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Tamila Kochkarova: Strictly sneakers and No Boys Allowed

Photographer and artist Tamila Kochkarova has seen streetwear and skateboarding culture grow in the UAE over the past few years, making its mark on the cities’ creatives as the go-to style. 

This year, she founded No Boys Allowed, an online platform that brings together women in the Arab world who are passionate about sneakers and streetwear. 

As a teenager, Tamila spent her time hanging out at Dubai Festival City (DFC) skate park wearing baggy clothes, and over the years slowly began her own sneaker collection. Her fondest memory is counting coins inside of a Reebok store because she had never wanted anything as badly as the last pair of Kendrick Lamar Reeboks in her size. 

Her love of portraits began with art but she lost inspiration after being jaded by a bad A-level grade. Instead of drawing portraits, she started capturing portraits instead.

“My favorite type of image is a portrait even when I used to draw faces, it was portraits. It took me a while to realize there is a connection between the art and the photos,” she says. 

Despite the change in the art form, her love for sneakers and streetwear only grew with time as she built her collection, which today includes more than 100 pairs.

The culture and availability has been nurtured by events like Sole DXB bringing throngs of sneakerheads and streetwear mavens out of hiding, and by concept stores that bring in the latest drops. However, there are still limitations, especially when it comes to women’s sneaker sizes and styles. 

One day, Tamila looked around and wondered where the sneakerheads usually go when they’re not at an event. After hoping someone would create a female sneaker shop for a long time, she decided to take matters into her own hands. 

Tamila put the idea into action but her search for investors for a sneaker shop was halted by a friend who recommended that she find the audience and community first. 

“All of it happened by mistake, it wasn’t a long term plan,” says Tamila. “I improvised and figured things out on the go. My husband and friends dropped everything to come and help me.”

Using her new No Boys Allowed platform, Tamila not only plans to build a community of female sneakerheads in the region, but also to curate editorials, share knowledge, reveal the latest drops, and eventually host events post-COVID.

Proving that sneakers really do go with everything, her wedding dress code was strictly sneakers only, despite objections from her bridesmaids. Tamila planned her retro wedding in just one week, successfully vetoing the usual months-long stress that newlyweds endure.

It left the couple with the space to focus on things that actually mattered. According to Tamila, her husband/partner in sole crime was most proud of his DJ lineup. 

“I remember being on the way to the venue and messaging him saying I’m two minutes away. He was like ‘wait, wait you have to give me a minute. I’m almost done with my DJ set.’”

Tamila’s distinct style of photography takes on an aspect of spontaneity too, framing individuals in hazy portraits that relay a sense of youthful nostalgia. 

“My favorite thing is improvising, I’m somewhat proud of that aspect of my photography I guess,” she says. “It kind of scares most of my clients, like, what’s the plan? And I’m like…I got none.”

In 2018, Tamila released her photography book titled “Girls,” which was brought on by yet another spontaneous decision. A friend of hers, who owns Select Shop Frame, said it would be nice to host a photo exhibition and asked if she’d be the first to do it.

“At that point, I had only been shooting for a year. Still, I was like I want to do something more, and I signed myself up for a book launch,” says Tamila. In the  span of two to three months, she had to organize a full event, created a book for publishing by herself, and curated the exhibition. 

The “Girls” exhibition and book signing took on a life of its own. Her photos in frames scattered across the Japanese lifestyle store, attracting creatives in the region for an interactive night of performances and good vibes. 

“I was blessed enough with all of my girlfriends being from R&B singers to jazz singers, to DJs. Thank god for the community we have here in the UAE, we would be nothing without it,” says Tamila. 

The sequel to “Girls” has been put on hold due to COVID-19, but once she is able to, Tamila aims to go bigger and better now that her taste and eye for curation has evolved since the first book. 

“I’m a housewife. I look at photography as my hobby rather than my profession. I guess that is my way of continuing this craft without it getting too intense for me,” she says, sharing her quarantine reflections. 

“I realize with things like this, as soon as you take it too seriously, your urge to create just goes away.” 

Follow Tamila on Instagram – @kochkarovatamila