Designer Astra Kidani knows a thing or two about reaching for the stars. Her brand’s namesake — Astra Kidani — is inspired by her own name, with Astra meaning “from the stars.” The ethos captures the essence of what it means to be equal parts unifying and unique. Her work blends blends feminine and masculine aesthetics, bringing together a sense of unity through each garment. In addition, Kidani aims to spearhead a movement of fellow female Asian designers in the fashion world to bring together fellow creatives and champion one another.
Schön! speaks with Astra Kidani about the creation of her label, diversity in fashion, and more.
You’re based in LA and you were born in Hawai’i — how have the two places influenced your work and creative process?
Being born and raised in Hawaii has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. It was an experience that I’m very grateful for and it really taught me to appreciate and enjoy the simple things. It was easy to fall in love with life living by the beach and being able to have easy access to nature. Hawai’i is also filled with amazing people. It’s diverse and filled with culture. It really encouraged me to want to see and learn more about the world and experience new people and places, which led me to my work experiences in London, Shanghai, Milan, and Los Angeles. I think it’s super important to understand what fashion means in different places around the world—it’s the truest wearable art form of different cultures and histories.
LA has influenced my work in a more business perspective. I’ve learned the most in LA in terms of business processes and strategies. I went to business school and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 2020 and recently graduated with my Masters in Business degree (MBA) in June 2022. Throughout my time at my universities, I was very fortunate to have different mentors in the industry, who took a lot of their time to help me learn, which I feel is a very rare thing to find in fashion. I’m also in the heart of Hollywood, where trends and new ways of thinking are born. I worked for a lot of small brands, which allowed me to expand my knowledge in different sectors of fashion like wholesale, e-commerce, social media, marketing, production, and PR. It was a lot of work at the time, but it gave me the knowledge to run and operate my brand by myself, at least for now!
The label is named after you — why was it important for you to name your brand after you?
I used to hate my name growing up because it was hard for people to pronounce, and kids would make fun of me because it was so different. But as I grew older, I realized how cool it was to have a name that no one else had. My father gave me my first and last name and it’s something I’m really proud of having. Astra means “from the stars” and I really hope I can live up to it one day.
Your parents have been a big influence on your career by encouraging you to pursue your dreams rather than picking a traditional job. The brand is in honour of your late father and your family.
Starting my own brand has always been the dream, but I never thought I would start one this early. One of my earliest memories, relating to my career, is when my mom picked me up after summer school in 1st or 2nd grade and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I immediately told her I wanted to be a designer. My mom was a big influence on my interest in fashion—she was effortlessly so stylish and chic. Growing up, they actually wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer since those jobs are more stable and Asian female designers were (and still are) rare. But I think once they saw how passionate I was about fashion and how little interest I had for a traditional job it was when they became super supportive.
Experiencing a great loss, at least for me, really pushed me to further my career. Instead of feeling sad and helpless, I wanted to honour my dad by pursuing my dreams I would always tell him about. My family has been my biggest supporters every step of my life. They sacrificed a lot to give me and my brother all the things they never had and that’s where a lot of my motivation comes from.
You had your first collection at 23 which is an incredible feat. What was it like to design, curate, and release your first collection? Was there anything you learned about yourself in the process?
I had so many doubts and fears from the start since there are so many risks tied to starting up a business especially since I’m doing it all on my own. But I think the fear is a sign of doing something you really care about. I took the little savings I had, and with a little of my mom’s help, to start a small collection. I feel like everything happened so fast. I spent almost a year setting up the business, but basically my whole life dreaming about it. I really love to create and wear unique pieces, which is a super important aspect in my design process and it’s so surreal that it’s all coming to life. I’m so excited to share my ideas with the world.
I realized how much multitasking I’m able to handle since starting a brand takes so much thought, time, and work. It’s crazy that I did it all by myself. Other brands usually have a team of people and investors working on every step that goes into production and marketing. I’m really impressed with myself but there’s more work to be done!
What would you say your brand’s ethos or mantra is?
The brand is driven by my own observations of the future of fashion. People who wear AK aren’t afraid to break boundaries, stand out, and make their own rules.
As a young designer, what are some of the most difficult and rewarding aspects of the fashion industry?
The fashion industry is a hard place to enter. I learned that the difficult way when I started my career. I was turned down from so many jobs and internships and found it almost impossible to get my foot in the door. I found that people in fashion like to stick to what they know and if you don’t have the connections or money then it’s all about the hustle. My dad always told me to be the hardest worker and from that I think the most rewarding thing is to see your hard work pay off. To me, every positive feedback, follower, and purchase means the world to me. It means people like what I’m doing, and I think that’s the best feeling as a creative.
How do you see the Astra Kidani brand growing and evolving in the future?
I want to reach new cities and people all around the world and make a positive impact. I see my brand opening shops in different cities and working with other global creatives. I also can’t wait to get more creative and expand my products to bigger and more intricate collections, while also being sustainably conscious. I’d love to have seasonal shows for fashion week one day. I think that’s always been a goal of mine. I want to create a whole world around my brand that goes beyond just fashion.
Tell us a bit about your design process – what’s the first thing you do when you start working on a new project?
I first brainstorm and reflect on all the different people, culture, and places that I’ve met and experienced. The brand is a representation of my story and style. As a creative, it’s so important for me to keep an open mind in everything I do and everywhere I go. When something stands out to me, I make sure to write it down. I have a journal of ideas that I’ve accumulated throughout the years that represent my perspective of the world (which I can’t wait to translate into clothing). I put together what makes the most sense from my ideas and start mood boarding. I think that’s the fun part about being a creative, being able to tell a story.
Fashion is how all people express themselves, but the fashion industry is still incredibly male-dominated. Your goal is to lift other female creatives and creatives of colour in different aspects of the industry. Why is it so important for you to do this?
Growing up there were little to no females and even less Asian females in the fashion industry that I could look up to, even to this day. Coming from a Japanese and Korean background there are automatic stigmas and stereotypes that are associated with the way I look. I want to be one of those people to break those stigmas and stereotypes because we women and people of colour deserve better, especially for the next generations.
Your capsule 2022 collection blends feminine and masculine aesthetics and is ethically made in LA. If you could define this collection in a single statement, what would it be?
It’s just the beginning!
Lastly, what do you hope those that wear Astra Kidani designs feel or think when wearing the clothing?
I want people to feel confident and empowered. When people wear AK I want them to embrace the meaning behind it and relate to it—to be proud of their background and where they come from and believe that anything is possible.