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Meet Kathy Peterson: The Creative Voice Behind Koi

Read Time: 7 minutes

With Koi’s 10th anniversary quickly approaching, we took some time to sit down with Kathy Peterson, the creative voice behind the brand, to ask her some questions about her career, her inspirations, and life.

SS: What inspired you to start designing scrubs? Why not fashion?

KP: Before I started my own company, I worked for another company — I identified design for fast food companies like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, etc. However, my background is in fashion, specifically in designing women’s fashion. While doing identity design for these companies, it really made me miss my background in design. I saw what nurses were wearing and it was kind of boring to be honest. I thought, “If I was a nurse, what would I want to wear?” and then I started creating it. Fashion is an important expression of who you are, so I began to think, ‘How far could I take this?’ I wanted things to be comfortable and stylish, and I also wanted people to feel good about themselves. I feel like when you put on a good outfit, you automatically feel better about yourself. The medical professionals work tirelessly for everything else, and I want them to feel good in what they’re wearing.


SS: What makes Koi stand out from other scrubs?

KP: I have an absolutely wonderful team, and everyone is passionate about what they do. At Koi, it’s not just a job or just a product. We want our audience to feel like, “I have to wear this” or I LOVE this product. It’s beyond delivering products; it’s got to feel good. We aren’t just trying to pass on a product to someone; we want it to be more than that.

SS: Where do you gain your inspiration?

KP: I find inspiration everywhere — locally, in my yard, domestically. I travel over 100,000 miles a year, and it’s to the point where some airports actually recognize me! I regularly travel internationally to get a well-rounded perspective. I usually go to Asia twice a year and Europe twice a year, and I visit for a combination of things. I’m always looking for new ideas, learning about the culture, seeing what others are wearing, etc. It could be something simple that I see that inspires me. Our audience is so integrated and international, so it’s important to go to all the different places of the world to see what is right for our audience. I research fabric, color, look at magazines or travel to see what the latest and greatest trends are. Florence is one of my favorite places to travel, and Japan is definitely a close second. Italy’s design aesthetically is so talented and skillful, and their taste level is so high. They have such a way of making normal things look so stylish. Japan is so creative and so practical, functional, and beautifully packaged.


SS: How do you stay on top of the latest fashion trends?

KP: Traveling is one of the main ways…and I’m always researching things. Whether I’m looking at magazines, online, or just being out in the world. I also love to shop! It’s an expensive habit, but really good for what I do because I gain so much inspiration and ideas.


SS: You’re known for “thinking outside the box.” What are some advantages in your profession to thinking outside the box? What are some lessons you’ve learned (good or bad) from thinking this way?

KP: There are a lot of things, both good and bad. For me, I was a fashion designer major so I had no business skills. Because I didn’t have that natural or trained business mindset I had to learn a lot of things. I wasn’t professionally trained so some came automatically, but I was naïve in some ways so I haven’t always been as strategic as people think! Some things along the way might have been accidental. I try not to look at what others are doing specifically, because I don’t want to copy them. I usually try to tackle a problem and see, “What are we trying to get across?” I’m also a firm believer that different works better. If you are doing the same thing as everyone else, you’ll never be seen. Some have called us the black sheep of the industry, but it works for us. Different is good. We had a pretty tight budget starting out, so we couldn’t do everything extravagantly as others do. We went straight to the consumer, which helped us build connections as well as do things differently. A good lesson I’ve learned is not to be afraid. Stick with your ideas. Whenever I’ve started off with an idea and felt like it was a good thing internally and ran with it, initially I’ll get a lot of opposition, but it has always turned out to be successful for us. Whenever we are picking something, we always make sure we are staying true to our brand, which works out well for us. You want to compromise a little but when you change the integrity of the brand, it will fail. I stick to my gut and stay on course — I always hate when someone makes a decision and then changes it a hundred times. It’s always good to stick to the company and stay true.


SS: How do you balance being an owner and designer?

KP: (Laughs) Not well usually. I have a really great team who do their best to support me, and they are great at cleaning up my messes! It is definitely challenging. It’s hard to know what you need to be involved in, because usually I want to be involved in it all. It’s a challenge, but a fun challenge, and definitely rewarding.


SS: How do you balance your work/personal life?

KP: That would be a good question for my husband. It’s hard to separate the two sometimes, because I’m always thinking about what we could do better, what we could come up with next. It’s hard to separate or stop thinking about it sometimes. My husband is self-employed, so he’s able to come on trips with me sometimes, which is always really good for us.


SS: What have you done professionally that has succeeded but don’t want to repeat?

KP: Honestly, I have no regrets on any of it. If it fails we say, “How can we make it better or tweak it?” Even when it’s successful, we are always looking at how we can make it better.


SS: How did the Kai fish start?

KP: Kai was a gift from my brother. I really hate to get my picture taken, so when I was traveling to all these places I was taking pictures of the scenery, but not me in it! People would tease me and say, “How do we know you didn’t just get these pictures off the internet?” I needed a way to prove that I was at all these places, and the girls I work with were like, “Why don’t you take your fish with you?” It was perfect, because then people would know I was there! We then turned it into a marketing idea. I have left the fish literally all over the world. We’ve received photos with people all over the world: Korea, Hawaii, New York, Japan, England, France, India, Italy, South Africa.


SS: What’s next for Koi?

KP: We are always looking for the next great thing for us to launch. We always have ideas on the horizon, but it’s a constant thought process of, “What can we do next?” “What will take us to a new level?” etc.


We wanted to get to know Kathy Peterson a little better, so we decided to play a game of “This or That.”

Beer or Wine?


Red Wine or White Wine?


Dogs or Cats?


Beach or Mountain?


Spring or Fall?


iPhone or Android?


Books or Movies?


Sweet or Salty?


Morning or Night?


Coffee or Tea?


Batman or Superman?


Horror or Comedy?