Meet, Karmella, the designer & owner of Ottilia & Sugar
How long have you been designing & sewing?
Almost all my life ! Since I can remember I have loved creating new designs and reconstructing or altering my clothes .
Did you go to design school?
Funny enough I went to Blanche Macdonald in Vancouver for Fashion Merchandising because I was too scared to do Design at the time. But then soon realized I didn't want to be a buyer or merchandiser I wanted to be the one creating a brand.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kitsilano in Vancouver BC but now I live in Toronto and absolutely love it.
How did you learn to sew?
I am completely self taught. My mama taught me the basics when I was younger but I taught myself everything else . I have always been able to look at a piece of clothing and figure out how its made. I taught myself how to make patterns, how to size, and by trial and error design and construct everything you see by Ottilia and Sugar . And soon to be Pretty Girl Boudoir !
Most people don't know that everything really is hand-made to order by me.
What inspires you when designing ?
Literally anything! I can be at a cute restaurant and see a color scheme or theme and get an idea , or I can watch runway shows and think that would be a cute idea but on a bikini. A lot of my stuff is lingerie inspired so I get lots of ideas from lingerie that I see but then change it to make it swimwear . If I see anything sparkly that usually catches my attention and inspires me too haha
What's next ?
I am always releasing new styles, instead of traditional collections seasonally. I like girls to be able to constantly have new options and I kind of dance to the beat of my own drum, so whenever I feel like releasing new stuff I do . I am working on growing my mini collection and mommy and me styles - those have been super popular. I am also launching Pretty Girl Boudoir - which you babes can see here - - which will be super sassy and playful lingerie, loungewear, party dresses and more. I plan on making this line a full scale clothing line, and it will have all the glitz and glam of Ottilia. It will also have customizable options .
What advice can you give girls wanting to start their own businesses or brands ? What are some obstacles you have had to overcome?
I am by no means an expert, BUT what I can say through 8 years of good and hard times with my first brand, is make sure you are mentally fit to be running and starting your own company. It is a lot of work , more than most people realize, and it can test you mentally, physically and emotionally . Be ready for a lot of mental breakdowns and a lot of crying LOL but also for the highest highs and excitement and joy and accomplishment that you could possibly have.
At the time that I started my company I was not fully prepared for how BIG it got so fast and it had major backlash - like me not being able to handle such high volumes so quickly, not being able to manage everything on my own, and not having a mentor and/or people to go to for help. This resulted in a lot of issues that were very hard to overcome and fix, made me want to quit and took a lot out of me. It quite literally deteriorated my mental health for a long time and I completely shut down.
However , it took me shutting everything down, taking a huge step back, going back to the drawing board and then making a new plan to get back to a good healthy place with the company. I had a lot of things to fix, that if I had the right people around me and involved earlier, wouldn't of happened. However I do not regret any of it because now my brand is more solid then ever and growing at a normal steady pace that I can handle. I personally am stronger mentally after everything and understand now how to properly run a business. I have incredibly inspiring people in my circle, learned time management (KEY) and am able to handle everything properly now.
Entrepreneurship is NOT easy and it's not a way to get rich quick overnight. You are up earlier than most people and you go to bed later. You are always working and you can always be doing more. When you are taking a break and being lazy , there are hundreds more people in your field or industry that are working harder than you . You have to be willing to sacrifice a lot including your social life and sleep. It's hard to have a relationship and is often something that gets put on the back burner, unless you are lucky enough to find someone who is understanding and super supportive - or has a similar lifestyle.
The best advice I can give - which I have learned the hard way - is to keep yourself healthy and fit. Eat healthy always, exercise daily, and try to keep your drinking to a minimum (and any other crap that affects your productivity. For me, I run every morning , and this helps me get rid of the stress, get pumped for the day, and start on a positive note to be able to tackle each day.
What's your favourite part about your brand?
Ah this is such a hard one because there are so many things !
I LOVE designing , it brings me so much joy and I get so excited when I make something new . I love doing photoshoots and do a lot of them myself at home so I can constantly be updating my site and social media (It's hard to find time to plan actual photoshoots). I LOVE love love my customers. I have to say I have some of the most amazing customers, and many have become friends . Such sweet , beautiful , supportive amazing women. I love creating community and almost like our own little club - except everyones invited and welcome - no mean girls here ! I love creating things that make any and all women feel beautiful - thats my main goal and what makes me so happy. It's never been about money , I have been very successful and have gone through times of having less than, and I have still always LOVED being able to create pretty things for women. All women, all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages - every woman should feel beautiful and If I can help in any way then thats all I want.
Where can girls find you online?
Ya'll can all follow me at @lala.ottilia on Instagram .
I welcome all my customers and anyone else to come follow me and to DM me any questions you may have about anything at all ! For me it's about building lasting relationships with my customers and followers, not just about selling bikinis. I love creating community between amazing females and bringing them together in hopes to inspire and uplift one another, and hey , build bad ass friendships along the way !
Who inspires you ?
This always changes , but my biggest inspirations at the moment are @theskinnyconfidential - Lauryn Bosstick - She's such a boss and amazing entrepreneur . Also, @bossbabe.inc - by @iamnatalie - She is incredible and I do a lot of her workshops online and videocalls that she does. Any females looking to start their own businesses - def check her out !
I also love @nataliehalcro and @oliviapierson - I think they are so inspiring , and I love their style .
