“The overall feeling that you’ve created something that someone, somewhere out there wants to wear is one of those smile inducing feelings that I’ll never get bored of.” Olivia Waters Couture
You may recognise the name Olivia Waters Couture from a wedding editorial I recently shared on the site: A City Wedding. Amongst photographer, Maegan Brown Moment’s dreamy frames, sits a short, tulle mini bridal gown – a gown that will undoubtably steal many a brides’ heart across the globe. For Olivia Waters Couture, the seed of her bridal business grew from an intense wedding dress experience of her own, that included, as Olivia notes: “one day, 5 shops, and 25 dresses”. The vision to create more affordable, sustainable wedding dresses for the modern bride placed itself firmly in her sights, and every day she strives to make the Olivia Waters Couture magic happen for her brides. We caught up with Olivia Waters Couture to talk about her business journey, including the highs, the lows, first jobs, worst jobs and the tech she can’t live without…
Name: Liv Waters
Business: Olivia Waters Couture
Date you took the plunge: 6th December 2016
#1 In a nutshell, describe your business/brand – what do you offer?
“I get the wonderful job of creating sustainable gowns for brides, in made-to-order and couture. I love the idea of creating timeless gowns in a sustainable way.”
#2 What’s your career background? Has it always been in the wedding industry?
“No, it hasn’t always been the wedding industry, I actually studied law for a bit and had worked as a paralegal, PA, and legal assistant for about 13 years. Occasionally doing some work in country pubs. Not very bridal, but I was always sketching or creating something outside of work to keep me occupied.”
#3 What planted the seed of your business idea? Did it strike you suddenly?
“It was when I was 25 and working in a mid tier law firm in Melbourne that I went what the hell am I doing? I never really fit into that corporate culture and had been really enjoying getting back into sewing in the few years before that. So I went, I’m going to make gowns, I’m going to study fashion etc. I broached the idea with my family, and then I had to wait for my husband to come home from the Army to actually make it happen. I went on to do some more formal training to broaden my skillset, along with the skills and experience I picked up from my mother.
The idea to make sustainable gowns was actually thought up just after my Dad had passed away. I was working a temp job after leaving the legal industry and it was in an environmental business. I knew that there were more sustainable and recycled fabrics available over in the UK and that sustainable gowns were quickly growing in popularity over there. But I hadn’t found anything in Australia.
I was a bit frustrated at how much waste was being created with the couture gowns and so I figured if even just a smaller part could be more sustainable I wanted to make that happen. So, that’s basically where it all started. It was obviously interrupted by 2020’s events, so the collection was only released a year ago after two years of planning. I’m currently creating our second collection at the moment and I’m loving the classic feel that seems to be evolving with the style. It’s using a mix of both sustainable and high end fabrics.”
#4 Describe the moment you decided to TAKE THE PLUNGE…
“Well, I’m not quite sure I’ve taken the full plunge, I’m still balancing full time work and creating collections.
My family brought me up to be a little more cautious around jumping in financially without a safety net. They went through a lot of financial hardships that continue to this day so its not like if I fail I can get bailed out.
But the working full time helps fund the business without having to get loans etc. We have made the decision that there will be a moment in time that we will need to get finance to help grow the business further.
I guess my version of how I took the plunge was investing in equipment and finding the right plan for our house to enable a studio and workroom. I still remember the time I bought my first mannequin. It was my 30th Birthday and I had been given cash from family members because paying a mortgage and renting meant we struggled for a bit. So a few $100 bucks towards a manniquin was a lot. It was a toss up between that and an industrial machine. Family paid for the mannequin and we got an industrial machine for $400 bucks that I had been watching on Gumtree. They are both still around today.
The investment into fabrics as well being in Australia has also been a big commitment, you don’t want something that’s just going to sit around and date so being mindful of that has also played a big part.
So I keep working, we take on a select number of brides a year, the main goal for us is to get some of our gowns at a trunk show or in a bridal boutique. To step away from the couture side of things and focus on made-to-order. It gives me more creative freedom in a way to create a collection that flows and compliments each other.
