KOZO: Making minimalist designer wear affordable for all

Rin Zheng started her own fashion line KOZO even though she does not have any formal training. — Pictures by Choo Choy May and courtesy of KOZO
Rin Zheng started her own fashion line KOZO even though she does not have any formal training. — Pictures by Choo Choy May and courtesy of KOZO

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — KOZO is a new fashion brand created by Singaporean Rin Zheng who is now based in Malaysia. Known to many as Rin, her designs are understated yet powerful, bringing out the wearer’s strong character. Using a lot of neutral colours like black, white and grey as the main theme with hints of different shades of primary colours, KOZO is all about minimalist lines and wardrobe staples.

Rin relocated to Malaysia five years ago. Before joining the retail and fashion world, she was a teacher in Singapore. When she was younger, her friends would teach part-time but she preferred working in fashion retail. “I really enjoyed working for fashion retail even though my friends told me I wasn’t earning much compared to them,” she said.

You can get the entire range of KOZO and the Justin Chew x KOZO collaboration at Thisappear+.
You can get the entire range of KOZO and the Justin Chew x KOZO collaboration at Thisappear+.

When Rin moved to Malaysia, she decided to switch to fashion by opening Bizarro, a boutique in Bangsar, with another partner. Later, she joined Fabspy, a multi-label boutique in Mid Valley Megamall, where she was a curator. Her foray into setting up her own brand was encouraged by friends. “My friends from the fashion and retail industry asked me to give it a try. I also had many ideas.” 

On September 3, Rin launched KOZO at Fabspy. Her debut collection for Fall/Winter 2015 featured minimalist looks, clean and structured lines. Rin’s personal taste for simple things is also reflected in the collection. The basic colour palette she consistently uses are her own personal favourite, which is black, and colours like white and grey.

The pieces are also made from smooth-to-touch and textured fabrics like 100 per cent Japanese cotton and knit cotton. Rin’s rationale behind these choices is purely because of their suitability for our tropical weather since comfort is important to her. Moreover these fabrics also maintain a certain structure needed for the designs. 

The collared crop top and peach asymmetrical short skirt is a piece from the Justin Chew x KOZO collaboration (left). This Justin Chew x KOZO V-neck dress in dual colour has a pleated front and creates a flattering silhouette (right).
The collared crop top and peach asymmetrical short skirt is a piece from the Justin Chew x KOZO collaboration (left). This Justin Chew x KOZO V-neck dress in dual colour has a pleated front and creates a flattering silhouette (right).

Simultaneously, the Justin Chew x KOZO, a collaborative line she did with Malaysian fashion designer Justin Chew, was also launched. For the collaboration, Chew designed casual everyday pieces like the T-shirt dress to the statement maxi skirt with a slit in the middle that is dual-coloured. Rin’s role was picking the fabric and colours — suitable for the tropical weather and in shades of peach and lavender.

Prices were also kept reasonable from RM100 to RM200. According to Rin, launching KOZO with the collaboration with Chew was a good thing because it was a comfortable process for Rin. Both of them are friends and they are on the same wavelength when it comes to fashion design. 

The T-shirt dress is not too feminine which is ideal for women who want to add some edginess to their look (left). If you prefer a muted colour, get the T-shirt dress in gray (right).
The T-shirt dress is not too feminine which is ideal for women who want to add some edginess to their look (left). If you prefer a muted colour, get the T-shirt dress in gray (right).

Rin’s first collection is aptly named Episode 1, as inspired by a quote she likes. “I love quotes and I think my next collection would also be based on a quote. For her first collection, Rin drew inspiration from the quote, “Where there is a storm, the sun will shine after — where there is light, there will be darkness. One cannot be without the other, existing in perfect harmony.” She envisions the pieces to represent an experimental journey, charting it from being hopeful to something more sombre, which embody the co-existence of light and darkness like the quote.

“My signature KOZO piece from Episode 1 would be the X cropped top,” said Rin. Featuring an ‘X’ double-breasted crop tank with long side drapes that reach up your ankles, it is very Asian-influenced. According to Rin, it is the statement piece for Episode 1 and for every season, she will introduce one statement piece. It may be a bit revealing to wear it all the time so Rin encourages people to wear it with other outfits such as a dress underneath or a long sleeved top. 

The three-quarter sleeve shirt with buttons is a nod to Asian influences (left). KOZO’s asymmetrical sleeveless dress is a must-have piece for every woman’s wardrobe (right).
The three-quarter sleeve shirt with buttons is a nod to Asian influences (left). KOZO’s asymmetrical sleeveless dress is a must-have piece for every woman’s wardrobe (right).

Another piece in the collection that reflects the Asian influence is a top with a mandarin collar, which has proved to be surprisingly popular among men. Men have also asked her to create a male version of that top, which she is seriously considering. “I’m thinking about doing menswear too.” The best-selling item from Episode 1 is the asymmetrical dress which comes in black, green and blue. It is very flattering to wear no matter how tall you are. 

If you are curious about what KOZO means, it has Asian roots. “It is actually a plant in Japan that is used to make paper. It is versatile, you can make thin paper out of it, or a sturdy or hard structured. Basically, it is like styling it on your own,” said Rin.

You will be surprised to discover that KOZO is priced reasonably, with pieces from RM100 to RM200. “As our designs are minimalistic, we can play around with different fabrics and still keep our costs affordable.” It was Rin’s idea to make it affordable so that different women can own at least a few pieces of KOZO. 

The KOZO collection are the type of clothes that designer Rin Zheng herself would wear (left). From the KOZO collection, you have the cropped top which is paired with the cropped pants in maroon (right).
The KOZO collection are the type of clothes that designer Rin Zheng herself would wear (left). From the KOZO collection, you have the cropped top which is paired with the cropped pants in maroon (right).

“People always get the impression that when it is a local fashion designer label, the price would be expensive. I want to change the perception. My idea is to have every woman from all walks of life possess KOZO pieces in their wardrobe as staple wear. Different occasions you can style differently and get different looks. It would be great to accessorise as well.” The classic designs are timeless so you can always be on trend wearing KOZO. “I hope that they would be able to keep KOZO clothes for a long time,” she said. 

As KOZO is a relatively new label, Rin is working on building the website and hopefully create a following for the brand. Her dream is to have a flagship store where she can also design accessories such as bags and jewellery for KOZO. “When I have my flagship store next time I will also expand my lines, having a basic range, a plus range and so on,” said Rin whose customers are mainly people in their twenties and thirties. The clothes are manufactured locally, while the fabrics are sourced from the Asian region. 

Dress up your outfit with KOZO’s cape, available in black and green (left). Pair KOZO’s signature X-cropped top with cropped pants (right).
Dress up your outfit with KOZO’s cape, available in black and green (left). Pair KOZO’s signature X-cropped top with cropped pants (right).

“Although I have no fashion design background, I have been gathering knowledge. I know what fabric works and what doesn’t. I’m willing to learn more. It would be great if I can find a mentor,” she said. So far, KOZO hasn’t participated in any fashion shows yet but Rin is aiming to have one in Malaysia and Singapore soon.

In the future, Rin hopes to unveil her second collection by next year.  “My next collection will hopefully come out before Chinese New Year,” she said.

Keeping true to the DNA of KOZO’s brand values, the next collection will also consist of timeless and season-less pieces, including one or two statement pieces.

For more on KOZO:
Instagram: https://instagram.com/kozodesign/
Fabspy: http://www.fabspy.com/brand/kozo?brand=koz
KOZO clothes are available at Thisappear+, No. 51-1, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur

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