kito1981coverTo me Nikolina seem to represent the very ocean that laps around her Bronte based home. Her fierce and independent spirit led her to Australia with only one bag full of optical wear to participate in an entirely self-funded exhibition for her glasses in 2011 that her Mom and Sister helped in, and a return flight ticket to Greece due two weeks after. We chatted over coffee one weekend in Surry Hills where she shared stories of her adventures* travelling around the world**, her elemental label Kito1981 (nicknamed Kito for short) and her previous life as a working Optometrist.

Special thanks to Face Furniture Eyewear, Decor on Danks and Pure Interiors for your amazing contributions to this article.


What is your 9-5?

I spoke Italian there whilst studying Optometry in Italy, Florence and I work at Luxottica representing one of their luxury brands here in New South Wales.

Other career paths you are currently multi-tasking as well.

Other than my weekday job, I work on my brand Kito1981 with my Melbourne-based partner on the weekends. Mainly online and social media. I’m usually at the Paddington or Bondi markets, depending on the events there as well as my own schedule. The reason why I decided to settle down here in Sydney was to work towards exposing the Kito1981 brand in a more organic way here in Australia. Reactions to our shoes so far have been great where customers usually buy more than a pair each time because we make them in limited quantities or are usually custom-made to fit each customer.

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Brief rundown of your activities with Kito1981 so far:

It’s really been an emotional journey, I love it when I meet people all over the world who appreciate Greek traditions. We’ve also started selling a little in San Francisco and New York recently because it has a similar weather to Sydney’s. The Greek Festival in Melbourne last year was fun, and we did a couple of trade shows around Australia including one in Canberra. We have been active in the music industry as well, testing the brand from a lifestyle point of view as well to a specific market. The Greek festival is something that Kito’s intending to be a part of again this year because I received an invitation to participate last week.

In our last look book project I was lucky enough to get a photographer friend of mine, Monica Buscarino who shot our last campaign. The girl who modeled for us was working with Calvin Klein in London, but she was from Byron Bay and we shot the pictures in Bronte. For this year I would like to be more involved in the Australian fashion scene as well here in Sydney. We are thinking of collaborating with a local Australian clothes brand, but I don’t know how it’s going to work because I want to take my time to develop that relationship first and explore a little bit more from a creative standpoint. Currently, we have been stocking our products at a shop in Byron Bay. I’m also looking forward to exploring new projects for next year as well.

I would also love to start reaching into the South East Asian market as well like Malaysia and Singapore. Even Japan as well because of the positive reviews we have been getting from them. Our international customers mainly centre on Japan in the Asian market because they do appreciate the quality and minimal aesthetics of our products.

Why did you choose to develop your brand to focus on hand-made sandals and why is it so important to you?

There is a fine line between being commercial and keeping the authenticity of your brand. I would never want to just make a product if I wouldn’t wear it as a personal preference. Making sandals by hand became our trademark, and I wanted people to know us for it. I’m lucky because I was able to work with people with different aesthetic mindsets who have proven that my sandals can be worn by different people as well. There is no set customer profile here at Kito. Not the beachy boho types that you see a lot in America that has been commercialized. Those trends will come and go and I wanted our brand to strive beyond the aesthetics, and focus on the essentials the individual is looking for. That’s why the name Kito refers to “elements” in Swahili.

We started with our sunglasses range as another foundational element, but I knew that our brand was going to be more than that with many different products. With our products I wanted it to be like a part of every individual. I wanted our products to bring out different personalities without being too loud, or have that need to prove to anyone about anything. Like Kito’s handmade sandals. I wanted to bring items into the market that people would usually bring back from Greece into Australia, so I thought about creating similar sandals the Greeks were historically known for. And usually when you go to the islands in Greece, everyone brings back a pair of sandals. I wanted something that was a classic, but more minimalistic with an attention to detail using different types of leather that we source from Italy or Spain. Tuscany is unique for their leather as well. That’s where Gucci and Ferragamo looked to, Prato’s another place known to sell special types of leather. And we use Vaccheta*** like Louis Vuitton. With the metallic leathers that we have included in our ranges as well, the silver and golds, that’s all from Italy too. I’ve experimented a bit with black leather as well, which I love. My clients who were male were happy with the choices we offered.

