The brand is the brainchild of two sisters, Natasha (dressed in black) and Natalia Navin. They wanted to fill a gap in the Malaysian market for kids-wear with well-tailored, simple designs made from natural fabrics.
Natasha, who now fully runs the brand, was an architect before; while Natalia who is a lawyer, provides business input where and when it is needed.
We caught up with Natasha to find out the exact inspiration behind the brand and how the sisters evolved into ethically conscious entrepreneurs.
Q: Tell us a bit about the Kooshboo brand.
A: I would say Kooshboo is a homegrown lifestyle brand that does Boho Chic wear. It is also an eco-conscious and ethically produced brand.
We started with kids-wear and recently added women’s wear to the line, due to the demand for it.
We will also be introducing our homeware collection soon.
Q: What was the inspiration behind Kooshboo?
A: There were many factors that contributed to how Kooshboo was created. I would say it has always been our dream to start our own business. We just didn’t know what it would be.
We grew up wearing beautiful, lovingly made clothes by our grandmother and mom. They were in all these soft, natural fabrics.
When we had kids of our own, we wanted the same thing for them. But we found clothes in the market to be boring, had no character, and were cheaply made.
We wanted something simple, yet still well designed. Thus, Kooshboo was born.
Q: Tell us more about this picture!
A: These dresses which we wore were actually sewn by our maternal grandmother (a Malaysian) who was the best tailor in our kampung in Kuala Pilah. She used to follow all the English classic designs from the pattern books she owned.
We used to wear these matchy-matchy outfits all the time, even when we visited India. Kids there would envy them.
Q: We have been a fan of Kooshboo for a while and just love your use of natural materials. Can you tell us more about them?
A: We knew from the start that our line would utilise natural fabrics like cotton, silk and linen. We wanted something that would be weather-friendly and natural fabric definitely does that, with its moisture wicking properties.
When we were kids, we went to India often because we have family members there. India’s penchant for cheerful and bright colours in wonderfully soft and flowy textiles became Kooshboo’s signature style.
It was no surprise because we were exposed to the culture from young. What’s more, there were cotton fields close to where we stayed in India.
The vibrant colours and intricate details found in the fabrics and outfits in India became especially alive during weddings. In this picture here, we were attending my cousin’s wedding.
We were in our late teens or early 20s. Perhaps this was when we told ourselves we need to bring back some of these wonderful treasures back to Malaysia – but in a fresh and current way.
Q: Kooshboo has been one of the vocal voices in the #whomademyclothes movement, where fashion brands provide transparency in their manufacturing process. What made Kooshboo decide to be a part of it?
A: Just like in choosing the fabrics, the awareness has always been there. When looking for my kids clothing, I wondered, ‘Why are they so cheap?’
While developing Kooshboo I read up and learned about the movement and about ethical fashion. It appealed to me and the brand ethos so much.
I started to look through our process to see what aspects of the movement could be applied.
One of the measures we took was to outsource some of the work to refugees.
I have always loved rosettes on my dresses, and we couldn’t cope with the demands of making them ourselves when the brand grew.
We found a mother-daughter pair from Syria to work on our rosettes and it was a win-win situation for us. We also work with this lady from Palestine, who makes our wonderful crocheted hairclips.
I love the fact that even though they get paid for the work, they love doing them and are really proud of their handicraft. I love that they get to support their family while doing something they like. The benefits go both ways and that makes me happy.
Q: What is Kooshboo’s process from design to dress?
A: The first and best part is the idea and inspiration for a new line or collection. This is followed by choosing the fabrics. Our fabrics are either from India or Malaysia.
The fabric for our latest Raya collection was sourced from India. I have been wanting to do ikat prints for the longest time. Next, we manage sampling and grading which is very important to us.
The production then starts, and this then leads to the branding and marketing of the new collection.
Q: How does Kooshboo ensure that the brand remains relevant in the world of ethical fashion?
A: There are many aspects to touch on and many definitions to the term ethical fashion. Instead of being overwhelmed by them, we decided to incorporate into our brand the things we could do. For instance, ensuring that our line is not mass produced.
We currently work with an awesome sewing contractor whose working principles echo ours: their staff are paid full wages, and are all local.
We also try to create awareness among our customers, letting them know that a lot of meaning and love went into the pieces they bought from us.
I was recently on the panel for the Fashion Revolution Malaysia discourse (hosted by the wonderful Earth Heir’s Sasibai Kimis) talking about Kooshboo’s process and promise of ethical conscious fashion.
Every single thing we do for Kooshboo comes with the questions: How is this ethical? How do we make it transparent? And whatever we can do with it, we would share on our social media for awareness.
Q: If Kooshboo could dress a local mom-daughter pair, who would they be?
A: I love this question! I’ve definitely thought about it and the answer is: Aishah Sinclair and her girls. Aishah was one of our earliest customers when we were selling at Pasar Seloka Raya and she was really nice and warm.
Since then she has supported us right up to our recent Raya collection. We would totally love to dress her and her kids up in Kooshboo.
To me she embodies what a Kooshboo woman is: she is a tree hugger and an environmentalist; she is active and also a loving mom.
Photos by Natasha Navin.