On Cruise Control: A Conversation With hej hej

Alice Isles and Kiki Judd of hej hej

Alice Isles and Kiki Judd of hej hej

Earlier this year a womenswear line that caught our eye was hej hej, packed with a love for linen and product that held substance. I’m always a sucker for origin stories, it’s truly the people behind something that make it count and you could tell they cared about their customer and product. Fortunately we were able to slot in a time for an interview during hej hej’s pop up store in Auckland after their NZFW presentation, which was hosted on a boat next to the Viaduct centre.

Let's start with the nitty gritty, who are you both and how did hej hej form?

We met at university in Dunedin 15 years ago. Alice went on to work in fashion in Sydney and Hong Kong and Kiki worked in sales and marketing in Taipei. We always stayed in touch but it wasn’t until Alice moved back to Auckland and Kiki moved to Shanghai that we had the opportunity to start a business together.

The name “hej hej” is very unique, where does it originate from and what does it mean?

hej hej (pronounced hey hey) is actually a Swedish greeting. When we were looking for a name, we wanted something distinctive, approachable and fun that could reflect our brand personality.

What made you want to start a women's clothing label?

We were inspired by the beautiful fabrics and tailoring in Asia. We thought there was room for a brand that focussed on creating fun and fresh styles with classic and good quality fabrics and yarns.

hej hej’s pop up store in Auckland

hej hej’s pop up store in Auckland

READ: New Zealand's Emerging Label 'hej hej' Releases Luxury Knitwear

It seems that working on other sides of world benefits the brand versus limiting it, how do you guys flow together to create?

Ah yes, our long distance relationship. We’ve learnt to use this to our advantage. While Kiki has direct access to our suppliers in China and her Mandarin skills come in handy, Alice can build relationships with our customers and hej hej friends in New Zealand. This gives us the best of both worlds where we can visit multiple suppliers to find unique and exotic fabrics, while also staying connected back home. We make sure we meet up in either Shanghai or Auckland every three months. This generally involves covering the entire house with fabric swatches, sketches, samples, buttons and trims and drinking a lot of tea and/or Peddlers Gin.

Speaking on creativity how do you both tackle a collection or project? What excites you the most within the process and what is the most dreaded task?

We always start with colour. This is something that is really important to us. Our colour and fabric choices are what (we think) make hej hej different and we want to excite and delight our customers with the colour palette each season.

Alice: The most exciting moments for me are when I can visit Kiki in Shanghai, we sit and talk and sketch and basically unload our brains onto each other. I love sketching and refining our ideas and colours down. Working with one of my best friends is so fun and rewarding. I think we really bring out the best in each other. Most dreaded task for me... anything to do with accounting.

Kiki: I agree with Alice, the most exciting times are when we’re both together! As we’re an online brand, I particularly enjoy getting to know our customers at our pop up stores. It is great to see them try on our new styles and hear their feedback. I don’t think there is a task I dread - it is fun learning every inch of the business.


What has been the biggest struggle or adversity you've had to face so far, how did you overcome it?

Balancing hej hej alongside our day jobs and family life. We’re still figuring this one out!

And what has been your biggest achievement?

Fashion Week! Doing NZFW only six months after our launch has been our biggest achievement... so far.

Beverage of choice when working?
Peddlers Shanghai Gin of course!

If you were to describe your brand in three words to someone what would you say?
Distinctive. Approachable. Fun.

What are some goals for the brand moving into 2019?
Continuing to grow our online brand in New Zealand. We have our eyes on Australia and Shanghai too. Above all else want to keep creating designs and pieces that our customers love!

Forward & Interview: Zayyar Win Thein
Photos: Cyrus Chow