There are so many instances of designers and marketeers who shun their corporate world careers to take up passion projects that become businesses, connecting with customers over shared love of detail and aethestics. From burnt out designers at the top houses, to journalists come interiors-specialists, there is a special breed of entrepreneurs who create brands for the sheer joy of making things they care about in ways that they feel much closer to.

So let us introduce Boujo Hake. Made up of two friends, Kathrin Hake and Nadia Boujo, they decided to create just a few styles of underwear, bras, vests and one sweatshirt, and have laboured over each little detail and fabric choice – even going to the extent of finding a local London manufacturer who could turn their vision into reality. We took a moment to discover more about their entrepreneurial journey, as well as their creative approach to some of the comfiest, sexiest and responsibly made pieces that we hope will make it into your wardrobes as it has ours.

Because: Kathrin, you come from quite a corporate fashion background working for some of the biggest brands in the world in the past. What made you decide to co-create BOUJO HAKE and a range of underwear and casual wear specifically?

Kathrin Hake of Boujo Hake: Years of working for some of the biggest European brands was, without doubt, a privilege – I earnt from some hugely talented people, gaining invaluable experience along the way. But there were aspects of the corporate world that I fundamentally struggled with: I realised that I didn’t like to design or reinvent styles simply to fulfil the permanent hunger for novelty, nor was I happy to design the same piece with just enough difference to push sales, something that continually happens when profit is the ultimate driving force.

Key to me as a designer is the ability to design with women and their needs close to my heart as well as being able to take into account human capital, environment and animals (sustainability and all that encompasses was hardly a talking point when I was in the industry!).  With BOUJO HAKE we are in charge of all of this and there doesn’t need to be compromise from either a creative or sustainable view point.

Because: And why underwear and casual wear specifically?

Kathrin: White T-Shirts and vests were always a staple in my wardrobe, and I kept them literally until they’d fall apart. What was funny was how similar Nadia was. We couldn’t have more different backgrounds: a mining village in Essen, North-West Germany and Willesden in North London but our reference points and style have such overlap. We both were drawn to simplicity and lasting quality especially with regards to casual wear, always obsessing over the staples. We both wore the most simple, minimalistic underwear even when others were hoiking themselves into the push up bras of the nineties. In fact we wore our simple crop tops way longer than most and, perhaps, than we should!

When we met we were determined to try and create beautiful underwear, especially bras, that are comfortable, high quality and give support to the level where you don’t think about wearing a bra at all. For casual wear it’s simple; we’re aiming to create the best pieces in each category. In very short, to co-create a brand that is as authentic as it gets in the fashion world felt very much like the natural next step.

Because: Was a past history in mass manufacturing a contributor factor to wanting to make things more sustainably, from your fabric sourcing to the manufacturing more locally in the UK as well?

Kathrin: Definitely. I started my environmental journey and interest early on, at a time when, for
example, vegetarians were few and far between (I’m showing my age here).  Like I said, I had the privilege of working for premium brands and, as far as I could initially tell, under fair conditions. However, I became more and more aware of the complexities within the supply chain and all the unknown processes, from how raw materials are obtained to manufacturing and the subsequent environmental and human impact. I also felt uncomfortable about the cycle of pushing for more and more products into the market, investing in complex, big collections and excessive marketing to make people buy things they don’t need.

Then, even more than now, change was incremental and as a designer I could barely make a ripple. To give an example, I tried to push for a clear statement against fur for a long time. But not only would retailers push for the styles they sold best, as a consequence the sales team, finance department, even production managers who worked closely with suppliers did their utmost to avoid the change. And, on top of this, I’d be patronised in meetings for my “idealistic and unworldly” approach.

This is just a small example of the many issues out there that needed to be addressed: from animal welfare (mulesing, silkworms to name a few) to environmental aspects (synthetic fibres, cotton production, water consumption) to fair wages for workers in all different countries and cultures, to transport solutions and packaging (see the amount of packaging used for a traditional men’s shirt).

Whilst sustainability is an integral part of many brands today it’s still complex. I’ve always had a dream to do my own thing and, at the very least, be fully aware of where I can improve, where dialogue is needed. So with BOUJO HAKE, we’re fully aware of all the stages: from the raw material we use (certified organic cotton) to the manufacturing (made in the UK, which is especially amazing as we personally know who makes our garments and include these wonderful people and their knowledge into our processes) to the packaging (minimal and using recycled coffee cups for the envelopes, compostable stickers etc). And ultimately we set out to create styles that people need and will last so that they are cherished for many years to come.

Because: Why are people obsessed with the perfect fit and what makes BOUJO HAKE the one?

Nadia Boujo: An obsession with some kind of aesthetic perfection, an aesthetic that is permanently changing btw, is as old as human kind. I think our obsession with the perfect fit for bras is now less about the aesthetic and more about comfort. Being comfortable is so important for so many and recognised as being crucial to how we feel and this of course is reflected in how we look. Happy = beautiful. We also recognise that the perfect fit means different things for different people and often nationalities. The British tend to like a kind of ‘front facing lift’; the Nordic countries apparently opt for a slightly more flattened / natural shape etc 

BOUJO HAKE works for so many because of several reasons:
Our styles are simple, yet intrinsically sexy. There’s no need to think about whether they show or not - it’ll never be about some kind of obvious messaging.

