It’s our own personal journey, as we see it. And hopefully, this issue offers clarity.
Once a New York fashion star, the designer has found solace on the slopes of Kona’s Hualālai volcano.
Miho Aoki Fichefeux
→ By Brie Thalmann
In New York in the late aughts, no one would have guessed that designer Miho Aoki Fichefeux was anything but ecstatic about the state of her life. United Bamboo, the Japan native’s clothing label, was a fashion world indie darling for its witty, architectural take on preppy style. Picked up by premier U.S., European and Japanese retailers, it even had its own flagship store in Tokyo.
Judging by the brand’s rise since its genesis in 1997, it would be easy to assume that financial success had always been the goal. “Now, everything is so commercial, but in the late ’80s and early ’90s, New York had a great underground art scene,” Aoki Fichefeux says. This was around when she fell in with the artist collective Bernadette Corporation, met her United Bamboo partner Thuy Pham, and began creating fashion as conceptual art. “There was so much creativity and freedom. We didn’t even think about selling—it was purely just for fun.”
“New York happiness was more impulsive, maybe, more superficial.”
But accounts doubled, then tripled. Aoki Fichefeux grew disenchanted by the exhaustive schedule and endless hoop-jumping. The constant wastefulness she witnessed within the industry weighed on her. All was punctuated by the birth of her first child in 2013, and the need to hire a nanny to keep pace.
And so, after 17 years, Aoki Fichefeux and Pham sold United Bamboo. In 2014 she and her husband moved their family to Hōlualoa, a sleepy town on the slopes of Kona’s Hualālai volcano, where they could focus more on raising their children. There she began to find solace in the quiet, immersing herself in the care of her family’s rustic house and its large, wild garden flush with beautiful flowers, herbs and indigo plants. Slowly, like the seeds she planted in Hōlualoa’s rich soil, her creativity began to blossom once more.
It started with making clothes for her kids, then studying kapa and natural dyeing, experimenting with local plants. She was rediscovering the joy of fashion—this time on her own terms. In 2019, Aoki Fichefeux launched a slow fashion label called Okotokoto, sewing each garment herself and releasing collections in small batches when it felt right. The laborious hand-dyeing process, using natural colorants made from indigo, madder roots and even oyster shells, became her favorite part.
The contrast between her former and current fashion worlds is marked. “It’s really a different type of happiness. New York happiness was more impulsive, maybe, more superficial,” she says. “Here, it’s peaceful. Here, it’s a deep happiness.”