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It’s a Sunday morning, and Veeraj Haria-Shah and Alexandra Richards, co-founders of the clothing label Coconut Residence, are sitting next to each other on a bench. “We ate with both of our families last night,” says Hariah-Shah. ‘We try to get together as much as possible, but my parents are in north London and Alexandra’s in the south. Richards smiles: “Yes – we are together, together, ”she explains with a laugh; the duo are a couple as well as business partners. This is a personal link that goes to the roots of the business.
Launched in 2020, Coconut Residence is an exploration of the couple’s shared heritage — Richards’ Guyanese and St Vincentian backgrounds with Haria-Shah’s Kenyan-Indian roots. The men’s, ladies’ and unisex collections contain colorful linen suits, sweaters, hoodies and accessories, including market bags and beanies. The richness of the overlapping experiences is particularly evident from the collection of bright linen shirts (£ 120) and shorts with buckle details (£ 95), inspired by the meeting of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and industrial designers Charles and Ray Eames in 1958. It also forms the collaboration with Canadian photographer and reggae superfan Beth Lesser, in which T-shirts are printed with portraits of icons from Jamaican dancehall culture (£ 50).
Both of these concepts speak to moments rich in cultural significance and global connections. “We could not really identify with a brand that was started specifically by people from our background,” says Haria-Shah. “But these were stories that were very much based on our history and immigration.” Richards recounts the experiences of her grandfather, a black lawyer, who arrived in London as part of the Windrush generation. Haria-Shah discusses his grandparents and the successful food export business they built.
The idea for the brand comes courtesy of an Indian meal, where they match the similarities in their Caribbean and Indian cultural heritage. ‘I told Alexandra to try the chana masala, and her answer was’ Chana? My grandmother makes it, ” Haria-Shah recalls. “We started discovering how it all happens.” Together, they pulled through family photos of their grandparents in tailored suits and dresses and found that the energy of ‘recently arrived in London’ is fertile roots for the label they were going to create.
Both have backgrounds in fashion. Richards’ early interest in style led her to pursue an internship at independent label Catherine Fulmer in the United States. Hariah-Shah’s degree in fashion management was followed by a buying role at Marks and Spencer, and mentorship from Savile Row designer Mark Powell. ‘I started selling jeans from my school safe at the age of 15. Where there should have been books, there was a Japanese denim, ‘he recalls. The two finally met in 2013, when they were both buyers at Paul Smith.
Recently, the duo collaborated with London-based illustrator Gaurab Thakali on a limited range of sweatshirts and T-shirts with Thakali’s image of activist and athlete Colin Kaepernick, in support of action against police brutality (T-shirts £ 50, hoodies £ 65). They also continue to develop a model that prioritizes the acquisition of small businesses in the first place, sharing profits with employees and donating meals to The Felix project, a British charity working against food poverty and food waste.
As the conversation returns to the family, Richards says, “Weren’t our parents and grandparents always pioneers?” and look over at Hariah-Shah. “And they were resilient too,” he adds. In the coming years, their own grandchildren may be sitting on a couch and saying something similar about them.