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Conversations is a new series on  The Potential Corporate where we sit down with fashion industry insiders to discuss a wide range of topics. Questions will be asked, coffees will be sipped and the learning of new opinions or points of view will be meticulously documented and shared with you.

Katya is one of those women who possesses eyes that sparkle with discerning interest and never fails to entertain with an anecdote or two even at 9AM in the morning whilst running for meetings and appointments.  Her knack for observation is translated into her enthusiasm for art and architecture, only comparable to her strong entrepreneurial sense that extends beyond the fashion community here in South Australia where the industry familiar juggles her husband’s online education platform as well as her own brand Katya Komarova in her spare time when she isn’t modelling for local Adelaide agency Finesse.

This October she makes her runway debut as one of the few emerging designer talents at the Adelaide Fashion Festival, prompting us to hashtag #TeamKatya.

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Katya Komarova: I’ve actually recently redirected my label, and I’m focusing more on what I love and what I am passionate about, like my leather goods. Before I started my journey as a designer the fashion industry, I worked for more than 10 years as a model – something that people would say it (evolving my fashion career to become a designer) was quite a reasonable move. Spending so many years here (in Australia) I collected a lot of contacts, had an eye for things, which developed into this vision. I knew how I wanted women to look. Sometime later, it was during my travels in Thailand when I met this local artisan who in a way helped to initiate me on this creative path by teaching me how to work with leather. It was completely unexpected, but I got back home to Russia and revisited the idea again by making some clutches for myself. Some of my friends who were designers back home really loved my work but I only thought, “okay, maybe I could take this more seriously”. It was only after more designers started using my accessories on their runways during Fashion Week in Russia, I got so excited seeing my items on the runway I thought to myself, ”Yeah I want to do this more seriously”.

I moved to Florence, Italy afterwards to study handbag design. The main focus of my study then was creating handmade products. I had an amazing teacher, and it was such a beautiful experience that I tried to incorporate elements from that experience into all my designs up to this day.

In 2011 I created my first label ByMosquito that stocked my custom-made bags, belts and other accessories. But by the time I moved to Australia in 2013, it was difficult managing my clients back in Russia. That was how KatyaKomarova was born. I started learning how to market my brand in Australia and understand what I could I offer to the local market. I experimented on a lot of things with my label that I felt did not truly represent me, but I tried it anyways to initiate as many conversations as I could with Australian customers. But in the end I went back to do what I really loved doing. And it was suede accessories, which I am very excited to present my new collection at the Adelaide Fashion Festival this October.

Nicole Fang: Yeah I did see some of them featured on your Instagram page. When can we see them and how were you inspired to create this new collection?

KK: Unfortunately I can’t release any new items anywhere until the runway goes live. But going back on topic, I guess the things that really inspires me is based on my past experience in the fashion industry. I learned to develop my own taste and figure out what I really loved. And I believe that what I’ve created so far is quite different to what other designers have done. So this new, different vision on how women can style their everyday outfits with extravagant accessories is what pushes my work forward. You can see it in every bag I create. I love corners, geometry and sharp lines. I love Vogue magazines, I love people watching on what they wear and visiting art galleries. Art has always inspired me as well as architecture.

NF: And from that, I understand that you started you label on an e-commerce platform – that was how I was originally introduced to your work, why did you initially choose to do so?

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KK: Well firstly I didn’t have much time or the extra resources to invest in a shop front. Online platforms were always the best solution for me. And as my items are custom-made, it is quite difficult when something like that requires a strong understanding of the functionality and requirements of running a website. That was why I decided to go with an e-commerce platform, Shopify. I love it, it works well for me. And it has worked well for other brands that I know of too. Building my client base across the world was another factor that enables them to easily find me as well as managing my online orders and yeah, it has been my strongest point of sale at this moment for my brand.

NF: The reason why I asked is because when I talk to other entrepreneurs, the common belief was that Adelaide was the best place for entrepreneurs to tap into the local resources when initiating startups. Especially with a bricks and mortar business. Like the Australian Fashion Labels and Boost Juice that started in a small shop down in Rundle Mall. But you went the opposite direction and focused on an online presence instead. I find it interesting that a lot of independent designers like yourself do generally prefer to take such an approach. Up to a certain extent I find that rather risky, relying on the Internet as a tool to market in such a competitive landscape. What do you think?

