We get to know Christine Lafian, the founder SUKU, a lifestyle brand that produces ethereal bedding and loungewear pieces that make you want to stay at home all day.
For a lot of people, life is slow these days, or at least slower as people spend more time and even work from home. An interesting side effect of this situation is the rise of loungewear and sleep wear in fashion industry. You would think that being at home is an excuse to look shabby, but no, there are still meetings to attend and people to meet. So, the idea is to look at least presentable without having to dress up from head to toe. And the way to do that is loungewear and chic sleep wear.
With all that in mind, we certainly felt that this Fashion Issue wouldn’t be complete without featuring at least one designer whose expertise lie in these kinds of apparel. So, we spoke with Christine Lafian, the founder and creative director of SUKU Home, a lifestyle brand that produces bed linen, lounge wear and pyjamas. SUKU has been around for almost eight years and the brand has been making high quality beddings and loungewear in collaboration with Balinese artisans. Lafian, an Indonesian who split her life between Bali and Melbourne, started the brand because she couldn’t find bed linens that she really liked. SUKU seems to always pop up in conversation when it comes to beautiful and high-quality bed linens and chic loungewear. We get to know the brand and the woman behind it, as well as her ideas of home. Some highlights of our conversation:
Describe a typical day in the life of Christine Lafian…
I usually split my year into two places: half in Bali and half in Melbourne. A typical day for me would be getting up as early as I can, going to work, fitting exercise in three times a week for my mental and physical health, and then catching up with friends. Having two homes means I am lucky to have two different close circles that I spend my time with, depending on where I am. During the lockdown, a typical day for me has become walking my dog, exercising as much as I can, cooking, and lots of Zoom meetings.
Tell us a little bit about your background… Have you always wanted to be in the fashion industry?
I grew up in Makassar, Indonesia, before moving to Auckland, NZ, by myself for high school. I moved to Melbourne for university because I felt like Auckland was too quiet for me. This was more than 10 years ago; I made a home here in Melbourne and never wanted to leave again. I got into the fashion industry here by accident. I have always been a fan of dressing up but never thought I would end up in the industry. When I was at university, I loved to shop at this cool store called FAT4. One day the retail manager offered me a job there and I just thought it’d be cool to work in my favourite store. From that retail store, I moved and worked for more brands and then eventually I thought it’d be a fun side hustle to start my own brand.
You used to work at Zimmerman for eight years before you started SUKU. How do you think has it shaped you as a designer and businesswoman?
It showed me to look at different aspects of business, beyond designing. It’s definitely taught me to start my brand with a strong business mindset. Working up from a retail assistant to management position in Zimmermann allowed me to experience fashion from the frontline, when your product is sold to your customer. A brand is both more than its product, but also just the product; it’s every small detail fitting together into one. Just like a good design, a good brand has to have all these elements working together and complimenting each other.
Tell us the idea behind SUKU and why you chose to focus on loungewear and bedding…
I started SUKU as a creative outlet while working for Zimmermann. At that time, I didn’t want to start something that could be a conflict of interest with my job, plus I thought it’d be too intense to work in fashion and also have a fashion brand. The idea of starting a bedding line was simply because I couldn’t find any bed linen that I loved. I love to dress up, so it was frustrating trying to dress my room, which is my personal space, with patterns and colours that I liked. You should always dress your space to reflect how you’d dress yourself.
We heard that SUKU also started as a collaboration with your grandmother in Bali. How far has it grown now, compared to when it started? What has changed and what hasn’t?
Honestly, it’s still the same but we just have a bigger team now. We have started to outsource to small specialised producers more, too, but the main production is still run by her and the same team we’ve worked with from the beginning.
You mentioned in several interviews about the importance of a story behind a collection and design. Where do you usually look for yours?
It’s mainly from what I feel like sharing at that time of my life. It’s a process of personal reflection and growth and embracing the internal journeys I have gone on.
“A brand is both more than its product, but also just the product; it’s every small detail fitting together into one.” – Christine Lafian
How do you split your time between your creative and business roles?
I try to dedicate time for every part of my business whether it’s creative, business, retail, marketing, and so on. I feel like it keeps me excited all the time, being able to work on every aspect. The key is to learn to delegate tasks, share your vision with your team and to not try and do it all yourself. I just have lots of meeting to supervise and discuss my goals and plans and then trust my team to execute them.
Since the lockdowns started, has there been any big changes you had put into place for the brand? How has the lockdown affected your business so far?
We’ve definitely faced lots of challenges and it changes all the time. But the key is to approach your customers and followers like you would approach your friends during this period – with kindness and care. We are very lucky to have lots of support from our community. Having more people online during this period also means that we are able to reach out to more people across the world and gather together into one community, which is the SUKU community.
We’ve seen increased demands of loungewear and brands coming up with their own “home edition” line. What do you think of this trend? And how does it affect SUKU?
We have seen a positive impact and growth in the business during the pandemic, so the impact must be a good one. We have loved seeing businesses approach challenges with creative solutions, and customers choosing to shop locally and sustainably. It’s an inspiring time to see the strength of small businesses and their communities.
How does SUKU define sustainability and what practices do you apply to the brand?
Sustainability is the way you live your life – being sustainable is not just a matter of wearing organic cotton anymore, it’s about how actions affect the future. We have done a lot of harm to our environment, industry, society, and even ourselves with this instant gratification lifestyle that we lived in before. We really need to start thinking about every action now, even the smallest ones. How is this going to affect my tomorrow? How can my lifestyle be sustainable to me and to my environment? If your sustainable practice is just merely about the fabrication you use, you need to really step up your game.
The SUKU universe revolves around home and dreams. What is your fondest memories of home?
I have a lot, but they have something to do with being in the kitchen with my mum, helping her bake.
What makes a home, a home?
For me a home is home when you have found peace within yourself and accepted it to be your home. It may sound so spiritual, but you can live in a beautiful house with lots of people and still feel lonely; feeling at home is a state of mind.
What keeps you going?
An enduring excitement about life. I read somewhere that “erotic is the antidote of dead,” meaning the erotic of being alive, the excitement to be human. This is what keeps me alive.
What can we expect from SUKU in the future? What would you like to explore more of in the months and years ahead?
I have always been curious with the idea of the peace that we can gain from our environment and what we own supporting this. So, I will always try to make things as a tool for therapy for people. I am currently working on a luxury incense brand. They are hand rolled and made from local ingredients in Ubud. There is something so therapeutic about burning them. We’re launching this soon, so keep an eye out for this.