But one day it will be a hand in my notice plunge. This was the first year I put on a casual so that was a big exciting step, the fact that there was the demand, I have a good network of people from Uni that are always up to swing by the studio and help out. The dream of taking that leap is there. We’ve had a number of curve balls thrown at us like most people over the last couple of years so those little hurdles do effect the ability to take the business further. But we have the plan there and ready to go, the support ready to go, it’s just getting the gowns out and into stores that is the biggest thing at the moment.”
#5 Describe how the first day of building your own business felt:
“I guess that was my first shoot, or first commission – I was petrified of the dress not fitting the model. But then when it did – so many happy dances were done! It was a mixture of nervous energy and what I thought at the time was anxiety but it was actually excitement. I had all of these ideas and would set goals for myself and wanted to rush everything and grow quickly. I soon came to realise that unless I put us into debt, I was going to have to take it slowly. Now it’s just exciting hitting little goals along the way, taking it slowly allows me to enjoy it more rather than be overwhelmed.”
#6 The highs – what have they been so far?
“First dress on a red carpet and the first bride to trust me enough to pay me to make something for her. Both of these were really nerve wracking and exciting. The first bride was a big learning curve on the need for contracts, but at the same time I did so many happy dances when it came to seeing her in her gown. The overall feeling that you’ve created something that someone, somewhere out there wants to wear is one of those smile inducing feelings that I’ll never get bored of.”
#7 The lows – how did you move past them? What did you learn?
“The feeling of not being good enough, I had back to back acquaintances work with me and then at the last minute change their minds after the work was done. It hurt, not going to lie. But I got up and dusted myself off. I just have to remind myself that they aren’t all like that.
So, what have I learnt – everyone goes into a contract. No matter who they are. It’s okay to trust your gut and say no. It’s okay to say sorry that can’t be done and stick with it. Not everyone is going to like you and their insecurities are not your fault. You can’t take them on. You can say so many positive things to someone, but if they have deep insecurities you aren’t going to work well together. So it’s okay to pass on those jobs because it’s not worth the stress. I’m learning to trust this more and more.
Don’t discount your worth, if someone says you cost too much they aren’t your client. If people deem it okay to pay a plumber or electrician $50 – $80 per hour plus parts. Then its also okay for you to charge an hourly rate that you can live off and cover your materials. You are running a business not a charity and not everyone understands the difference between something made in house compared to being made in a factory on mass scale. Instantaneous gratification of getting work can cause more stress than its worth when you are taking on several cheap jobs rather than one larger paying job.”
#8 If you could tell yourself three things when you first started the business – what would they be?
No.1 “Things will grow, don’t be in a rush all the time.”
No.2 “Trust your gut.”
No.3 “Stop over buying fabrics!!”
#9 Your tips for those dreaded lying-awake-at-3am times? (Counting sheep? Glass of water? Get up? Meditate? Read?)
“Get up – write it down – and breath – most of the time I’ve still been working at 3am. I think thats just my going to bed routine when I’m busy.”
#10 Your top organisational tip?
“Write it down! I don’t have a diary, I have a wall calendar so I can visually see appointments, shoots and other things going on in life. If its in a diary I forget about it or lose the diary. And, when I’m planning a collection, my mirror is covered in sketch ideas, post-its for models and style ideas and fabric options. I’m a visual planner. Make notes about your appointments and then follow up with the clients in an email to confirm what was discussed. Reduces miscommunication. Keep those notes in the client packet so they are easy to find at appointments.”
#11 Who inspired you? Or inspires you in business?
“My mum first and foremost – she led by example in that you are never too old to learn something new and you can always re-invent yourself. She studied nursing at 50 as well as looking after my Dad for 23 years whilst he battled various health issues. She was the main bread-winner in the house and worked her butt off always. She moved from the city to a farm with no electricity except for a generator and two young kids and managed to not poison my father for taking her there, joking. She taught me how to be strong in life.
Now I just have to learn to be strong in business.
