Global Young Designer Spotlight: KALITA
Their designs create an instant chic and elevated look. From fabric quality to richly coloured dyes and elegant silhouettes, each piece alludes to sophistication and thoughtfulness. Here the designers share what it's like balancing two creative visions.
04 August, 2017
When designers Raechel and Kalita (Rae and Kally) met, it was evident that their dreams could no longer be pushed to the wayside. The creative fusion between their two visions resulted in an instant hit. After just two years, their resort-wear label has been picked up by major league luxe e-com sites Matchesfashion, Moda Operandi and Net-a-Porter, and the designers have swung into global success as their passion project catches the attention of fashionistas worldwide. Whether jet-setting to exotic places or going about their weekly routines in the city, their designs create an instant chic and elevated look. From fabric quality to richly coloured dyes and elegant silhouettes, each piece alludes to sophistication and thoughtfulness.
The designers sat down with SUITCASE and shared the ins and outs of their production practices, their global lifestyles and the flow of inspiration in their creative partnership.
Raechel Temily and Kalita al Swaidi
Where can we find your designs?
Right now you can find our MUSE collection for High Summer on Matchesfashion and Moda Operandi. Next season we're also launching with Net-a-Porter globally and Harvey Nichols in London.
Who is the ideal KALITA customer?
It's been an interesting learning curve because the KALITA woman really found us, as opposed to us deciding who we wanted our customer to be.
Our clients are quite discerning, have a very clear idea of how they want to look and feel. They're not afraid to be noticed. The clothes aren't fussy or complicated - the silhouettes, while dramatic, are actually very minimal and pared back.
When you wear KALITA all eyes are on you, for the right reasons. It's really a way of living, being and moving through the world. The clothes are for women who want those wow-factor moments. We recently heard it described as "destination wear", which is exactly on point.
Three words to describe KALITA's aesthetics...
Strong. Inspirational. Memorable.
Where are you each from and how did you end up in Bali and London?
Kally: I'm a Londoner through and through although my ancestral heritage is Texan-Iraqi, which makes for a firecracker of a family background. I live in Chelsea now, and truly, I still think London is the best city in the world - but maybe I'm biased.
Rae: I'm Australian, though I haven't lived there for years now. The whole Antipodean experience often seems very far away, both metaphorically and literally. I moved to Bali about six years ago - it's one of those islands that is just really hard to leave. It's a very special place. My home there is the utopian island dream: a thatched alang-alang roof, white painted wood, palm trees, open air-kitchen with a basket of young green coconuts in the corner waiting to be cracked, outdoor bathroom with a bamboo pole for a shower and a family of fat green frogs that share the bath. It's always hard to leave when it's time to head back into the rest of the world again.
Describe your relationships with travel…
Kally: I've always travelled with my family, so I've been fortunate to see quite a lot of the world. There are certain places I really love though. I always try to make time to go back to them each year.
Ibiza is one of my all-time favourites - I love it so much that I spend my birthday there every year. I really love Miami too. We just came back from spending a few days there and the Latino energy is just so invigorating, I love the effervescence of it. And of course, now that the brand is developed and designed in Bali, that's somewhere that feels a part of me now. I am deeply familiar with the London to Bali bounce these days!
Rae: I'm a total gypsy in many ways so I'd describe my relationship with travel as seasoned. Sometimes it feels like I spend more time on planes and in airports than I do anywhere I actually live. I always have suitcases on the floor in varying states of being packed or unpacked - it's almost comical, like musical luggage for the trip I've just come home from or about to go on. The customs officials at airports tend to raise their eyebrows when they see my passport.
Before we started the brand, I spent the past few years working in Southeast Asia - travelling to far-flung outposts of the Indonesian archipelago to document the regional food culture, consulting on culinary content for celebrity chefs, doing interior and food styling in some pretty amazing locations. So you could say travel is part of my DNA.
Where and by whom are your designs made?
Rae: We do most of our design and development in Bali. We also hand-dye all of our custom colours there because they are magicians when it comes to achieving the bespoke hues we want in our pieces.
Colour is one of our signatures. Our fabrics are hand-dyed - which is no easy task when some of our dresses have six or even ten metres of fabric in them. A lot of our pieces are cut on the bias, which is a nightmare for fabric consumption, but results in the most sublime silhouettes.
We've recently just branched out to start producing some of our more involved pieces in India, as the workmanship and attention to detail with hand finishing and certain techniques is amazing. We know that manufacturing needs to be anchored to sustainability and conscious consumerism will continue to expand and grow so we work very hard on that front. For us, this is not a marketing sound bite to sell clothes, but an intentional choice so we can be proud of what we do and how we produce our clothing.
