You only need to turn on your TV for two minutes to hear about what’s going on in Ukraine, but we rarely get to hear about how that affects people that live their or their livelihoods. For one business owner, she managed to use the negativity it as a way of giving back to the place she once called home.
Here, we talk to the founder of Coco Moka to find out more about her plans with her activewear brand, how knowing that her family are safe is her priority and what her plans are for the brand for the next five years…
Tell us about the journey that lead you to launching your brand Coco Moka…
I was born in Ukraine, Chernihiv after I finished University in Chernihiv with a specialization in two subjects Psychology and History, I moved to Finland to study International business and Marketing. In Finland I enjoyed nature, and learned about sustainability and recycling. Finland has the cleanest water you can drink from the tap, clean air, they have nature everywhere. They take care of their country and want to pass it on to the next generations.
During the Erasmus program in Finland, I came for a year to study Business and Marketing in Ireland. I still recall it as one of the best years of my life. Unfortunately, I developed an allergy during my time in Ireland and I got a rash on my skin from wearing synthetic clothing.
After I completed my studies in Finland, I moved to London to study a master’s degree in Business Psychology and after a few years studying and working in London, I came back to Ireland. In Ireland I worked in the tech industry specialising in digital advertising sales.
All during which I was looking for activewear which would not irritate my skin. During the pandemic, I decided to create activewear for myself because I could not find on the market anything like the performance activewear which would be suitable for people like me.
This is when Coco Moka was born. Coco Moka was created to solve two problems. I wanted to have activewear which would help to reduce skin irritation. Also, I wanted to make sure that the creation of activewear was not polluting our planet. We use OceanBalance fabrics to create our activewear. For every 2 kilograms (4.4. pounds) of OceanBalance™ yarns to produce sustainable fabrics, the environmental benefits include conserving five days of drinking water for one person and reducing the consumption of oil-based products by 3.785 litres.
You provide activewear for sensitive skin, why was this important to you?
When I developed my skin sensitivity, I did not know what to do about my irritated skin but I later realised that improving the quality of my life was up to me. I began by eating healthily and getting active with sports, however most sportswear would irritate my skin.
This inspired me to create my own line of luxury activewear, made of silky and smooth fabrics that would give me the feeling of a second skin. I kept this idea with me for many years, but I only started actively working on it during the pandemic.
I researched different fabrics until I found several types of eco-friendly materials which were soft like silk, yet flexible and durable for performance sports activities.
How do you want women to feel when wearing your clothes?
I want them to feel confident and beautiful. I want to help them enjoy sports with comfortable and eco-friendly clothing. I want women to find something that works for them. When women are wearing Coco Moka, I want them to enjoy the feeling of silky fabric on the skin. We focused on a few main values when we were working on the pillars of the brand. I wanted to make sure we created activewear so women could find quality, design and sustainability.
Slow and ethical fashion is at the forefront of what you do, can you tell us more about that?
Slow fashion is a key value of our business. I will give you some examples of why it is important.
“Fashion accounts for around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, but there are ways to reduce the impact your wardrobe has on the climate. Annually, apparel manufacturing releases around 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases.” (as quoted from BBC‘s article by Christine Ro*)
We are keen supporters of slow fashion which aims to reduce the textile waste clogging our landfills. This means our production schedules are slower and get produced in smaller batches, meaning that we have zero waste designs.
When I am running out of stock, I let my clients know that it will take a few weeks for us to produce the item that they are looking for.. This gives me confidence that with time consumer behaviours will shift more from mass-market towards slow fashion.
Looking back since launching the brand, is there anything you would do differently?
Yes, I would do many things differently. I know so much more now. I have learned a lot. I continue learning every day. I made mistakes but that is a part of the learning process.
I know now which designs are selling better and so I would invest more into some designs and less in others. I understand more now about the power of branding and brand awareness and focusing on building consumers’ trust. I understand better where I can find Italian eco-friendly performance fabrics we are using for our collections. How to find and be accepted by market places, how to work with different social media channels. It takes time and effort to learn what works and what doesn’t. I am still in the beginning of the long journey of building a brand that will stand the test of time.
However, I was very lucky to find a mentor who had already created her own fashion and activewear business, from a very small investment. I was working on the brand together with my mentor who helped me learn faster about the world of running an activewear business.
Collaboration with my mentor saved me a lot of time and investment. I worked with my mentor to source and test the right fabrics, design samples of the collection, produce the collection, find suppliers and distribution channels.
Talk us through an average day in your life…
I have to say I am very lucky. I truly believe and follow what Marc Anthony said: “ If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. “
I wake up early and start my day with gratitude, I thank the day for giving me an opportunity to live it fully and create something useful.
I am a coffee lover, I am not only drinking it but I wear it. We use in our collection one type of fabric made from recycled coffee. So in the morning I will have a cup of coffee and I will spend time looking out at the beautiful nature from my window in Dublin before I open my emails and start working on the tasks I have outlined for the day.
