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Astana, Kazakhstan • 17 October 2022

‘I make f***ing amazing clothes’ Unique Kazakh Street Fashion by ChopX

How one woman from Kazakhstan created hoodies people hunt for

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Photo by Adelina Kulyashkina
Photo by Adelina Kulyashkina

What Yana Bakumova is doing now is jaw-dropping. In just one year, she created a clothing brand that sells out from scratch. Her ChopX streetwear has developed a formula made to turn heads: a bold blend of flashy design with traditional Kazakh motifs and pop culture references. Top it off with excellent quality and Yana’s unique social media presence and you will get the brand buyers hunt for.

Read how Yana found her own voice in the Kazakh fashion world in an interview with QazMonitor.

‘Will you sign it for me?’

Yana has just started to set up a row of T-shirts and “swineshots” as she calls them jokingly for her very first pop-up store in Astana. Maybe that’s why she looks genuinely surprised when a buyer in a bright green ChopX shirt asks to sign the brand postcard - a small complimentary gift packed with every order in the iconic AYGEN plastic bag (another cultural reference in Kazakhstan).

A considerable crowd has already come to shop around. Some are wearing a ChopX item and have come to collect their orders and chat. Others are seen taking photos of hoodies with Buggs Bunny and Kazakh phrases written out in Metallica-style font, or phone cases featuring Snoop Dogg rolling dough filled with, well, something (see figure below).

T-shirts on Tinder?

How did you start the brand?

Even before ChopX, I was selling T-shirts online on Tinder. I had to survive somehow in 2020 [laughs]. I set up a profile, researched the types of ads available, and placed my own. But that was just for fun. Later, for the mass production of ChopX items, I carefully planned the design to create something special and of high quality.

It really started in 2021, when I made a Rick and Morty hoodie for myself. I ordered the tailoring template from the constructor who also sewed it for me. I posted it on Instagram, and got about five orders from my friends and acquaintances.

The fun part was that I had nothing to sell [laughs]. 

How did the brand grow?

It all started from scratch. I was taking one to two orders a day; I had no sewing shop. If I was lucky to be tagged by media personalities on Instagram, then I could hope for about 10 orders. I did everything at home by myself - online sales, picking up orders from tailors, and constantly running back and forth.

At one point, I realized I had to quit my main job and put my energy into ChopX. At first, I told myself that I would plan everything carefully and give myself a month to transition. But that came sooner than expected - I was out of a job in May. I took it as a sign to do my own thing. Now, I work with five tailors, each of whom take about 10 orders a day, though there’s one person who is able to sew about 20 hoodies daily.

We opened our small sewing shop in Almaty in March, but I didn’t make any big announcements about it. We also had our physical store where customers could come and try things on.

Your social media tone with the audience is a big part of the brand. Was it also carefully planned?

When I used to work as an SMM manager, I was always told to compose the text according to a certain template, with content planned a month ahead. I found that too stressful. I wanted to write something spontaneous and sincere. So I post whenever I want, and write the way I would say it.

Where do your catchy designs come from?

I was looking for an illustrator for a long time, and then I found Rishat. He is the author of the first designs - Rick and Morty, the Myasagan print, and the snake in the takiya.

The workflow is as follows: I give the idea to the designer, they implement it, and we revise the samples until it’s finalized. Sometimes the process takes a very long time - the Jailau design took six months to develop. It was drawn by a very talented 18-year-old tattoo artist.

Currently, I work with one full-time designer - Janel.

Who is your customer?

My target audience was originally 23 plus - a working audience willing to pay for quality products. I didn't really consider the younger and TikTok audience. However, sometimes I see heartwarming stories of young customers who save their pocket money to buy a sweatshirt.

Quality-wise, I prefer triple-layered cotton for myself, so I use it for ChopX as well. A person should feel comfortable in my clothes. If they were synthetic fleece, a person would sweat like a dog. [chuckles]

As for the pricing, I take into account the tailor’s Iabor, fabric cost, the illustrator’s work, and even electricity bills. I found the original prices to be quite reasonable, but now some people tell me it’s cheap.

Are you planning to open another offline shop?

I already participated in offline fairs in Almaty, but this is my first time in Astana. Currently, our demand is becoming higher than our supply, so I get occasional offers to open stores in Astana, Almaty, and Aktau. But I rejected them. Everything has its time, you know. I want to make the brand grow enough for me to open them myself.