When beginning in any career it’s important to have mentors. When I graduated from MassArt I was lucky enough to have wonderful professors that I still reach out to for advice and to talk about the fashion industry with.
But besides my professors I knew I needed to reach out to individuals who were like me at some point in their career and could offer me advice about the path I was on.
Before my years of being a teacher came to an end, I had the pleasure of teaching a wonderfully creative, kind and smart student whose mother I later found out was a children’s wear designer by the name of Anastassia Gonye. I had heard great things about Anastassia, founder and designer of Tuff Kookooshka children’s outerwear, from local seamstresses that had worked with her on previous collections.
I decided to reach out to Anastassia because although she was a children’s designer and I was starting a women’s wear collections we had various things in common. We were both small clothing lines started from scratch and from the same small town in New England. I was unsure if Anastassia would want to answer any of my questions or even correspond with me beyond my introductory email. I have been so blessed that not only did she answer my first email, but Anastassia has been an amazing source of advice, knowledge and mentorship to me for years now.
Anastassia has successfully run Tuff Kookooshka for fifteen years recently moving to a new location in Fall River, MA. Her clothing sells nationwide and internationally as well as online at www.tuffkookooshka.com. I am so excited to interview and highlight Anastassia and her beautifully fun line of kids clothes.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a mother, wife, and free spirit who never felt comfortable working for someone else. I have always needed to do my own thing, make my own way if you will.
How did you start your company? Were you always interested in design?
I started out designing and sewing in my laundry room and on the kitchen table. I started doing craft shows, and I had a little display case at Cape Cod Bagels in Falmouth. A sales representative from Boston saw my hats in the display case and asked if I would like to put together a line for her to sell. The first season she sold about $10,000 and we were off. That was for Fall 1999.
I have always been interested in design. I grew up in a place where if you wanted to have special clothes you had to make them yourself. My mother was a textile artist who designed fabulous embroidery for the leading fashion houses and the costumes for the figure skating champions of the day. My grandmother designed costumes for theatre and opera. So you could say design is in my blood.
Why did you pick the name of your company and what is its meaning?
The original name “Tuff Cookie” was what some people would call me when I first came to the USA to live. Moving from one of the largest cities in the world where every day was a dangerous adventure, and your guard had to be constantly up to Cape Cod was a shock. It took me quite a while to get used to the different pace and I could be a little intense when it was not called for. Three years ago we re-branded as “Tuff Kookooshka”. Kookooshka is an endearing term for a child. Literally “little coo-coo bird”.
Did you originally want to design for children?
No, for the first company that I owned, I designed women’s dresses and outerwear. I started designing children’s wear because I had beautiful one year old skittering around my feet. He was a good fit model.
What inspires your collections?
I take inspiration from world cultures, fairy tale stories, nature and old world costumes.
What has been your biggest success?
In life I would say raising a wonderful son, who makes me proud every day. In business I think that longevity, staying true to my values and not giving up in the face some serious adversity over the years.
What is the hardest part of owning your own company?
You never get a day off. You are always responsible for everything. The hardest part of owning your own company is figuring out the finances. So many companies that I have worked with and envied, have gone bankrupt. You have to balance growth and the ability to pay to sustain that growth.
What designers are your favorites and why?
For me Alexander McQueen for his exquisitely tailored and thought-provoking designs, with just the right amount of humor and darkness. For children’s wear I like the Japanese company Wafflish Waffle, very fun and cute.
What is your favorite item to design and why?
I love to design hats the most. I love to play with different fabrics, textures, and shapes.
What 5 words would best describe your brand?
What’s next for Tuff Kookooshka?
I am working on a Spring / Summer line for delivery in February, up until now we have only had Fall Winter lines. We will see how that works out.
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