Olette Founder Carolyn Compres-Díaz On Launching Amid Covid-19

The fashion industry has taken a huge blow amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Shows have gone virtual, retail was closed in major cities, and online shopping is burdened by delays in shipping. If these challenges prove to be difficult for mainstream brands – like Diane von Fürstenberg who closed a majority of her brick-and-mortar stores last spring –, small, independent brands are being stopped on their tracks with new launches, product releases, and even production. 

But Carolyn Compres-Díaz was not letting this panorama delay the launch of her first brand, Olette. The Dominican entrepreneur had been working on the launch for years before the pandemic hit. While she says it’s frightening to start selling clothes at a time like this, she’s confident the right clientele will believe in her work. 

“Our designs grace the body, paying homage to the skin you’re in,” reads Olette’s lookbook. The first collection is a curated batch of dresses, pants, shirts, and shorts, inspired by Compres-Díaz’s daughters, friends, and family.  The fabrics are all sourced from organic materials and the buttons are made from recycled coconut. Some of her favorites include the Merida dress, a spaghetti strap long dress with back straps, which she later interpreted into the Siempre dress, a sleeved version of the latter. 

Compres-Díaz spoke to Emperifollá about her fears launching this brand, her fashion school days, and what it was like to create her collection in the Dominican Republic. 

Photo: Entrepreneur Carolyn Compres-Díaz, founder of Olette.

Emperifollá: This is your first brand, was it always your dream?

Carolyn: I didn’t actually study design. So what happened was I went to school for fashion merchandising here at LIM. It was a school for fashion merchandising. I really thought that I would be doing marketing or PR for a big fashion house. But then I got pregnant, I got married, I had kids. That corporate life felt like it wasn’t for me. In my last semester of college, which I almost dropped out because I was like, “I know what I want to do. I don’t like school, so let me just drop out and just do it.” But Latina moms are like, “You have to graduate, you have to have to do this.” So I was like, okay, I’ll do it for her. And I mean, last semester I had to do a thesis. So I had to do everything from design to marketing for a brand. It was like just doing like a full brand from zero. 

E: That was good practice for Olette, right? 

C: Yeah, it was like a test drive. I needed it. 

E: What were your fears about launching right now? 

C: I mean, even as a consumer myself, I don’t really, I’m not shopping right now. So for me it was just like, well, you know, I gotta go with the times, just try to do this. I feel like being hopeful was a very big thing for me. Like just surrendering the times. I already had everything in hand, everything was ready. So I was like, I can’t, I can’t waste more time just because of this. The people who believe in the brand, the people who like it will still eventually find a way to help us out. 

E: How was the experience of creating your brand in the Dominican Republic? 

C: It was a hard decision, but it was a decision that we made because it was the best for our family – for me and my daughters and my husband. I knew it would be a challenge, but somehow I knew I had to. I knew it would give me the time that I needed because New York is so fast paced and so intense.  

In Dominican Republic, I basically had like the creative team, I hired approved freelancers and people that I knew that were good and hiding what I wanted and believed in the brands to help me look like designs.

Frances Solá-Santiago

Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.

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