A Conversation With Estudio Niksen
Montreal-based fashion studio Estudio Niksen has been making a huge splash lately as curators and importers of some of the best international (mostly Korean & Japanese) fashion out there. Recent success has meant things are moving very quickly and as that continues, founders Andres and Gaby are mindful of moving at a pace that’s right for them and taking time to breathe. In comes Niksen, the “art of doing nothing”, a practice that the two have put at the forefront of their business to avoid burnout and ensure that they are creating a hub that fosters creativity while prioritizing wellness and inclusion. We got the chance to speak with Andres & Gaby about balancing passion and business, being a fashion label without an overt home-base, building international partnerships, how to do “baggy” the right way and of course, the art of doing nothing from their lens. You’ve spoken about the importance of finding a balance between making for yourself and making for them. How do you do this and have you found it difficult to accomplish as you grow? It’s definitely not easy. As you grow the business, it’s hard not to be swayed by the audience feedback and start thinking about what gets the most likes or engagement. A lot of people fall into the trap of creating for likes and not for yourself. We try to be very disciplined about this and try to make a habit of critically thinking about the moves we make. This is not to say that we just disregard how our audience might react to what we do but we just want to make sure that when we look at what the business has become in 5 years we aren’t too far about why we started this whole thing. How do you think about this balance from a financial perspective? Obviously we love everything we put out but we know there are products that will sustain the business and that customers will always come back for, while others that we get a little crazier with might not always sell the most but are fun for us. We obviously have to think about money but we try not to let it impact our decisions too much. Although Estudio Niksen is fairly new, you’ve both been in the design and art scene for quite a while. What made you want to go out and start your own project? Andres: I’ve always been really into Asian design and have spent a long time learning how to source pieces from countries like Korea or Japan. My friends used to start asking me to help them find pieces because they didn’t know how to find good designers out there and there was really nowhere here that you could find good and somewhat affordable stuff like that. Having been in fashion for a while I had often thought about starting my own project, mostly thinking about launching a brand, but I decided instead that my project would be curating these great pieces from around the world and bringing them to North America. I love putting people on stuff that I think is cool so this was the perfect opportunity to do this at a bigger scale. Having Gaby with me has been huge for Estudio Niksen as well. Her background is in art history and museology and she handles all the design and art direction in the homewares part of the business which is super important for the brand. What are the best and worst things about running a fashion business out of Montreal? The best thing is that it’s small so word spreads a bit more easily and everyone is super tight. I guess that can also be a bad thing though sometimes since you can get boxed into a small scene. Since we’re importing and selling domestically and internationally though, we don’t really get labeled as a “Montreal brand” but people do think it’s cool when they learn that we’re based here. We’ll sell to people in Los Angeles and they have no clue that they’re shopping on a Canadian site until they get tracking from Montreal [laughs]. It’s interesting what you say about not necessarily needing to stake your claim as a “Montreal Brand” and we can see this in how diverse all of the work you put out is. Absolutely! We have roots from all over, like I’m from Venezuela and live in Montreal and love Korean fashion. We’ve kind of found our land in this no-man's-land. Gaby is the same way. We’ll try to mix things up as much as possible with different models, different languages and different styles. Estudio Niksen is meant to be a hub for people with shared passions and diverse cultures so it doesn’t really matter where we’re based. Especially with social media and the internet, we can share things with people all over the world, no matter who they are or where they’re from. Can you talk about the process of connecting with small/independent designers around the world to bring in products for Estudio Niksen? For sure. It’s a pretty crazy experience. We’ve probably spoken to over 250 small creators around the world and bought from maybe 40 of them. We’ve learned how to communicate with them and get deals done which took some time. Really a lot of it just boils down to money overseas. If you can pay for an order, that’s what will open doors but then once we’re in, we really try to build and foster relationships with the designers. The brand's name Niksen comes from the “art of doing nothing”. Why was that important to you and the project? Andres: I’ve been an extrovert my entire life. My dad used to always tell me that I had to learn more about being with myself. I do like doing a lot but I’ve also learned to enjoy having my own time and space. A few years ago I discovered the idea of Niksen “doing nothing” and I’ve been following it ever since. I think it’s super relevant along the lines of mental health and entrepreneurship, saying that it’s ok to take time to reset and that you don’t always have to be going at full speed 24/7. Niksen flows into the products we curate as well. The clothes are comfortable and approachable and we lean on the living space designs as well to create comfort in our daily spaces. Can you give us a 5 step guide to “doing nothing”? There isn’t really a guide or one way to “do” Niksen. It’s a mindset that you practice and design for yourself over a long time. That being said, I can share some tips that might help someone looking to start. The first thing is curating an environment that you feel comfortable in alone and without distractions. That space could be your home, the park, the movies or wherever but make sure it’s someone you always feel good in and can relax in. Once you’re in your space, put your phone down, get away from the distractions and just do nothing. I know it sounds weird and it might be strange to do at first but you just need to do nothing without purpose. Niksen isn’t something you achieve. Once you find what works for you, keep at it. Practice makes perfect and overtime it will feel more comfortable and become more effective. We will definitely be trying this! Next question; can pants be too baggy? Haha, that is a great question. We definitely have some big pants on the site which we love but yes, pants can be too baggy. If you’re going to wear baggy, be intentional with it. Understand the environment that these baggy styles come from. Think about what shoes and what tops look good with baggy pants so you can get the outfit right. Overall, we’re super excited that baggy is becoming more accepted. There has always been a stigma around baggy pants, associating it with sloppiness and people always thought tighter was better. We’re glad to see more people wearing baggier clothes. It’s more comfortable and, if done right, can look really cool. So true! Lastly, what are you guys excited about next for Estudio Niksen? With covid restrictions loosening up, we’re very excited to get people together and start doing more events. We often think about how we would be able to connect with people and run the brand if Instagram or the internet didn’t exist. It’d be in person, face to face interactions. That’s what we want more of. We also have some exciting new collaborations coming up with Canadian talent before the end of the year. The first one of the batch just dropped with Wayhome which was some really cool hand sewn patchwork pieces. More stuff at that caliber is coming soon. Oh, and more wide pants [laughs]! For updates on new releases and events coming from Estudio Niksen, follow their Instagram and keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews and stories with the coolest entrepreneurs, designers, artists, activists and more.