As we all commit to distancing ourselves socially, it's also an opportune time to practice social solidarity. And now that many of us are sporting more WFH-friendly wardrobes (read: Zoom meeting-approved tops paired with pajama bottoms), adding socially-conscious pieces to our home office uniforms is yet another way to support communities near and far.
Enter: Neococo, an ethical label that celebrates the power of womanhood. Founded by India-bred, now L.A.-based fashion stylist Amrita Thadani, the three-year-old brand is sustainably made in Downtown and creates embroidered and illustrated apparel that empowers not only wearers, but the women artisans who stitch each design.
The brand proudly features the female form on Supima cotton and micro modal shirts, cozy pullovers, and silk scarves — some of which you've probably shopped at futuristic boutique Forum on Melrose or at values-driven shop Galerie.LA at Row DTLA. Neococo's current lineup ($54 to $99) includes the illustrated Paloma short- and long-sleeved tees, the hand-embroidered Formation and Individuali tees, the cut-out Femini-tee, and the screen-printed and embroidered Femme tee.
There are also cold weather-ready silhouettes such as the inspiring Chin Up pullover and the Faces sweatshirt. And last (but not least), there are the silk scarves that honor women refugees — the reason that Thadani to launch Neococo in the first place.
In the fall of 2017, Thadani launched Neococo as a way to provide job opportunities and training for women working to overcome hardships. "I realized that seeking asylum and being in a safe country is not the end of all challenges," she tells UncoverLA. "In fact, refugee families are constantly swimming against the current for years, even after seeking asylum."
Thadani's own journey is nothing short of inspiring. The entrepreneur grew up in a boarding school in India and began her career as a fashion stylist at Elle India. Throughout her time styling commercials and films, she worked closely with some of the South Asian country's best embroiderers and textile designers. She eventually earned her fashion degree in 2011 from Parsons School of Design in New York and interned at Edun, the sustainable label founded by Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson.
From there, the designer made her way to the west coast and styled stars including Tracee Ellis Ross, Norah Jones, Paula Patton, and Kylie Jenner. "At the time, the Syrian refugee crisis was all over the news," she tells UncoverLA. "On weekends, I volunteered with refugee resettlement organizations, creating programs to help women refugees with similar backgrounds come together and share stories and experiences," and it was after those experiences that she launched Neococo.
Thadani continues: "Their transition from war-torn countries to safety impacted them with years of no jobs, no education, and sometimes even spending years in neighboring countries under temporary asylum, waiting, depending on food stamps and government support, with no predictable future."
Here, she shares her own story along with those of her inspiring employees, and other ways that conscious shoppers can make a difference in the lives of refugees beyond retail therapy. Keep reading below, then shop Neococo online here.
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Tell us more about your journey into the fashion world. What are some of your fondest behind-the-scenes memories of working in the industry?
Growing up in India, my first job was as an assistant stylist to a photographer. The volume of work gave me a glimpse into the world of fashion and lifestyle photography, product as well as travel photography. As a stylist researching different time periods and fashion eras, I had a lot of opportunities to work with local artists from different regions and learn about textiles, handwoven techniques, and embroidery.
This research and interaction with local artists is by far my favorite behind-the-scenes memories. The process of how an idea, an inspiration is executed into a beautiful garment is very exciting to me.
How did your upbringing informed career and how you see the world?
I lost my mum at age 6 and spent the rest of my schooling years in a boarding school, ironically the best years of my life. Growing up in an all-girls school, I noticed that we all came from different backgrounds and religions. But, facing our adversities together bonded us and made us stronger. Even today, these women are my pillars of strength. Recognizing everyone as my equal is the most valuable lesson I learnt.
What were some of the game-changing moments that you experienced that inspired you to pursue Neococo?
Our weekly sewing workshops slowly developed into a tight-knit community of women who had been through months and years of instability, but were looking for an opportunity to change their lives for the better. They all wanted a job. They wanted to work, be financially independent, and make better life choices.
They were eager to learn to drive, speak the language, and contribute to society. Their determination to work and the need to create jobs for women like them inspired me to start Neococo.
What have been some inspiring stories that you've heard so far from the women you work with?
We go beyond just giving these women employment or a way to earn money. Most of the women in our team are moms and working from home gives them the flexibility to work on their schedule. Women are able to contribute to their families financially, get off food stamps, and take driving lessons or English-speaking classes.
One of our team members from Iraq lived with her two sons in a studio apartment. After a year of working with us, she was able to rent her own studio close to her sons, giving them more space. We also work with displaced women who have faced sexual and racial discrimination. Hand embroidery is an art that is therapeutic and helps them heal, so it's the perfect tool.
Where do you see Neococo in the future?
We are working towards having a storefront, which would be an interactive space for people to come and shop products and meet the women in our team as they dive into senior roles as a retail manager, cashier, or sales associate, to name a few. I think there is a sense of community and belonging when people can directly interact with the makers themselves. We are also always looking for meaningful collaborations with brands that will help create better opportunities for the women in our team.
For those who want to further help refugee women and those seeking asylum, what are some other ways that socially-conscious shoppers can do good?
There are a lot of small organizations out there doing impactful work. The International Rescue Committee, Catholic Charities, and The Program for Torture Victims are some of them. Donating money or volunteering for one of their programs helps women and families with a smooth transition making resettlement a lot easier.