Sharin & Thanh the founders of Kiyo
Anyone who knows the MM founder Kelly Thompson knows that she LOVES socks. With heels, with slippers, with any kind of shoe and often in summer she will be wearing socks, all chosen specifically to match an outfit.
Problem is it's very hard to find socks that align with the Makers' Mrkt standards for ethical production and quality materials. Enter Kiyo, the Melbourne based sock brand making ethically produced designer socks that are soft, in a range of fun designs and also super cute. We chat to Kiyo founders Sharin and Thanh about their young brand.
1. Tell us more about yourselves, who are you and how did you get to be Kiyo?
Thanh: I'm the tech-savvy guy in the business, and I am passionate about food! Cooking is one of my jams and in my spare time I enjoy making large pot of aromatic Pho that would last for days. I love wearing novelty socks myself, and had this idea of making my own with Sharin - because she has a design background.
Sharin: Hello! I am a Motion Designer and I work for myself now. Other than that, I've always been interested in environmental issues (I made a bad animation about global warming when I was 15!) and social issues. So when Thanh first asked me if I wanted to join him in the making of these socks - I knew we had to consider the environmental and social impacts as well. We realised that although there are many organic & sustainable socks, there are not many that have "fun" designs. Moreover, even if there were, we wouldn't like the designs. So we decided to create designs we like: fun, yet minimal & edgy.
2. Sustainability is the word on everyone's lips right now, but your brand is walking the talk, why is sustainability and ethical production important to you and your brand?
Sharin: I have always been interested in environmental issues since I was a teenager - before sustainability became the buzzword, and when the talk of climate change wasn't as big as now. Growing up in Indonesia, I've also seen the big wealth and social gap in society. It is important because as a brand and as an individual we have to be responsible. It is easy to forget that the piece of clothing that you bought, has created an impact whether it's on the environment or on someone's lives. We do not want to make such profits if it means that we're killing the environment, and if it means that someone else is suffering in order to create our products. I mean if it does, why do it at all? I think everyone should start asking about every single product they buy: what are they made of? Who made them?
3. Can you tell us more about the journey setting up a sustainable supply chain and how long it took you to find materials and suppliers to meet your ethics, was it a difficult process?
It was such a long and difficult journey, I think we underestimated how tricky it is to make sustainable products that ticked the boxes. I think it took 7-8 months for research, and then more than a year to finally launch. Mind you, we didn't have any textiles/fashion background at all.
Firstly, we had to do extensive research on which fabric would be suitable for socks and which ones would be the most sustainable. On top of that, apparently it is difficult to find a socks manufacturer that has ethical & sustainable values, that would do low MOQ. It was also hard to find one that could do custom designs on socks. Many of them who are sustainable and could do organic cotton, couldn't do custom or colours that we want. We contacted so many manufacturers in 2020 during lockdown, and we got turned away a lot because of our low MOQ.
We also had to research on a whole range of different certifications and ask every single manufacturer whether they have them. We asked a lot of questions about their production. We might've annoyed a lot of them, because some would tell us that we're asking too many questions and demanding too much for a low MOQ. But again, if we can't do it right, why do it at all? We finally found one in Indonesia, and it's good because I speak their language and I am from there, so it's easier for me to communicate and monitor.
4. Why socks? What made you decide to start a sock brand?
Sharin: We both love funky socks. For me, surrounding myself with mostly creatives, funky socks are that thing that people love but never really have as the center of conversation. As I grew older, I started to understand the impact of the fashion industry more. I wanted socks that are sustainably & ethically made, but I also wanted designs that are more minimal and edgy. Surprisingly, it was hard to find. So we made them!
Thanh: Socks are subtle, it's an item when worn on the street, no one would see it at first. We wanted to create something that wasn't boring that can add another layer of personality to your outfit. People also wear socks at home, especially here in Melbourne during winter. So they're quite versatile, in terms of they can be worn anywhere, anytime!
5. Tell us more about your processes working together as a team, do you each have specific roles? How do you create your designs?
Sharin: We kinda do! Although most of the time, we're just helping out each other. I take care of the designs of the socks, social media and replying to emails and chats. And thankfully for me, many of my friends and family are super supportive, so they kind of help me doing the marketing as well! I also take on the creative direction on Kiyo's brand & look. Thanh does all the backend stuff. He built the website, helps with marketing and setting up ads. He also helps me with taking photos for social media.
Other things like finance, contacting manufacturers etc, we kind of do it together.
6. Tell us more about your home and workspace? What do you love about it, what makes a home or space a great place for you?
Sharin: We don't really have a designated workspace, just this tiny corner in the bedroom - it's where I work as a Motion Designer as well. Since we don't have that much stock either, we just store them in the apartment and every time someone orders, we just pack them from the bedroom.
We do love our home though! We live in a high-rise building that has so much natural light. I think what makes a space great for me is definitely natural light, tidiness, nice furniture and decor, and plants! However I am personally kind of a minimalist, so I don't like having too many unnecessary things in my home, especially if they don't add values. They stress me out! The less, the better. Unless...if it's a plant.
7. Do you have any words of advice for someone wanting to start a sustainable accessories brand? Any mistakes you've made that others could learn from?
Just be extra patient, and be firm. If you start small and don't have a lot of budget, then some suppliers might turn you away. That's okay, just move on. There will be someone, somewhere that would understand your needs. You also need to know when to stop perfecting something. You will learn by doing. Do a lot of research, because even a sustainable fabric, has some flaws. Nothing would be perfect, but just do research so that you can decide on which fabric would best suit your needs. Ultimately, be kind to yourself and your business partner. It can get to you at some point and it might be frustrating. Just take a step back and take a deep breath. At the end of the day, it will be worth it. Most importantly, have fun!
8. Where do you see Kiyo in five years?
This is the kind of question that I am always bad at answering! Haha. But let me see... I think we want to expand to creating different sustainable products as well. We don't know what they might be yet, but thinking something that still has that cosy, fun & minimal vibe. Possibly stocking some products in Indonesia too, because our current manufacturer is there, but also because my family seems to be so keen in helping to sell them from their home. They can be my Indonesian stockist or something. But, who knows! We will reconvene in 5 years ;)
9. Why is shopping small and sustainably important to you?
By shopping small, you'll get to support individuals, rather than big corporations. Also you'll get products that are unique - because there are often only limited numbers of them. Who wants to be the same as everyone else?
Anything that you buy has an impact on the environment or someone's life & wellbeing. By shopping sustainably, you will be minimising the negative impacts or even give positive impacts instead. I think we live in the time where people are more informed and more aware about what's actually happening behind the scenes. Which is great!
10. Your socks are OCS, OEKO-TEX 100 and BSCI certified. For those who are not familiar, can you tell us more about what all these things mean?
Yes! OCS is "Organic Content Standard", basically a certification that checks and verifies the amount of organic content of a product. So that verifies our organic cotton material of our socks.
OEKO-TEX essentially checks for harmful substances in the making of the products, therefore no harmful substances would go to the waterway or harming the workers (there are 100 subtances that are checked).
BSCI is the certification to check the fair treatment of the workers - whether they're being paid fairly, whether they work according to the allocated times (so not overworked), their compensation, whether there's forced or child labour or not, and the list goes on!
If you'd like to check out the Kiyo sock range, you can find it online here