Rourkela-born Vivek Agarwal, the designer behind OOKIOH, has had a busy few months. Agarwal, who divided his time between Rourkela and Los Angeles, launched OOKIOH, a play on the Japanese term Ukiyo (Edo Japan Period’s pleasure-seeking lifestyle) in 2018, had previously had careers in engineering, steel and real estate.
After finding a gap in the industry, Agarwal chose to follow his passion and launch a sustainable practices swimwear company. OOKIOH aims to be plastic-free for pre-consumers by 2022 and uses yarn made from waste such as sunken fishing nets in oceans and aquaculture and other discarded fabrics.
The company has taken moves in recent months, including a deal with stylist, creative director and sustainable lifestyle spokesperson, Rachael Wang, with 10% of net sales going to Intersectional Environmentalist, and sizing going up to XXL. Gigi and Bella Hadid, Hailey Beiber among many, have also given him a stamp of approval. Here is his interview with Vogue.
Engineering, real estate, now fashion. It hasn’t been a linear journey for you.
It has been a full circle and quite a journey. I grew up in Rourkela—a small town in Odisha. I used to sketch Bollywood-inspired menswear even as a kid, and I always wanted to be in fashion. However, I ended up doing Engineering because it was considered safe. In 2017, after a whirlwind of experiences including manufacturing steel, a Masters in real estate, and working for a mall developer in Chicago, I decided to pursue my passion. The engineering mindset and analytical skills that have helped me across industries. It allows one to see things objectively, based on numbers and data, and make informed decisions. And, had it not been for the real estate program, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet Richard Baker and Mickey Drexler; they reignited my passion.
What led you to found OOKIOH?
While there were stylish and sustainable swimwear brands out there, they were either overpriced, too racy, or too serious. OOKIOH was founded with the primary goal of providing style-forward and conscious swimwear at an affordable price point while having fun and celebrating women for who they are—and whomever they want to be. We are for all bodies and bodies of water.
What is the USP of your label?
It is our design; They are unique and yet approachable and wearable. I believe we have figured out this unique way to blend ’90s vibes, sportiness, and sexy and create this unique OOKIOH DNA that resonates with all.
A professional highlight?
One of the first big stores that I went to when I first came to the US in 1999 was an Urban Outfitters store in Lansing, Michigan. Coming from a small town in India, I was enamoured. Now to see OOKIOH on their shelves across the country is definitely a highlight!
You just did a collaboration with Rachael Wang. Who would be a dream collaborator?
Prabal Gurung is on top of my mind right now. I admire his work and his journey, and we both share a love for colours. I think we will create magic together on the beach.
What advice do you have for women when buying swimwear?
You look great. Don’t overthink it.