the only way to ensure the cultural importance sink in and is carried on.
GT: So, who is the right person for your brand?
Kui.Sun: Good question. And I do not believe there is a simple answer. I definitely believe it should be a spiritual person, because as much as I am building a proper business – I cannot deny the fact that my business is full of soul. Beyond that, I care about self-confidence and authenticity. But I cannot say, all my clients come already confident and authentic. Some are still on a journey, questing for either confidence or authenticity or both.
GT: I know Christine Ann McCreath of KikoRomeo always says, “There is somebody for every fashion piece”, meaning designers are not competing for the same clients because clients are different and seek different things.
Kui.Sun: That’s so true! For every designer, there is a buyer. You just have to find them and get to know them. And you have to know yourself and your creations to facilitate that connection. You know, for the longest time I was working at home, hidden in my cocoon. I was creating a lot, but I managed to convince myself that my creations are a therapy for the emotional and physical changes I was going through. I believed they would not resonate with anyone.
And then I signed up for the fashion incubator with Christine Ann, and she was like, “Where have you been?” And I was like, “Hiding in my cave, like the true masters of voodoo would do – too scared to show my face to the world.” She said, “No way! People are ready for pieces with a story, for products with a cause! Surely, when you talk to your friends, they do not want to hear about your spiritual clock or about a necklace that gives you courage. Things like that freak people out. And surely, there will forever be people, who will freak out, when they hear the stories of your pieces. But one day there will come a person, who would be like, Oh my God! I really need some courage today – let me have this necklace!”
GT: And was this true?
Kui.Sun: Yes, this was so true! And I do thank Christine Ann for helping me to see that and for actively mentoring me. She helped me articulate the story of my brand – Koi.ncidence – design my first clothes, and match it with the jewelry I produced earlier. My collection was inspired by centurion wear, it’s a fabric “armory” of sorts – a protection for your body and your spirit. But it also makes you stand out in the crowd – that’s why I called my collection the Cloaks of Visibility.
Remember in Harry Potter, they had a cloak of invisibility – he would wear it to become invisible. In the case of Koi.ncidence clothes, you can never be invisible – you put our cloak over your pajamas and – boom! – you’ve stolen the show. You look planned, you look like you are in your true element. And when you have an introverted day – the cloak protects you from social intrusion, it does all the talking for you – keeping away people, who can drain your energy.
So you see, my clothes are more than just clothes. I am building a lifestyle philosophy. For example, when I talk to my daughter about her outfits, I never ask her, “Does this make you look nice?” I ask her, “Is this piece matching your vibration? Is it taking you towards the things you are manifesting?” Through these conversations, I am trying to plant seeds for the fundamental understanding and use of humanity: Are you looking really good, but eating nonsense? Are you putting coconut oil and avocado into your hair and skin, but not eating those things?
And I am asking those questions, because my designs will ask you to stand up straight, to push your shoulders back, to embrace your body with all its imperfections, to embrace who you are. And you have to be comfortable with that before you put on the Cloak of Visibility.
GT: I am amazed about how clear the whole concept is to you!
Kui.Sun: I think working with Christine Ann helped quite a bit, but also working at her shop – KikoRomeo – where I am woman.ifesting my own brand and my own shop.
GT: I really like it how you play with words and language, because you are indeed woman.ifesting as opposed to man.ifesting! But tell me, are you not investing in your competition by working at KikoRomeo?
Kui.Sun: Not at all! I believe the two of us – just like most brands in the Kenyan market – are complementary to each other. KikoRomeo has a legacy, I am building mine, together – we are growing Kenyan fashion industry. I am wearing my own creation today, but when I put over my KikoRomeo outfit, both pieces look alleviated – they fire up!
Besides, I am learning a lot through this work. I do manage the shop like it were mine; I want to know the stock and the operations down to the minor detail because by doing this, I am sending out vibrations – that one day, when I bring a salesperson to my shop, they will also love and care for it like I would love and care for it myself. So, every sale at KikoRomeo brings me closer to my goal – my own shop.
GT: I am sure being an architect, a creative and a deep thinker, you already have a pretty good idea on how your shop will look like.
Kui.Sun: Again, yes and no. The only thing I know right now, it will be a physical space. I played with an idea of creating a digital shop, where the Koi.ncidence idea would be embodies into a VR experience, but for now – I know I need space to put furniture, paint walls, and gather people.
