Mar 8, 20217 min read

Learning the ropes with Olivia Rubin, Founder of Olivia Rubin.

Emily Thomas

by Emily Thomas

Celebrating Women’s History Month this year, we’ve been lucky enough to sit down (virtually) with an incredible range of inspiring, powerful women across the retail and eCommerce industry. Today, we’re feeling inspired after our chat with Olivia Rubin, CEO and Founder of Olivia Rubin.

How did you start your own business, where did you get the idea for the concept?

I actually never planned to start the label, it started completely organically after I had my second daughter. I’d been out of the fashion world for about a year and I missed the creativity, so I decided to make some clothes for myself, wear them and post them on instagram. From there, people got in touch and demand started to grow. Even now, 3 years on, instagram is where 90% of our website traffic comes from.

How did you make the leap from employee to business owner?

To be honest, it didn’t feel like a big jump for me as after college I worked with a couple of designers for two years, and my course itself was 6 years with a year in Industry. I also worked on a wholesale business for a while, so I had been in the industry for a while experiencing the different sides.

After I got married, I got pregnant quite quickly so the wholesale business was naturally coming to an organic end, and I decided to close it and focus on my family and then seeing what I wanted to do. At that stage, I was a bit disillusioned by fashion, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back and work for a brand, if I wanted to do freelance work. I decided to work again after my second daughter, and started with some freelance work for high street brands but then my brand evolved quite quickly from posting on instagram.

Once I posted the rainbow sequin skirt on instagram, I was flooded with hundreds of orders and it was a quick scramble to setup a small website to take the transactions, use my connections in factories from my previous experience so it wasn’t too much of a leap as it happened so organically.

I’ve seen quite a few people trying to copy your designs. What has been the most difficult part of growing your business?

There are so many stressful elements of running a business, we portray it on Instagram as feelgood fashion, but there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes!

The business elements of running a business, managing overheads, finding suitable factories to work with, managing all the finances – I do it all. We have a much bigger team than ever before with 7-8 people but there are so many challenges to make sure each area of the business is running well – particularly the areas that are not the creative outlets.

What’s the riskiest move you’ve taken in your business?

I think the riskiest move for us hasn’t been a move we’ve taken, it has been the pandemic. It’s hard to grow a business in a pandemic! However, I’m very much an ideas person, and so we’ve adapted to the here and now of the situation.

High fashion is normally based upon collections designed in advance, but this year, we’ve had to think differently. One of the things we’ve done is introduce Loungewear, it’s been incredibly popular and as a consequence, I’ve been very lucky to have grown my team and moved to a bigger studio. It’s been great that we’ve been able to support the industry with these new hires at a time when so many were losing their jobs.

Who is a woman that inspires you?

There are a mix of women who inspire me, and it’s a combination of family and women who’ve done well in fashion.

From my family, I have to say that my daughters, mum and grandma are all inspirational women and are there for my emotional growth. My daughters drive me, and make me want to grow the business even more.

From a business point of view, I would have to say that Miuccia Prada is someone I admire. She is someone who I watched when I was studying at St Martins and started her business in a time that the fashion industry was very male dominated.

You have quite a celebrity following, but is there a milestone for the brand that you are most proud of?

Whilst our business has only been going for 3 years, we’ve had a lot of stand out moments, it’s hard to pick just one.

I think that some of the highlights have been, latching pop-ups in Selfridges in London and Saks in New York are up there. In only 3 years, we have over 40 stockists worldwide, and that’s all down to the hard work of myself and my team.

I still run our Instagram account personally myself, and another milestone I’m proud of is the fact that we have reached over 170k followers. We see great engagement on this and it’s a brilliant way to showcase our products.

What 3 traits do you think are most important when running a successful business?

  1. Stay true to yourself to your design identity – whenever we design a collection, I always ask myself would I wear it? Would my customer wear it?
  2. Have a hard work ethic – running a business is 24/7. If you are starting a business, be prepared for the long hours. I always joke that my brand is my third child, and it always needs improving! That being said, it doesn’t feel like a job to me – even if i am working day or night, I love what I do.
  3. Be prepared to do work that you don’t always love. Fashion brands seem glamorous and fun, but there is a lot of it is admin related work behind the scenes that a brand needs to run. You learn this when starting a business, but that then does help you when you grow and need to hire in the future, as you’ve done the job yourself, so know what to look for.

What’s the best business advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice I have received is that you don’t have to have a lot of money to start a business. Programmes on TV like Dragons Den make would-be entrepreneurs think they must have a stack of cash to be successful. With my business, I started it with nothing. All my orders were pre-orders and I used the money to pay the factories making the items. Start small, use social media and build your brand organically and then you don’t need lots of money.

Any advice for future entrepreneurs?

The most important thing is the idea, you have to be an ideas person and constantly thinking of the next thing to do. I think this has been demonstrated in the past year, where in order to survive businesses have had to be agile and think on their feet in order to survive.