Following her redundancy Odile Letaief naturally fell back to her entrepreneurial roots. Working for herself also felt like a much better fit for motherhood. Starting from home, Odile quickly established Dalila’s Kaftans brand as an international business in a highly competitive fashion industry.
Why did you start your own business?
After suddenly being made redundant from my role as a business adviser to local businesses my first thought was to find another stable job, but I quickly realised that I didn’t want to face the possibility of being ‘let go’ again from another role (typical of the employee-employer field). It caused me to have a change of mind and instead venture out into the entrepreneurial world again, be my own boss, and pursue my passion in the fashion garment field. Motherhood was the decisive factor to an obvious and flexible entrepreneurial path.
What does the business do?
Dalila’s Kaftans is catered towards everyday women, I had in mind to bring a touch of the “high-end glamour” to the high street. Dalila’s Kaftans (named after my oldest 2 year old daughter) are dress garments (typical of Asian style dressing) aiming to provide a touch of glamour to any lady’s wardrobe. The dresses are fully embellished and for any lady; no matter what age, shape or culture. Due to the loose fit of the dress, kaftans are popular amongst plus sizes. However, ladies of any size can still wear the dress elegantly due to its one size fits all. With customers from all walk of life, Dalila’s Kaftans can virtually be in any ladies wardrobe, as illustrated by Liz Taylor who was a big fan of kaftans.
What has been the highpoint of running your business?
I started my business humbly from home, basically marketing through word of mouth and then proceeded to take the business online, going global pretty much instantly. As this interview is being done, I have not even been running my business for a whole year and never imagined some of the achievements I’ve made. I am now shipping internationally, stocked in 4 stockists in Croydon, Surrey, selling on home-shopping TV, and selling on ASOS. This was all a challenge but just gave me the ambition and motivation to grow further. So far, the business has 4 significant award achievements to its name – Highly Commended (2nd place) in Croydon and London, New Business Award and Most popular Bridal Award in Surrey in two categories; design and retail.
More recently signing a distribution contract with intu.co.uk with over 1 millions visitors and managing 15 UK shopping centres is also a noticeable highpoint.
Tell us about yourself. What did you do before you started your business and how has that experience helped your venture?
I was a business advisor as a result of my entrepreneurial background. I had set-up and run a magazine about the French Speaking Community and a Design consultancy firm in my 30’s (providing Marketing, Design and Business Advice as a Consultant to small Businesses under government funded programmes). I had won a Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for those ventures.
I’ve learnt a lot of vital information from running my business. Naturally I am a self-starter and a doer, I make things happen, rather than wait for things to happen. If you want an honest and crude opinion come to me, I can be an extremely direct person and this is not always well received.
What have been the toughest challenges and how have you overcome them?
Coming across people who do not appreciate the choice and the commitment of being a mum and wanting to build a successful and professional business.
I overcome any such challenges by being even more proactive in developing the business. Those challenges make you value and remember your priorities in life, for me: motherhood before business.
The world is tough out there and being in business you do toughen-up and prioritise. I also sympathise with any forms of bullying and as such Dalila’s Kaftans is now supporting a Beauty Anti-bullying Pageant, an ideal platform to promote our plus-sizes kaftans and our strong ethic against any forms of bullying and discrimination.
If you needed funding for start-up or to grow, where did you get it from and how was the process?
In the beginning stages, coming up with finances to support my business was thankfully made quite easy for me. Luckily, I had a supportive husband who funded some of the trade and I also self-funded. I chose to self-fund because my previous experience as a business advisor taught me that support from banks for loans for a developing small business was usually difficult. However as my business progressed I then progressed to getting funds from banks. I would advise other individuals who are looking to start their business to also look at government schemes who provide small businesses with start-up money.
My business bank manager is a real diamond I cherish.
Your favourite tech tool and why?
Looking at the operational side of a business, I would also advise owners to get the hang of the latest technology applications out there to help in running your business easier. Technology such as e-mail software programmes play a big part in my business and really help me in keeping up to date with my customers. These are just a few examples but technology is an integral part of my business both offline and online.
How do you take time out to relax?
I really have enjoyed the freedom running my own business has brought about. I have indeed faced challenges; I am a mother and a wife and running my own business has made me have to really balance between family and business, attempting to give each aspect my full attention. I would advise that if you are looking to start your own business as a “career break” to perhaps reconsider as it will honestly need your full attention and is no easy ride, it actually needs more of your time than working a 9-5 will. I even recall, having meetings in play centre or breastfeeding whilst on the phone or on a photo-shoot set. You simply relax as part of various family activities be it cooking, walking through the park or going to the swimming pool. I favour the blended work-life approach, it makes things much easier, I find it better to prioritise as I get on with daily tasks with a few scheduled family activities.
Tell us about a marketing tactic that works really well for your business?
Social media has been good but more classic forms of marketing have done wonders too, and with an affiliate programme on its way can only get better. Due to the nature of the product, TV sales has been the most incredible Marketing and Sales tool I have ever encountered. It is not only effective but has given me the least headaches and is so much easier than it may look, as a result we are planning to invest more in that specific distribution channel. Working with publications on editorial content too, seems a good way to explain what Dalila’s Kaftans is all about. Finally having been on two radio interviews has also help focus the attention on the brand.
What advice would you give to other women looking to set up their own business?
Be prepared to learn and be flexible enough to bounce back. Don’t let anybody hold you back and if your self-esteem is damaged still bounce back (don’t take anything too personal), life is too short to allow people or projects to ruin your business aspirations. If you are a real entrepreneur you will be creative enough to find your platform and flourish. You cannot work with everybody and the beauty of life is that when a door closes another opens, so knock at all of them until one does.
Having been on both side of the coin, as a business mentor and as a business I must say it has to be within you to become an entrepreneur, I mean not everybody is cut to make it. It takes a lot more than a good idea.
Dedication and business acumen are key assets. Always stay positive and happy.
What are your future plans for the business?
I plan to keep my beneficial traits within me as I progress with my business such as being an ‘honest seller’ as branded by facebook posts from clients, and comments from family members have told me this as this is something I cherish. As cliché as it may sound, I would say that if you do not believe in your own vision then no one else will. My main support has come from within me, I truly see my business flourishing and have many plans to make Dalila’s Kaftans a success, my future plans are to have my own flagship store and many other concessions both online and off-line. Recently signing a distribution contract with intu.co.uk, with much more to come.
Odile Letaief Interviewed by Oyin Olusanya, Marketing Intern at Dalila’s Kaftans