I also have a lot of connections/friends I have met through business on social media that I speak to almost daily that inspire me so much . Being able to connect with and chat about business, life and whatever issues you may be facing that day, or things you are excited about , with like minded people that are in similar stages of life as you , it's amazing. It keeps me grounded and sane! And to have people hype you up everyday and keep you motivated and focused even on days when you just want to give up is something I think every entrepreneur needs. I love social media for this, I have met some of my favourite humans on social media.
If you could go back and tell yourself one thing when you were first starting what would It be?
Do not waste time. It flies by so fast and if you hustle hard enough you will thank yourself later. Just start! Don't wait .
What was your biggest fear when you first started ?
"What if people don't like it ". I had low self esteem when I was younger because I went through a lot of bullying my entire life and I was really scared to put myself out there.
Now I could care less! I am comfortable in my own skin and know I have an incredible brand and I Stand behind it 100%. And I'm not stopping anytime soon.
What is a challenge you face now in business?
There is always challenges. An annoyance or challenge is definitely copy cats. There are a couple brands that have completely ripped me off and still continue to "get inspiration" from everything I do including ripping off my styles, going after my models, bloggers , and legit even copying text from my website. It bothered me for a while, but now I look at it like , this will always be a problem in fashion and the internet made it way easier.
However , I am always creating and always designing new things and will always be able to innovate new styles and grow and I think people that know the brand know that.
I was the first one to start doing crystal bikinis, it's what Ottilia is known for all around the world, so I'm happy with that.
The quality of our crystals , fabrics and craftsmanship is top notch compared to a lot of other brands that do similar styles now, everything is carefully selected and tested by me to make sure it's the best . My fabrics are always top of the line and that alone makes a huge difference. I spend a lot of time sourcing out the prettiest fabrics and colours and trying out styles to make sure they are perfect before I add them online.
Another challenge is all the fast fashion now. It's a shame because these companies are ripping off everyone out there and producing 10, 20, 30$ versions and then getting every influencer on the planet to promote them. This has a huge effect on smaller companies and designers and has been getting worse and worse in the past year now that instagram has been growing so much. However I would always prefer to have something unique and good quality over something cheap and mass produced. I try to keep my prices super affordable and do tons of promotions for customers so that everyone is able to afford a suit. There is a lot of work and time that goes into making my pieces - think about the ones that have hundreds or thousands of crystals- so I feel like my prices are extremely fair.
How do you want women to feel when they wear your designs?
Like the most beautiful woman in the room.
What does the word fashion mean to you?
Being able to express how you are feeling in that moment, and feeling confident and beautiful in your clothing. It's all about passion. Fashion to me is such an important insight into a personality and a fabulous way to express yourself without saying a word. I love the transformative nature of fashion and that it can empower you with confidence or pick you up if you are having a dark day. This is why I wanted to create such a fun and different swimwear brand, so it literally could pick up your mood and bring you into wonderland when you put them on. I am so excited to be expanding into clothing because I have so many ideas and can't wait to be able to wear things that I actually created and made myself.
Will you ever expand?
Absolutely. I was never ready before and almost partnered up with a few people but decided it was not the right fit. Now that I have re-launched and have a better vision of what I am creating, I am absolutely open to expanding - when I find the right partner.
What is a typical day in the life ?
I am usually up at 5am - go to the gym right away or outside for a run when its not -20 outside here in Toronto lol.
I try to spend at least 10 mins sitting with my coffee and doing gratitude practices and affirmations , or I do this while I go for a run. If I am running by the lake I will stop halfway through and sit and meditate, I find meditating by water or in nature in general is the most effective for me and the best start to my day. This keeps me sane !
Then it's usually social media and emails, figuring our what I need to do that day, whether it's hit up my suppliers, sewing , or shipping.
I work till late most days , and have been trying to get some reading in at night , which is tough because Im usually too tired. I mostly get audiobooks now that I can listen to while I workout, while I'm running errands or while I work.
Then more social media before bed - which some may say is not healthy but I have several pages I operate for each brand of my company and social media is a huge part of my business so I am constantly on it networking, talking to customers, talking to influencers, planning events and launches and all the rest.
How do you stay fit!? And do you have a specific diet or fitness regime?
I am SUCH a yo-yo dieter and kind of the same with my fitness. It's terrible! BUT I'm working on staying consistent with it now. It's hard when you're so busy but also so important to make it a priority. I try to get up just before 5 most days so that I can get to the gym by 5 but I am not going to lie, that doesn't happen a lot of the time ! I love running outside and In Spring/ Summer I go and run by the lake every morning , but winter here is tough because its far too cold and I find it awkward being in gyms.
But I will say, running regularly is what keeps me fit. When I go for runs they are anywhere from 8-15K deepening on how much time I have. I do some hot yoga and I do some light weights . My goal in the new year is to go hard with my fitness!
Diet wise, I am very careful about what I consume. I eat as much vegan as possible but don't like to call myself Vegan because I am not perfect or 100% and do eat seafood once in a while.. and sometimes a good cheese plate is hard to say no too! But in 2020 I'm planning on going 100% plant based with my diet. I used to be RAW Vegan which is pretty hardcore but It was so incredible for me. My energy levels and mental clarity and functioning was 110% at all times and my body looked incredible. This is just a huge commitment for a busy person , but I try to eat mostly raw.
I am also planning on cutting my alcohol consumption down to almost nothing in the new year - which is tough because I'm a huge fan of red wine - but for me my health is more important and functioning at a high level at all times is more important to me. I also notice what it does to my skin and body and it's not really worth it to me.
I try to always be improving and doing the best I can and to be conscious of what I am eating, but not to be too strict . I think that's the way to go so you are still enjoying your life.