Portuguese designer Ana Sousa founded the luxury occasionwear label Sophia Kah in 2011. She speaks to Drapers about her manufacturing heritage, her love of Lisbon and her passion for modern occasionwear.
Luxury eveningwear brand Sophia Kah creates ethereally elegant evening dresses with a focus on heritage techniques and luxurious detailing. The brand’s founder, Ana Sousa, speaks to Drapers about her background in Portuguese manufacturing, her love of lace, and the evolution of modern day dress.
How did you get started as a designer?
I didn’t study fashion, but I was born into a manufacturing family – my mother was a manufacturer of kidswear. In Portugal, where I am from, it seems like every other mile there is a different factory! I moved to London to study business, but I saw an opening in the market for high-quality, more affordable fashion, and founded the brand in 2011. Granted our prices are not low, but there was a gap for dresses using couture techniques and materials at a mid-level designer price (dresses retail from around £600 to £2,500). We aim to be the cheapest on the floor. We sit alongside brands selling gowns upwards of £10,000. We can keep prices lower partly because of my manufacturing background – my relationships with factories allow me to work with them to keep costs down.
How would you characterise the Sophia Kah aesthetic?
Lace has always been our signature, I like to mix it with different materials to take away that “classic” feel. It’s such a statement fabric. Portugal has a very strong history of hand embroidery and lace. When I made my first collection, I used all hand-embroidered lace, but that is too expensive for general use. We now use French and Italian lace alongside couture techniques. For our autumn collection, we themed the designs around the universe – we have hand-painted galaxies on dresses and embellishments representing stars. It gives a lovely, mysterious quality to the collection.
How much has the brand changed since you began?
I started designing purely eveningwear, but we’ve been moving more into occasionwear. We’ve found that people don’t want a dress that they will only wear on one occasion. As the brand has grown, we found that there is so much intricate work that goes into eveningwear – things like hand embroidery and making lace – and people won’t pay for that every day. We’re also starting to branch out into elevated workwear as a result of this, creating sophisticated daywear.
Sophia Kah Autumn 17
How has the market evolved since you started?
My female customer is becoming less serious and the brand has shifted to this mindset. We live in a more carefree time, and people want to express themselves. There aren’t really fixed rules for eveningwear in the same way any more. Our approach to dressing has changed with the world, and now we think our customer wears whatever they feel like.
How does Portugal differ from London?
Portugal is, I think, becoming the sexiest country in Europe. It’s so dynamic in Lisbon right now. The city is becoming a bit of a tech hub and with that there are a lot of exciting things happening. Lisbon seems to be on the up in the luxury market as well. I split my time between Porto and London, and I do find there is a great atmosphere in Portugal right now.
What’s one piece of advice that you would tell your younger self?
Don’t take things personally when it comes to business.
Favourite places to shop
I love to explore and discover new places. Right now I’m obsessed with Greek and Australian designers
Last fashion purchase
A leather jacket from Balmain
Last book you read
Winners: And How They Succeed by Alastair Campbell
Last film you watched
Doing business development for a furniture company in Portugal
What do you do at the weekend
Relax: reading, pampering myself at the spa, nice dinners with friends