Karmel Ottilia of Smooch Swimwear is the first entrepreneur to be featured in the CityLux series on young and inspiring Canadian businesswomen.
1. Tell us about Smooch
Smooch Swimwear is a luxe swim and resort wear company founded by myself, Karmel, four years ago. The focus is on a high-end product with an affordable price tag. The brand still has the original cuteness that it started with but has evolved into a more glamorous over the top “statement” line. I still do a wide range of styles, but my focus right now is on the heavily embellished styles that women are wearing to pool parties, yacht parties, vacations in Ibiza & Dubai etc. I want to make pieces that make a woman feel absolutely beautiful and the center of attention when she wears Smooch.
All of my fabrics are hand selected from my supplier in New York and are of the highest grade of spandex/nylon blends that you can get. I use tons of gorgeous laces & satin ribbons, and lately lots of crystals that consist of Czech, Swarovski & glass Japanese cut crystals. I even started doing some pieces with freshwater pearls to give that extra wow factor.
2. How did you come up with your idea to start Smooch?
It was very random honestly, I never planned on it and it started more as a hobby that grew into a career and what it is today. I have sewn and designed all my life so it was very natural to me. I was never able to find swimwear I liked so I started sewing it myself and designing pieces, and people saw them and started asking me to make them some.
3. What was the first step you took to start your business.
Once I realized that I had a pretty good thing going, I registered the name and got my business license and I started an Etsy store , as I still didn’t think it was going to be anything huge at the time. Etsy is a great place for people who hand make items and that are just starting out to get their products seen at little to no cost.
4. Where you working somewhere else at the time? Did you quit your day job and just risk everything?
My bf and I owned a house at the time so I had the freedom to explore and see this idea out without worrying about other commitments , so that was very lucky . I pretty much took over one of the spare rooms and made it into a little studio
5. What’s a typically day look like for you?
I get up at 5am or earlier everyday, usually I try and go for a run outside or go to the gym, then LOTS of coffee ! Then I do computer work, emails etc , record new orders, plan out my day, and then make bikinis till the wee hours. A lot of people don’t realize I do everything, so my days are very long and I'm extremely busy everyday. I do all my designing, pattern making, grading, cutting, and construction of each garment.
6. What were you’re biggest fears before you got started?
I honestly was not too scared of anything because I wasn’t trying to have a huge company. I have always done made to order , so I didn’t have too much risk. But of course in the back of your mind your hoping everyone loves the product and there's always a little fear of “what if they don’t like it”
7. How did you overcome those fears?
I try to focus on the positives, and take criticism in a constructive way. I hardly ever look at other brands so I never feel like I’m in competition or that I should be making certain styles to go with the trends. I have kinda always done whatever I wanted and hoped people love it, which is why Smooch is pretty unique and stands out.
8. What are some of the best learning experiences you’ve had as a business owner?
There are so many! I have learned that time management is key, although I have not mastered this yet, I know this is number one. I have learned that you cannot do everything yourself, and this is a very hard one. I still do EVERYTHING myself and I get very overwhelmed , especially now that it is growing so rapidly. Its important to have a good team behind you, which is something I am working on after this summer slows down. I have learned that you cannot take on every opportunity or you will ware yourself out, and as hard as it is to turn things down, if its not right at the time then wait it out. There is always more opportunities to come. I have turned down several huge fashion shows around the world because they think Smooch is some huge brand, but I cannot accept, at this time, as much as I want to because I am still solely running the company and production. This world is always growing and evolving and there is always money to be made, so don’t feel like it’s the end of the world to say no to something, because if your hard working, there will always be more.
Another important one that I have finally been able to master is do not take things personally. No matter how well you run your business, no matter how great your product may be, there is always going to be those nasty people out there that have a problem with everything and want to take it out on you. I used to let people stress me out so much and I would cry and cry everyday, until I realized, you have to separate yourself from your work and realize that’s life. Focus on the good comments you get from people, and the good reviews, and the happy customers, because in my experience they always out-way the bad.
9. Looking back at your success, what were the key events that got you to where you are today?
I think that having a core group of family or friends / spouse supporting you is very important. Its hard starting your own business, and running it alone is even harder. You end up taking on every role and you have to deal with so many different types of people daily and its very hard sometimes. So having a support group is key.
Also, not giving up. There is always someone working longer hours, working harder, and putting more into their work than you and if you get lazy, you’ll fall behind. I have definitely had my hard times with this, sometimes life gets in the way and your own personal stuff and it affects your work and you don’t think you will ever get ahead again, but if you work hard and put your all into something than you will always come out ahead. I firmly believe that.
10. It’s hard to run a small business and do everything, what advice do you have for juggling it all?
A good team or partner always helps; I am still trying to figure this part out myself. As I mentioned before, time management is very important. If you want to succeed than your business has to be your life, especially in the first few years.
11. Where do you go when you need help growing your business?
I grow my business through social media. I use a lot of Instagram and facebook ads as well as Google Adwords. I work with models and bloggers around the globe, sending them product to do shoots, or paying for them to post my photos and promote the brand. There is always an opportunity online to grow your business these days with all of the social media that’s available. Pinterest is also an amazing platform.
12. Who is your role model?
I don’t really have role models, but I do appreciate and am motivated by people like Oprah who came from literally nothing and was told "No" over and over. Look at her now. She is one of the most famous women in the world, has made millions, and has turned her fame into helping so many people through her philanthropic work. I love Angelina Joli as well, who has used her fame and fortune to help people in need. It has always been my goal to be successful so that I can help others. I think its so important to give back and that’s always been in the back of my mind my entire life.
13. What do you think, we as women, can do to help empower more women to follow their dreams and start their own business?
I think you need to be supportive of one another instead of being jealous or hating on women who are succeeding at something. Women need to stand together and work together instead of tearing each other down, which unfortunately happens way to often these days. I’ve experienced this so much and have never understood it. For example, if you have a brand and someone has another similar brand, and you have a similar customer base, why don’t you try and work together somehow to expand and take over as one, instead of hating on the other person. There is so much success available to everyone, and I think that if people had the push and support then they would be more confident to go out and start their own business. I love the idea of getting businesses together and doing little pop-up events or collaborating on photo-shoots together, using local companies or doing contests and giveaways with other brands. Then everyone gets success, not just one person.
14. What’s one lesson you wish you’d learned earlier?
To not take on too much. I have gotten very behind in orders and work because I say yes to everything, many times, and actually at the moment I am experiencing this, because we forget that there is life outside of work. And this life affects us and there’s nothing we can do about it sometimes. As much as it is so exciting to say yes to every opportunity, you have to take a step back sometimes and really think how much you are able to do, and you have to learn to say no.
15. Final words of advice?
Work hard and never ever give up. This sounds so cliché, but it is the best advice there is. There is always going to be someone better, with a better idea, and a better product but if you work as hard as you can and don’t ever stop, your passion and love for your company or brand will set you apart. This means many sleepless nights, long hours, stress, isolation, and feeling left out of outside activities...the list goes on but just remember:
“Work now like most people won't, so you can live the life later that most people can't.”