“LIFE’S SHORT … dress cute every day!”
I hear Laine Sou Weinberg’s exultant words ringing in my ears every time I get dressed to go on stage. The KOKOON Boutique Without Borders tagline won me, hook line and sinker. Laine Sou is a style maker, and she made mine.
Back in the day, I wore black. Stealth mode. Flying under the radar, hiding my personality behind all-black all-the-time. It was boring and I was bored. Bored with hiding, bored with being invisible, bored to tears by my generic black pants and uninspiring black top. But I didn’t know how else to dress.
“Dress.” Laine Sou smiled with authority and swept her arm in welcome, inviting me into the KOKOON studio, where I was met with a hand-selected array of bright and beautiful designs. “Dress cute. Every day.” Instantly, I saw the light.
In that moment, I looked at Laine Sou and realized she believed I was bright enough to stand out in a crowd. She inspired me to say yes. Yes to me, yes to bringing my personality into play, yes to that first dress that changed the way I dress. Not just on stage, but everywhere.
Now I sit at the edge of my chair every time a new KOKOON Boutique Without Borders collection rolls out. The Spring Collection just launched and is refreshingly lovely, promising warmer days full of favorite things. Recently I had the opportunity to interview Laine Sou, the KOKOON Co-founder and Designer named a top style maker by Mpls. St. Paul Magazine.
KOKOON is in its 27th year of business! What made you say “Hmm … maybe I’ll be a fashion designer.”?
“I was always interested in fashion design [but] was expected to pursue a traditional career path … anything creative was perceived as unrealistic. Engineer and lawyer were thrown out, and I thought ‘There’s no way I can do that…I’m going to be unhappy the rest of my life.’ I went into a funk after high school and worked in restaurants for a couple years. Eventually I enrolled in fashion design at the U of M and a couple years later I made my first sample line. Richard [Laine’s then boyfriend, now husband and chief collaborator] took it on the road, and I started sewing orders out of my mom’s basement.
“People suggested we should have a showroom and sales reps. For no particular reason we picked Atlanta, went with a case of samples, knocked on doors, and ended up with some early dumb luck that sucked us into ‘this is what we do now.’
“Then we got pregnant with Sam, and we moved the business back home, back to the basement until we could afford studio space. Then we got pregnant again! Tess was 10 weeks preemie and slept in the studio in her bassinet for months. It was so long ago, and such a struggle for so long.
“There were definite highs; we sold to Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue and Fred Segal and Bloomingdales. But there were a lot of lows; the shift in retail created hostile vendor policies, and we were aware that one cancellation could mean losing our house.
“Then 9-11 happened and everything cancelled. Everything. Our fax machine rang constantly for three days, and at the end of those three days we had not one order left. We had a warehouse crammed with cancelled merchandise. And we said ‘Now what?’”
Who are the folks who’ve helped you along the way?
Laine called on her friends …
“I had a couple of girlfriends who happened to be flight attendants and they said they could sell our clothes. So, we gave them boxes of overstock and they sold them out of their cars in parking lots, in airplanes, at parties in their homes. We were so grateful; they sold through everything and started calling for more. After the third phone call, I turned to Richard and said, ‘we have woman asking to buy our clothes. We can’t say no.’
“Obviously my biggest help is my husband. He put his entire career to the side to pursue this because he believes in me. My mom taught me to sew. My daughter Tess joined the company last year; bringing new momentum, opening our eyes to marketing and social media. We’re such a small company, every single person is integral and we value our employees so much. Amber, our Operations Manager, just celebrated her 19th year with us.
“The women who are our salespeople, the hostesses who open their homes and invite their friends, the women who choose to buy from us, are directly supporting KOKOON. I feel like that is a vote of confidence every day. I want to give them something they are proud to wear, sell, share. I want to give them designs they will believe in.”
How do you keep your motivation in motion?
“When I’m designing, considering fabrics or silhouettes, I often think about certain women. One of our Stylists or a friend or a client will come to mind and I think, Oh, they are going to LOVE this! But I also often think, Does this fill a need in their lifestyle or their wardrobe?
“What’s also exciting for me is the feedback we get. The photographs, the messages. It’s not ‘just clothes’, it’s seeing a difference in women when they put on something that makes them feel great. Their posture improves, their head tilts, you can see it on their face, the expression of ‘I look good!’ It’s a different level of confidence. Clothes can make such a difference for people. Those gratifying bursts make me so happy.”
You’ve got gumption! Where do you go from here?
“I still feel like we’re in the baby steps of the company. Every day is new, full of exciting changes. We’re implementing new growth ideas and opportunities for our sales reps, so much potential with our company that we haven’t even tapped. We’re a brand new idea for most people. I want to grow KOKOON and keep making it better. Women are so excited when they find us, and that makes me excited.”
One more thing …
Do you have a personal motto?
“I wouldn’t say I have a motto, but if there is one recurring theme in life, it is simply to be kind. Be kind.”
KOKOON designs are available online or in person via sales Stylists across the country, and made in the USA.
Interested in sharing your fashionable sensibility? Join in the conversation on Twitter and consider becoming a Stylist or Hostess!