It’s no secret that the influence and popularity of sports attire has become such a big part of the world of mainstream fashion in recent years, with retailers and designers turning items originally designed for functional use turned into fashionable staples.
The latest retailer to capitalise on this trend is OKAYLA, and online retailer that ensures activewear has more of a fashionable purpose – but with comfort and flexibility.
For this week’s ‘5 Minutes With…’ profile, the Retail Gazette spoke to the founder of OKAYLA, Samantha Crutchlow.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before OKAYLA.
I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was aged 14 in my design & rextiles class.
I received a distinction on an Art & Design Foundation course at Demontfort University, Leicester followed by 2.1 in Fashion Design & Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University. I have 10 years experience designing womenswear for suppliers and retailers in the UK.
My first career highlight was re-locating to Hong Kong for three years to work for a key manufacturer. My second career highlight is launching OKAYLA.
What got you into the retail sector in the first place?
I wanted to create a brand to sell products direct to the customer. I’ve been designing since leaving university, but it’s not until you establish your own brand that you can have ownership over the pieces that you design.
The OKAYLA style is in-keeping with how I like to dress. I’m designing product that I love and I like to buy key pieces in great fabrics with a twist. There are limited affordable brands that I feel cover this.
Describe your role and responsibilities at OKAYLA
I wear all hats at OKAYLA. My title is Head of Design and Sales, but I am responsible for everything regarding the business.
This includes design, fabric sourcing, fitting, marketing, online selling and distribution, attending tradeshows, photoshoots, lookbooks, and website design. The list is endless when running your own business.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
I have found it extremely useful that I have worked in all sectors of the industry — supply, retail and manufacturing. University teaches you the ground work but the work experience is priceless.
My role in Hong Kong was extremely challenging, juggling lots of responsibilities and long working hours but I don’t think anything can prepare you for setting up your own business.
Attributes such as self-belief, determination and self motivation are key as many days I work alone and it’s hard work to create a fashion brand.
What was your main inspiration for starting OKAYLA?
There’s no better satisfaction then doing something you love and then see other people love it too.
After returning to the UK from Hong Kong, there seemed like no better time to take on the challenge. I had discussed a business venture alongside my business partner prior to leaving the UK but I wanted to gain experience in Hong Kong. When I returned home, the timing just felt right.
How is OKAYLA different to other activewear retailers?
OKAYLA is a sports-luxe fashion brand, so the collection is aimed at the fashion sector instead of the activewear market. The styles are intended to be worn from day to night, not specially for exercising.
Although we use sportswear references, each season we will update the collection with a new spin relevant for OKAYLA.