I feel like now – in the post-COVID world – people need a place to be together more than they needed it before. It’s not about big gatherings like a conference or something, but a space where 7-10 people can get together and talk about what Koi.ncidence means to them, what my brand helps them manifest. A lot of people get scared away by the prices of fashion garments, or by the way they are treated at the store, or by other vibrations that interrupt their opportunity to connect with the story of that garment or piece of jewelry. When I see young people at KikoRomeo shop, I always tell them, “Do not look at the price tag. Feel the fabric. Listen to what it tells you. You can save and buy this piece in 3 months, but make sure that this purchase is driven by your connection with the piece not just a fashion whim.”
From my perspective, we want designs, whose beauty speaks to us – and not just the beauty of the construction and shape but also the beauty of the seams, the feel of the fabric, the shape of a button… Those are small details, but they are truly important – and they can only become visible, felt, understood when a person is able to take time to hear and understand the story behind an item. This is why a physical space, where people can gather and connect, is really important for me – and for my future shop.
The idea is actually quite simple – I want people experience that “holiday” feeling, but in their everyday life. You remember this feeling, when you wake up in the morning while on vacation and feel, “Wow! I am on a holiday!” The sun is touching your toes, you feel rested, energized, and full of happiness…
GT: I now need that vacation…
Kui.Sun: No, you do not – because at my space, you can have this experience any time. I want to curate the space, the furniture, the overall environment to create this sense of content, connectedness, and collective abundance. I have some interesting play-of-word names for the space. And yes, there will be my clothes, jewelry, bags and kikapus. We will do yoga and art therapy. Once in a while, we will have cookouts. Anything that can help raise your vibrations is welcome. You can come in, take a life course, breathe in, calm down, take a piece of the space to your own home. This would be a space to achieve inner peace.
Yes, I know we were talking about a shop and arrived at the conversation about a community. But I do not want my shop to be only about sales and dresses. I want it to be about connections -- with people and the space, where you can choose who you want to be and how you want to be. This thinking is inspired by the concept of Ikigai, which is quite popular all over the world right now. The idea is that everyone should do what they like and what they are good at, and the synergy and inner peace will come when they find this sweet spot. And that is the essence of life – to enjoy, not to struggle. But Ikigai is not about perpetual happiness, it is unachievable; rather it is about the appreciation and gratitude for different days – happy days, sad days – the ability to take them in, process them, learn the lessons.
So, that’s a long answer to your question about my shop. It’s still a work in progress, but I think it is starting to take a shape in my mind.
GT: As you are shaping your idea for the community and the shop, can you give me any scoop on your upcoming collection?
Kui.Sun: Sure! I am working on several ideas in parallel – a soft, gentle collection to go under my “armory” pieces and my Cloaks of Visibility; and another collection that would continue the story of the armory, except now through a combination of Ankara and lace. And finally, there will be two collections of jewelry -- an eccentric black-and-white collection of beaded jewelry, which will tell my story of pain and healing, and hopefully resonate with others, who are going through a difficult period in their lives; and a minimalist collection for everyday warriors.
GT: Sounds intriguing, and I love how your collections are connected to each other!
Kui.Sun: Yes, continuity is really important for me personally and for my brand, because I plan forward – for the next 400 years.
GT: Why 400 years?
Kui.Sun: Because as humans, we’ve done the most damage to our humanity in the past 400 years - wars, slavery, injustice – all of those created a lasting negative impact on who we are and how we are. I believe that we need 400 years of the collective experience that I described to undo the damage.
GT: And what is the place for your brand in the 400 years of this healing experience? Where will it be?
Kui.Sun: I hope, it will be in everything; I hope it will be the tapestry holding the New Earth together. The stars are more visible to us because they are set against the blue sky, right? I hope that my brand will be that sky that will bring to light what is important, what binds us together, the community that we are building.
I want to start introducing these ideas to my people this year. By the time I have my 4 collections ready -- my minimalist jewelry, my eclectic clothes, my minimalist clothes and my eclectic jewelry – I hope that my idea of the community and collective will also become a reality, so I can have a launch, which will bring people together to share stories of my pieces, as they live, move and breath with the audience.
GT: How exciting! I am really looking forward to seeing your new pieces being introduced to the world!
Kui.Sun: Thank you!