Local fashion designers Cortney “Coco” Sims and Ilia Siegwald are knocking down barriers in the world of fashion with their brand, Coco and Ilia, one pair of red sequin joggers at a time.
The two met over mutual style sensibilities while students at Stephens College, and they both graduated in 2016. Now, they’re taking on women’s streetwear with bold and daring ensembles.
They conquered Kansas City Fashion Week this past spring with their Muhammad Ali-inspired Blackout collection by making boxing an empowering feminine statement. Their designs were influenced by Ali’s impact on the human rights movement and that movement’s relevance today, combined with a message of female empowerment. The designers launched their website to fill custom orders of their clothing, and they plan to head to New York Fashion Week this February. They also plan on starting their own podcast.
Fueled by current events and a desire to dress complex women who want to push the envelope, Coco and Ilia sat down with Vox to talk about their dynamic apparel.
How did you two agree on your brand’s aesthetic?
Ilia: It felt like there’s a deficit in streetwear for women when streetwear primarily exists for men. But we were trying to bring high-end streetwear, like what you’d see on the streets of Seoul, South Korea, to the U.S. And also bring Coco and Ilia to the streets of Seoul.
Coco: Every time you see women’s streetwear, it’s not actually monikered as women’s streetwear. So we were trying to be the first brand to label what we design as women’s streetwear.
How do you design for what you call the “unapologetic, empowered, motivated reject”?
I: Because all of our stuff is super kitschy, eclectic and a little over-the-top, we are able to translate the need for imagination to fuel you. Our ensembles you see modeled on Instagram are probably outfits you wouldn’t wear in real life.
C: Yeah, like you would probably wear that top. But, maybe not with those pants and probably not with all your hair like that. Accessories out of control.
How did you decide to turn boxing into an empowering feminine statement?
C: Well, our concept was originally inspired by the likes of Muhammad Ali with his influence on the community, blacks and Muslims. It’s very reminiscent to what’s going on right now with the political climate. There’s unfair treatment of just everybody: blacks, Muslims, gays, everyone. It was about paralleling a time frame where (Ali) was standing up for people’s rights. For this collection, we were shooting to personify this with the addition of strong women and a strong girl gang.
What are some upcoming trends you see for Columbia this fall?
I: I mean, fashion’s at this place right now, which I love, where trends have kind of become not as universal, meaning there’s different subtypes of fashion. Each subtype of fashion has different trends shooting through at every moment just because it’s no longer a trickle-down trend forecast. It’s a trickle-across all the time now. It’s no longer big-name designers setting every single trend. It’s like streetwear and big-name designers setting trends, and they kind of meet in the middle. It makes me a little bit happy because fashion is much more accessible. And I feel like it should be something that’s accessible.
What can Vox readers do to empower themselves through fashion?
C: Just be true to you. At the end of the day, you really need to find what you love and what you like. That will just make you shine so much brighter.
I: Being true to yourself does not necessarily mean doing what you’ve always done. For people who want to do something new but are nervous it’s not their style, just do it anyway.
What do you think you’re doing to change the fashion world’s rules on exclusivity?
C: Oh, we’re busting that down. We are all about inclusivity. It doesn’t matter your body type, race, religion or your sexual orientation. We are literally open to everybody. Anybody and everybody. If you feel confident enough to put these pants on, do it. Do. It.