Getting Right to the Heart of Fashion
Fair-trade, ethical, eco, reclaimed, recycled may sound like buzz words or fashion fads but they are definitely hear to stay. My early twenties were filled with days of shopping for sale dresses from uber cool high street shops, one in every colour because they were cheap and easy and why the hell not? I laugh to myself at the frivolity of it all but my cheeks burn at the ignorance of my younger self.
Thankfully our appetite for fast, throwaway fashion seems to be waning. You only have to look at designers like Vivienne Westwood who is on a one-woman crusade to tackle climate change or Eco fashion activist and wife of Mr Darcy, Livia Firth who believes we should have the same attitude to our clothes as we do to our food,
“We’re trying nowadays to eat healthy, avoid pesticides, eat fresh and green,” she said. “Why not care about the clothes we wear in the same way—where they were made, and what they really cost in human and environmental terms?”
In the age of equality, where for the first time in history the editor of British vogue is a black man (Edward Enniful) and cover stars like Adwoa Aboah are the supermodels of this generation. It would be hypocritical of the fashion industry to overlook the people who can relate to them most, who aspire to be them, the people who see themselves in them. How can we revere the work of Indian designers like Ashish Gupta when the child labour rates in parts of India continue to rise? How can we as human beings knowingly profit from the mistreatment of the people who enable us to make Icons of the chosen few and will us to look like them.
This is not about sanctimony but about being aware and making informed choices.
You only have to look at high street brands like H&M, with their conscious collection or Asos Made In Kenya to see that fashion is evolving and consumer tastes are changing. More than ever we as consumers want fashion that is fun, not uniform, we want to stand out not fit in and we want all of this while being conscious of what and where we are buying from. We are choosing clothes that will not only make us look good but feel good about ourselves.
A local brand with ethics firmly at the heart of it is Kochiba, stylish wooden timepieces that stand out as much for their unusual style as their contribution to women and children throughout the globe.
Niraj Desai or NJ to his friends, at first glance is not your typical fashion designer. Raised Hindu and now a practicing Buddhist, he is quietly confident but modest with it and although at first seems reluctant to divulge too much about himself (because, he says he’s aware that too much ego is a common problem these days.) It’s clear that kindness and giving back to others is at the heart of everything he does.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background and also the background of the company?
My name is Niraj, NJ to most, and I’m love to create things. I’m originally from Zambia, Africa, born and raised and eventually ended up in Scotland after meeting my wife and getting married.
I started KOCHIBA late in 2015 and thinking back it was like a sudden flash of inspiration, it came from nowhere. Earlier on in the year, I was thinking about starting a business and although I have an IT background I wanted this business to allow me to be creative. When I first saw wooden watches on the internet, I couldn’t believe it. At the time they were different and I was fascinated by them. It took a lot of research and a lot of learning the business side of things, but I knew that wooden watches was what I wanted to do and eventually Kochiba was born.
How would you describe Kochiba watches?
I would say that KOCHIBA times pieces are different from anything out there, not just because they’re produced from natural wood but also because they combine this with style, they are also fashion Item and when we started designing our watches there wasn’t anything that combine the two quite as much.
What does KOCHIBA mean?
Whilst looking at a list of types of woods online, a Japanese plant called kobushi caught my eye, aesthetically it appealed to me. I played with variations of the word and KOCHIBA was the one that stuck. Regardless of the name, I wanted to have a brand that I could resonate with, and brand that I would buy from and be proud of and KOCHIBA with its motivations and social responsibility is aiming to be that.
What is the African/Scottish connection and how did you choose the names for the watches?
I was born in Zambia and that’s where I spent 20 years of my life before moving to Australia to attend university.
My wife, Victoria is Scottish and she & I spent countless hours, after the design process, deciding what each one was going to be named. I always admired some of the Scottish names of places. We literally sat in from of Google maps and jumped from place to place and picked the nicest sounding names that subliminally matched the watches. We still have a few that haven’t been released yet and have still to be added to the range.