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In my travels when I was living in New York and San Francisco, I found a huge gap in the market. I couldn’t find nice leather sandals for men. There was a huge lack thereof. And I’ve always thought the combination of a nice pair of jeans, shirt, belt, and leather sandals looked good as casual wear on men. That’s where I got the inspiration to start designing something simple for them, black crossed leather sandals for example – a timeless classic that carries a particular identity and history behind every item.

My experience in the last few years is that people are going beyond the brands. Discovering new brands and trying to focus their support on people they believe in. There is a growing consciousness in being more ethical when it comes to manufacturing items in fashion and people are starting to care more about quality and origins of the product, which is what I really hope to encourage with my own brand. Creating an emotional recall with what we offer. With our stands at the weekend markets, I do share postcards that my Dad sends me from Santorini and I see it in the people’s eyes, what it reminds them of and their memories of that side of the world which is beautiful. There is a unique energy there in Greece, which we want to bring here to Australia.

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 “I understand the process behind collecting data and analyzing figures to improve your business, but worrying too much about that takes the joy of creating for your brand.”

Our shoes come with a huge history behind it from the Philosophers and Olympians in Greece. From my side being Greek, I took that as an element too and implemented it into all our pieces. Truth be told, it is a little more modern that what most Greeks are used to. But with our customers we were still able to match them with our intended aesthetic. I think it’s about the imperfections. The fact that it is a handmade product, and the original ideas behind what we took and twisted a little to make them a bit more modern.

The same techniques that have existed for centuries in Greece are still currently used to make our sandals in a factory in Crete that have been passed down for five generations. They are very good friends with my Father, who lives in Santorini. He likes to take his boat out to their factory to visit them sometimes.

How do you keep up with both lines of work to ensure that whatever you do stays true to your goals? Both Kito 1981 and your career here in New South Wales?

It was not easy, starting out as a new brand. But when I see a person interacting with our products, it makes me happy. I understand the process behind collecting data and analyzing figures to improve your business, but worrying too much about that takes the joy of creating for your brand. There was a huge difference in the last three years I think, where a lot of big European brands preferred manufacturing their products overseas, but now they are encouraging more handmade products like mine to grow. Making batches with smaller production quantities are something that markets in and outside of Europe have responded very well to and are even glad for that option.

It’s creating balance I think. I’m usually up by five in the morning to do my yoga and take in the ocean and organize my emails before the day starts. I try to organize my time and I try not to complain despite being very busy with my job. I was trained in New York, and I’ve learnt that there is always time. And if you don’t have time you make time (laughs). Both jobs combine my passions and my work in the eyewear industry. Kito is my baby. I like connecting with people in the industry too, especially for my current job where I have to contact people to talk about the products. I never stopped working (on Kito1981) even when I first took up jobs in optometry shops. Even if I stayed up until three in the morning working on Kito, I’m never too tired to pack my Fiat full of Kito items to sell at the markets.

I think it was the connection that I had with the brand. From the first moment when you create the name to the end when you see someone buy and wear your product. We’ve had the Black Eyed Peas wear our shades, our collaboration with Kid Mac here in Australia, and that’s what I love about our Kito customers. I love talking to our stockists, I love being in their shops and watching how people interact with our products because they help me to understand how to improve through their feedback. People are more honest if you approach them in person. It’s like going to a restaurant. You either like it or you don’t. And you can apply that to anything in business.

It was not easy though, juggling a full-time job and investing in a company that you started. You need to have a passion in what you do; otherwise you’ll give up. I also have huge faith in what I am creating with my brand and what we stand for – originality and authenticity – in our products.

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Parting words?

Have important values in your life. For us, with Kito1981, it will never be a trendy brand. Nothing is difficult if you are truly passionate about what you do. And our message is very clean and direct: to be like the elements in everything you do.  What you do that comes from your core will form your instincts.

Be honest with yourself in what you do, and if it’s what they really want they want to do even if things are slow. Go in deep to find your direction because you are so easily influenced from every direction when you are forming your own path of learning, trust your instinct. Never try to copy.

Have faith in what you do, even when things are slow or do not turn out how you expected it to be.

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*favorite story hands down was about her lucky dollar that she still keeps up to this day
**Tumeric coffee at her partner’s restaurant in Melbourne is an absolute must try if you happen to be in that state
***A type of Italian leather that darkens over time.


featuring Kito1981 Men and Women’s leather sandals collections and shades

keep up to date with Kito1981 on their Instagram for their next weekend market appearance in Sydney.

shot with Canon 6D and 24-105mm lenses

underwater images shot with Olympus hd and hd f1.8 casing


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