Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 29 November 2014
SATURDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2014 13 Business through tinted glasses Kito 1981, apart from being a popular new brand, tells the story of an ambitious Greek girl who came to Australia with one suitcase and made her dream come true NELLY SKOUFATOGLOU Nikolina Christopoulou came to Australia with just a suitcase ... packed with sunglasses. At 33, Greek-born Nikolina booked a ticket to Sydney to participate in an exhibition held by The Optical Distributors & Manufacturers Association, but never left. As the founder of the blooming brand Kito 1981, she has been working on creating a label based in Australia for the past three years. "I came to Australia in July 2011 to attend an exhibition in Sydney for Kito 1981," she tells Neos Kosmos. "My sister and mother came with me. I was only meant to stay in Australia for two weeks." Nikolina studied optometry and optical dispensing in Florence, Italy. In 2001 she opened a boutique optical store, called Occiali, in Patras, Greece, with her sister Kali. She was travelling throughout Europe as sole buyer and dispenser, while Kali worked as an optometrist in the clinic. In 2008 she began working as a principal buyer in Milan and New York for leading fashion brands. "Kito means 'element ' in Swahili and the brand signifies the raw, instinctive synthesis between personality, fashion and design," she says. The collection of sunglasses, watches and headphones from Kito 1981 combine old and new elements in an elegant reinterpretation of vintage style. She merges individuality and style to make her fashion accessories unique. With a passion for quality design, simplistic style and a love for music, Nikolina started Kito 1981 as a humble extension of those things she loves. "Products from Kito 1981 help define personality, to create each person's element. My favourite product is the Echos headphones, because of the creativity and attention to detail that went into their production. The name Echos means sound in Greek," Nikolina says. "It stems from Greek mythology where a beautiful mountain nymph, Echo, was given the task of distracting Zeus’ wife Hera as Zeus pursued his love affairs with other Nymphs. One day Hera discovered Echo's betrayal and punished the Nymph by taking away her words. Echo was left voiceless. She was only able to echo the last words of others," she added. The brand is minimal at its heart, focusing on staying true to the clean and classic aesthetic. What makes Kito 1981 unique is that all the products are created with an eye for quality. All materials are selected through a stringent, eco-friendly recycling process. The frames are built in stainless steel, for extended durability, in a sleek aesthetic design. Each pair of headphones is made from lightweight ebony wood, which carries natural sound, superior bass and clean mid-tones. The leather ear cushions maximise comfort and afford effective noise cancellation. The Australian market, though, is a hard market to break. Coming from Europe, Nikolina had to fully comprehend an entirely different mentality of commerce here. "In Australia I love the nature, the ocean, how polite and giving people can be," Nikolina says. "As much as I appreciate the strong Greek community of Australia, I decided not to approach anyone for help. The first months were particularly hard, but after even harder work, I managed to create a new life and establish the brand completely on my own. "I respect and understand much more now how difficult it would have been for the first Greek immigrants to start a life here. I also realise how expensive it is to organise working visas and residence in Australia if you come from overseas. Not having family, relatives or old friends has been quite a bit challenging as well; not to mention the distance and the cost of an overseas trip." Even though Australia is a wonderful place to live in, not everything comes easily, especially when one is thinking of taking the leap of migration. It is not easy for Europeans without family in Australia to become permanent residents. "Consignment in the big retail shopping centres makes it really difficult for the small business 'suppliers'. People here believe more in the service than in the product," she stresses. Nikolina had to study International Business and Marketing for a year to secure a student visa. She also worked full time as an optical dispenser for a successful practice in Sydney - the same practice that now sponsors her working visa. All this time, she has also been working to build Kito 1981. "I didn't go back to Greece for three years. My mum pays me a visit every Christmas. All the money I earned from the full time job, plus the first Kito 1981 sales at the exhibition, went back into the brand. This is still the way I work. Money earned is money for Kito 1981," Nikolina explained. The work ethic she exudes might be excessive, but for every entrepreneur trying to break into the market, it's necessary, she says. Speaking from experience, Nikolina stresses the need to assess the market before you try and enter it. "If I could share a piece of advice with entrepreneurs trying to make it in this vast and promising land, I guess it would be to take into serious consideration the competition. There's heaps," Nikolina said. But with all the negatives associated with tough competition, some good does come out of it. The more competition, the more opportunity and motivation to be creative and if possible innovative. A new business owner or entrepreneur is safer to sometimes keep an eye on what the competition is doing. Paying attention to the way a successful company does business can be an advantage. "I guess I would advise entrepreneurs to investigate any possible collaboration with an already established distribution channel and definitely to come for a holiday trip just to experience Australia and prepare themselves for some hard work." As a genuine Greek lover - even though she has decided to permanently stay in Australia - Nikolina misses a lot of things about Greece. "The authentic Greek smile and generosity coming from the heart without waiting for something in return, apart from the deep blue colour of the Aegean Sea. Of course I miss my sister, my parents and my very best friends," she adds. Therefore, she tries to make her Greek memories come to life through her excellent work. She seems to have managed just fine, since within these past three years, Kito 1981 has grown from the shores of Bondi and continues to deliver unique and stylish accessories to loyal followers across the globe. Since its inception, Kito 1981 has been donned by several fashion bloggers and celebrities in Australia and abroad, the likes of Black Eyed Peas, Sarah McLeod, 4FX, Kid Mac and others. Australian singer and filmmaker Kid Mac has also become the brand's ambassador. The collaboration between Kito and Kid Mac arose naturally out of a mutual love for the power of music. Nikolina has expanded from designing sunglasses to headphones and wristwatches. "I resonate with the passion driving Kito 1981. The brand's identity revolves around quality and design, something I'm proud to be part of," said Kid Mac. Daniele Massacci, also known as 'DS', is an Italian graphic designer, illustrator and photographer based in Sydney. He previously worked in an international architecture firm, where he travelled regularly throughout the world. He is a multi-skilled designer with a distinctive eye for style, who now works closely with Nikolina. Kid Mac is not the only celebrity to represent Kito 1981. A new product made in Greece is also to be released early next year; the rest though, remains a mystery. "After my last visit to Greece, myself and Australian journalist Caitlin Bishop have decided to launch a brand new line, inspired by ancient Greece. The products will be hand-made in Greece, and will be available in exclusive boutiques early next year," Nikolina says.
22 November 2014
6 December 2014