We had the good fortune of connecting with Phoebe Kunitomi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Phoebe, do you disagree with some advice that is more or less universally accepted?
You need to have a fully baked idea in order for it to succeed. This way of thinking is so wrong! In my opinion, the best ventures are the accumulation of small experiments. I view okko as a brand that is continuously evolving in response to customer feedback and marketplace changes. To know which direction to take, I am constantly gathering data through tests — ranging from small things like where to place a logo on an ad to more involved processes where we’re sending our bras and underwear to real women for their design feedback. As an entrepreneur, you can’t be afraid to test something, see whether it works, and drop it if it doesn’t. It is from these lessons that you create a stronger, more sustainable business. Data is king!
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I’m the founder and CEO of okko, a minimalist body wear brand for women. I started okko in late 2018 because I knew that we could do more with less. My Japanese father and Korean mother centered my upbringing around minimalism — that is, the importance of being intentional about what we bring into our lives. For my parents, eliminating unnecessary things creates the clarity and focus to cherish what matters, like your experiences with your family and friends!
It is this conscious mentality that guides everything we do at okko. We are proudly not fast fashion. Our mission is to empower women to cut the clutter, starting with what they put in their underwear drawer. We are a reliable collection of undergarments done utterly, deliberately, and beautifully right. Because, I believe that every material possession (down to our foundational layer) should add value to our lives.
Although I started okko over two years ago, I feel as though I have spent my entire life fulfilling my dream to become an entrepreneur (although I never guessed I would own a lingerie brand!). My family is a big reason why I knew I wanted to start my own venture. The Korean side of my family generated wealth through being small business owners. It’s not in the sexy VC-backed way — they opened flower shops and restaurants, but they were able to create a good life for themselves. Growing up in this context, I learned that entrepreneurship was the path one follows to create wealth and give back to your loved ones.
Since graduating from undergrad at Georgetown, all the career choices I’ve made post undergrad were driven by my hyper-focused desire to get the skills and experiences required to become a smart business owner down the line. For example, I became chief of staff at my first employer (a financial consulting firm) to be directly involved in strategy and operations at a later stage startup, and after that, joined a machine learning startup as its second employee to learn how to build a business from scratch. I bolstered my real-world experience with lessons that I learned in the classroom and through my peers while pursuing my MBA at Wharton. In fact, it’s at business school where I started okko! While my trajectory seems very methodical and well thought out in hindsight, where or what exactly I was going to do was never clear cut in the moment. But, I think what really helped is I always followed my north star: knowing that one day I would be my own boss.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m relatively new to Miami, but in a short time, we’ve had so many visitors that I feel like I’ve actually LIVED this itinerary for the past few months. For the entire week, my best friend and I would be doing three things: eating, beaching, and hanging. For beaching, we’d need two days dedicated to the water, including one day lounging at Soho Beach House and another day on a friend’s boat. For eating, I would take her to all the best local spots that I know of, including El Brazo Fuerte, Ariete, Sappore Di Mare, Lung Yai Thai Tapas, INTIMO, Joe’s Crab, and Phuc Yea. For hanging, there’s so much to do because we have the benefit of beautiful weather in Miami. I’d love to take my bestie roller blading, seeing the murals in Wynwood, and going to outdoor bars.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to give a HUGE shoutout to my small but mighty team at okko (you know who you are!). I work with an incredible group of women and men who make okko stronger and push me to be a better manager and person. Without them, I don’t think I would be able to navigate this crazy entrepreneurial journey.