There’s a certain level of madness that comes with fashion. We convince ourselves to wear high heel shoes of ankle-snapping capabilities because ‘it really brings the outfit together’. And then, despite the blisters and soul-throbbing pain, we wear them on another occasion. We’ve got corsets, body shapers tucked neatly under body con dresses, skinny jeans that a combination of jumping and pleading to get into and let’s not forget the straitjacket also known as the bra. Can’t we have something that looks good, but is a delightful pleasure to throw on?
And then you get the opportunity to touch cashmere; to which you immediately understand why fashion bloggers are fond of quoting, “If you own only one sweater, make sure it’s cashmere”. It’s nothing like the itchy sweater that grandma made you wear around the holidays. It’s like a slice of heaven that hugs you all day long. Even better when your significant other happens to be wearing it… Hint. Hint. Good news is, there IS a brand in Kenya looking to provide such chic comfort. KSHMR by Kuoni was started in February 2016 by Elena Kuoni who was born in Russia, moved to Africa 22 years ago, and has been living in Kenya for the past 13 years. With the brand set to open a boutique store in the new wing of Village Market in April 2017, TDS caught up with the founder and designer, to find out more about the brand and this heavenly fabric:
KSHMR by Kuoni is pretty new to the local scene…Have you always been in the fashion scene?
I haven’t always been in the fashion scene but I’ve always had a love for it starting from a very young age. My mother was my main inspiration into the fashion world, as a child I always admired how well she used to dress and how much effort she would put into it. Her hair was always done, she would always wear heels and she was always up to speed with the latest trends. And, I guess I just followed in her footsteps.
What inspired you to take it from personal style to creating a brand?
The idea to create our brand came from the fact that even living in Africa, and especially in Kenya, it can get cold in the evenings and you almost, always, have to carry something with you to stay warm. I mean, don’t you freeze here in the winter [cold months]? There aren’t many shopping options in Kenya, so I thought to myself “why not?”
Considering that cashmere is more of a winter material, how did you decide to specialise on it; especially since this is an equatorial country?
I chose to primarily work with cashmere due to its quality. cashmere is very fine, soft and is a light material that keeps you very warm. However, cashmere can also be worn in summer months. We have lightweight cashmere products which can be worn on a windy beach over a bikini. I propose to my clients also some cashmere & silk blends for the warmer months of the year. Silk, like cashmere, is natural and luxury product. However, most of my products will be 100% cashmere.
Why is the ‘100% cashmere’ emphasis important?
I choose to highly emphasize on it because a lot of brands, tend to advertise their products as cashmere products when in reality, they blend it with wool or silk to reduce manufacturing costs but will still sell at the same price as 100% pure cashmere products. Cashmere is sold by weight just like gold. Cashmere comes from the soft undercoat of Cashmere goats bred to produce this type of wool. It takes more than two goats to make a single two-ply sweater.
The fibres of the warming undercoat must be separated from a coarser protective top-coat during the spring moulting season, a labour-intensive process that typically involves combing and sorting the hair by hand. These factors contribute to the relatively low global production rate of cashmere—approximately 6,500 metric tons of pure cashmere annually, as opposed to 2 million metric tons of sheep’s wool.
It says you source and import your products… why not make them here?
I do design my products myself. Since there aren’t any in Kenya that deal with cashmere, I have to source and import my products from my manufactures located abroad. Cashmere is a very delicate material and there aren’t many people in the world who produce it.
How can consumers tell if it’s authentic cashmere and not a knock-off like acrylic?
Oh, there is no way you can compare acrylic with cashmere! It looks different, it feels different and the weight is different. Once you’ve tried cashmere, you will never forget the soft and pleasant feeling. Cashmere is extremely light in weight as well; a ladies’ sweater weighs only about 170gr! By the way, cashmere is seven times warmer than wool.
Is it a needy fabric aka difficult to maintain?
Cashmere should be washed in lukewarm water by hand using soft detergent or shampoo. Yes, shampoo. It is a natural fibre and cashmere goats love water. The most important tip is to know how to dry your cashmere garment: it must be dried flat on a towel, stretched in original form after washing. Dry cleaning is not really necessary.
Of course, it all depends on how well you maintain your cashmere garments, but yes, the quality is of very high standards and could be handed over to the next generation. And, yes cashmere is timeless, it is a classic.
When everyone is going online, you’ve opted for a physical store…
In my opinion today to be successful both physical and online stores are important. The store is coming along quite well actually, really looking forward to seeing the end result! And KSHMR by Kuoni will be available online too!
Cashmere is a luxury product… how does that reflect in the price tag?
Cashmere is a luxury product due to its complex production. Cashmere goats are sheared once a year and a full-grown adult goat will yield as much as 2,5 pounds of fleece, of which only 40% is cashmere and the rest is guard hair. The cheapest lady’s pullover start from Ksh17,000. The most expensive is a sweater from the men’s collection which at the moment costs Ksh45,000 but it’s a “very heavy” jacket. Remember, cashmere garments are sold by weight, the bulkier and heavier the garment, the more expensive it will end up being.
How often do you do new collections?
We will try to have 2-3 collections per year. Since we only have two seasons in Kenya, we will try to adjust to it while at the same time also work with trending colours and designs of the fashion world.
Certain classic pieces such as a V-neck & round-neck pullovers, cardigans and shawls will be part of our standard classic collection and will always be available with variations in colours to keep up with the current trends.
Apart from ponchos and hoodies…
For our men’s selection of sweaters, we have a range of: V-neck, Round-neck, full zip or half zip sweaters, cardigans with buttons and fine cashmere pullovers. For our ladies, we offer a range of ponchos, scarfs and shawls, cardigans and sweaters, dresses and jackets. We also sell unisex hoodies, all kinds of accessories from hats to gloves to eye masks and even socks, all made from Cashmere of course! For the Kid’s apparel, we offer a range of cardigans, pullovers and ponchos. One of our bestsellers are baby blankets, mostly bought as gifts for new-borns.
What will you be showcasing at Fashion High Tea later this month?
I hope both ladies and gentlemen will appreciate the quality and enjoy it, but I will be showcasing more from my men’s collection. I want to grow my male clientele and show them the various designs I offer as well as increase awareness of the product. Men do find it very hard to shop in Nairobi as it is, so I feel that the Fashion High Tea is a good opportunity to show to our men and their wives that there are high quality products for them as well. Of course, there will be some pieces from my women’s collection.
We don’t know about you but we’re so ready for some soft comfy fashion in our lives that won’t compromise on our style game. Are you willing to take the cashmere leap?