First pastel flower hoodies – so characteristic of the BOHO style – were made out of curtains and bed linen bought at Krakow’s secondhand stores. When Małgosia Bochenek* posted pictures of them on Facebook they sold like hot cakes. But that was five years ago. Today, the BOHO brand is getting ready to enter the big wide world and… change its name.
We are sitting in a café in Kazimierz, one of Kraków’s districts. Małgosia is wearing – surprise surprise! – a pink pastel hoodie with a BOHO inscription and blue, bell-bottom jeans. She looks more like a scatterbrained high school student than a designer who owns a wondrously prosperous clothing brand and is a mother of two adorable kids.
Text: Kasia Pilitowska
Let’s begin in a quite unusual way – at the end of your story. You’ve moved your show room Garaż from Kazimierz to Podgórze and if it wasn’t enough, you want to change the brand name. Is this a revolution?
Małgosia Bochenek: You know, the truth is the owner of the building gave us notice to move out, so I opened a show room in another district, in Podgórze, on the other side of the Vistula river. We are changing the name as we are moving abroad...
Does this mean you’re leaving Kraków?!
MB: Of course not, I love Kraków! I’m just opening an online store in which people from all over the world will have a chance to buy my clothes. I have to make this step forward, because Poland is “the country of one city” and I’m definitely not moving to Warsaw. On the other hand, being from Kraków is an advantage of mine – I’m exotic to Varsovians’ eyes, they’re not fed up with me yet. The name BOHO didn’t mean a thing when I started designing six years ago. Especially in Poland, the word boho didn’t ring a bell with anyone. Besides, at the very beginning I was planning to establish a brand together with Justyna Chowaniak from the band Domowe Melodie, hence the name – BO are the first two letters of my surname while HO(without C) of Justyna’s. Even though it eventually didn’t work out the name caught on, but still, the real boho style is barely present in my collections. I’m not afraid of brand renaming, my clients are very faithful.
Do you think that Kraków has shaped you in any way?
MB: Definitely. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for Kraków. All these characteristics of a small town – it’s difficult to be alone in this city because people meet in the same places over and over again – have influenced me heavily and continue doing it to this day. My friends live here and that’s where I met my husband. I’ve been walking the same route for years, from Bronowice through Rynek and Kazimierz to Podgórze. Time goes slow in here. And despite the fact that my products are selling slightly less well in this area, I do like this Garaż of mine and meetings with my clients.
You are a very young person.
MB: Oh, I’m almost 30! Ok, let it be 28. I embarked on my BOHO adventure when I was 23. It coincided with my giving birth to my first child. When I was 18 I moved out of my family home to Kraków, started working and studying geology and geophysics. I received great mental support from my parents, but I had to deal on my own with the financial side of living. It turned out to be a breakneck challenge and eventually I haven’t graduated at all.
What was your first job like?
MB: I worked in Mleczarnia café. For me it was an incredible experience: there I was, from a little town called Jaworzno and a garden full of flowers (my father was a gardener), stepping into the city, to a place full of interesting people – most of them artists older than me. I used to start my day with watering flowers in a café’s backyard and changing bouquets in vases. Despite having to work hard physically, I was very, very happy back then. For a short period of time I was learning how to design store windows at Kraków School of Art and Fashion.
How did it actually happen that you started designing?
MB: When I was no older than 13, I attended design workshop, but a pragmatic approach to life prevailed and I decided to become an engineer. As you already know, it all fell flat. I started with styling, then moved on to designing store windows, and later on, movie costumes. I practically lived on location and bounced from odd job to odd job. That was a rough experience, I kept vanishing from life for several days, indifferent to any newspaper or radio. When I came back I didn’t know what was going on around me and I hated it. I didn’t get along well with my close ones. When I got pregnant I thought that that was the right time to determine what I wanted to do with myself and give answers to some crucial questions. And that’s how I made up my mind on designing clothes.
And you made your first…
MB: Hoodie. I wanted to make myself a maternity dress but it didn’t fit very well so I cut it, added a hood and that’s how the very first BOHO hoodie was born.
Do you sew clothes yourself?
MB: No, I’ve never sewn for myself. I’m neither good at or passionate about it. Also, I have scarce knowledge of clothing construction. The most important thing is to find people who will manage this part of an enterprise in which you can be replaced and let yourself take care of everything you’re good and irreplaceable at. I choose fabrics, handle correspondence and manage the creative work. After six years, I know what I don’t have to do anymore.
You chose flowers…
MB: Yes, I did. And when I think of it – it defined my style once and for all. Everything came naturally, though. I didn’t have it planned. Flowers had always been around me, that was my style. I can’t say it was really original because, as it turned out, there were more designers using flowers in their work, but thanks to that there was a great demand on the market for flower clothing. So I filled up this market niche with my designs.
What did your business plan look like?
MB: I didn’t buy any sewing machines nor did I rent a store space. At the beginning, I invested 1000 zlotys in first fabrics and the making of my clothes. Everything I had, and there wasn’t much, I sold on Facebook and invested money in my next clothing line. For the first couple of years I didn’t have a store – I was exchanging my email address with clients and that’s how orders were realized.
You have an “un-store-ly” store, they say.
