Hey Caitlin, tell me a little bit about yourself and what Caitlin Crisp is all about?
I’m Caitlin Crisp and I’m 24, just about to turn 25, and I always knew that I wanted to be a designer, but I never really knew what that was going to look like and where I was going to be placed in the industry. After studying I took some time off to sort of figure out and enjoy life a bit, but then opportunities kept presenting themselves and I was crazy to say no. Then from that, within a year or two I started Caitlin Crisp the label. Instead of figuring myself out first and who I wanted to be, I kind of started the label and have let that take its own course, and it still very much is. So, TBC.
And when did this all begin?
I started the business just over a year ago, we just celebrated our first birthday.
And you’ve been enjoying it so far?
Yes. I think the key that I’ve realised is that I did know who I was and where I wanted to go in the back of my head, but it doesn’t happen overnight. I couldn’t expect to start at 30 or 40 and have this established business that I dreamed of having, I needed to start that from really early on.
Had you always envisioned yourself doing your own thing or have you been tempted by the stability of a 9-5 job?
I definitely thought about it. Along the journey to starting my business I was presented with a couple of really incredible opportunities in the industry, but I think there was just something in the back of my head each time that said if you’re going to work for someone else, you may as well be doing this for yourself. So that’s what sort of stopped me pursuing a career in the industry.
Has this been a full-time project?
No, definitely not. A huge part of me and what I do that a lot of people don’t know is that I was working full-time and then also picked up nannying to start the business and kept doing that for the first year. It wasn’t until my first birthday that I went to one day a week at my retail job and quit nannying. So, pretty much more than full-time hours to start the business in the first year and then I’ve just started solely focusing on the business more or less now.
What’s your ultimate dream or goal for Caitlin Crisp?
It changes all the time. I think it’s better to set smaller goals and be really flexible because, I mean look at this year, you can’t really set goals too far ahead I don’t think. I know lots of people disagree with that and think you should have this business plan, that 2-year, 5-year, 20-year plan and goals at all of those places. I have loose goals; I think everyone does. I have all of these aspirations, but not really a plan set in place to get directly there because I think if you’re too tunnel visioned then you can lose sight or actually lose opportunities. Something might pop up that’s a really great opportunity but if it doesn’t fit into your plan you might not take it. That’s how I sort of go, as things pop up I’m good at just trusting my gut and going, yep, that’s a good direction, let’s do that now.
How has COVID impacted your business?
I am very lucky. I know lots haven’t been. I am very lucky in that the way I set my business up to begin with really suited the climate that NZ and Australia are in now. From the start, a gap in the market that I saw were brands designed for our hemisphere. Lots of NZ brands who stock internationally design for the opposite hemisphere so all of a sudden, you’ve got coats coming out in summer and that sort of thing. I know a lot of them design trans-seasonally which is great, but I decided if I was starting with small collections, I was really keen to target NZ and Australia first, grow here, and then go to bigger seasons that were then trans-seasonal and eventually cater to both markets. So all of a sudden these women who were travelling in the middle of the year and did suit buying into those international brands were going, oh well I don’t own a coat because I travel every winter. Now all of a sudden, they’re in New Zealand and need a coat, they need knitwear, and I was right there going well, I’m made in New Zealand, so my production wasn’t cancelled, I didn’t have trouble getting anything into the country because it was all here. The NZ industry is booming, it’s going really well. So I’m just kind of riding that wave while I can whilst keeping in the back of my head that anything can happen, anything can change.
What has been your biggest success?
A big milestone for me was a particular stockist. So, before I started Caitlin Crisp, before they even knew that I was into design or had studied it, I worked full-time at Muse Boutique. They’re just a stunning store, just the top of the top, incredible. They’re also an incredible workplace too. It was a dream to get stocked there and we ended up landing them as a stockist this year and it’s going really well which is great. So that’s definitely a highlight.
Are you both online and in store?
Yes, so we personally only have an online store, we don’t have brick-and-mortar, but we now have 12 stockists across NZ and Australia that you can shop in store with. I need to get a stockist page up!
And is expanding your stockists’ a key part of your goals?
