Running a business singlehandedly can be hard, especially when it also means you are likely going to have to sacrifice holidays for a long time (a very very long time). So when we saw kekkai’s exotic, colorful and beach-ready scarves harking back to not-so-long ago tropical adventures, long summers, and dense jungles with flora & fauna that makes an oak tree look like the really boring uncle at the party, we were near ready to pull our hair out in severe wanderlust and envy, but also fondly remember those warm summer nights. Founded by sisters, Emily and Yvonne-Demitra Konstantinidis, the story of kekkai began in 2014 as a collaborative art project that explored unique mixed-medium processes to produce their gorgeous cashmere & silk scarves that have formed a bold first collection with strong values. In this interview the Greek duo divulge on their creative beginnings, international influences and unique production methods that make their scarves truly one of a kind. These multi-talented girls are a duo to watch and learn from!
Can you tell us a little about the brand, Kekkai, and also what the name means?
EK+YDK: kekkai is a Japanese word that is defined as a projected energy barrier, force field or shield on a small scale; and as a pocket universe, spiritual or otherwise on a larger scale. When we came across the term we instantly fell in love with it and felt that it perfectly captured our vision of creating garments that offer power and protection whilst being playful and light-hearted.
When you first decided to start, how did you define what it would be?
EK+YDK: kekkai was born out of an artistic collaboration that we started in the winter of 2013. At the time, we were experimenting with mixed media pattern-making – taking Emily’s film photography and using it as the basis of analogue collages and digital patterns. We started with a collection of taxidermy inspired pocket squares and scarves. After doing our research and fully developing the prototypes of the taxidermy collection, we decided to turn our project into a longer vision + partnership and officially started kekkai in 2014.
You use some interesting technological processes and combinations to produce some of your scarves. Can you tell us a little about the process and why you chose to make them this way? Are there any new methods you’re experimenting with?
YDK: In two of our pieces (Camouflage and Spinning Flower Torsos) we experimented with tools that are conventionally used for architectural modeling and visualization. We developed two-dimensional patterns (through a combination of illustration, collage and digital post-production) and then used them in a three dimensional environment as CG textures. I was interested in creating 3-dimensionality in the scarves as well as exploring the idea of the pattern as a second skin. We’d love to continue pursuing this method to see how far we can push it!
Living in many different countries relieved us of the burden of having to identify ourselves with one particular culture, or be contained by any singular set of social mores.
How did you go about sourcing & finding a factory?
EK+YDK: We chose to produce our scarves in Northern Italy because of its incredible lineage of high quality textile production. We did a relatively small run for our first collection and wanted to ensure that the fabric was of the highest quality and the finishing would be done meticulously and with great care. The challenge with digital printing is that most factories require a minimum run – this meant that a lot of the factories we got in touch with were not interested in working with us. Luckily, we were able to find a great factory near Como that was willing to accommodate us. Communication was challenging, but in the end we were happy with the result.
How do you approach the designing part of the products?
YDK: We spent a LOT of time working together on Pinterest throughout the development of the first collection – taking inspiration from old photographs of Indian Maharajas, Japanese and Bauhaus textiles, reptile eyes, African war shields…the inspiration was a lot and manifold. In the end, however, the collection was really born out of and inspired by the photographs Emily had taken on her trip to Ibiza that formed the basis of most of the patterns. I then experimented with composition and modes of repetition/collage based on the content we had generated as well as the inspiration we had gathered from afar.
How would you describe your scarves in three words?
EK: Striking, intricate, soft.
Can you tell us a little about your background? Does your international upbringing influence the designs of your scarves in any way?
EK+YDK: We spent our childhood between New York and Athens, Greece. In the early 00’s we moved to the UK to pursue our education and careers in the fields of Creative Advertising (Emily) and Architecture (Yvonne-Demitra). Living in many different countries relieved us of the burden of having to identify ourselves with one particular culture, or be contained by any singular set of social mores. From a young age we were open-minded and culturally malleable – this point of view underpins everything we do.
Neither of you started in the fashion industry, why fashion and scarves?
EK: I am a Senior Account Manager in Advertising, and Yvonne-Demitra works as an Architect in NYC. I have always been obsessed with fashion and wanted to start a project that could serve as a creative outlet and a form of self-expression. We chose to work with scarves because they are a universal and versatile part of one’s wardrobe, as well as a relatively straightforward segue into patternmaking and textiles.
Believe in what you are doing. Be patient and do not expect miracles – it takes time and a lot of dedication.
You both work full-time jobs also. What’s the secret to juggling full-time jobs & managing Kekkai?
EK+YDK: Time management, communication, creating deadlines and yoga! We both work long hours in our day jobs and work on kekkai in the evenings and on weekends. It is intense and highly demanding – it helps that we are doing it together.
With whatever time you have left, how do you guys unwind & spend it?
EK: I hit the gym – kickboxing and spin are the only ways for me to really unwind!
YDK: Yoga, meditation and spending time with friends.
What are the challenges you’ve found in starting your own business?
EK+YDK: It is difficult to define something that is in the process of growing – creating consistent branding and a clear message of what kekkai is was challenging, as it was and still very much is in formation. We tried our best to be definitive yet open-ended, allowing us to continue exploring the edges of our creativity and self-expression. Neither of us have business nor fashion backgrounds – every aspect of the process along the way has been a process of learning what we didn’t know we didn’t know.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?
YDK: Believe in what you are doing. Be patient and do not expect miracles – it takes time and a lot of dedication.
What’s the greatest piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
YDK: When you start something, finish it.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since starting your business?
EK+YDK: You have to learn to be comfortable wearing many hats – marketing and PR are just as important as the design/product itself.
What are your thoughts on the future of fashion, tech and women?
YDK: We are in an extremely fertile time where the boundaries between different creative and technological endeavors are being erased, and more emphasis is being placed on networked local communities and an economy of sharing. We are excited about the prospects of local craftsmanship meeting high-technology and would love to see more emphasis placed on sustainable locally-sourced and manufactured production processes.
What are the first four websites you go to when you open your browser?
YDK: Gmail, The Guardian, Soundcloud, Dezeen
Photos courtesy of Kekkai. This interview has been edited and condensed.
If you have any questions you want to ask Emily or Demitra, please let us know or share your question in the comments below ?