There is a certain magic looking back in awe, when our dreams actually do come true. The risks we take, the challenges we overcome, and the faith it takes to keep going regardless of the odds. The origins of KAOHS swimwear in a backstage interview with Tess Hamilton is definitely a story worth telling:
July 20-July 23, 2017 Miami Swim Week, South Beach Miami Florida, merges industry leaders for the most prestigious swimwear runway shows in the nation. A undeniable charge as designers, models, photographers clamor out of taxicabs preparing for the upcoming event.
Once a year. One shot. A make it or break it fifteen minutes of runway fame, competing with some of the top designers in the country.
Sitting on the balcony at the W Hotel South Beach, Tess Hamilton designer/ founder delivers an unplugged interview @ KAOHS an emerging swimwear line making a big splash as a serious contender in the big leagues.
HP: “A year of preparation, only hours away, how do you feel?”
Lounging back with her legs dangling over a cozy chair, Tess appears as cool as a cucumber as she sips her morning coffee glancing out at the nearby ocean.
TESS: “Actually….great. I’m just glad this day is finally here…We’ve worked really hard up until this point, so now I’m just excited to see it all come together.”
HP: “KAOHS is relatively a new company, four years? How did you make it to this level in such a short time?”
TESS: “The line was starting to gain attention. When it really blew up was when Kim Kardaschian wore our suit on the cover of her book Selfish. That put us on a whole new level.The exposure was amazing.”
HP: “You’re one of the youngest designers in the industry. There was talk you’d never make it with no real experience or mentors behind you. This was kind of an all-on-your-own beginning. So when did you decide you wanted to design? How did KAOHS start?”
Laughing, she amusingly shakes her head as if she can’t believe it herself. Yet, it’s in her confidence that convinces you she didn’t need to climb the ladder the conventional way. Nor would she want to. Tess is a new breed, a twist of creative rebellion if there is such a thing- a cross between a free spirit, yet surprisingly quietly intuitive as if she just knows what’s hot and what’s not.
TESS: “I just graduated from high school, my grades were… let’s just say not Harvard entrance material,” she laughs crisscrossing her legs in front of her. “I applied for the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, and during my first interview the admissions counselor shaking his head basically told me, ‘please this is a dedicated business, and apparently you don’t have what it takes. I am going to politely have to refuse your application.’”
“But there was something inside me that knew he was wrong. I could feel it. I knew
what I wanted to do, and this was it. So I bargained with him. I made him a deal. If I did an outside project, a fashion photoshoot where I could have complete creative liberty, and he liked it, would he reconsider? I did it, and he loved it. I think he was shocked actually. Ironically, it is now used as an example to incoming students,” giggling she adds, “Needless to say, he let me in and gave me a chance.”
HP: The name KAOHS does it mean anything?
TESS: “I came up with that one day in the middle of designing. I thought, what is it that really inspires the line? What’s the feel/ the look/ the style I’m creating?…life at the beach: Skate, boho (bohemian), and surf. So I combined it sKAte, bOHo, Surf. KAOHS. It’s a lifestyle.”
HP: “Your designs are innovative, unique. How do you come up with these?”
TESS: “I get my inspiration from clothes…life. it’s a mood. It’s not just about swimwear, it’s how your feeling when you’re wearing it. Maybe I’m a tomboy myself, but I want my line to portray that lifestyle, a girl on the go…full of energy. Nothing hotter than that.”
I think a girl that’s out there doing it, living life, grabbing her skate board,
or surfing the waves is sexy.”
TESS: “I remember the second season designing, things were going pretty well, we were getting a lot of online orders, and recognition from Instagram. One day I was sitting on the grass (that’s where I do my best work, samples and textures sprawled out everywhere) and I was feeling overwhelmed. Suddenly I hear this voice. Do you want me to help you? as if I needed to choose. It was so loving, yet powerful at the same time. I knew it was the voice of God. And so I answered…..Yes. From then on I have felt divinely inspired and guided, coming up with fabrics and styles I would not have necessarily put together. I feel this creative flow, and I know it is God working right along side me. I don’t feel anxious anymore, just excited. Now, I just have fun.”
