Nikolina Christopoulou knows fashion, more specifically, sandals. Handmade in Greece, of the softest leathers, in timeless designs, they form the basis of Kito 1981, the brand she dreamed up while travelling the world as a fashion buyer. GCT recently had a chat to Nikolina about her childhood in Greece, her decision to form her brand in Australia, and what makes the Kito 1981 sandal different from all the rest.
Tell us a bit about yourself- where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I was born in Patra, Greece. I grew up between the Peloponnese and the Cyclades. My father used to own nightclubs in Patra and Santorini so we would spend 8 months in Patra and 4 months in Santorini. I studied Optometry in Florence, Italy, and International Business, Marketing and Fashion Buying in Sydney. We opened our optical store in Patra in 2003 with my sister and in 2008 i started working as a fashion buyer in Milan living between Milan and New York. Currently I live in Sydney, working for Luxottica representing and being a brand manager for one of their luxury brands in NSW. At the same time, I’m also constantly working on my company, Kito 1981.
Why did you make the decision to leave Greece and come to the other side of the world?
I have always travelled away from Greece for work or studies. Greece is my home and my family and friends are still there. Back in 2011 Greece was in financial crisis so I thought exporting would be wise. The best way to understand a market is to live in this market and understand the market’s needs. I wanted the brand to grow in a healthier economy. We came to Sydney in 2011 in order to participate in ODMA (Optical Distributors and Manufacturers) with our first collection of eyewear. That’s how the brand started.
You studied to be an optometrist. Were you always interested in fashion and design?
I loved the creative side of optometry. I love all the steps of the production of a collection, from the idea, to the design selection of materials. I love interior design and architecture. For me it’s more about creating timeless high quality products, less about creating fashionable or trendy products. Our motto is staying true to the clean and classic aesthetic.
Tell us the story behind Kito 1981?
The brand was built in my mind while I was working as a fashion buyer in New York. It was there I realised that I wanted to build my own label. Working in such a fast environment as the fashion industry where products are popular at a particular time, trends change so fast. I wanted to create products that are timeless for the sophisticated individual. All Kito 1981 products carry a classic element. Kito means element in Swahili. All our sandals are handmade in Greece, using premium leather for longevity, durability and comfort. Kito 1981 sandals are made to last, and are designed to complete every outfit effortlessly. It’s our mission to bring a taste of Greece to Australia and the rest of the world.
What makes the Kito 1981 sandal different from other sandals on the market?
Our Greek sandals are made using premium leather that is sewn together by hand. The same leather used for the upper straps is also used for the sole. This is unique in sandal-crafting and makes for an extremely soft feel. Our collection of leather sandals includes timeless styles, in a range of colours. We buy all our leathers from Italy or Spain and combine the classic design with futuristic colours such as metallic leathers like resold, gold and silver.
Which is your favourite from the collection?
My favourite from the collection is the Antiparos sandal kito1981.com.au/collections/womens-leather-sandals/products/antiparos because of the simplicity of the style, and the elegance of tan leather.
You also do sunglasses – will you add more products to the brand in the future?
We started the brand with optical frames and sunglasses in 2011. Last year we added the sandals and we have new products that will be added on our collection in the next month.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Keeping a full time job that will help me continue on a financial level and never giving up on my passion, my dream which is my brand. Finding time and funds to support my label and never losing faith in the brand. Also missing family and friends but knowing on the inside that here is the right environment for the brand to grow.
What has been a highlight?
Seeing our products being worn by politicians, artists, athletes.
What inspires you?
Music and being in my father’s little house in Santorini, the most peaceful place.
*Kito 1981 will be at this year’s Melbourne Greek Festival on the 25th and 26th of February, where you can purchase products.