okko's Phoebe Kunitomi on minimalist underwear, wire-free bras and COVID-19 Silver Linings
Part of my end-of-the-day routine includes changing into comfy clothes and taking off my bra. But yesterday, when I finally retired to the couch in my sweats, I realize that I had forgotten to take my bra off!
I was wearing the Signature Wireless Bra from okko. Founded in 2018 by Phoebe Kunitomi, okko (which stands for Our Kind of Knock Out) is a line of bodywear for women that is worn to be forgotten. (Mission accomplished, Phoebe!)
The line, which includes a wire-free bra, seamless brief and thong, is straightforward in its design. There are no frills or bows or patterns, just classic silhouettes in essential colorways that are invisible under clothing. Typically, forgettable style doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement. However, when it comes to bras and underwear forgetting they are even there is one of the best feelings.
Kunitomi’s message really resonated with me, and I wanted to find out more. Read on for a Q & A with okko’s knock out founder to learn what inspired her to create a minimalist line of bodywear and her tips for downsizing beyond your top drawer.
In your bio, you mention that your upbringing was grounded in minimalism, which inspired your designs. Can you share a little bit about those minimalist values you learned growing up?
I was raised in a culture of quality-minimalism, an outcome of my combined Japanese-American and Korean heritage. On my Japanese-American side, my grandparents were sent to an internment camp during WWII. In the camps, they could only bring what they could carry: a suitcase worth of their most valued possessions. Because they were forced to learn to live with less, these behaviors were not easily lost once they returned to society after the war. In a separate context, the Korean side of my family came to the US after the Korean war. They were building lives for themselves from absolutely nothing, so every purchase was deliberated in the context of very limited resources. Taken together, growing up with these cultural values and practices shaped how I practice minimalism today: choosing quality over quantity. We are human beings who must consume to foster fulfilling lives, but that doesn't mean we should buy things for the sake of it. I love being thoughtful and considerate about bringing material possessions into my life—and letting them enhance my experiences as opposed to define them.
And how did you start designing intimate apparel?
I always loved fashion since I was a young girl. I even designed my own prom dress back in high school. But really business school was what pushed me to start pursuing fashion, or intimate apparel, as a real venture. Back in 2017 when I was starting my first semester, I was so frustrated with the clutter in my top drawer—in large part because the other parts of my life were so streamlined in accordance with my minimalist values. After a year and change of talking to over a hundred women about the underwear pain points as well as design and industry experts, I started to form the ideas of how to build okko, an anti-fast fashion brand for your foundational layer. My MBA program also helped give me the space and freedom to take the leap and start being an entrepreneur.
What's a quick tip you can share about how to better practice minimalism is our own lives?
Follow the 48-hour rule. If you want to make a purchase, think about it for two days before swiping your card. This trick helps avoid impulse buys!
Why did you decide on wireless bras? Did you have a premonition that a pandemic was on the horizon and women everywhere would be ditching their uncomfortable bras while they zoomed from home?
I wish I had this crystal ball foresight! A few things pushed me to focus on a wirefree option for our bra, but the primary one was comfort. I always wanted comfort, along with versatility, to drive every design decision we made. From the conversations with women in our early days, underwire seemed to be a big driver of discomfort. So, I definitely wanted to avoid adding it in our bra.
We've all found some silver linings during the COVID-19 pandemic. What has been yours? Learning to adapt. 2020 was filled was surprises, so I had to learn how to adapt my team, processes, and operations to be able to handle any and all that came our way. With a year of a pandemic under our belt, I seriously feel like we can manage anything now!
How do you describe the okko woman? Confident, dynamic, and kind.
Can you tell us about the #knockout women in your life who inspired you? Seriously, there are so many! My mom is naturally at the top of my list. She had a challenging life but still manages to be one of the most loving, giving people I know. I also find the women I meet in professional contexts as some of the biggest sources of inspiration in my life. Ranging from young professionals to working moms, these women always figure stuff out and are usually go the extra mile to help other women. I really think women are going to take over the world one day!
Want a more minimalist underwear drawer? Say goodbye to the underwear styles that are not serving you and shop the okko collection today!