A PE teacher is probably not everyone's go-to person for style tips, but it's not too late for students of Rin Zheng Yingsi to start taking notes. Inspired by her mother who was a teacher, Zheng grew up wanting to follow in her footsteps. And so she did for six years, imparting sports science as well as English and mathematics to 11- and 12-yearolds back in Singapore. But when she moved to Kuala Lumpur, where her husband is from, Zheng's other calling beckoned. The petite lass took a friend up on a suggestion to open a multi-label boutique, subsequently running it for three years in Bangsar, which led her to curate for a fashion store in a megamall afterwards. Years of dabbling in the industry meant that Zheng was exposed to the back end of retail and the opportunities to network with fashion movers and shakers. So even though she may not have the technical knowledge and training from fashion school, Zheng's emergence into the scene was not ill-advised. In fact, her decision to bring her minimalist, Asian-inspired label to life was an "organic" one. "For some time, I was juggling between curating and establishing KOZO then I realised that my attention and heart were divided. So I had to give up one in order to focus on the other. "It's like being in a love relationship – you eventually have to make a choice," Zheng added cheekily. This month, she celebrates the first birthday of KOZO. Timeless and Understated The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, thus KOZO's designs very much echo Zheng's own style. With asymmetrical hems, loose silhouettes, and structured cuts as the recurring theme, KOZO apparels also rarely deviate from a black-and-white palette. And when they do, expect understated hues that are easy on the eyes. Meanwhile, details like big and breezy sleeves stem from Zheng's own fascination for all things oriental. "I've always been intrigued with Japanese culture, religion and fashion. They can be so conservative but open at the same time. But of course, I don't only look to the Japanese. I want to bring in Chinese elements into KOZO as well, such as high slits and the mandarin collar," said the 34-yearold. Although KOZO subscribes to a defined set of aesthetics, Zheng said the label, more importantly, adheres to a philosophy that is all-encompassing. Specifically, one that caters to everyone, at any point of time, and for a very long time. "We want to create pieces that you can pull out to wear regardless of which chapter of life you're in; whether you're in your first job, just got married, or have children. We want KOZO pieces to be able to stay in your wardrobe for as long as possible – to be the constant in a life filled with changes," Zheng expressed. To be timeless is also to be practical; hence Zheng makes sure that every piece is crafted using breathable fabrics sourced around Asia which typically involve Japanese and knit cottons, or at least a polyblend with cotton thrown into the mix. Steadfast yet Ambitious With three collections out, and another due for release in November, the learning curve has been steep for Zheng, considering the fact that since she does not have the vocational background in fashion design. For this very reason, Zheng refuses being referred to as a designer, even though she is taking the business of fashion in her stride with the help of "unofficial" mentors. "I don't want to belittle fashion designers; they actually attended fashion school and are skilled in whatever they do. "You can call me a creative director, brand owner, girl boss, whatever. I'm like Yohji (Yamamoto); I too don't want to be called a fashion designer," she laughed. Zheng's steadfastness is backed by reason, but more importantly, it hints at the visionary within her. The sporty lass has big ambitions for KOZO to be a lifestyle brand that will also delve into food and beverage, as well as household items such as candles and bedsheets. "I don't know when that will happen, but it is our massive dream for KOZO to be a must visit brand for tourists who come to Malaysia," she smiled.