KK: Actually I found that with e-commerce it isn’t as risky due to the lower level of investments that I’ve made. Personally however, I feel that I am still learning about my customers. And I’ll have so many questions if I am opening a shop! I would want to know if my customers are able to know where my shop’s located. Can they access it? Is my brand targeting the right segment? I do understand your point that Adelaide is a great place to start your business physically because rent here’s more affordable, competition in the local fashion scene has only started to grow and mature even though they haven’t had the history for such activities compared to places like Melbourne for example. But it (having a physical shop) may not necessarily work well for my brand, as it has a very strong international edge due to my background. And maybe I won’t even come to the point of opening my own shop, thinking about it is already a very big decision for me at this stage.

NF: Being able to operate on more flexible grounds will also help to curate your brand, according to what you want?

KK: Mmmmhmm, and we (my husband and I) decided to pivot the brand slightly. To stop creating clothes and instead focus on more accessories. If I were a physical shop, this sudden change of vision in my brand would really affect the way in which our store operates, the way we present ourselves on the street and how we market to our target audience. But if you’re online, a quick change of pictures, a tweak in your storyline and you can easily create a channel to get feedback from your customers. And I find that easier to manage, because the online community is so driven and quick. It’s digital.

NF: Oh yeah, the power of social media. The internet demands speed. People want fast fashion, they want fast this, fast that, instant gratification, they want the products they bought through online retailers in their hands the next day..

KK: Yeah, it is quite different. Well I am happy I made the decision to move here to Adelaide after I finished my studies. Because the actual development of my business started here. And I don’t know where I would have been now with the Katya Komarova label if I chose to stay on in Sydney. There’s more competition in Sydney, more pressure. And it may have been more difficult for me to meet people from the industry. When I modeled in Sydney it wasn’t very often as I was juggling my studies too, so I didn’t get the same response that I got in Moscow. In Adelaide however I first introduced myself to the local fashion community as a model. I started building my contacts, got to know other designers, stylists, editors, and bloggers. I don’t know if I could have done that in Sydney.

NF: Well I guess in terms of work, Adelaide is more conducive environment compared to Sydney. It’s quieter, but at the same time because it’s so quiet, isn’t it a lot harder to reach out to your customers in and out of Australia because of the geographical disadvantage and how isolated we can appear to everyone else?

KK: But even so there have been some really big brands coming from Adelaide. You know, those brands that are really killing it right now, everywhere! Not just Australia but overseas, and it does tell me so – if it was about a year ago I would say, “ah well, maybe I’ll have to move to Sydney or Melbourne to extend and grow”. But then I realized how easy it is, well, as long as you know what you do and who your client is: It doesn’t matter who you are. Actually a lot of my original clients are Russians found all over the world. Canada, America, even Dubai! The geography locations of my clients are quite varied, and being online, having a strong e-commerce presence built for them to utilize helps me to grow in that way. But saying that, yes, being in contact with everyone else physically is important too. I don’t know what would have happened if I settled Katya Komarova elsewhere, but I wouldn’t have been invited to participate in the Adelaide Fashion Festival as a designer this year if so. (laughs).

NF: How would you encourage aspiring female entrepreneurs looking to work in this space?

KK: You will have to go meet with people and talk to them about your brand, establish you business by demonstrating what you are passionate about. There are millions of talented people out there, and some of them never go that far – not that I am saying that I’ve gone very far – but I feel that in this industry, sometimes even talented people do not know where to go. They are too scared, or it’s just too far away to reach the right people. But you need that support, from the stylist, editors, even the local government.

You just always have to believe in your brand, that people – most people don’t realize I have my own brand! I have to always make sure that people know me as a designer and not just another model. So it’s better to always be around such influencers, that people will notice and understand what you do. Ask for advice, ask for feedback, as it does help to grow from the business perspective as well. From a designer or a creative point of view, I educate myself via books, I watch inspiring movies and I keep up to date with websites and magazines to stay current in the industry. But to push my brand forward, it was all about the contacts I built. No one can do that for you, because you only have yourself to rely on to keep asking questions. I would be happy to talk about my mistakes in the past as well. It is not a good idea to try everything. You really have to see and think for yourself what you are really good at. Just nail it everyday and become the best at it. And I think that’s how it works in any industry. Like in fashion, baking, and I don’t know, coffee-making? (laughs) Point is, for example, “I only make grilled chicken, because I know that (laughs) even though I’m not the perfect cook and everything but my chicken is the best.” I think that was my mistake in the past because I wanted to do everything. I loved to try everything and I was just spread across a wide range of stuff. But with your time, energy, and the money you invest in your business..you may end up with nothing because you can’t possibly be good at everything. And that was my reality.