Yes definitely. I mean 12 is huge for us, to have 12 in one year is really big, so I think the next step is just making sure I’m in control of what we’ve got and just managing that. I’m still just by myself with an intern that comes in every now and then. I want to grow organically but also be able to manage that growth, so I think for the next season or so I might only pick up another 1 or 2 and then just wait and see what happens internationally, because you don’t want to saturate the market either.
Have you had any regrets?
I try not to have regrets because if you’ve got a regret, you haven’t taken what you needed to learn from it. If you do something that wasn’t quite right you need to learn from that and then it isn’t really a regret, it’s just learning. So, I think one thing that I’ve learnt, that could’ve been a regret, is just work-life balance. When you work for yourself, you’re constantly thinking about it, but you need to manage that. If you want to maintain relationships and friendships and family etc., it’s super important to know when to switch off and what to say, what not to say, and that’s really hard when your work is your passion. Working for myself, there aren’t many people my age that can relate to that, so that was something that was tricky, but I think that I’m pretty good now.
Any hot tips?
I think I’ve burnt out before which I’m sure is something a lot of people can relate to. So, I’m very conscious of my health when it comes to burnout. When you’re doing what I’m doing, it’s so easy to lose track of time. You forget to eat and then you’re not eating, and then you realise you haven’t checked your phone all day… It’s great, I’m so passionate about what I do and I could sit at a sewing machine for a week and not eat, but then you kind of realise, I’m not wanting to get up in the morning, or I can’t switch off, or I’m fragile. You’ve got to have people around you who can tell you that and I’m really lucky that I do have people looking out for me. So, it took a bit of them and a bit and me realising for myself before I knew something had to give. Let’s quit nannying, let’s peel back work, and really focus on putting that energy in the right places.
I hear that a lot from people working for themselves, it can be so hard trying to find time for yourself!
Definitely. There are so many things that come into it. I was on my phone a lot checking emails and I thought I had to pay every invoice as soon as it came in, and reply to emails as soon I received them, but the best thing my Mum said to me was no one actually expects you to reply to that straight away. You don’t have to respond to it today, you’ll actually respond better if you wait until tomorrow. Just do everything in due time.
Do you have any advice for anyone ready to do the same and break away from the norm?
I think it’s a big thing to do, but when you know you know. I think it’s got to come from you, that’s something my parents always said. We always knew you were going to do it, but we were never going to push you to do it, you needed to be the person to say go. That’s the key; if anyone else is pushing you to do, it’s not right, you need to make that decision. Only time will tell, I think that people watch with weary eyes for the first wee while when people do this because it doesn’t often work. I mean, I’m still in that first couple of years and I’d like to think it’s going to be a forever thing, but you never really know and that’s okay. There’s no harm in giving it a go and seeing what happens.
What are some of your favourite NZ brands at the moment?
Emma Sofie is super cute. I’ve just seen her here and there and she’s really growing. There’s lots of people I know that I just admire them for who they are as well. Kathryn Wilson, every time I’ve seen her, she’s just like this sun beam, this happy, positive person which is so nice. There are lots of people like that in the industry that I really admire. Karen Walker, her business sense is insane. Another one who is a bit of a mentor for me, I absolutely adore her, is Debbie Lawson and she owns DeVal. There’s so many!
Are many of your friends you studied with doing their own thing as well?
Yeah, they do which is just a godsend really. A girlfriend of mine, Laura Hadlow, I used to work with her at Sass and Bide ages ago when she was just starting and I hadn’t started yet. She has been such a huge support for me, she just comes into my studio for coffee and helps me plan things and she’s just there for everything. I think she’s a bit further on than me, but we are kind of growing together which is really cool. Another one is Rebe Burgess, she’s just amazing, I love her so much. She is the buyer at Muse and she also owns her own label of hats and shoes. Her and I used to flat together before I worked at Muse, and then we worked there together. It is such a cool industry and I can’t imagine doing it without them because those are the people that are on the same wavelength.
What are some of your favourite places to travel in NZ?
I love Twizel. We’ve got a family bach in Twizel in Mackenzie Country down South which is stunning, I absolutely love it down there. And then the Marlborough Sounds – we usually go there for Christmas and New Year’s which is great. It’s just that nostalgia. There are so many beautiful places in New Zealand, but I think being a Kiwi growing up here, it doesn’t matter where it is, it’s where you grew up.