The streets were buzzing below with highly charged paparazzi, as the entourage of fashion designers continued to arrive. Yet, Tess remained undaunted, playful as ever in her ripped jean shorts and shades as if it was another day at the beach, almost expecting her to grab her skateboard. Something was definitely different about this girl.
HP: “I know the show is about to start, but tell me about your first runway. You’re a young designer, barely even any money in the bank, why would you take such a chance and compete on this level? The magnitude of expense was I’m sure beyond your means. I just have to ask, how did you have the guts to do it?”
For the first time, Tess became silent, as if she was digging for the right answer, or possibly trying to put in words what she was feeling. After a deeply reflective pause, she finally responded.
TESS: “This was a leap of faith. I knew God had been inspiring me as I designed. I had been taking risks all along- tops with sea shells, edgy cuts that were not mainstream yet. But I did it anyway. And it worked. Then I came to Miami. As I was deciding to do the smaller show or the runway, I had one question for the event coordinator, ‘Do any real buyers go to the other shows? Her answer was, ‘No. Not really, but for your first time this would be safe. Learn the business, expand your client base and then come back when your ready. The runway is out of your league. This is for well established companies. Not for new start-ups.'”
“I thought about her answer. ‘Don’t take the risk.'”
“But Why would God bring me this far, not to? Would He let me down now? I felt that Voice inside me saying, ‘Do it!'”
“I first had to convince my business partner (Ali Hoffman). I just said what do we have to lose? Eventually we’ll pay if back. But this is our chance to make it happen. If we really believe in what we are doing, then let’s just do it!
So we jumped. It was our leap of faith.
“And yes, it put us on the map. People knew that we took KAOHS seriously. After that night, so did they.”
HP: “I hear your taking another big risk on the runway tonight- a never been done before theme. What is it?”
TESS: “Yeah…,” she laughs, sipping her coffee. “Risks is how I got here in the first place. Why stop now? I’m merging punk rock leather jackets, doc martin shoes, with swim wear. Kinda funky huh?” She confidently smiles, as if she is holding back a secret.
HP: “When everyone else is doing beach themes and sandals, how does heavy black boots, fishnets, and jackets fit in?”
TESS: “Exactly. I never want to do what everyone else is doing. If you’re always following the crowd, what’s the fun in that? Swimwear is soft and feminine. Black leather is hard. Maybe that’s the statement. It’s possible to mix two opposing elements together to create something totally new,” she says as if her secret is now emerging. “My line is not just about swimwear, it’s about simplicity and freedom. Throw on a pair of ripped jean shorts over the suit and it’s a hot off the shoulder top/ ensemble. Suit, shorts, sandals is all you need, anything else is just extra baggage.”
HP: “I am seeing a sexy brazil cut bottom, yet also full coverage. Where do you think the trend is going?”
TESS: “Honestly, anything goes. The Kardashians brought booty back. Shape is the new rave. A full coverage bathing suit bottom accentuates curves, yet the sexy sleek small cut is just as sexy. Full pieces are making a strong come back as well. Don’t stay with one style, keep changing it up. That’s what makes fashion fantastic! It’s never stagnant.”
HP: “Anything you’re excited about this year?”
TESS: “I have some retro pieces. The underwire bra with an accentuated center. I love that! Especially in cherry red. Sooo hot!”
Chit chatting some more her eyes sparkled talking about the new collection, yet I knew it was time to end our enchanting têtê-a-têtê. The runway was only hours away.
KAOHS CATWALK 2017
The show was spectacular as ever-an off the wall shocking combination of sexy, sassy, sporty swim wear. It was risky, but she pulled it off. Yet, it was during the walk down the aisle with business partner Ali Hoffman, that Tess took the biggest risk of all proclaiming her faith. Displayed on the billboard was the scripture Jeremiah 32:27 “Is there anything too hard for me?” says the Lord.
Knowing Tess’ journey and where she is going, as she exists the stage, you can’t help but agree. There is nothing too
hard for this girl, because you know there is something extraordinarily special inside her.
KAOHS keep following: keep expecting more.