Friday, November 27, 2015

In the studio with Louella Odie

In the spring, I had the pleasure of visiting with Lauren and Karen Mead of Louella Odie in their studio on Lamma Island. I had to admit to them that in all my years living here in Hong Kong, I knew very little of Lamma.  Only the very touristy side where people take junk boats in for an evening seafood meal, which is hardly a realistic glimpse of this sweet village.

On my visit, we talked more about our Hong Kong Staycation guide idea, and they showed me their workspace and a little bit of their village. I loved the ferry ride over, and imagined Karen nestled into a comfortable seat, sketching.  I caught glimpses of our Hong Kong skyline and imagined it from Karen's perspective, inspiring her to create it on their now well known Skyline collection.

I met Trundle, the Louella Dog extraordinaire who is now featured on her very own cross body bag.  What a treat to be with them in their studio, where some of the early Louella Odie prototypes are on display, where some of Karen's sketches are tacked up on the walls and the lino cutting for a new jungle print lay mid progress.  Fresh lino prints are hung up to dry, and a wall of lino printing rollers are hung near her sink.

Perhaps my favorite thing about sustainable fashion and local designers is how the distance between designer and consumer can be so small.  Here I was, standing amidst all their designs, sharing in their ideas for the future of their company, discussing what inspires them and dreaming along with them about all the possibilities for Louella Odie.

Tonight, they celebrate two years and I will be there right along side to share in the accomplishment of their first two years. I'm so proud of this company and how far they've come, while still staying true to who they are.  It's long overdue, but I wanted to share more about Karen and Lauren and the conversation we had.  

Here, finally, are snippets of that conversation:

I love what Karen has to say about what inspires her - not the more common images that we think of when we say Hong Kong, but rather the little details that people may overlook. People on the ferry, for example.  I wonder what catches Karen's eye; artists just see the world differently. 

So I asked, what is Karen's background?

 Karen was born in Hong Kong and spent her entire childhood living here, so Hong Kong has always had a huge influence on her style. Even after living in the UK for many years people would often identify a unique Asian twist to her work, whether it was a touch of Chinese red ink in a painting, or a subtle pattern in a print. When she returned to Hong Kong after a decade away that influence has become even stronger and more obvious.

When did Louella Odie become what it is now? I remember you saying that Karen started publishing under the name Louella Odie, but when was that 'hey we should start a company' moment?

Louella Odie was originally all Karen's idea! She speculatively had some sample handbags made up: 

“I'll admit I am still learning about fashion so I was mostly focused on how my prints fitted the bag surface. I showed them to Lauren, who has a background in fashion marketing, and she instantly had improving advice. We conceived Louella Odié as our start up over that summer of incessant talk. I recognised that although I had plenty of ideas for designs, I could not market those ideas myself – I know my own style of working can be quite idiosyncratic and the idea of opening up to someone I didn’t know well was daunting so working with Lauren was a natural fit. I didn’t think too much about what it would be like to work together because whatever the problems we would have to sort them out. Being a team was part of the vision."

"Initially I was not actually that keen on the idea of going into business with Mum! I’d just been made redundant from an established clothing brand after their Asia office relocated and I still had my head in the ‘corporate’ side of the fashion world. I hadn’t seen or understood Mum’s vision of the way she wanted to translate her prints into accessories and it wasn’t until I saw those first samples that I changed my mind and realised Karen had created something unique and exciting."

So, having experience working with my own mother at school, I could instantly connect with this company and appreciate that it's this relationship that makes it unique.  What is a typical week like for Louella Odie?

We are both flexible with our schedules but also focused on getting the job done. Whilst we don’t have a rigid 9-5, we are generally in the studio by 8:30am and it’s common for us to both still be there at 8:30pm - although a two hour lunch break is not unheard of! Every Monday we have a meeting to start the week and make a job list for both of us so we know roughly what the other person is doing each day.
Lauren is responsible for managing stock inventory and stock delivery to our retailers so some of her time is taken up at our warehouse on HK island. Karen often needs to go to Sham Shui Po to source supplies or into China for new samples.  We try to go and see our closest suppliers about once a month as well so that we can see how our ideas are shaping up!

Here's my favorite part of the conversation.  As a self-professed Louella Girl, I wanted to know what the significance of Louella Odie was. Where did the name come from? I remember learning early on that Louella was a nickname that Karen had growing up, but how did they decide to use Louella Odie for their brand?

We have a history of strong, creative women in our family and we felt it was important to reflect that when we were deciding on the name of our business. Karen’s mother (Lauren's grandmother) was particularly enthusiastic and supportive as we used her maiden name – which is where Odié comes from! 

Thanks for this exclusive peek into your studio, ladies. I feel proud to carry around part of this legacy of strong women when I bring my Louella Odie bags with me everywhere I go.  

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