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In Knots Over ZOE SEVAK, Made In Kenya

Over a decade ago, love brought Zoe Sevak to Kenya. A lawyer by profession with an MBA, Zoe left her home country of Greece to be with her husband. But it wouldn’t be until October 2017 that she would launch her eponymous fashion brand. In fact, Zoe Sevak may not have come into being, if not for a certain knot necklace.

So, you’re a trained lawyer who hasn’t practiced in 15 years and then you launch a fashion brand because of a necklace?

I’ve always had an eye for fashion and I love to mix and match. How I started a fashion brand was very random, to be honest. I made a necklace for myself and when my friend saw the finished product she suggested that I should go into that. It’s made from kitenge material and we put a special tube inside to make the knot steady. I called that piece the Zoe necklace because it introduced the Zoe Sevak brand into the market.

[Image: Courtesy of Zoe Sevak]

You started with accessories and then branched into clothing, why is that?

Because I have so many ideas in my mind. There is so much inspiration in Kenya that you can do so many things. So, I started to experiment with different areas and I liked the outcome. Fashion IS limitless.

Why did you choose Zoe Sevak as your brand name?

The whole brand represents me and my taste, nobody can copy my name or be me. I am aiming for a unique business and brand, not something that releases 100 versions of the same dress. Whatever I make, I would wear. This is very important because it shows that the designer believes in whatever they make. And when you believe in it you can see it being successful. If I wear what I make, it shows that I’m happy and satisfied. You can’t wear what you don’t like, right?

How would you describe your style to someone who hasn’t interacted with the brand before?

It’s fresh, modern yet classic, and inimitable. It combines styles from both sides of the world. I use local material and combine it with a westernised style. And in this way, I can satisfy a bigger range of customers.

Tell us about your first collection…

It came out at the Fashion High Tea 2018 and it had limited pieces. That means that you won’t find tens of hundreds of pieces replicated. Additionally, if someone wants something made I can do customized orders but I always incorporate part to my creativity into it.

What lessons did you learn from showcasing at the Fashion High Tea?

I learnt a lot as it was my first fashion runway showcase. I’ve never prepped a model backstage to go onto the catwalk, and even how to style the pieces so that they translate strongly on the runway. By seeing what the other colleagues were doing, it showed me how I can improve. I’m going to do it again, God willing, and I’ve got new pieces.

The event also exposed my brand to many customers. If you notice, all the personnel at the Dusit hotel are wearing Zoe Sevak brooches. I had some customers from the United States and the United Kingdom that made orders. It was very good exposure. We’re doing well even though we’re a very new brand.

Why do you call them colleagues?

I don’t like to call the competition because we’re all in the same industry and there’s room for everyone.

Does that mean you have a new collection in the works?

Yes. You see once you start you must keep going. Once it comes out then you’ll know. I want to release by the next Fashion High Tea which should be in the next six months. While the full collection isn’t out yet, there are some pieces stocked at TDS from the new line.

Any collaborations lined up?

I’ve never thought of collaborating, but I wouldn’t mind making a leather bag with Chebet from Wazawazi or brass jewellery with Kipato Unbranded. I do like them.

Kikapu bags are a strong part of your design aesthetic, how do you make this piece unique when it’s a common feature in Kenya?

I’ve incorporated different elements, such as recycled beads, so that the entire bag is a natural piece. Using natural material and recycled beads we are contributing in the environmental protection directly and indirectly. And we’re saying that Zoe Sevak is into environmental fashion as well as social responsibility by providing employment opportunities to artisans on the ground. In a way I’m helping the community and underprivileged women to improve their lives in my little way because everything counts.

Is there any other element that differentiates your brand from the pack?

Once I put my signature on it, I don’t think you’ll find another in the market. However, they are easy to copy. If they can copy big international brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, of course they can copy smaller brands as well.  All my necklaces, bracelets and earrings are based on the knot design. The design comes from my Greek background because it’s a very nautical place. I haven’t seen anyone copy that. When it comes to clothes, you know that kitenge  a popular material all over Africa. The clothes may have the material, but they design, and style is inspired from my background.

Do you have anything in place to protect your brand from copycats?

Do you have anything to suggest? Apart from having my products labelled and registering my name with I don’t know what else I can do. It really puzzles most designers. You can’t stop counterfeit. But it also come down to the customer. If they really want to wear Zoe Sevak, they will. If someone wants an authentic Louis Vuitton, they will not care about the price. They will go out and get it.

Where do you see Zoe in the next five years?

If I push hard enough, quite far. But the thing is I just go with the flow and enjoy what I’m doing. If it goes to the next level – becomes an international brand showcasing in one of the major Fashion Weeks – I’ll be very happy and accept it with open arms. I don’t mind!  At the moment, I enjoy the beauty of the fashion industry and making people happy because people are happy when they wear the brand.  We are always here for the customer.

WTM Africa 2020