Entrepreneurship has inspired youth of our time more than ever before. Creatives have found a way to convert their hobbies into their dream career. Many young people have expanded their brands through the use of social media and YouTube. With ambition, motivation and an encouraging support system, one can turn their dreams into a reality.
That is what Olivia Rae accomplished when she transformed her sewing skills into a business. Rae began her designing journey at an early age by hand-sewing clothes for her friends. She soon realized she had a natural talent for designing, and began to invest more into her craft.
At age 14, she founded Olivia Rae Designs, creating skirts for friends at Ladue High School. After showcasing her work in local fashion shows, including Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club’s Sheer Elegance fashion show, Rae is ready to take her brand to the next level with locally produced, sustainable garments. Join her for a pop up shop on June 16 at the OC, a collaborative work and event space located at 4436 Olive St. The shop runs from 2 p.m. -8 p.m.
Gazelle: When did you pick up your first needle and thread?Rae: I was 12 when I first attempted to make a garment. I was dead set on making clothes, and told myself, “I can do this. It is not too hard.” My mom took me to the fabric store. I bought a stretchy knit, sat down for two days and hand-sewed the whole thing. I took a shirt I had and used it as the pattern. I did no research; I just thought very logically about how to make it- start with the sides, then the armhole. It turned out pretty bad, but it was a wearable shirt, so I knew I could get better.
Gazelle: Where do you find your inspiration for your collections?
Rae: I find a lot of inspiration in art. I like to see the lines and different textures that artist paint into their work. I like to bring the same concept into my designs. Mixing textures, playing with lines and color make the look eye-catching.
Gazelle: Was there anyone who helped influence your passion for designing and fashion?
Rae: I have so many black female mentors who help me in my pursuit of fashion. From my mother to local business owners like Doris Peterson of Quinn Uniform Co., there are many people I watch and learn from.
Gazelle: Where do you see ORD in the next five years?
Rae: Wow! In the next five years, I can’t say. I know I am excited for the next two years. I have some unique collaborations and presentations lining up in St. Louis and Chicago!
Gazelle: What were some things you utilized to teach yourself this craft?
Rae: I learned mostly by trial and error, but also by watching how-to videos and by looking at the construction of an existing garment. Sometimes sewing is like putting together a puzzle.
Gazelle: Who are the people most supportive of your career?
Rae: My mom is my biggest supporter along with the entire village who raised me. They love ORD and support me so loudly. I love that.
Gazelle: Other than sewing, what else would you like the kids at ORD academy to take away with their experience?
Rae: The main thing I want them to take away is actually, not sewing at all, though learning that skill remains useful. I want them to understand that they can do what they put their mind to. In the academy, the kids will be exposed to challenges, learning, failing and succeeding, all of which will implant a strong foundation to grow. I feel we don’t give children the opportunity to grow and learn in a space of encouragement. Children come in with certain expectations, which differ based on the socioeconomic status of their upbringing, but no matter their environment, the only thing that limits us is our own minds. It is important to make sure they don’t lose their potential power.
Gazelle: How important is female entrepreneurship to society, and what does it mean to you?
Rae: Representation matters! I think I would not have started this business if I didn’t see so many black female entrepreneurs growing up. Almost every woman in my family has owned a business or does so currently. I grew up working summer jobs at restaurants, hair salons, offices, church, etc. I always saw black female leaders, so in my experience, it’s not rare, but expected. That’s part of why I am starting the academy; so kids can see multiple realities.
Gazelle: What would you like to say to the youth community that aspires to accomplish what you have done?
Rae: I am learning that life is like a St. Louis road: It may have pebbles and potholes, but can still lead to your destination if you keep going.