As a 90s teen growing up in Rourkela, Vivek Agarwal was fascinated by one of the first International brands that came to India-United Colors of Benetton. UCB's photography, shot by Olivero Toscani, had a lasting impact on him, and he was enamoured by 90s supermodels such as Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington. Agarwal went on to conceive a brand, OOKIOH, which is all about travelling, female beauty, and living in the moment.
OOKIOH is a swimwear brand by Agarwal which translates to "the floating world". While conceptualizing the brand's design ethos, Vivek saw a gap in the market -- while there were stylish and sustainable swimwear brands out there, they were either overpriced, too racy, or too serious. He decided to incorporate all the various aspects of OOKIOH -- from design to photography.
The brand sources from an Italian mill and the fabrics are made from 100 per cent regenerated materials which take ocean wastes (such as sunken fishing nets) and pre-consumer waste products (things people might throw away in production) and turn them into dreamy, luxurious textiles.
While many brands naturally struggled throughout the pandemic, the swimwear market was particularly negatively affected due to the closing of public pools, schools, and universities. In addition, travel restrictions further escalated the problems within a saturated market. Yet one bootstrapped brand not only persevered but thrived. OOKIOH saw a 550 per cent growth in 2020 over 2019 and, in 2021, continues to see 150 per cent growth month-over-month. It is also moving towards becoming a fully sustainable brand and aims to completely eliminate plastics over the next two years.
IANSlife caught up with Agarwal to find out more about the brand and his vision for its future:
Q: There is a sharp focus on sustainable fashion nowadays, what steps is OOKIOH taking to promote and include this?
A: Our suits are made from 100 per cent regenerated materials such as recycled plastic bottles, sunken fishing nets, textile fluff, etc. Besides using waste materials, we try to offer current but timeless designs so that they stay relevant for a longer period and consumers don't feel the need to buy every season.
We are committed to going plastic-free by 2022. In that mission, we have already exhausted our popular PVC pouches. We are working on sustainable (biodegradable/ compostable) materials for packaging and trims, as well. We are going both macro and micro and relooking every aspect of the process -- from moving production close to the customer to reduce our carbon footprint to biodegradable hygienic liners and allowing only reusable cups during our photoshoots.
Q: Generation Z and Millennials, focus on style with utility and quality... do you think your brand is tailored made to suit their needs.
A: Hundred per cent. We are known for our unique vintage-inspired sporty styles and quality. And, although swimwear is a seasonal category for most practical purposes, we have always focused on making them multi-seasonal by making them multi-use.
Q: A laidback California style with modern sensibilities, can you elaborate?
A: That is precisely how I would define OOKIOH's design ethos. The designs are fashion-forward but with a nod to the laidback lifestyle of California in the 80s and 90s. Besides, Los Angeles has a laidback vibe that has been fueled by and the beach and the two major industries in the area -- Fashion and Entertainment. It is safe to say that LA is the fifth Fashion Capital of the World. It is also a major tourist destination, and we see people from all parts of the world visiting this beautiful city. The influx of people, the local talent, and the fashion potpourri that it creates on the beach has inspired our designs and colours.
Q: In India swimwear isn't a segment with too many players, do you think that now would be the right time to make investments in this market ?
A: Absolutely. We are witnessing a cultural shift in Urban India; and, social media and travel have significantly impacted how we view swimwear. This is the reason it has become a category in India today. Although it is a tiny category and has a handful of players, we will continue to see the industry grow both in size and reach. So, it's an excellent time to get the first mover's advantage.
Q: Social media branding with influencers and celebrities a boon or a curse?
A: It has been a boon for us, and I share a great relationship with quite a few influencers. However, it can be a curse if the influencers aren't vetted with an eagle-eye, and brands aren't constantly recalibrating who they work with based on their community's feedback.
Q: Lastly your forecast for fashionable swimwear in 2022?
A: I believe Spring-Summer 2022 will bring renewed optimism and joy in full swing, and fashion will become a quick and reassuring escape more than ever. Swimwear, in particular, will become more adventurous. We will continue to see bright and electric colours and a lot of cutouts and wraparound styles on the beach.