Take my favorite shoe designer, Sophia Webster. She had a very strong vision about one particular shoe design which she became very good in and known for on her own online platforms. Now she has a huge office in the middle of London, working with many talented people and offering different bags and a lot of other things that she didn’t necessarily create and design herself. But because she has been able to focus and create a very strong vision of the brand, she can then work with people to use their skills along with that brand vision to provide additional items to compliment the original essence of the brand. Start with something you are really good at, and then grow by having other people help you with what you also want to achieve with your label later on.

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NF: Going back to your point about wanting to try everything, I noticed that you had a recurring theme along your e-commerce platform with all your online collections when you were in this experimental phase with Katya Komarova (the nude Kokoshniks – leather crowns – and your signature snowflake candy bags). You tried different types of clothing; different types of shoes and now you are starting to focus more on accessories. More on the avant garde and artistic side of fashion that the everyday woman can use. For each different collection how were you able to create that uniqueness during the initial learning period of managing a brand label?

KK: I guess it just comes to me, I love being creative. It’s difficult for me to fall asleep because my head is always full of ideas, my hands get itchy and it makes me want to run upstairs to my studio at home to work on it. But I have to go to bed, I have to wake up in the morning, (laughs). It’s very difficult to determine a set process. If I have one idea that becomes very sticky, and I’m thinking about it every single day and working around it, that sometimes develops into a strong inspiration point for whatever collection I am working on. I like to explore different possibilities. How I can use this item for a range of products? My sold collections are definitely me learning about who I am as a designer, who my customer is. And I think I’ve got it now. I’m coming back to where I am with my first label and it’s more about this little bit of personality decoration in the form of an outfit or accessory. And just feeling different when you wear that same jumper that everyone else has. Having just a small but unique statement to show who you are and viola! This is what I want to give to women. And I feel that I will be growing in that direction from now on. Bags has always been my passion, and even now I can’t bear to take from my own stock. I want my clients to wear it and own it! I can’t even gift anything out of my stock for myself. I honestly feel happier if someone else was wearing it instead of me! You know?

NF: Like you’ve just made something. Like it’s your baby, it’s a part of you that you are giving?

KK: As an artist I get excited about somebody actually loving what I do. They want to have this bag or this belt I made. That reaction is priceless. If I had more inventory, I would have each bag in every size and color. It’s difficult however with limited stock on all my online platforms at the moment. So I do prefer my customers to have them instead. And I’ll stick with one or two samples (laughs).

NF: Suggestion to christian each creation with a Polaroid. (laughs). What were some of the best memories you’ve had in regards to starting your own brand?

KK: Hard to say. I think one of the most stressful and exciting moments was my presentation of my second collection at Finesse. It was the first time I faced the media in Adelaide at full force. Combined with the fact that I wasn’t able to talk much because I was sick that day. That and last year when I won third place in Melbourne during the Derby Day Cup for my outfit and it did inspire me to start my headwear collection which I got lots of encouragement and support for doing so.

NF: What else have you learned about the industry here in Australia from a fashion standpoint?

KK: The difference of my experience (in Russia) was that I always had an extremely personal approach with my brand. People knew me enough to trust my own taste and style, and I was just creating what I felt was good enough for a particular person. Here in Australia I realised I had to listen more, which is a good thing because I don’t believe in pushing my beliefs onto others, especially when it comes to fashion. Learning from my colleagues and learning how to play in the industry, how to create something still very different, personal but yet commercial were things that I never really thought about when I was back in Russia. The Australian market here has it’s own rules which I have to follow if I want to play this game. And that the end of the day I’ve learnt to ask myself of everything I do with my label. Can this be sold? Will the Australian woman wear it? And if she will, where? I have to always step back from putting the items only on myself because what I create – it’s not just about me anymore, it’s more about the women that I design for. An extremely positive challenge to take on I feel.

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Stay tuned to this year’s October 2016 Adelaide Fashion Festival for the new Katya Komarova collection to be available online here. Follow her on Instagram, @katyakomarovaofficial, or Twitter, @KatyaByMosquito.

Interview and photographed by Nicole Fang

Shot with Canon 6D and 24-105mm lenses.