Once a surf instructor, then a flight attendant, Kendall Layt grew up chasing warmth, waves and the opportunity to be creative. Now, as the proud founder of a four-year-old business, she tests the tension between creativity and commercialism through her boutique online store, Kokoh Bikini.
We spoke to Kendall to hear how she learned to go digital, trust her decisions – and why we should head to Cloud St, Wollongong.
Welcome to Cloud St. Tell us how Kokoh came to life
I grew up by the beach, on the South Coast of NSW, so being in swimwear with sandy feet was just a part of growing up for me. One day, when I was working as a surfing instructor at the age of 17, I told my mum I wanted to make bikinis.
It took me 10 years to do it.
When I was 27 I finally got my first sample. I was working as a flight attendant at the time, and I remember sitting in a hotel room in LA – awake with jet lag at 2am in the morning – emailing every manufacturer I could find online. I wanted to know how they processed orders and how they printed onto fabric.
That was it. I loved it – and I kept learning from there. The business has been going for four years now.
You’re clearly very creative. How has that blended with running a business?
For years, I wanted to change the fact that I wasn’t as ‘business minded’ as I thought I should be. I’d look back at some of the big decisions I’ve made, and think, ‘Was that irrational?’ ‘Did that choice cost you too much?’ ‘Did you rush it?’
But on the flipside, I know that I’m very creative – and that that’s at the heart of my brand. All of my bikini designs are hand-painted, hand-drawn or taken from my own photography, even though I’ve had no design experience.
So I’ve learned to really roll with my strengths, and learn from my mistakes.
Now I give myself more time with decisions – I tell myself it’s okay to step away from the factory floor for 10 minutes before making a big decision on stock. I also give myself the opportunity to travel through work, which helps me stay creative and inspired on behalf of the business. We recently took 10 ambassadors to Tahiti, where we stayed on boat. I came back with some beautiful photos of the girls swimming with sharks, as well as new ideas about prints and colours.
Why did you apply for Cloud St?
I have done a small pop-up store before, but Kokoh was born online. At the time, going online was so daunting. It felt like another world of codes – and everything I tried was a stab in the dark. I remember thinking, ‘How am I ever going to wrap my head around this?’ But you have nothing to lose when you’re teaching yourself everything. You just think, ‘I don’t know how to do this. I’ll have to learn.’
I’ve come so far with my online store and now I’d love to meet some of the people who are already buying my bikinis – and share my bikinis with the people of Wollongong. The beach is such a big part of the local culture. It’s thrilling to think my logo will be on a glass box in the middle of Crown Street.
What’s next for Kokoh?
It’s tempting to hope for a celebrity to just wear your bikini, Instagram it, and the brand will skyrocket, but I’ve been so rewarded by my slow and steady, organic growth. It helps you build the right foundations, and consider what to do next.
Now, I’d like to work towards becoming a fully sustainable label. I’m already doing paperless invoicing with Xero, eco-friendly packaging, and I’m looking into sustainable fabrics too. If those kind of materials are out there, making the swap just seems like an easy decision to make.
Cloud St is a unique pop-up store featuring a range of Xero customers who normally reside in the online space. Come and visit Kokoh Bikini in Crown St Mall, Wollongong, from 19 to 24 November – before Cloud St hits the road, bringing online stores to life across Parramatta and Melbourne, right up until Christmas.
To see all the latest wares and discover who’s next to appear, follow the conversation at #cloudst