I’m still finding the community of people who understands that there is enough for everyone and we should support each other rather than avoiding each other. But one person who is down right amazing and transparent and an epic woman is Racha from @willowtreeevents. This woman has worked her butt off to keep her business afloat like everyone due to the lockdown Melbourne had. But she did it with class, transparency and spoke out about the struggles.”
#12 An app/piece of tech you now couldn’t live without for your business:
“Probably any of the social media apps – content is life in business – especially visual businesses. Otherwise Canva – it’s been a lifesaver with designs and creating that aesthetically pleasing look of a business.”
#13 Your first ever job was…
“Waitress at the local bakery in Numurkah – the pies were so good!!”
#14 Your top social media tip?
“Be yourself – you can try for perfection but the real you needs to show through. Be authentic. The ones who like that will stick around. If you are a serviced based business people need to be able to trust you. Putting on a facade isn’t going to help anyone and its just tiring.”
#15 The brand you’d love to collaborate with and why…
“Ohh well Bridal Editor was always on the list (haha) but another business would be Clare Lloyd Accessories – she has amazing recycled metal bridal headpieces that one day I’ll have to style in a shoot. But also, I would like to have an endless supply of Jimmy Choo shoes to have in shoots. They do some of the best bridal design shoes out there.
There’s always a list of photographers and stylists that I would love to work with and it’s usually because they have shown their authentic selves as being really amazing down to earth people. But I sort of would prefer to meet with people like Paul Vasileff of Paolo Sebastian and just see what happens behind the scenes there and do the same with places like Dior as well.”
#16 Name a business/social media account(s) – that have helped/inspired you with your business?
“Gary Vee – his no bullshit approach is fantastic for getting motivation to just do things, his Small business big marketing – podcast has been an interesting change of pace when I’m on road-trips.
I actually tried to think if there was ever just one or two Instagram feeds that have inspired me – but truthfully theres so many, in a way. Be it shoot locations, florists that I want to work with one day, models or photographers. I’m the type of person if I see it on my feed, it gets put on a list and either something will eventually occur or its on a bucket list. I have a dream list of bridal stores I want to approach one day, models I want to work with, locations I want to travel to with my gowns…
I’m forever in awe by the perfect feeds that are aesthetically pleasing but my brain is just chaos most of the time. So its never been something I’ve found achievable so I don’t tend to find inspiration from just one thing. Granted I could look at Dior all day everyday and be inspired by them and dream of one day getting there.
One local photographer who constantly inspires me with her positive good vibes and epic personality with all the good chats you can have is @maeganbrownmoments – she is definitely a ball to work with. She just makes everyone around her happy.”
#17 Your fav social media tool: (Pinterest? Instagram? LinkTree? Etc.)
“Mix between Pinterest for ideas and storing things from my brain, Instagram for networking and showing work and TikTok for insight into behind the scenes/general life.”
#18 Your advice to those looking to TAKE THE PLUNGE:
“It’s okay to take things slow and build your brand’s identity. Rapid growth doesn’t always last, if it does thats great but always have a safety net. It’s long hours to build a business so balance the time with your family as well. They are important as well as you will never get that time back.
You will get there eventually.”
Rapid Fire Questions:
#1 Most inspirational book you’ve read: “Christian Dior: Destiny: The Authorized Biography by Marie-France Pochna. Probably others but this was a recent one thats stuck in my brain as a good read at least. Probably not as inspiring as most people would think.”
#2 You’re in Starbucks, what do you order? “Hot chocolate – for someone who starts at 8/9am until 3am most nights I don’t actually drink coffee.”
#3 Instagram feed crush: “Dead set no word of a lie, the @bridaleditor feed is soooo pretty – I love pink so it makes me happy when I see it.”
#4 Your worst job was… “Probably the last two law firms I worked in, there is a better life out there people.”
#5 If you didn’t do what you do…what would you do? “Oohhh thats interesting, I think I would be chilling in my full-time job that I’m in now. But my brain just won’t allow that. I need to always do something more creative so maybe painting or photography.”
#6 Work day pick-me-up: “Food?? – Red Frogs – Allens lollies or Curly Whirlys. Hot chips if its freezing though. Sometimes a 30 second dance party.”