How to Turn Your Hobby into a Career with Camilla Franks, Kaftan Queen
by Cameron Bayley
Posted: September 11, 2015
When celebs such as Beyoncé and Oprah are wearing your garments, you know you’ve made it. Such is the case for Camilla Franks and her wildly popular kaftan creations. In this exclusive interview, Camilla recalls where it all began.
Camilla Franks has clocked up more than a decade in the Australian fashion industry with her trademark prints and her hero piece – the kaftan. Her global success just keeps growing, with 13 stores locally and 350 wholesale accounts worldwide. In part one of a three-part interview series, find out how Camilla turned her interest in fashion into one of Australia’s best-known brands.
It’s 11 years since you launched your business. Take us back to the start.
It happened quite organically. Rewind to 2004, I was a struggling actress, and I got really passionate about designing some of the costumes for my characters. To be honest, getting up to accept an Academy Award wasn’t going to happen any time soon! So I shifted my creativity into designing rehearsal gear and costumes, and from there it grew.
When I opened my first Bondi Beach House – which we still have today – I was everything from the designer, courier service and production manager to the accountant. With only one phone line, I would pretend to transfer calls to different departments – it was total smoke and mirrors! That was my playground to learn all things business in fashion and retail. I felt like I was in the ’60s, it was this bohemian den filled with guys floating in kaftans and gorgeous girls – my own wonderful riad – and all of Bondi was welcome.
Did you have any training?
Mum was a stylist and I sort of picked up her eclectic sense of style, and Dad was an architect. His passion is art. He taught me how to sketch and things like that. At school I was always paintbrush in hand in the art room – or in the headmistress’s office. I was always in trouble!
When I left school I worked in advertising, so that gave me the skills to run a business. It gave me that producer’s mind. You need that structure, to be aware of honouring timelines. Acting also helped because you’ve got to be able to sell yourself. A lot of designers are actually quite shy, they work in the studio on their own, so being able to get up to present was really valuable.
We’ve heard a lot about your successes, what about the challenges you faced?
I was a one-man band for several years and doing that means 24/7, and you can’t sustain that. With all the travel that I do, it’s not a real life a lot of the time. You disconnect from family and friends. I struggled with that a lot. I ran myself into the ground, which gave me health problems. I was concentrating on the business, but not myself. I didn’t understand the importance of balance. I had Bell’s palsy, my nervous system was shot. I was physically, emotionally and mentally burnt out. I finally realised I am human, God damn it! Wonder Woman kind of lost her cape.
If you could wind the clock back, what would you do differently?
I would’ve slowed down a bit. And for years I didn’t have the right team, but now I’ve found my tribe. I’ve learned that you need people who accept you as your true self. I think a lot of the time you hide a part of yourself because you fear judgement. You need people who can take your business to the next level and bring that sense of maturity, bring that sense of management in, to take that pressure off you.
Is the fashion industry as cut-throat as people might imagine?
It seems competitive, but it’s actually a vibrant, supportive community that really respects each other’s talents, so I think it’s the opposite. When I first started, I had David Briskin and the gils from Sass & Bide really nurturing me and helping me, because I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve got this whole Richard Branson philosophy – “Screw it, let’s do it!”
It’s harder than it looks from the outside. You need to know everything about everything. I had to all of sudden learn how to do all my own invoices, and really get IT-savvy. All the things that at school I was really bad at have become interesting to me now.
What advice would you give to people hoping to make a start in the fashion industry?
I’d say start with a fashion design degree, or pattern-making skills, even marketing. Any education or training is important to grow and develop.
For me, I find I learn on the job. We take on a lot of interns. Throwing yourself into a label that you respect and admire is a good way to learn about different areas so you can work out what suits you.
Want to know more? Find out how a Camilla Kaftan goes from inspiration to Oprah's wardrobe.
What's next for Camilla Kaftan? See how they expanded their fashion retail business.
Want to kick-start a career in fashion? Unlock your potential with Open Colleges Fashion Design Courses
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