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Image courtesy Mikoh
Interview

Oleema and Kalani Miller

06.27.17

Now that summer is officially here there is no better time to feature Oleema and Kalani Miller – the sister duo behind the successful swimwear brand, Mikoh. No one understands what a woman wants from her swimwear like these two. Oleema, who handles the design, and Kalani, who handles the business side of Mikoh, grew up in Southern California surfing and modeling, and when the opportunity came to create a business together they looked no further than their shared love of the water. Mikoh is now ten years old and a leading brand in the swimwear market due to their genuine focus on function and fashion. The attention to detail on the fit of their suits is unparalleled and they test samples and new styles on themselves. Who better to make sure your bikini is going to stay in place during a day of surfing than a professional surfer? As the brand continues to grow, Oleema and Kalani travel the world for inspiration and remain immensely grounded and grateful for the success to this point.

Interview

You guys make being sisters and business partners look easy, what’s your secret?

Kalani: Being sisters we’re really honest and open with each other. Being able to experience the fun things we get to do and the places we get to see make it a lot more special when you have your sister but also your best friend with you.

Oleema: The #1 rule of thumb is to have mutual respect for one another. The fact that we’re sisters adds moments of complication, but a deeper understanding for one another. What we call our work makes it a bit easier since we’re constantly traveling but also having fun.

When did you decide to turn your globe-trotting lifestyle into a covetable brand?

Kalani: I think that’s everybody’s dream – to be their own boss and to make their own rules. We were born with that same entrepreneurial spirit. The transition from a hobby into a career was easy and exciting at the same time.

Oleema: My entire life, I’ve always taken the road less traveled. In high school when it came time to figuring out what was next, I knew that choosing a path I loved would always involve traveling and my love of anything creative. I competitively surfed at the time so the beach was essentially my work place, but I knew I wanted to add in an element of fashion and that’s where MIKOH was born.

What elements of your professional surfing background have you incorporated into the collection?

Kalani: Having a line that’s functional, but also fashionable was really important to us – one where we ourselves could be the fit models and test pieces was crucial. We strived for suits we were comfortable with in the water. As professional surfers, we traveled a lot and were exposed to so many different countries and cultures – it was definitely eye-opening. Being a surfer naturally leads you to the ocean and the tropics, and you’ll see a lot of that inspiration come through each season.

Oleema: One of the elements I pride myself most in MIKOH is that the line translates so seamlessly from fashion to function.  Not only is MIKOH beautiful to wear, but the pieces also work perfectly in surf, in sun and for any water sport activity.

How did you learn to perfect the cut and fit of your suits?

Oleema: Many friends have joked with me that my OCD has carried through in the fit and design of each piece. Perfecting the fit of every style, especially our first bottom, was one of the most lengthy processes. Obviously when wearing an itty bikini, it’s essential that the most important element is fit. I wanted to ensure that every piece women put on, not only does it look amazing but also fits perfectly as well. I have no formal design background; however, after years of wearing bikinis while surfing and growing up at the beach, I knew what the most important elements were when wearing one.

Was there a point when you realized that you had “made it” as a brand?

Kalani: It was in Byron Bay, Australia when I first saw someone I didn’t know in MIKOH – I couldn’t believe it! She was wearing the Kirra Dreamland in Black with the long fringe bottom, which was one of the suits that helped jump start our career.

Oleema: Even after all these years, every little success feels as exciting as the first. I still remember receiving our very first box of samples, and the fact that the ideas in my head were translated into something I could wear was so exciting and rewarding. Every time we see a girl wearing MIKOH on the beach is a huge success as well.

How much time of the year do you spend traveling?

Kalani: The entire year! I don’t even know where to really call home, which is funny because I’m a home body. It was an interesting transition for me to spend the majority of the year living out of a suitcase. I’ve learned along the way to personally define what “home” means to me, and I feel at home once I’m settled somewhere after I unpack my bags. When traveling year-round, you can never be in a state that you’re on holiday. You always have to be in the mindset that this is your life and not a vacation – otherwise, you may have one too many drinks!

Oleema: I find myself living out of my suitcase more than half of the year but at this point in my life I wouldn’t change it for the world.

What makes up your typical workday routine?

Kalani: I always start my day with a cup of tea and sit in front of my computer and either play catch up or am so far ahead because of the time zone I’m in. Having that discipline to sit down every day to work and communicate with the US is important. I normally set up all my conference calls ahead of time so it can be well coordinated.

Oleema: Luckily, one of my favorite aspects of owning my own business is that no two days are the same. Being a designer includes some element of creativity every day, and depending on the time of year, it could be anywhere from a photo shoot that day to a fitting for the next season’s collection. One thing that’s consistent is checking in with my sister, Kalani, as we’re usually at the opposite ends of the world.

How did you decide to live in Hawaii?

Kalani: Hawaii has always been a second home for my boyfriend so once we started dating, I started spending every winter there, and each year I found myself spending more and more time on the islands. It became a second home to me and a nice bonus is our mom’s family is also from Hawaii.

Oleema: Hawaii is the one place in the world that we’ve consistently been going back to since I was 12 years old and where I feel the most grounded and at ease. Even though we travel year-round, there will never be a place like home, and Hawaii is the first place that feels like that.

Do you have any muses?

Kalani: I’m inspired by anyone who is breaking the mold. We’re surrounded by so many strong women whether they started their own PR companies or are fashion tastemakers – the list goes on.

Oleema: I don’t have a specific person that I would call a muse, it’s more a frame of mind that many women encompass: anyone who isn’t afraid to pack a suitcase and go, anyone who is outspoken and confident in their choices, whatever it may be, is someone I aspire to be.

What is some of the best advice you’ve been given as female entrepreneurs?

Kalani: It’s something we’ve coined ourselves – not be afraid to ask questions or ask for help because there’s always someone who is smarter or someone who has a different perspective and can also broaden your outlook.

Oleema: I was never really given advice per se, but one bit of knowledge that I’ve learned along the way and have passed onto others is to never be afraid to ask a question or ask for help. There is someone better, someone who is stronger and someone who may be more knowledgeable at nearly everything you do. The minute you embrace that, it’s not only humbling but will help constantly push you to move forward.

Where do you see the brand five years from now?

Kalani: When we started, we didn’t see this far ahead. We’ve almost been doing it for 10 years now and the sky is the limit. There is always room for growth and different categories of expansion – it’d be fun to do more collaborations.

Oleema: We’ve had the company for nearly 10 years. I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon. The swim industry has evolved into becoming a big part in the fashion industry, and the options are endless in what we can work on.

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