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Biz Ladies Profile: Ola Omami of Omami Mini

by Stephanie

Biz Ladies Profile Ola Omami

Motherhood made her do it…or so the owner of kid’s clothing line Omami Mini, Ola Omami, later realized. Searching for clothes for her daughter proved to be a troublesome task four years ago, so Ola decided to take matters into her own hands and design her own line of kids’ clothing. Today she shares a bit about her journey to establishing her business and all that she has learned along the way. –Stephanie

Read the full interview after the jump…

Biz Ladies Profile Ola Omami

Why did you decide to start your own business?
Usually I’m saying it happened because four years ago, when I was still pregnant with my daughter, I couldn’t find clothes for her that I really liked. It is much better now, but back then every baby department for girls had 50 shades of pink and nothing else. As an alternative, there were some brands that offered extreme black onesies with skulls and studs, which was not really my style either. I complained about it to a friend of mine, who happened to be fashion designer, and she said “you should just start our own line. I can totally see it: clean, sophisticated, minimal, Jil Sander for babies.” This sounded completely unrealistic at the time, but the idea got stuck in my head and eventually it happened.

So that’s the short version, but there’s also another reason that I don’t mention much – it’s less practical but still very related to the fact I had a little girl. Before her, I was certain that children wouldn’t change me. But they do change you and my life is very different now, though not in a way I was afraid it might. It gave me the opportunity to rethink my priorities and do something that really gives my life a sense of purpose.

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I love Louise Bourgeois’ quote “Art is a guarantee of sanity.” I believe it includes applied arts as well, design in particular. There’s just so little effortless beauty in our life and for me nothing makes it more bearable. Our clothes are intended for parents who share our sense of style and beyond practical it should really make their lives more content. I mean, if you like all things neat, gray, black and white, chances are it won’t make you too happy seeing your child wearing purple sparkly extravaganza.

I have to constantly keep in mind that it’s a relatively narrow niche. It’s often tempting to add more details or to make the prints cuter since I know it might appeal to wider audience, so I remind myself why I started this brand. Another important measure is to make sure I’d be perfectly happy to wear every single piece myself, because parents shouldn’t compromise and adjust their aesthetics when choosing wardrobe for their children. Lastly, comfort of all involved is very important. Everything should be super easy to wear and the maintenance should never be too complicated.

Biz Ladies Profile Ola Omami

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Not business advice per se, but I feel like “fortune favors the brave” works for me. A lot. Almost everything you do for the first time is scary and well outside your comfort zone, it’s hard to trust your instincts when you feel like you don’t have enough experience yet, but it pays off more often than not.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Other than financial struggle that is probably inevitable for any start-up, finding the right contractors and suppliers was (and still is) the hardest. I’m not only talking about finding somebody who shares your standards of quality and solid deadlines, but literally finding anyone at all in the field you need. If you are not a part of the fashion industry, the very task of looking for a manufacturing facility is nearly impossible. You can’t Google it. It’s not in Golden Pages. They don’t have storefronts with a sign you can just spot driving by. It’s not on Craigslist. If you’re going to trade shows, you will find some fabric and notions suppliers, but not production people.

I was lucky to meet another designer who generously shared some of her contacts and I’m always happy to share mine with anyone who asks, just because I know how impossibly hard it is. Los Angeles actually has an enormous amount of fashion related manufacturing, but it’s like this secret community. Once you’ve managed to get inside, cutters will refer you to a sample maker, who will recommend a place that does trims and so on, but the initial effort to get in is unreal.

Biz Ladies Profile Ola Omami

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
For some reason, of all people, finding a good pattern maker was the most baffling. Within three months we worked with eight different people who later quit in advanced stages of production, for an amazing variety of causes: one of them was sent to China by his other employer, one got sick, one just disappeared, one we had to let go. We had to put aside a Spring/Summer collection that was almost ready and switch to Fall/Winter, since it got too late. At some point I had major doubts I’d ever find the right person. I felt like finding a husband was easier (it was). I started thinking it might be a sign this whole venture wasn’t meant to be. I was truly ready to quit. Several times.

