Photograph of business founder Alexander Smith

Launching A Business In The Midst Of A Pandemic

Alexander Smith launched a sustainable, genderless and luxury clothing brand while in an NHS apprenticeship and worldwide pandemic. We asked Alexander, the creator of Koziko London:

What inspired you to launch a sustainable, genderless and luxury clothing brand?

I was coming towards the end of my apprenticeship in the NHS and decided I wanted to be a model. I also wanted to start building my own legacy in this world of ours- something which my apprenticeship got me ready for, and I am eternally thankful to my associate director and manager who helped me to realise my worth and my level of skill.

My first idea was not a fashion brand but a brand that would help to positively impact people across the globe. As I was applying to modelling agencies I found that they were not seeing my worth, something which I knew I had. After much frustration, I decided “if brands and modelling agencies will not hire me I will start my own clothing brand and model my own clothing”.

I started researching and strategising which led me to want to change the fashion industry.  An industry strife with a lack of integrity and compassion, an industry that has forgotten what luxury is, an industry that is destroying the planet and making a minuscule change to help reverse the damage it is causing so my inspiration was the destruction that the fashion industry is causing because I love fashion, it allows me to be free and express myself in the way that I want to but many people working within the fashion are not free. Many people are slaves and many are oppressed- this is not the fashion industry that I love.

But this was just the sustainability and fashion side, my inspiration for a genderless brand came from somewhere else entirely. This came from my experiences growing up- labels were put onto everything “this is for women, this is for men” something which always confused me. Why do we put genders onto materials and items that should have never been labelled that way? And then from those labels, we judge the people that wear certain clothing which then impacts confidence, as well as mental health. I have always been disconnected from and confused by society but I decided rather than sitting on the sidelines wondering why change is not happening I need to make that change myself.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while launching a new business in the midst of a pandemic?

While I had all of these grand ideas we were in the middle of a pandemic which many people believed was the end of time. The world came to a halt and everyone seemed to be lost but in reality it was the perfect time to launch any brand. 

Everyone was inside so nobody was really buying clothing. The biggest challenge was getting people to actually buy the clothing that I was putting out. It was not just any clothing it was ethical clothing crafted in a high-end Atelier based in London so my clothing is expensive which further impacted my ability to sell it as a new business. This did not stop me though it only made me work harder to make people see the value of my brand and why they should be buying it once we go back out into the world.

How did you manage your time working in an NHS apprenticeship while also setting up your own business?

Thankfully, I was coming towards the end of my apprenticeship during the early stages of my brand. While I was supporting key COVID operations within my Trust, I was at home which enabled me to spend my spare time focusing on my brand. I was not in the rush of everyday work life but most of all when you are doing something you are passionate about you do not see it as work. I am not doing it to get rich quick, or to be famous. I am doing it because I love it. Changing the world in a positive way is something that fuels me and being able to do it in the fashion world adds fuel to that fire.

What made you want to change from working for the NHS to launching your own clothing brand?

I actually still work for the NHS part time as an organisational support with the ARTS team. I love the NHS and have met many amazing people that helped me to understand myself as a person. My true calling is within positively impacting the world on a larger scale. I want to make my mark on the world and make it a better place to live for those I can not see but this is just not possible within the NHS. It is a more controlled environment where you only help those who you can see.

What advice would you give young people looking to set up their own business?

Believe in yourself! Believe that you can achieve anything you want to achieve. This is a hard concept for many as we all have doubts, we all have peers and family who pile on more doubts on top of our own. I myself have social anxiety as well as depression, something I have lived with since a young age and for many years I never believed in myself, I never believed I would go anywhere in life and that is exactly what happened- your perspective of yourself is your world.

I went from a dead end job to a dead end job hating my life until the day that I truly started believing in my own ability to achieve anything I want to achieve. I thank my dad for that, he consistently told me that exact line every time I saw him “you can achieve anything you want to achieve as long as you truly believe it”.

Any final words?

As a final note- do NOT let anyone tell you that you are a failure, do not let anyone tell you that you can not change the world because you CAN. I failed in school, never went to college or university but I started to believe in myself and that propelled me to where I am now. You got this, take the world by storm!! 

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