“The word ‘dokonoko’ is a Japanese saying without a direct English translation. It’s a simple expression of curiosity that raises a profound set of questions about identity and origin.”
This is the idea behind new Brooklyn-based label Dokonoko—launching in February during fashion week—with its duo of female founders looking to bring a sense of bold, graphic Tokyo fashions to girls across the borough.
The concept is courtesy of graphic designer Reina Sugiyama, 31, born in Tokyo and raised around the world, and 29-year-old fashion designer Lacey Voss, an all-American girl with a love for pattern-making. After working at a large corporate retailer’s design office together, the vision of Dokonoko was born out of the women’s love for small-scale design and a bold aesthetic.
“We’ve been working on this for almost two-and-a-half years, and now we’re at the point where we’re launching our baby,” Sugiyama told us while chatting at the Williamsburg-based, industrial Dokonoko work studio, which also acts as her apartment.
Sugiyama and Voss first bonded at a post-work karaoke night, where they talked about Japanese teen girls’s “out there” style and their dreams of working on things they care more about, like women’s empowerment and starting a business.
“It’s been pretty scary. The last two years Lacey and I have been bouncing back and forth creatively while sourcing fabric and designing,” Sugiyama explained, noting that the label began as a creative side project for her before a small investment was secured.
“Now we’re learning how to run a business, which has been difficult but fun!” the bubbly Voss added. “Nothing majorly bad has happened yet,” she laughs.
Coming from a rigid, corporate fashion world, the Dokonoko designers are confident on the creative part. “But we’re learning to hire professionals to outsource the parts we don’t know how to do, like factory sourcing and PR,” Sugiyama said.
“Our goal is building a cohesive ready-to-wear brand around a fun lifestyle,” Voss said of the look, which is built around a tight color palette of blue, orange, black and white, with graphic patterns.
“Fashion is fun, it shouldn’t be taken so seriously,” she explained, especially in the New York City market where women’s wardrobes are made up of mainly black, with very little deviation.
When Reina started wearing their early samples around the city at galleries and events, they found that people would ask who made these bold pieces. This marked a turning point for the designers, who realized that the market is craving a line of well-designed yet affordable pieces that young professional women (like themselves) can actually enjoy wearing.
“We want to bring that middle price point between the high-end stock found at Barneys and the disposable, cheap-quality stuff,” Sugiyama said.
To this point, Voss explained that having long designed for disposable, fast-fashion retailers, the two want to steer clear of that, but they “also don’t wanna do unaffordable runway—it’s not attainable in today’s economy.”
This economic consciousness plays a big part in the Dokonoko identity—given its young founders’s free-spirited yet entrepreneurial attitudes, it’s a true testament to Brooklyn’s rising class of creative, hustling millennials.
“Being women in a small design community has been incredible as far as resources and connectivity,” Voss enthused, placing emphasis on the consciousness and ethical qualities found in the ethos of most Brooklyn companies.
Of course being the founders of an e-commerce label with a reliance on branding and a social media presence, Voss acknowledges her generation’s contribution to “the gigs economy.”
“More than ever, we have the power to create our own jobs, and the changing culture and technology are the reason why young people like us are able to create and flourish like this,” she said. “We grew up being told ‘You can do whatever you want,’ and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
With the current startup renaissance happening here, and “so much excitement and cool creativity all around,” it’s easy to see how the Dokonoko ladies chose Brooklyn to base their company. As Sugiyama puts it: “There’s a specific mindset and vibe to Brooklyn here that I felt after moving here from Manhattan. Being part of a creative community that’s close knit has been so helpful.”
When asked if this means a potential Dokonoko Bedford Ave. shop is in the works, the designers excitedly said they’d jump at the chance…in due time.
For now, they’re focusing on making sales and finding out who the Dokonoko girl is, Sugiyama explained.
“Longterm, we want to bring together a cohesive lifestyle brand at a storefront that carries brands we love along with ours, with an attached gallery,” she said. “Because one of Dokonoko’s missions is to feature art from all artists of all ages and backgrounds.” ♦
Photos by Jane Bruce