I love sports, but I became active and a bit more athletic later in my life. Last year when I turned 40 I made a promise to myself that from now on sport is a part of my routine, the same way as brushing teeth every morning.
I do not follow an exact schedule when I exercise. I do not prefer specific times like in the morning, lunch or in the evening. It depends on how busy my schedule is and when I have a free slot to do it. But I make sure I do 3-4 times per week some type of activity, walking, cycling, jogging, hiking, or following video classes at home.
During the day, in the evening and sometimes during weekends I work on operational and strategic tasks. As it is still early days in the business,I do take care of many aspects of it myself.
The most exciting part of the day, which I will never call work, is when I work on creating the new collection. I gather ideas together, make some sketches, choose fabrics, colours eetc. For my next collection I have collaborated with a talented Ukrainian illustrator Ksen Kryvonos, www.ksen.design who is based in Amsterdam and is working with me on the next project which has been in the works for almost a year and a half. Through her illustrations my vision of this collection is brought to life. I like to collaborate with different people to bring diversity and different talents to the brand.
During the time, when we worked on establishing the brand we were focusing on building the brand identity. My business partner Olga Garajeva and I collaborated with brand identity Ukrainian designer Daria Solomenko @darkdonna. We had many meetings during the time we worked together on creating the brand identity to reflect, through visual representation, the values of unique and luxury fabrics, sustainability and European design.
Sometimes, unfortunately not as often as I would like to, I participate in the photoshoots. I love photoshoots because I can see how happy models are when they wear our outfits. I feel satisfied and happy when I see models wearing my products and truly enjoying it.
Unfortunately, since February 24th my day changed, I woke up to the news about the war in my country. My family just evacuated from Chernihiv, Ukraine and they did not want to leave in the beginning, until the city was completely destroyed. I flew to Poland last week to meet them for the first time after the war started. Now they are safe and staying with me in Ireland.
During the past month I had to rethink and re evaluate many things in my life. I saw very clearly what was important and how fragile life can be.
While I was focusing on helping my family and my country I was leaning on collaborations with my mentor Elena Gromova @elena_gromova_fashlab and creative director Olga Garajeva @olgagarajeva and a digital agency who helps with our social marketing.
They helped to finalise the new collection and organise our last photoshoot which will be available in the beginning of May.
How long does it take you to work on a new product and what’s the process behind that?
It usually takes a long time, around 6 – 8 months. The process starts with imagining the look and feel of the product, then I find visually something similar that inspires me to create a sketch and discuss it with my mentor.
She helps me to understand if what I imagine can also be practical for women who will wear it. Sometimes I can see beautiful designs in my head but when I think about it, the outfit will not be practical.
After I decide to proceed with the design I choose fabrics, accessories if needed and we send it to the pattern maker. Based on the simplicity or difficulty of the product the sample can take from a few days to 5-6 weeks. It will usually take 3 tries of the sample to get to the final product.
After we approve production, it takes us up to 6 weeks, sometimes even longer to produce a collection. This is a slow fashion process and we make a continuous decision to work with slower production times. We have to plan in advance our stock level, taking into consideration production time is longer than in mass-market.
We just finished working on the second collection. We made soft see through skirts from plisse fabric, which you can wear on top of shorts or leggings and combine it with different tops and jackets. You can wear skirts on top of shorts or leggings together with a jacket, walk to the gym and come back looking stylish before, during and after your workout.
But I had one product which I created very quickly. In March I made a simple recycled organic T-shirt. I used my own paint to print it over the T-shirt to support Ukraine. I made two designs with slight variations of the print. I shared sales of this product to support humanitarian efforts back home.
How much has social media played a role in the success of your brand?
Social media plays a very important part of building any business, but fashion and active wear businesses it’s even more important. We are only at the beginning of this journey and we understand it will take some time and some investment to build a successful brand presence on social media.
Different channels have different nuances: what will work for Instagram will not work on Twitter. Brands should not ignore TikTok and get there even if they think the audience is too young for them.
We have a strategy for each channel and are working on slowly building organic presence first. We want to start with building a community who are interested in what we do and want to follow us because they want to know more about our brand. It takes time and we are willing to work on it until we succeed.
What is your go-to quote when lacking motivation?
I like this quote “Don’t stop until you are proud”.
What does self care mean to you?
Self-care means to me to be healthy physically and mentally so I can focus on what I love to do and spend quality time with important people in my life.
Where do you see the brand in the next 5 years?
I want Coco Moka in 5 years to have a B Corp Certification. I am building the business process with the questions in mind about how the brand will benefit customers, communities and the planet.
I want the brand to be recognised as one of the leading brands that provide luxury quality outfits for people with sensitive skin.
I want to reduce the negative impact fashion production has on our planet.
I will continue to focus my efforts to help Ukraine in humanitarian aid. I made an initiative to help the community where I offer a 60% discount on all products for Ukrainians who left the country because of the war and moved to Europe.
Where can people find out more?