We only use natural and sustainable materials. Cotton and some other natural materials are so good for intimates as they have a soft touch to the skin, are breathable and absorbent; they are durable and non-static.

As much as our styles are minimalistic, it’s all about details -we’re thinking about each and every one. The precision that goes into our styles is extremely time-intense: so many fittings for the same size on different bodies. We continually improve and amend, sometimes down to the millimeter.

We obviously wear and test our pieces ourselves, continuously criticising and debating. We want and ask for feedback, and we take every comment into account; always ready to learn.

Because: We love how your underwear are simple, minimal - the kind we might buy in a pack of M&S as granny underwear that we change out of our thongs into, but you somehow make it more sensual and cool - how do you do that?

Boujo Hake: M&S is a British institution that we’re fond of and, if you have an eye, still a place to source certain staples. (Same is true for Schiesser in Germany.) We bought this kind of traditional underwear in the past, and their “granny knickers were, just like the traditional ribbed men’s vest, in some respects, an inspiration to BOUJO HAKE - years ago, before big briefs became cool, these granny knickers were the known secret (especially post-partum). Their comfort was simply unsurpassed.

Yet our pieces are different. We specifically strove to create underwear that was comfortable and cool, both for the everyday and special occasions, not creating a distinction between the two. M&S was, and still is, firmly in the everyday and “period knickers” camp!  And what sets us apart are the details: from the materials we employ, to the precise cut, to the heritage and history that we draw upon for the design and the whole process of producing these pieces. The materials we use are natural (mostly cotton), organic and high-quality with minimal elastane. This means that the pieces last, release minimal or no microplastics in the wash and, as time goes on, retain their quality, with the bigger pieces like our vests and sweatshirts, even improving with age. There isn’t the sheen that can quickly happen after a few washes with brands like M&S which soon leaves the styles in a pitiful state relegated to the “last resort” pile.

Choices like using rather thick ribbed organic cotton or traditional 1/1 cotton rib also subtly puts us in a different camp, giving a more vintage feel. With regards to the cut, we have so many fittings and produce many prototypes, making sure the angles, proportions are correct and that the elastics are the right thickness. It’s a very slow process but we know that the results, even if the consumer can’t quite put their finger on it, make it worthwhile.

There is a tendency to spend less on underwear and instead buy cheap and frequently, but surely with something that is so intimate, so close to us we should be scrupulous about the quality and spend a little more for something that also lasts (from a sustainable point of view as well)?  Maybe we’re slightly deluded but we both feel strongly that thongs will soon be designated to the past. In our eyes, thongs are a similar ilk to the Wonderbra – uncomfortable, not that practical (high briefs also achieve no VPL), very unhygienic and a piece of underwear that has ultimately been dictated to us by society’s view of what is deemed sexy (and who dictated that is a more complex story than it might appear)

Our bras enhance the natural female silhouette rather than hoiking your breasts up into an unnatural place in the same way that our briefs are flattering by being supportive as well as truly comfortable. We strongly believe that people are truly their best selves in beautifully cut and simple pieces made from luxurious and natural materials. Understated and effortless is the ultimate appeal.

Because: How did the lockdown change both of your habits when it came to consuming fashion? Have you seen any changes in what your customers are buying or asking from Boujo Hake?

Katherin: I think we represent many when we say that our habits of consuming fashion have changed tenfold. Whether that’s because of lockdown, a general shift in attitude in the fashion industry or our age/experience?! - it’s hard to unpick.

Both of us are far more careful about how much we consume. We were never big spenders (though my husband might have a coughing fit if he bothers to read this) and cherish everything old and with a narrative. Sustainability is clearly not just about buying organic or recycled it’s about buying less and being far more thoughtful about your purchases. We both love the search for THE white T-shirt or vest. Like with many things, the joy is also in the chase and then getting it right, which is tricky, of course. 

A focus on sustainability is being reflected in the aesthetic too which very much suits us. Like many, we love pieces that have been fixed or darned in the same way that the Japanese see the beauty of mending a cracked plate with gold (kintsugi). The “box fresh” look which was so popular not too long ago just seems so unattractive on an aesthetic level but we’re sure that’s influenced by the general accepted morals of today.

We both have always been drawn to pieces that have a history, heart and story to tell and we hope that our styles can do the same. Our white vest for example was modelled on a 40 year old vest of our Grandpa’s which is still worn despite… no, especially because of… the holes. Strangely, we both had separately kept our beloved Grandpa’s white vest and we love the fact that one was a German soldier and the other a Jew in the British RAF, fighting on opposite sides - though we’ve decided that they would get on!

We want people to walk away feeling fantastic about their purchase, wanting more rather than thinking they could have done without “x”. Maybe not the best business model but that’s most definitely the only way we can both do it – and that’s not marketing speak, we’re just too old and jaded and guilty to not work in a way that’s authentic to us both. Thankfully we’re on the same page!

Shop your own BOUJO HAKE pieces here.

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