October 01, 2013

Designer in Focus: Olga Buraya-Kefelian - Issue 3

デザイナーインタビュー<br>Olga Buraya=Kefelian
amirisu featured @ Olga Buraya=Kefelian


This issue's guest is Olga Buraya-Kefelian, a unique and inspiring designer, originally from Belarus. Olga and amirisu got together one April afternoon, a few weeks before she left Japan, her home for the past three and a half years.

amirisu: Thank you so much for giving us time, Olga! 
Olga: Thank you so much for having me!

amirisu: I remember I became so excited when I found out you were based in Japan.  Each time you come up with an unique design from a Japanese motif, it made us both very proud of being Japanese.  What brought you here and how have your experience been in Japan?

Olga:  It’s a pleasure to meet you both in this amazing country that I have been admiring for many years and now finally got a chance to reside here. 

My husband is in the US military and that naturally comes with lots of travel. When an opportunity appeared for us to live in Japan for several years we were very excited and moved here with lots of anticipation. I have been learning a bit about Japan and it’s culture prior to our move and I have always found it astounding as to knitting materials and design aesthetic that you guys come up with. Experience of 3.5 years has been unforgettable, we are just very sad that it has to come to an end. From being very different to a Westerner’s mind at first, Japan has become a second home that we were very reluctant to depart but looking forward to coming back!

amirisu: We are happy to hear that you've truly enjoyed your time in Japan, but so sad that you are leaving. Before going into details of your knitting career, can you tell us how you learned to knit in the first place?

Olga: I come from a family of a seamstress and my mother taught me how to knit when I was four.  I wasn't serious about it until I became a teenager and we didn’t have many options available to us, so clothing was what we made. And I wanted to have more funky and fashionable knitwear at the time as the winters are pretty cold there. Back then, in Belarus, there was no pattern you could really follow - no knitting books nor knitting magazine - so you had to come up with your own designs.  Later, a copy of a German knitting magazine appeared in the public library and I am pretty sure half of my home town was knitting from it.

I had picked up knitting again after we moved to Italy because of military and found myself not being able to work but sort of stuck in a place. However, Italy is hardly a bad place to be stuck at! I have discovered a small generic knitting store and I have started picking up some yarn and experimenting with it again, learning more about different fibers and types of yarns that actually exist. Then ended up going back there very frequently. I remember how happy I felt when I was knitting on the beach with 100% wool during hottest summer months! Then online yarn stores started popping up slowly, so that helped my knitterly adventures.

amirisu: Knitting on an Italian beach in your bikinis…! So, what's your background? Did you study design or fashion before or after that?

Olga: I have been educated as a linguist and a teacher of English. As I have mentioned my mom is a seamstress, so I have learnt a lot from watching her work and I have actually drafted some patterns for her as a teen and through that I have learnt construction of garments and draping. I have always been interested in fashion and I constantly keep up with the trend reports as I am always excited to see what is new in style.

amirisu: You have been doing this for many years then.  Do you remember what was your first design and what motivated you to start?

Olga: From what I can remember my real first design was this pullover I attempted at in High school, made with leftover baby type acrylic yarn which was soft, but thin. I designed a striped and cabled pullover but it had a very loose gauge, so it was very stretchy and long. I suppose that was my phase of some punk dressing, only in lighter colors. Motivation for it was as a teenager wanting to have something new to wear and not having resources for.

Olga Buraya=Kefelian


amirisu: How was your early experience of pattern design?

Olga: Designing for a pattern is absolutely different. It took years to perfect my writing style and learn some tricks. I know my first pattern was about 13 pages long and included row by row instructions.  It terrified me and I still try to do better every time I write a new pattern.

amirisu: And you are doing it in plenty.  What inspires you to come up with so many unique designs? How do you start a new design?  Can you explain your design process?

Olga: I am a very observant person, so I see inspiration in every little bit of my surroundings - from the patterning of tiles on the streets to the details on clothing that people wear, especially after I have moved to Japan. The crowd and architecture and thoughtfulness are just astounding. 

Next I try to recreate the idea from inspiration into motifs in knitting by swatching many many times, until I get it right.  After that I try decide on the construction of either garments or accessories to best show off the stitch patterns.

amirisu: Which is your most favorite design? Any design that stands out in your mind like "this has turned out exactly as I wanted".  Is there any story behind it? 

Olga: Because I spend so much time to get my design right, I love all my patterns. 

My special favorites are my recent designs - the Kenzo cardigan I did for BT's Wool People 4, and the two scarves I have designed for my Olgajazzy line that are directly inspired by Japanese culture - Rakurai and Yabane.

Both Rakurai and Yabane  may look a bit more conceptual pieces, but both successfully recreate the images I wanted to achieve while being wearable and having a strong accent as accessories. So I am quite happy about them.

Olga Buraya=Kefelian
Olga Buraya=Kefelian

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Tweed

amirisu: Yabane is a signature piece that, in our minds, left a strong impression of Japanese influence on your esthetics.  Then came Rakurai!  The swatching process must take enormous amount of time.

How do you manage being a wife and managing your design practice at the same time?  Is your family very supportive?

Olga: My husband is very supportive of what I do, even though I knit all the time even when we go out together on weekends.  Because of his work we find ourselves traveling quite often and that suits my career in knitting well since being a freelancer I am working all the time, even when I am not knitting, I am designing in my head.  I have been very busy these days and knitting that needs to be done all the time, so I am still learning to balance my life and work.

amirisu: Who inspires you?  Who are your favorite knit designers?

Olga: There are some many great designers nowadays that it is hard to name only a few. But personally I look up a great deal to Norah Gaughan for her creativity and her style of work. I have been lucky to work with Jared Flood and greatly admire his aesthetics and perfectionism, and Pam Allen for amazing work that she does with Quince&Co. There is a lot that I have learnt and continue learning from these great designers and I strive for my designs to be as enjoyable and thoughtful.

amirisu: Apart from knitting, how do you spend your day?  What do you like to do?

Olga: Currently, my days are occupied greatly by work, but when not working I am trying to get out and enjoy the fresh air outdoors. Since I have been away for so long I will try to slowly catch up with some of my friends in the States, so I do enjoy social gatherings. Biking and hiking whenever I can. When I knit I enjoy listening to audio books that way I am doing two things at the same time. I guess now I need to add “missing Japan” to my other activities as I used to go to Tokyo and people watch for inspiration in areas like Yoyogi-koen park and Takeshita street in Harajuku.

amirisu: We surely miss you too.  Wish we had met much earlier!  

Our last question.  What is your dream? Knitting related or otherwise?

Olga: What an interesting question to ponder! I guess I maybe more of a realist and to me the dream or aspiration rather is to never be out of inspiration but continue to inspire people, always to move forward and never stop creating. I am always knowledge hungry, so I want to continue learning about the vast world of knitting while teaching and sharing my knowledge with others.

amirisu: We cannot wait to see more of your design, and hope to see you back in Japan many times in the future! 


Olga Buraya=Kefelian

 Mokomoko Cowl. Photo courtesy of amirisu.


All photos, except otherwise noted, by Olga Buraya-Kefelian