It isn't a side issue anymore and it's one that has to go beyond just a code of best practice. Every single fashion label in the world should be looking to champion and contribute its weight, however humble, to the global opportunity we have to improve production practices.
Everyone can make a difference through their ideas. We're all change makers. Whether it's through what we're making and putting out into the world, or what we're buying and wearing.
Best time of year to visit Bali?
October and November are great months to come.
How should we spend 24 hours in Bali?
Rae: Coffee at Revolver Espresso in Seminyak to start the day. Then head up to Ubud for some time in the jungle. Hang upside for mid-morning flying yoga in the bamboo yoga shala at the Four Seasons Sayan. A raw lunch at Como Shambhala before a dip in their river pools. Stay the night at Bambu Indah, Elora Hardy's fairytale bamboo sanctuary - ask for the new treehouse room they have by the Sayan River.
When and where did you all meet?
Kally: We met in London through mutual friends about two and a half years ago. Our connection was immediate, but I think it's safe to say that neither of us knew what lay ahead in terms of the creative path we were going to take together.
How did you decide to launch a brand together?
Kally: I was finally ready to start a label, so the timing was quite serendipitous.
Rae: I remember meeting Kalita and having her pour out all of her ideas to me and just immediately clicking with her. I'd thought about doing a resort-wear brand for a long time, but had also put it off - pretty much indefinitely - until that elusive day came where it just felt right. So Kalita's vision for creating a brand was actually quite a good fit for the two of us, even though I don't think I realised what a force she can be when she has her heart set on something.
Kally: Rae basically said to me "Well, if you want to work together and really do this, you'll have to come to Bali to get started." I don't think she thought I'd really show up. But fast-forward a few weeks later and there I was!
How do you balance your two creative visions?
We share a creative vision for the brand and are always on the same page when it comes to developing new ideas, designing new collections, and what we envisage for the creative direction of the brand each season.
What are the difficulties of working in two different countries?
Kally: Living and working in different countries is a challenge, without a doubt. Especially as we're working across more than two different countries - our office is in London and our design workshop is in Bali, but Rae is often in NY these days, and sometimes India. We're definitely running a global company these days!
We're rarely in the same city, or even the same country, at the same time. Different timezones can make communication tricky, because our working days only overlap for a brief time. It's also actually one of our strengths as a small start-up, because it means our business runs on a 24 hour schedule - when Rae is finishing her work day in Bali, our London office is just opening.
We've learnt to adapt though - thank you Whatsapp and Slack!
How does KALITA differentiate itself from other brands on the market?
Kally: I think people have this perception of resort-wear brands as being kaftans and bright prints, basic cover ups in flat, cut-out shapes or "holiday" clothes you'd never wear in the rest of your life. That's the antithesis of what we're about.
We're also making clothes that aren't easily boxed into that "holiday wardrobe" genre. You'll definitely want to take KALITA with you when you're off to a destination event, or travelling to some far-flung exotic place where you want to take amazing photos. But when you get home, you'll still want to wear that dress. You might pair it with a leather jacket and ankle boots, or over a cropped white tee with a pair of trainers, but you'll still be wearing it. That's really what makes us different.
Your Resort 17 collection was titled "I left my heart in St Barths" - how do you continue to be inspired by your travels?
Our newest collection for Resort 2018 (in stores October) is called Ithaca. Ithaca was the island home of Odysseus. It's inspired by the poem: As you set out for Ithaca / Hope your road is a long one / Full of adventure / Full of discovery.
It's about a homecoming of the spirit. It raises a different set of questions in us, which can really change things. That's what Ithaca is about. It's a real little Greek island but it's also a place to travel within yourself.
As travellers, how do you adapt your style according to your destination?
Kally: Rae and I are always packing and unpacking, and the clothes we bring have to be versatile and practical for a lot of different situations.
Evening dresses that are wrinkled from being in a suitcase need to steam easily in a hot shower and silk pieces need to look elegant when you have to go straight to dinner. Our ethos is very much grounded in not just the resort aesthetic, but also in practicality and versatility - it's meant to be that definitive travel wardrobe.
Must have style from High Summer 17?
Kally: One of my favourite pieces from MUSE is the Clemence gown in pale kale - it has a three quarter sleeve and a dramatic V-back. I also really love the Zephyr pinafore in lemonade cotton poplin - it's the perfect dress to throw on over a sleek one piece when you're on holiday.
Rae: I wear the Avedon days maxi skirt in white all the time. Sometimes paired with a shrunken tee during the day, or with the bow tie top at night for a more pulled-together look. Oh, and the balloon jumpsuit in bright raspberry - this is probably my favourite piece ever!