Duos We Admire: Phoebe Kunitomi

Founder of okko, Phoebe Kunitomi, sits on her bed with her minimalist bra creations.

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Phoebe Kunitomi, founder of okko, embodies everything about what it means to be a true HarperSage "Duo." She is soft, yet strong, and a "jack of all trades" -- leveraging both the left and right sides of her brain to create beautiful, foundational undergarments for a minimal life.

Read on to learn more about her day-to-day as she navigates life, work, and style as a Duo We Admire!

Before launching okko and entering the world of fashion, you excelled in finance, tech, economics, and business. Can you describe the experience of combining your left and right brain to build okko? 

Being able to leverage both sides of the brain to my work is critical to okko’s success, and I believe the reason why goes to the HarperSage theme of a being a "Duo."  

As a consumer product company, I can’t emphasize enough how important a strong brand is for standing out in a crowded field. To help okko reach this goal, I love that I get to apply my right brain through things like setting creative direction for the brand, directing photoshoots, and designing our packaging. All of this stuff is new for me! I have always had an interest in the creative side of business but never had to use these skills professionally!

However, as an early stage company, it’s equally important to balance time spent on the creative and execution, with the latter (in my mind) focused on okko’s operations and financial health. This is the area where I can leverage my prior experience fairly heavily. I always monitor what we’re spending our money on in order to continuously improve how we allocate our limited resources and put us on a path towards profitability. I think smart execution is something that all startups should emphasize early on—it’ll pay dividends in the long run! 

How do you relate to the “Duo” concept of being both soft and strong, and how do you embrace that in life?

I completely relate with the "Duo" concept. In thinking through this response, I didn’t realize how much I practice this duality of soft and strong. For example, during the workday, I am constantly grinding, trying to focus on delivering results and creating work product. I guess you can call it the type A Phoebe. However, during the weekend, type B Phoebe definitely comes out. More often than I’d like to admit, I find myself binge watching TV and just hanging with my dog and boyfriend. Finding time for me and unplugging, these are ways I like to practice self-care and enjoy the softer side of myself!

You’re a proponent of minimalism. Can you describe what you look for when buying clothing for your capsule wardrobe?

Yes! When considering whether to buy a piece, I ask myself three things: (1) Does it fit well? (2) Does it complement other pieces in my closet (e.g., in terms of color scheme or style)? (3) Is it completely unique (i.e., I don’t own something similar)? If my response is yes to all three questions, I usually will buy the piece of clothing. To avoid impulse shopping, I usually give myself 48-72 hours before I actually enter my credit card information, too. 

What’s one word that describes your weekday style and one word that describes your weekend style? 

My weekday and weekend styles are basically the same, so I would use “effortless” for both! 

With my streamlined wardrobe, most of my pieces are versatile for day vs. night or weekday vs. weekend, although I may spice things up with a nicer pair of shoes or jewelry when I venture outside of the apartment!

Compare yourself now to what you thought you might be doing. Is it different? 

Well, when I was younger, I thought I would own my own house, be married, and have kids by the time I was 29. I’m 30 now without any of those things LOL. However, I have accomplished one childhood goal: starting my own business! I grew up watching my mom and her parents, all of whom moved to the US from South Korea, build a life for themselves by being entrepreneurs. I always knew this was the path for me, and I wouldn’t change anything about the journey to get here.  

What are the highs and lows of your workday? 

Low is definitely waking up early in the morning. I’m a night owl, so it takes a lot of caffeine and yawns to get my brain going before noon.

Highs are pretty much working on anything that I know contributes to okko’s growth. I love working on small tasks, like photoshopping a picture that’ll go on our Instagram profile, as well as the more strategic stuff, such as developing new products (and an exciting one is coming soon!). 

Do you ever feel pressure to fit into a “fashion girl” mold? How do you balance this with your minimalist practice?

100%, especially because I live in NYC. That said, I have learned to be happy with the sartorial choices in my closet. For me, being a minimalist doesn’t mean swearing off purchases at all costs. I still buy things (even expensive things), but when I spend money, I know I’ll wear whatever piece of clothing or pair of shoes a lot because it looks and feels good. I think having that kind of confidence goes a lot further than always staying on top of trends. And, if I have to go an event and need a ‘fashion forward’ outfit, I’m not afraid to ask my friends to borrow something! 

What’s the next thing you want to try outside of your comfort zone? 

Once okko is in a consistently strong position from a sales perspective, I want to hire my first employee. Although I have managed people in my prior professional roles, I haven’t actually managed someone who looks to me as the boss. I think it’s an incredible responsibility to have someone’s professional development in your hands, and I’d be delighted to help this person in furthering her or his career. 

Name an iconic duo (someone or something that is both soft and strong).

Entrepreneur! You gotta be in touch with the softer, human side of yourself when building a business, customer base, and team. At the same time, you won’t survive without being tough as nails and ready to take on the myriad of endless challenges that come your way. 

To keep up with Phoebe, you can follow okko's journey on Instagram! Okko also recently launched a great blog called Intimate with okko, filled with tips for leading a simpler life and closet!

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