aei : kei – Designer Profile
Q: How and when did you begin the label?
Having graduated from Middlesex University with BA Honors, I exhibited my first collection at the New Designers Exhibition. It was there I was approached by Fashion UK, who purchased the entire collection and placed it on their website to sell. So really I had no second thoughts, I just went with it. It was an opportunity I could not really miss.
Q: Where does the name aei : kei originate?
The name originates from my initials – A for Ana K for Krnjaski. I grew up in South East Asia and I wanted my label to reflect that, and the initials were modified to suit my Eastern experience.
Q: Describe your style and the type of market attracted to your collections?
aei : kei unites glamour, versatility and functionality and our customers do the same. The sentiment is to have fun and look great. Our average customer is between twenty and fifty, with confidence and style and who likes their clothes to do some of the talking.
Q Have you always wanted to become a fashion designer?
I was always very interested in fashion and jewellery and yes, I was always sure I would be a designer. However, I also wanted to be a fashion buyer, so running So aei kei gives me a small chance to get involved with buying too, which is exciting.
Q Are your designs a reflection of your own personal style?
I’d like to think they are. The colour palette from spring/summer collection certainly represents my own personal taste, as do the hand stitched and printed dolls. I have always been a huge fan of Hello Kitty and Japanese products in general, which is definitely reflected in this collection. However, I do have more serious, glamorous customers, so I owe it to them to provide them with a little bit more, so inevitably the collections with branch out into other personalities. Some say the collection is more an extension of my personality rather than my style.
Q Tell us a bit about your collection for Spring/Summer 2004…
Little girl meets princess of style, this new collection has something for everyone. This collection is extremely close to my heart as it centres on all things oriental, memories of my youth lie deep with Eastern European crochet and African shells.
From intricate prints to hand stitched Japanese dolls, silk culottes to jersey dresses, the spring/summer collection combines simplicity with detail. Weâ€™ve opened new doors with this collection and have experimented with new and exciting concepts.
Q What sort of price range do your pieces retail at?
Between £40 for tops to Â£200 for dresses. Our accessories (shell necklaces and belts) retail at around £100.
Q: What are the best and worst aspects of working in fashion?
The best and worst aspects can be intertwined. For example, working as a designer means fashion is your life, there’s no avoiding it. So whilst sometimes it can be a fun exciting life to lead, you are constantly on duty and you can find it hard to find time exclusively for yourself.
I am lucky to work within such a creative environment and really enjoy the social aspect of the fashion industry, needing to travel around the world for shows or research is also a bonus. However, I am self-employed, so there is always an underlying pressure to the enjoyment, i.e. I’m in Paris for a reason -.to sell collections.
Ultimately I’m doing something I love every day, so I appreciate that there has to be downsides for something you love.
Q: What were the biggest hurdles you encountered?
The biggest hurdle was unsurprisingly, money. As with all new businesses, you need to set yourself a budget, which can be difficult. You want the best for each collection but a lack of funding can be restrictive and frustrating and when you are ploughing all your money into your label, it can feel like an uphill struggle.
I was fairly young when I began aei : kei and possibly a little too trusting. It was a hurdle just to work out who I could trust and who I should steer clear of, but with each season I learn from my mistakes and I now have a far better idea of who is reliable and who is not. That is one of the biggest problems in the industry you are always relying on somebody, whether it be the fabric maker or the factory, you and your business is always depending on somebody else’s word.
Q: Do you present your collections with seasonal catwalk shows/trade exhibitions?
We exhibit at London Fashion Week and Atmosphere in Paris each season.
Q: Have any of your designs appeared in any magazines/newspapers/websites over the last few months?
We have received some great endorsements from magazines such as British Vogue, Drapers Record and ES Magazine and The Saturday Times, and this season we have launched our own website that attracts both the press and customers.
Q: Are there any designers that you particularly admire?
Preen and the shoe designer Olivia Morris. I am good friends with both and I particularly admire Preen. I have watched them grow from a tiny outlet in Portobello Market to a huge and inspirational label in the industry.
I also admire Hussein Chalayan, he has a genuine sense of originality to his collections and he has chosen to ignore the commercial and stick to what he believes in.
Q: What inspires you?
Having spent my youth in countries such as Malaysia and Africa, I’ve always been inclined to draw inspiration from all that is around me. Each season I tend to concentrate on the influences of particular countries and their cultures, which allows me to experiment with traditions and push boundaries. Inspiration also comes from how I am feeling at the time.
Q: Current stockists?
I run my own boutique, So aei kei on Portobello Road, however we do stock in over fifteen boutiques worldwide. International stockists include; La Salamandre in France, Tulle in Ireland as well as various boutiques in Dubai and New York, however out largest market is in Japan with stockists including Opaque and Adam et Rope.
Q: What one thing would improve your working life?
The impossible – A guarantee that each season would be as successful as the other. It would take away much of the stress that is always present at the back of your mind.
Q: And your future plans for the label?
Ultimately to grow, to expand.
Q: aei : kei quote of the day…..
Success is a journey, not a destination.
So aei : kei
357, Portobello Road,
Tel: 020 8 960 8442