Interview conducted by Fatema Sitabkhan
Photos supplied by NaMOI Designs, taken by Haley Renee
She’s one of those designers whose minimalist yet trendy designs caught my attention at the Gathered SA Style Challenge event a couple of weeks ago.
Since its inception in 2011, Australian fashion label NaMOI Designs is run by South Australian Kalila Stewart-Davis. Boasting of handmade clothes that have an intricate level of detail in their designs, NaMOI Designs not only has a shopfront in Glen Osmond, but also makes regular appearances at markets around Adelaide. Her signature designs are the kind that can either be dressed up or dressed down to present with an elegant, comfortable, and stylish overall look. Quality is of top form and it shines through the free flowing wardrobe of NaMOI Designs.
Upon meeting the bubbly lady at the Gathered SA event, I instantly fell in love with her range and knew that I wanted to learn the story behind her ever-growing business. So, while Kalila claimed to be “better on the sewing machine than writing”, our e-interview went swimmingly (if I do say so, myself)!
Have a read of our exchange below and don’t forget to support local!
Tema: Can you tell me a bit about yourself, Kalila?
Kalila: I’m 29 years old and I started NaMOI as a hobby when I was 22, whilst studying fashion in Sydney, I always loved fashion! It was really the only thing that I have pursued seriously. I tried a marketing degree, an accounting degree, I have had numerous jobs, but at the end of the day, fashion was the only thing that I was willing to put hours and hours into, without feeling dissatisfied.
Tema: What made you decide on setting up your own label? Were you always into fashion, was it a family influence, or any other reason?
Kalila: I always loved fashion – I have sketch books of matching dresses and hats to wear to the races from when I was young. My mum taught be how to sew when I was in primary school, and I ran with it. I love working with my hands, I love the creative process of making a garment or finished product.
I worked for some local designers (George Gross, Harry Who, & others) & I pursued an Associate Degree in Design, where I specialized in Fashion Design at Raffles College in Sydney. NaMOI Designs started as a creative outlet to my fashion design degree, whilst I was studying.
My friend Julia (a Sydney-based artist) encouraged my to do a professional photo shoot and set up a website/ social media and again, a little nudge in the right direction and I just ran with it! When I moved back to Adelaide, I did a series of markets, pop up shops, & the Adelaide Fashion Festival, before opening my shop / studio on Glen Osmond Rd almost 5 years ago.
Tema: How would you describe your range of designs?
Kalila: Its all very wearable, soft, and neutral. I try to have simple shapes with clean lines & pay great attention to the finishing details. There are a variety of beautiful textiles like linen, Italian wool, cashmere, & silk, but more often, they are easy to wear, are long lasting basics, and can be washed & worn over & over again in viscose jersey, polyester chiffon, crepe & organic cotton.
Tema: What do you think was one of the biggest challenges of setting up your brand from scratch?
Kalila: I decided to let the business grow organically, I haven’t ever invested large amounts of money into production or into the shop. I have invested more time than money into it. I suppose I was skeptical of the industry and always felt nervous about investing so much energy into it, I wasn’t willing to lose $20,000 – $50,000 in the start-up phase. I now have a seamstress (Julie), who works two days a week. I also have a team of casual retail staff, which helps a lot.
It has taken 5 years to get to this point. If you choose to invest in large quantities of stock, then you will have faster growth. You will also have the pressure of generating that same level of revenue every season to be able to afford large quantities of stock for the next season. A lot of businesses don’t last more than one or two seasons, because they lose too much money. Now that I am somewhat established, I am looking at growing the business by outsourcing production on some of the range.
Tema: What do you hope for your customers to experience from purchasing something from NaMOI Designs?
Kalila: I hope people wear their NaMOI garments over and over again. I love chatting to customers, seeing what they like & don’t like. It’s a great way to carry out the product research & development process. I always ask return-customers if they are getting good wear out of their garments, and a lot of customers say they feel good wearing them & they are on high rotation in their wardrobe. This is very important to me, as it embodies the slow fashion movement of good quality garments, which people love wearing over and over again.
Tema: What is it about being a South Australian and local brand that makes it all the more special?
