koi’s Hawaiian roots

Did you know that koi’s designer and founder Kathy Peterson was born and raised in Hawaii? Here’s a little trivia: Kathy and President Obama were both born in the same hospital in Honolulu. Speaking of Hawaii, mahalo to Nadine Kam for writing this nice feature on us. It appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on February 19, 2009 in both print and online editions.  

Star-Bulletin article

Fashion cure

By Nadine Kam 

POSTED: 12:30 a.m. HST, Feb 19, 2009 

Kathy Takamoto Peterson is keeping her fingers crossed. While much of the fashion industry is suffering from the fallout of the global financial crisis, her young business, koi Design, has managed so far to avoid the pinch.

The local-born designer has carved out a stable niche in Santa Monica, Calif., designing medical scrubs stylish enough to wear on the street. Most recently, the company collaborated with tokidoki in creating limited-edition scrubs bearing artist Simone Legno’s whimsical characters.

Her designs have won approval beyond the main market of nurses, dental professionals and an ever-growing cadre of spa workers, appealing to anyone looking for clothing that manages to be presentable, practical, comfortable and affordable. Individual pieces – including scrubs, long- and short-sleeved T-shirts and cargo pants – run $25 to $27, with the tokidoki pieces in the $40 range.

All are made of 100 percent cotton, or a cotton/ polyester blend that needs no ironing and holds up after many washes. Styles include cute surplice, kimono and peasant blouse styles, all with handy side pockets.

Peterson graduated from Kaiser High School and attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa for a year, before moving on to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. In a phone interview from her office in Santa Monica, Calif., she said she was never a designer with red-carpet dreams.

“I always liked sportswear, things that are wearable to a lot of people, and wanted to work for a trendy company, like Guess.”

After graduating, she fulfilled her early dream, working as a designer at such mainstream companies as Guess and Carole Little, before being tapped to work as director of design for Barco Uniforms, which opened her eyes to the unfulfilled potential in medical uniforms. At that point, uniforms were drab, typically in generic, calming blues and greens. Peterson saw the potential to add color and some fashion sense and launched koi Design in 2006.

The koi, representing good fortune, strength and luck of the underdog, is a nod to her Japanese heritage, and she said she feels lucky to have started her business in time to establish her name and reputation before the economy took a dive.

She hasn’t looked back.

“When you’re working for someone else, you’re living someone else’s vision. I wanted to fulfill my own vision from start to finish,” she said.

“You spend so much time developing on a product, it’s like your baby. Once you hand it off to another department, like marketing or advertising, you find it doesn’t emerge with the same expression, doesn’t convey the same thing you wanted to convey. You don’t have the option of doing what you think is right.”

She’s happy now to hear from medical professionals who appreciate the break from monotony. Koi scrubs are popular, she said, in hospitals that don’t have strict dress codes, as well as spa and dental offices.

“We do things that are more fitted and flattering,” Peterson said. “We all wear it around the office to test it. We want to check the fit, we want to be able to move, because nurses move a lot. Our cargo pants have a lot of pockets because they’re always carrying a lot of stuff on the lower half of their body. And they work really long shifts, but we still want them to look good.”

Koi Designs can be found at Uniforms Hawaii, 650 Iwilei Road (536-6699), or at Jazzy Scrubs on Kilani Street across from Wahiawa General Hospital.