If you don’t know the swimwear brand MIKOH, you should. Sisters Oleema and Kalani Miller co-founded the brand a decade ago, and the partners recently celebrated the label’s 10th anniversary at the PARAISO Fashion Fair in Miami Beach with a runway show with actor Ryan Phillippe sitting front row that paid tribute to 1920s and 1930s Hawaii using vintage surf films as the backdrop while hula dancers opened the show. Oleema handles the business, while Kalani handles design. The sisters grew up in a family of surfers in San Clemente, California, and their swimsuits have even been featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Their designs — which also include a number of ready-to-wear pieces — can easily go from the beach or pool to a night out with the right accessories. I quizzed Oleema and Kalani on MIKOH, how to pick the right bathing suit, and how they’ve evolved after 10 years in the fashion business.
Why did you decide to start a swimwear brand a decade ago?
Kalani Miller: We decided to start MIKOH when we were just 19 and 21 years old to create something that was missing from the market that was special, unique and would make a splash in the swim industry. We were both young, naïve, and determined to pave a path for our future careers that would involve something that we love every single day. We grew up in bikinis and on the beach, so it felt natural to include something from our everyday lives into our career.
Oleema Miller: All throughout my life, I have always taken the road less traveled. We were encouraged from a very young age to follow whatever dreams or aspirations we had, and that we could achieve anything with hard work and determination. Our parents have been the most supportive people in our lives since day one and we owe so much of our success to them.
What is it like working with your sister?
OM: Working with Kalani is the best part of our business. They say never mix business with family, but this couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to my sister and me. Sharing the bond as sisters, best friends, and also as business partners just makes life and our careers that much more rewarding. We have the perfect balance and division of responsibilities. I’m the head designer and handle all things creative, while Kalani runs the business side of MIKOH. We’re able to bounce ideas off of one another while still maintaining separation in our roles which makes for the best type of partnership.
How did being a professional surfer inform the label?
OM: Having a true authentic background as a surfer has completely shaped MIKOH’s brand identity. I’m able to incorporate functionality into the design by creating pieces that work perfectly for surfing, while still being fashion-forward and fresh. The surf industry was an incredible one in which to grow up and we learned so much from every photoshoot, trade show, trip, and meeting we attended as just young girls into our teenage years. I had no idea at the time that we would be soaking up as much information as we did, which we were able to apply to our business when we first started.