Amy Malcolm has made three big career decisions in her life. One was to go back to design school in her late twenties learning alongside class mates who were still in their late teens. The second was to quit her dependable corporate design job and trade it in for her own luxury leather goods brand, Opelle. Launched in 2009, she went legit in 2013 which is when she incorporated the business, brought on a consultant, built a design studio in her home to accommodate the growth of her team and that’s also when she had her first baby. Today, she’s got her second babe on her hip while her biz keeps buzzing on the main floor thanks to her third big decision, bringing on a business partner, Beth Nicholson Crago. She has fine-tuned and stylish chops having worked for brands like Derek Lam and Thakoon and has given Amy the boost to bring her work and home life together.
“It’s impossibly hard to run a label like this in Toronto. We’re importing leather, we’re exporting product and we’re two women doing it all with a really tiny and close-knit staff. The fact that we’re profiting blows my mind. It all comes down to sheer will and persistence. I believe it’s working because we love what we’re doing. What else am I going to rely on? There just aren’t many opportunities in this business and in this city to fall back on.
Dedication and consistency are key too. For example, if there’s a problem,we correct it immediately. If a customer’s zipper is sticky, we fix it, which on its own isn’t a big deal but over time it shows our loyalty to our product every time we do it. If there’s a problem like rising production costs or a piece of hardware we can’t get to make something new, we solve the problem and move through it. We don’t let it get us down.
Over time, I’ve also learned to adjust my expectations. In the start, I thought I would run an ethical fashion company and pay a fair wage to myself and the whole team, then I realized I was being idealistic and had to find a middle ground. What we never compromise on is the quality of materials and workmanship. Cutting corners in these areas costs us infinitely more in the long run—in repairs, in our reputation and in lost inventory. We don’t compromise on important relationships with our staff, our suppliers & our customers. Beth and I are the flexible elements and paying ourselves is sometimes where we’ll compromise, but thankfully those days are getting few and far between.
Honestly, Opelle began on a shoestring. I launched it with the last paycheck from my last corporate job and that was my start-up budget. I’ve never had a line of credit or funding and I admit it’s grown very slowly because I never want to carry any debt. I’m not a big risk taker in an industry that’s volatile. Every year a new group of designers launch and by the end of the year, there are only a few left. I only keep going and growing because we’re fortunate sales keep coming in.
The biggest and best risk I have taken is finding a business partner. Beth joined as a marketing and sales consultant which made up for my weaknesses. I’m a hardcore introvert and I have some, but not a lot of business experience; my strengths are design and production. I realized Opelle’s limitations were my own and to grow I had to make up for them and that’s why this partnership makes so much sense. Together our combined traits have really helped the brand move forward.
Of course, I had a lot of fear about bringing Beth on board. It was my baby for so long and suddenly everything wasn’t in my control anymore and I had to ask myself, how much am I willing to give up? It was strange to have someone else be privy to my bank accounts and the dust underneath the stairs. It definitely was a process to get comfortable and trust that we share the same values and ideals about the business. It’s been a magical and symbiotic relationship and we’re focused on the same principle: Slowly and honestly building the brand & always maintaining our integrity. We’re very careful not to get ahead of ourselves and stay true to the local, hands-on approach we’re known for.
While giving up control was scary at first, now I think it’s amazing. Beth and I both have growing families, and that’s made it crystal clear that neither one of us can do everything. There are going to be inevitable sick days and if one of us can’t respond to a pressing need, the other person can. Our partnership has also let me be more creative and find the kind of solitude I personally need to feel balanced.
I’ve learned I need to schedule one hour to myself in the morning before everyone arrives at the studio and one hour at the end of the day, so our work day is officially 10am to 4pm. It gives me the quiet time I need to reflect and collect myself before the kids come home. We also don’t work at the studio on Mondays. This gives me a chance to have the workspace—and my home—to myself so I have uninterrupted time to be creative, which is important because the rest of the week is spent dealing with production.
It’s been a challenge for me to admit to my introversion and that I need these buffer zones in place in my life. I think for a lot of women, it’s hard for us to ask for help or admit that we have limits. Yes, we’re used to doing so many things at once and there’s satisfaction that comes out of that. However, we also have to remember to find personal time and space so we can meet everyone else’s needs without pushing ourselves to the edge.”
The living room plays hosts to her littles and her husband’s new biz, In Situ Plants, which specializes in interior landscapes and living walls. “He let me take over the main floor with my dream and this is his workspace. We don’t have a lot of space but we make it work.”
Amy’s décor is spare to avoid clutter and to stick to her mantra to only buy what she needs and loves. “I don’t like to be wasteful. I’m trying to be conscious about what I use and consume.” Handmade pottery and ceramics tug at Amy’s heart. “I love good design and knowing something has come from someone who put their hands on it.”Her collection of jewellery all possess a sculptural quality that’s reflected in Opelle. “I took sculpture once and that experience continues to influence my taste and aesthetic.”
She splurges on top notch an natural skincare for her sensitive skin that’s prone to rosacea: From Jurlique, Rosewater Balancing Mist, Activating Water Essence and Soothing Moisturizing Cream and a mist of Caudalié Grape Water.
Her me-time is often spent sewing her own clothes like this silk georgette dress and silk burlap shawl. “Sewing is a short, creative reward for me. I can usually make something within a couple of hours. Anything I can’t make, like an amazing pair of jeans or leather pants, I will definitely shop for.” One of her go-to shops is Club Monaco who strike the right balance of utilitarian design with fabric she appreciates.
Her summer shoes are a collection of stylish slip-ons. “I prefer function and comfort at all times, and as you can tell, right now I’m having a pastel moment.”
A make-up newbie, she’s only just discovering the joys of colour. “When I was pregnant, I wore the same black dress so I got into shoes and eyeliner for hit of colour,” she explains. However she’s conscious of the ingredients that’s she’s putting on her face. On her hit list: Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Crayon in Lilac and Powder Blue (without parabens, sulfates or phthalates; Vapour Organic Beauty Atmosphere Luminous Foundation and Ilia Highlighter (manufactured with ethical and sustainable processes).
She’s got a thing for vintage Pierre Bex enamal earrings. “They’ve long shut down but there’s still inventory out there. I love their art deco vibe. I bought these on eBay which is where I also like to shop. I’ll cruise around it once a week.”
This Penguin Threads edition of The Wizard of Oz has a hand-embroidered cover and it’s artisanal quality makes it a favourite and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez help’s keep her eyes open to wonder. “It reminds that fantastic and magical things can always happen.”