MB: You see, the thing with me is that I’m not valuing the weave or the quality of fabric above all when I design my clothes. BOHO is all about an idea and climate; models are not professionals from top-notch agencies and photographs are taken in the open air and places special to my heart and soul. Marta Greber, the face of our new campaign, stands here as an ideal example. She runs a culinary blog What Should I Eat For Breakfast Today and I met her on Instagram where I was looking for passionate women who selflessly and wholeheartedly devote themselves to what they do. Women who value family and simple joys of everyday life – just like I do. Women who dislike living in the mainstream or standing out. These are the BOHO girls. And they don’t have to wear my clothes at all.
Photographs of your collections are very well thought-out.
MB: That’s right, and so is the interior design of my Garaż. There are no ordinary hangers, mannequins or tables. What is there, however, are tree branches, wooden boxes and pieces of wood. Clothes are not the strength of BOHO – to me, they play a minor part – the strength lies in what my clothes carry with them. They are charms that give energy and joy to those who wear them. I show my clothes on Facebook because I don’t have a large store to display them all. When I feel under the weather, I go to the Bukietlove website and look at all the beautiful flowers, or visit a website of Justyna from Domowe Melodie and read her lyrics. I want women to go to my site and draw good energy and strength from what I do. My models are very specific – she-wolves, fighters, young women in possession of old souls.
She-wolves in flowers?!
MB: Exactly! Female fighters have freshly cut flowers in their homes as they live close to nature. Though I’m strong, I accept the delicate side of me and allow myself flowers, not only in a vase. A young woman with an old soul is trustful and naïve, in the good sense of the word. Her state is by no means a state of sluggishness – it’s wisdom and harmony with whatever life brings. I’ve also set up a new project - Boso - where I sew wedding dresses. Each dress is custom-made and individual. It’s a specifically Slavic aesthetic, therefore I run this project exclusively in Poland.
Prices of your clothes have doubled recently.
MB: They have, and you know what? Sales haven’t dropped a bit. Can you imagine that my coats, 800 zlotys each, are bestsellers?! I’m in the process of making extra ones. This means that for some people a price is not everything. A question I’m often asked is why such “ordinary clothes” are so expensive. I don’t feel like going back to the times when I couldn’t afford to pay taxes and had to get a loan. Right now, I have my own employees, pay all necessary taxes and make my clothes in Poland. Apart from that, it’s not like I’m producing necessities, you can live without my clothes, so why bother questioning their price? If someone can’t afford to buy my garments, I suggest a barter exchange. I prefer this to selling my clothes at cheap price. I remember when, some time ago, I desperately wanted to have a Benetton jumper, but it was insanely expensive – 560 zlotys, more than I could earn after working 100 hours in the café! I saved every penny to buy it but still had to borrow half the money from my brother. It took me a few months to pay it off.
Are you thriving?
MB: I guess there’s no chance in hell to become a millionaire just by selling clothes of this kind. The largest number of millionaires is among the producers of bolts. Also, you have to decide whether you want to earn money and go on vacation or be on vacation for the rest of your life.
You do have your feet on the ground, don’t you? Despite all these flowers!
MB: I do! My feet are very firmly on the ground! I’m very good at organizing things, planning and delegating work. I don’t like wasting time on things that aren’t crucial but time-consuming. I won’t be sewing buttons just to sew them incorrectly but hand the job over to people who will do it right.
What about your private life?
MB: I have two kids with whom I want to spend as much time as I can. So I limit my working hours to five hours a day. I work, and my kids go to a day care center. When I finish, I shut my computer down and fully devote myself to my children. No hanging on the phone, peeping at it or mailing. I’m sure I wouldn’t be such an amazing mom if I didn’t have BOHO. I’ve achieved harmony – an ideal balance between work and my private life.
Do you have a soft spot for any BOHO ad?
MB: Oh yes. It’s an ad that appeared in the most important time of the year (at the meeting point of two seasons) and in the most fashion-oriented magazine – a September issue of Harper’s Bazaar. I paid a king’s ransom for it. The ad featured a one-off jacket – a gorgeous girl was wearing it and I needed only 15 minutes to shoot a photograph of her, in the open air, by the Vistula river. There was no hairdresser or make-up artist. By doing so I wanted to get my clients to see that when they shop in Garaż and I pack their purchased items in brown paper, both they and I are doing something much more valuable. That’s why me and my “traveling store” appear in different places which comply with my philosophy. I don’t sell my clothes in multi-brand stores, I’d rather do it in places officially unrelated to fashion.
Have you been on vacation this summer?
MB: Yes I have, for the first time since 2010. It was also the first time I went on vacation with my kids and husband. We spent the most wonderful holidays at the Polish seaside, in a magical place called Stilo. An entire week. We couldn’t stay longer because summer time is the peak season in fashion. But I have a micro-scale holidays every week, when we spend weekends in my husband’s home town in Bukowina (the region of the Tatra mountains).
You ARE unique in every respect.
MB: I don’t think so. I guess it just takes longer for other people to find out what’s best in them and for them.
Who are you today?
MB: I am a designer. I used to stay away from defining myself that way because I didn’t attend any artistic school or know much about sewing and clothing construction. I’ve learnt all of this while creating BOHO. Earlier this month I received a nomination for ELLE STYLE Awards, not as a brand or a designer, but in the category “A Discovery of the Year” as “fashion for the simple life everyone misses so much”. This nomination means the world to me.
*Małgorzata Bochenek, designer, born in 1987, founder of BOHO. Since 2005 she’s been living in Kraków with her husband and two kids.