“I can’t breathe.” Despite the man’s cries for help and exclamations of his inability to breathe, the police officer kept his knee on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. This man was murdered. This BLACK man was murdered. His name was George Floyd. Say that name. Remember that name. Continue to carry his name into the revolution that we are currently witnessing.

Interview with Phoebe Kunitomi

Introduce yourself! 

Hello, Overachiever community! My name is Phoebe Kunitomi, and I am the founder of okko, an intimates brand offering a collection of bodywear that’s worn to be forgotten. The best way to describe myself is equally left- and right-brained. On one end, I studied economics at Georgetown then got my MBA at Wharton. Before okko, I worked in the B2B space at the intersection of technology and financial regulation—pretty analytical stuff! But, on the other end, I love applying my creative energy. In high school, I designed my own prom dress. At okko, I lead all creative direction and design, ranging from directing photo shoots to designing brand assets.

Introduce okko—what’s your mission, and how did it start?

I started okko in late 2018 while pursuing my MBA at Wharton. The idea for the brand was born out of an acute personal frustration. As many women can relate, I had a perfect outfit for a party, but my top drawer was filled with undergarments that either showed through it or were simply too uncomfortable to wear. That’s why our brand only offers a collection of bodywear that is timeless, versatile, and comfortable. Or, to put it plainly, women know what always works.

Like people, okko has evolved, mirroring my own development as an entrepreneur and human being. Growing up in an Asian household, we always practiced what is widely known as minimalism today. We never had clutter, followed feng shui, and the like. That’s why ‘doing more with less’ continues to be my personal mantra, even sometimes to the extreme (I wore ten pieces of clothing for 100 days last year!). Over the past several months, I have started to more deliberately connect these personal beliefs and the mission behind the brand.

It’s a given that (most) women need to wear underwear and bras. But, do we need undergarments, or material possessions in general, that we rarely wear or don’t add value to our lives? My answer is probably not.

Today, what I hope okko stands for is something more than quality, wearable undergarments. Rather, okko is a brand advocating for more thoughtful, conscious consumption. We are not about reducing our lives to bare bones possessions. Rather, we aim to speak to women who want to free their lives of unnecessary clutter in order to make room for more: more experiences, more confidence, and more freedom to wear your favorites.

 

Scrolling through okko’s Instagram, it’s clear that okko has a lot of fans. How do you connect with okko’s fans/community?

That’s amazing of you to notice! Since day one, our #1 source of inspiration is the many wonderful women I have met throughout the journey of building okko. And, that’s reflected in our name: okko stands for “Our Kind of #KnockOut.” This is an homage to all the women who live unapologetically on their own terms.

Staying true to our roots by being a community-focused brand is critically important to me. During the pre-pandemic days, we attended or hosted in-person events regularly and even opened up our own pop-up store last year in LA. Face-to-face interactions are always a fun way to build authentic, lasting bonds with our customers.

Of course, growing relationships in the digital space is just as important, too. I am pretty hands-on when it comes to customer communications. I answer all customer service emails, answer our DMs, etc. Also, as much as I can, I try to keep our supporters updated on what’s going on with the brand. We’re all in this together.

How have you all adapted to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? How is life at home? How is running your company changed during this time?

Like most people, I have had my ups and downs throughout this pandemic, but I am grateful to be healthy and happy. Based on the experience so far, the biggest lesson has been to give myself a break sometimes. Times are tough, and we need strength, mental and physical, to get through it. To build and maintain that strength, I have to remember to rest and take care of myself first.

What does self-care mean to you? How do you take care of yourself? 

For me, self-care means pursuing what makes me happy. Sometimes, self-care can be small things. For example, my weekly mani/pedi is my sacred “me” time (when we could go to get one), and I enjoy tidying up to create a calm living space. However, I also define self-care as the foundational changes we make for better mental health over the long haul. I regularly see a therapist (she’s amazing) to help me work through these improvements. I want to constantly evolve to become a better person for me and my loved ones.

You have donated proceeds from okko to important causes, such as the Women’s Prison Association. What inspired you to speak out on these issues and take these actions?  

What drove the decision to partner with the Women’s Prison Association is deeply personal. When I was very young, my single father was falsely accused of a terrible crime he never committed and was locked up for it. The accuser was a corrupt police officer. Fortunately, my dad was correctly found to be not guilty. Although these events had a significant impact on our family, we were able to pull through it because of our support system. However, most people in the criminal justice system, the vast majority of whom are poor minorities, do not have the same privilege and access. WPA offers programs and services that provide this support for incarcerated women and their families. I’m proud to stand with an organization with this mission.

What do you wish you would have known earlier on in your entrepreneurial journey? 

I have two things that I wish I knew before starting okko: 

(1) Surround yourself with the right people—During the early stages of your new venture, people are the ‘make or break.’ Of course, healthy conflict is a good thing. But, if you have serious interpersonal issues with an early team member, those issues can turn into serious problems. If you are looking to bring someone on board, “date” them first. Start off with a discrete project with clearly defined goals, then assess the relationship to see if there is a longer-term opportunity to work together.

(2) Don’t rush—As mentioned, I launched okko while at Wharton. I had a large handful of peers who were launching their respective brands ahead of okko. I felt a self-imposed pressure to launch while still at school, so it looked like I was making progress as well, at least comparatively. In retrospect, I could have taken my time and invested in getting smarter at being an entrepreneur from the outset. Building a business is a long game, and you cannot take shortcuts.

 

What is next for you and for okko? 

At okko, we want to reduce clutter in people’s lives, starting with our most intimate layer. Our next step is to expand our core collection to other areas of your top drawer. Of course, across all products, our product philosophy will not change: a strong focus on wearability, practicality, and no BS or frills. For me, well, I’m here for the ride!




phoebe kunitomi linked in.jpg

Phoebe Kunitomi is the founder and CEO of okko, a bodywear brand for women. Phoebe began her career outside of the fashion world at Promontory Financial Group, a financial regulatory consulting firm, where she first held client-facing roles then transitioned to be the Chief of Staff to the COO. After Promontory, her childhood dream of owning her own business inspired her to join the startup world and gain the relevant experience needed to meet this goal. As the second employee, Phoebe joined Merlon Intelligence, an early-stage machine learning startup, where she built and scaled all aspects of the company’s operations. After Merlon, Phoebe pursued her MBA degree at Wharton, where she launched okko.

Phoebe received her BS in International Economics from Georgetown University in 2012 and MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2019.

Social profiles

  • Instagram:

    • @ph0ebe_claire/

    • @okko.co

Head Interviewer

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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