Kalila: We have a fairly small economy in South Australia, compared to Melbourne and Sydney. Being based in South Australia is great – the cost of entry to markets is lower & cost of living is also more affordable. South Australia was a great place to seriously start my business, because I had the support of family & friends. Also, never underestimate the value of word of mouth.
Tema: I see that you have your own shopfront, but you seem to venture to marketplaces as well – what are some markets that you’d like to highlight as your regular / go-to’s?
Kalila: I do a range of markets!
Stirling Markets on the 4th Sunday of every month – this has been good for my shop front
Bowerbird Markets – I launched my business here, so that’s a season favourite.
Over the last year, I have also been doing Gathered, which is really beautiful in the Queens Theatre & The Creative Design Market (formerly known as the Labels Style Market) at Plant 4 Bowden.
Each market offers something different. I see it as market research – attracting new customers, a different stream of revenue & it’s also a nice change of scenery for me.
Tema: What do you think makes your designs stand out?
Kalila: I think it’s the customer service. I really value my customers, hearing about their life, & helping them to find something they will feel good wearing. We don’t mass produce, so customers feel they are purchasing something special & short run. They aren’t going to see everyone wearing their top everywhere they go.
Tema: Where do you find your inspiration to create your designs?
Kalila: Fabric is an important part – once I have found the fabric, I will start to sketch of visualize which styles it is suited to, what gaps we have in the range, what requests customers have been making, & what I think will be a versatile and wearable garment. I often wear the samples to get an idea around whether the garment works well. Often, those are the best sellers.
Tema: Are there any particular fashion icons that you look up to?
Kalila: I like Vivienne Westwood – she had numerous shops before successfully establishing her current label. I love contemporary Japanese designers like Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo. They have a very different aesthetic, they play with western & eastern techniques and I like the elegance & simplicity of their ideas.
Tema: What are you hoping for 2018 to have in-store for you and your brand?
Kalila: I have employed Bella, who has just finished studying Fashion at Uni. She has been an enormous help, so I am hoping to get more production organized, I am looking at different retail opportunities & developing my new website / label Kalila, as NaMOI is so often confused a Naomi. I am keeping both brands for now.
We’ll be at Gathered Market, Bowerbird Design Market, and hopefully traveling to Melbourne to retail there. I also plan to do more of an official launch for the Kalila website/ brand.
Tema: What is one of your proudest / most favorite outfits from your brand?
Kalila: I always feel so proud of the places my clothes go, they have travelled more than me – the Greek Islands, Times Square in New York, Morocco… it is really surreal. I’ll live vicariously through them [laughs].
I had a hand-painted silk dress on the runway at the Adelaide Fashion Festival the first year I showcased as an emerging designer (2012?). It was cream silk with a plaited collar and deep Burgundy painted details. I also had a jacket in that collection with detailed beading, I sold both pieces! Sometimes, I wish I had held onto them, but hey all in the name of progress!
Tema: What is one solid piece of advice that you’d give to aspiring individuals who want to enter into the fashion industry?
Kalila: Have a really close look at your values! Do you want to make clothes or do you want a glamorous life style, because they are different things. If you to take a holiday every year, buy a house, have weekends off, relax on the couch every night, fashion might not be the right fit. There is absolutely no shame in being an accountant, who can afford to buy beautiful things.
Write a good business plan / list of how much money you have to earn, and to support your lifestyle & your goals. Factor in the cost of running your business & your personal living expenses … studio space, fabric, holidays, marketing. This will give you a really good indication of how much revenue & profit you have to make to be able to live the life you want, how much each unit will cost to produce, and how much profit you have to make. It will give you a realistic idea of how much work it is going to be. Start somewhere though, social media and websites are so accessible, so give it a go, but keep in mind your long term goals.
Never under-value your time, especially if you are doing custom work. People don’t always appreciate it and you will spend far more time & money completing a garment than they are willing to pay, Quote above $500 – if they are serious, they will pay it. If not, they are time wasters.
There is no shame in working for someone else, you will learn a lot. Having a business isn’t for everyone, I have missed so many birthdays, holidays, weddings & days off, because ultimately I am a workaholic who can’t step away from the business, but it is starting to pay off.
If you keep your goals in mind, then even if you’re not achieving everything within the first few years, you will have a bench mark! Keep that in mind on the hard days when you want to give up.
29 Glen Osmond Rd,
Eastwood, SA 5063