Eventually it worked out and I actually had some sort of epiphany, realizing bad things just happen. That it’s almost never easy. There are always some obstacles. Always. But it’s not a sign. The universe is not trying to tell you anything. It doesn’t care. I know it sounds very much like some inspirational poster, which I’m honestly not a big fan of, but it was so comforting to know I can just ignore the “signs.”

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Oh, it’s an endless list! My perspective has shifted a lot, though, and I don’t get as frustrated every time something doesn’t work out the way I expected it. Failure is usually not the final destination, but a problem that needs to be solved and I think running your own business teaches you to concentrate on the solution rather than the drama aspect of it.

That being said, if I need to pick one single experience that feels like the biggest waste of time, I’d say it was our attempt to expand into hosiery. It’s something we planned in the very beginning and we invested tons of time and creativity into it. I bothered all of my friends with questions using them as a focus group because we ended up with so many patterns, we had to narrow them down. Then it also took forever to find production – there are two remaining hosiery manufacturers left here in the US, both with prohibitive production minimums. We searched further and found a small factory in Lithuania that met our pricing and minimum target. I think it took about four months of adjusting patterns, matching colors to their yarn card, agreeing on contents and so on, before they even started making the samples. When we finally received them, the quality and the colors were nothing like we expected. So however hard it was we just had to let it go. For now!

Biz Ladies Profile Ola Omami

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Getting into Barneys New York! Just because, for me, Barneys is an epitome of good taste and all things perfect and refined, seeing OmamiMini hanging there among Comme des Garçons and Helmut Lang was incredibly empowering. It was such a solid reassurance we’re doing it right, both business- and style-wise. Not to underestimate any of our retailers, I’m endlessly grateful to every single one of them for believing in us and for sharing our aesthetic vision! Nothing makes me happier than seeing images of a beautifully styled display of a store in Japan featuring our collection or randomly stumbling upon images of kids in Norway wearing our outfits head to toe. But selling in Barneys is just such a dream come true, I still can’t fully believe it’s happening.

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
For a current, practical and concise guide to the fashion industry in general, go to “How to Set up & Run a Fashion Label” by Toby Meadows. It gives a very good general idea on all aspects of running your own brand, from marketing and PR to manufacturing and detailed advice, as well as some case studies of successful brands and brief interviews with designers.

I also love occasional TED talk and Creative Mornings lectures on anything related to creativity, time management and motivation.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Money! Ideally, have a business plan. It’s not as complicated as it seems and it should give you a good estimate on how long you’ll have to lean on an alternative income. Then double that period and see if you can still make it.
2. You have to really want it. Really, really, really want it and be ready to work very hard for it. When you’re your own boss and the only motivation you have comes from within, you just can’t make things work without this drive.
3. It is crucial to have a plan and have a good general idea of what you’re getting into, but it is also important to realize things rarely going according to that plan. If I really knew upfront how things work in the fashion industry, I would never get into it. There’s nothing harder or more satisfying than running your own company. And I have a kid! Ok, maybe kids are more satisfying sometimes, but your own thing is close second. So bottom line – just do it.

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Comments

  • This was a really great interview in so many ways. I’m also grateful to Ola for actually naming a specific example of when an idea did not work out (the hosiery). I find so many business owners are unwilling to name specific examples of failure but it is actually helpful to hear what hasn’t worked out for people and how they handled it.

  • Great article, filled with so much useful information and totally down-to-earth. Some other columns make starting seem really unattainable — “it just happened” –but this one doesn’t. And why is it so hard to find manufacturers/production? I come across this issue all the time.

  • i really enjoyed this interview! i started down a similar path-starting an art line for kids after having my daughter almost five years ago. love hearing the struggles and the successes! just a heads up, it seems like the omamimini.com site is wonky-i can’t get it to actually load.

  • Diane,

    We are planning to rerun production of this season, as it is sold out half way through already. We’ll post updates on all of our social media once it’s back in stock, stay tuned )

  • The exact business I want to start involves hosiery. Thank you Ola for your insight! I thought I was going crazy with the difficulty of finding/choosing a manufacturer. Time to widen the search field.

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