“I always wanted to launch my own coats brand. I think coats shape the silhouette, they build an identity.”
As a designer of outerwear, Olivia Kodé strives to make her customers happy while giving them one-of-a-kind designs.
Olivia grew up in the Parisian suburbs and was always interested in fashion. After earning her master’s from Mod’Art International, a fashion design school, she began on the road to launching her own clothing line.
During her studies, she completed several internships, some more enjoyable than others. After creating and presenting a final collection at the end of her degree, Olivia then gained a variety of interesting experience through several further internships in the creative sector. She then worked at a clothing store in Paris for one year to save some money and subsequently found an internship in New York as an assistant designer. She says “It was one of my favourite experiences because it was the first time that I was able to live outside of Paris - meeting other super creative people - I loved it.”
After returning from New York, she worked in another clothing store to save up and then lived in Berlin for a year to experience another creative city atmosphere. She then decided to return to France in order to focus on launching her own line of coats. She knew that it was not the easiest sector to get into, however, she decided to go about researching how to build your own business. “It was a chaotic experience not knowing which direction to go in, trying to do everything by myself, and the bureaucracy was extensive and time-consuming.” 2018 marked a year of significant learning and development for Olivia.
Okodé is the company Olivia developed - a brand of high-end coats made of quality materials, with the average price of a piece costing €200. She draws the prototypes which are then made by subcontractors who she hires to make her dream a reality. This process allows her to focus on overseeing the brand and the launch of her collection while still remaining engaged with the production of her sketches. Her target customers are women aged 25-80, as the coats are oversized and meant to fit every shape. She also targets city-dwellers who like to travel and don’t like big brands, but want a story behind their clothes
In order to build her business, Olivia began engaging with several business start-up support organisations. These structures failed to fully meet her needs and even gave her conflicting advice. She began to lose confidence in her project and in herself. Olivia did not know where to turn until she learned about Adie, Youth Business International’s member in France, in partnership with the Citi Foundation.
Olivia received financial support and mentoring from Adie to prepare her to become an entrepreneur. She met with Matthias Avignon, Regional Director of Seine-et-Marne, who played a vital role in helping her to establish her company. Matthias offered her the financial assistance she needed to have enough material for six prototypes and the funds necessary for a photo shoot to promote her brand on social media and through a website. Olivia’s mentor is still supportive if she has any problems with her business and is willing to help with urgent issues at short notice.
Adie have been very helpful for Olivia as they have the expertise and are very aware of the local business ecosystem.“For me, the big issue was money - I wasn’t able to support myself living the Parisian life and produce such complicated items. Without their help, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my first collection. I can now show people what I want to do.”
Olivia registered her company in May 2018 and launched her first collection in the autumn, while continuing to work part-time as a sales consultant for a luxury clothing brand. She presented the first collection during Paris Fashion Week in a showcase with two other designers who agreed to let her present the collection alongside theirs. “I left with many pieces of advice and useful contacts. I had to work really hard on it but I was happy to be able to present something because I felt like I had been wasting my time filling out forms and dealing with the organisational issues.”
Olivia looks forward to eventually employing a salesperson for her own brand who will be in charge of developing its reputation. In the future, she hopes to launch her own boutique where she can sell her pieces exclusively. Her short-term goals for 2019 are to work with social media specialists to increase her online brand presence and to ethically source her materials from new places like Ghana, where she already has contacts, to experiment with interesting materials.
Despite setbacks and also balancing a part-time sales job, Olivia is now pursuing her long-held dream of a career in fashion, and is finding her way as an entrepreneur. Now that she has completed one collection, she feels that she is on the right path to creating another, including some unisex pieces, but she knows that it will take more than one or two collections and lots of hard work to establish herself.
Olivia has three key pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs:
“Surround yourself with a supportive network of people, believe in yourself and follow your intuition."
Adie is part of the Youth Business Europe programme, a regional initiative supported by the Citi Foundation to help young entrepreneurs to start or grow a business.