Why was it important to ensure that your brand was ethical and that Kochiba is socially responsible?
Being from a developing country, I always felt very privileged to be living in a western country. When my best friend and I went to Australia to go to university we’d have many lager fuelled discussions about how lucky we were and how we could use our privilege to help people who came from similar places to us but weren’t as fortunate and so it seemed obvious to me that I had a social responsibility as well as the motivation to help people to cultivate a healthy mind-set.
Do you have any connection to the fashion industry and why did you decide to set up a watch brand?
I wouldn’t say I have any connection to the fashion industry, I have an IT (NJ laughs at the thought of himself in the fashion industry. Seemingly oblivious that’s exactly where he is) though I’m attracted to style and functionality I think due to the nature of our product, we tend to get people from within the fashion industry or people who are into fashion approach us about content and promotion and so that has launched us in fashion circles and it’s nice.
Watches just have a unique appeal, people love them for their mix of colours, styles and designs. Something I see myself doing is paying attention to what people are wearing and looking to see which one of our designs would go with it.
Where do you get your inspiration for your deigns?
I love simple design, something minimal without too much going on and so we designed some of the models to be very simple but bold and colourful against the natural colours of the wood. I also admire some of the retro designs that you see in older movies and pictures and this also served as an inspiration on a couple of the models.
Can you tell me about the design and manufacturing process of the watches?
Our designs are the product of countless hours of mixing colours and types of wood until we come up with the combination that looks best. Once we decide on a final watch style and how they may compliment different people’s styles, we then work on the details with designers in Asia to finally bring the KOCHIBA designs to life.
It would be great to hear about your partnerships with Womankind and CINDI K. Why did you choose those organisations to partner with and what do you hope to achieve?
From the brands commencement, I always wanted some sort of giving back to a good cause. When looking at a range of charities, I came across Womankind Worldwide and what I loved about them was that they were pushing for women’s rights and equality as well as empowering and educating women globally. Coming from a developing country, I know the importance of women in communities and the role they play as leaders and I believe that we can resolve and improve a lot of issues if women are at the forefront. As for CINDI, when I went back to Zambia to visit family, Victoria and myself decided to visit this school for orphaned children and I remember going there when I used to live in Zambia. The role they play in helping orphaned and vulnerable children in getting an education is indescribable, and so I decided that since I have a small brand and a growing social media platform, that I could use it to help their cause.
What they need aside from money is young people who can help devote some time and effort and this is something I’m able to help with and raise awareness of. I will continue to do this as long as I possibly can.
Are there any other partnerships or initiatives planned?
Maybe in future but not right now. Kochiba is a relatively small brand and although our contributions may be small we are focused on assisting Womankind and CINDI as best as we can.
How would you describe the Kochiba customer?
It would be tricky to box the people that buy a timepiece as I’ve learned that they are all different but if I had to pick the most common it would be a watch lover who is looking for something unique and maybe like the idea of buying to give back.
If you could choose anyone (celebrity or public figure) who would you love to wear your brand?
I would have to go with RZA of the Wu Tang, an easy choice for avid hip hop enthusiast.
What’s next for you and Kochiba and what do you hope to achieve with the brand in the next five years?
We hope to continue growing and adding new products to our range of watches. We hope that in the next five years, the brand has grown to an established brand that people can gravitate towards for its ethos and model.
…And finally, the theme of this article is Next generation. How do you hope Kochiba inspires and encourages the next generation?
I hope that the next generation can continue with its wave of creating social enterprises and building business with empathy and sustainability rather than a traditional theme of chasing profit. I also want Kochiba to be an example of how easier it is to pursue and build something in today’s world. Have fun with fashion but think about what you’re buying too.
Fashion has always been about choice and I hope I’ve given you something to think about before you make your next purchase.
Stylist & Creative Director: Claire McGuire, Fashion FeatureWriting & Styling Student
Photographer: Kevin J Thomson
Make Up Artist: Misha McCullagh
Model: Sarah-Louise Main