A free spirit in the wedding industry
Sandra Silveyra found her passion designing wedding headpieces and veils–but don’t think that makes her a traditionalist. Her company, Olivia the Wolf, services eclectic, bohemian brides who want to “get married and have a big party”–without the traditional trappings and patriarchal practices, thank you very much.
But she wasn’t always so sure of herself and her voice. Sandra spent years toiling away on pretty, picture-perfect bridal veils…and her businesses wasn’t going well. She started considering a career change, and essentially said, Fuck it: “The moment I decided OK, I don’t really care too much about the future of this, I’ll just do what I want, it all came very natural and it started to work. That year we did a collection for ASOS. That was great, we made 13 styles for ASOS, and that’s where I hired my first employee. We grew from that.”
Today, Olivia the Wolf has offices in both Vancouver and London, and has made a name for itself as one of the OG alternative bridal brands (the company was thriving long before being an “alt bride” was cool).
Read on to discover how Sandra built her own business from the bottom up, her best style advice, and how she carved her own free-spirited path in one of the most traditional industries in the world.
FAME: Where are you from, and where are you based now?
Sandra: I’m originally from Mexico, Northern Mexico. Tight now I live in London, but I left Mexico eight years ago and moved to Vancouver, Canada and that’s where I started Olivia the Wolf. A year and a half ago I moved to London, but I’m moving back to Vancouver next month. This was just like a temporary thing.
The studio is based in Vancouver. Here in London I’m in a shared office space–I just have an office, we don’t have a studio here. Everything’s made in Vancouver, and we ship from there.
FAME: What would you consider to be your job title?
Sandra: Well the simplest would be “owner”– – but I think “designer,” because in the end the most important thing in our business is the product, and I design all the product. So I think yeah, designer.
FAME: Where did you go to school, and what did you study?
Sandra: I majored in communications. I was worked in a newspaper [after school], and I always wanted to have my own business, so after four years at the newspaper I opened a thrift shop in Mexico. And at the time, my plan was just to buy from other brands and sell. After I quit though, I was a little nervous, and I just just woke up in the middle of the night and I had things in my house–trims and fabrics–and I just made a headpiece! I really liked it, and I ended up making half of the stuff I sold in the shop. I never had a proper education in it, it just came to me and I liked it.
FAME: How did weddings and headpieces become your focus – was it always something you wanted to do, or did it evolve from another interest?
Sandra: My parents in Mexico had a bunch of bridal shops; I was never interested in the dress parts, but I liked the accessories. I felt that it was a business I already knew because I grew up around it. It was very comfortable for me to do it–everything around weddings is pretty, so it’s always nice to be able to make something for that!
FAME: I’m interested in learning more about the brand name! Where did that come from?
Sandra: My grandmother’s name was Olivia, she was a fashion designer actually, from northern Mexico. She became very famous, she had like 50 employees working for her, making super intricate dresses–all embroidered, beaded, hand-painted–and she was someone I really liked and I looked up to. She was a very strong woman, especially at that time. Women weren’t working or doing anything for themselves. She had a lot of character. I added “the Wolf” just to give a little more personality from the brand. And also my name is not Olivia, so I wanted to keep it separate from my own name.
FAME: Why did you feel the need to separate yourself from the business in that way?
Sandra: I don’t like the idea of naming a brand after my own name; that’s just a personal preference. I thought it was better for the business–it’s not about one person necessarily. I wanted it to be a different brand. I think it’s a practical thing to do.
FAME: How did you discover your aesthetic and your brand voice?
Sandra: I had a shop in Mexico, then I sold it and moved to Vancouver. When I started in Vancouver, it was supposed to be something temporary while I figured out what to do. The first two years I felt like I was chasing the market; I was trying to do everything as the market would need. It was hard for me to find that voice… Inl 2014 I was having a really hard time–I was working from home then, so I was by myself all day. It wasn’t going very well. I started to consider a career change. That kind of made me care less–I was like, I’m not sure if I’m going to keep doing this. so I might as well do it my way. The voice [of the brand] totally changed–if you see the pieces before, it was very traditionally bridal, which is not me. I wasn’t sure who I was talking to, basically. But the moment I decided OK, I don’t really care too much about the future of this, I’ll just do what I want, it all came very natural and it started to work. That year we did a collection for ASOS. That was great, we made 13 styles for ASOS, and that’s where I hired my first employee. We grew from that.
It was a big lesson to learn: The only way it could work was doing what I wanted to do. You have to follow some market rules, but In the end, it can only work if i’m aligned with how I feel about it. That’s how I ended up finding a voice. Right now there are a lot of cool bridal brands, back then there weren’t that many.
FAME: What is your design process like? What inspires your designs?
Sandra: The process, I get inspired by everything… My mood boards have everything from food or music, streetwear, travels that I make, my own Mexican heritage. Living in Canada, I was very inspired by nature–the forests and the wolves. I grew up in the desert in Mexico, so moving to Vancouver was a whole different landscape that was inspiring to me.
When I had the shop, I didn’t have a production line or anything. I just made whatever I wanted and I sold it. When I moved to Canada, I wanted to have a brand so I had to think about making more pieces. Something that works great for me is when brides come to me and show me their dress and say, “I want something for this dress, do whatever you want.” In the beginning, we did a lot of custom pieces, but many times some of those pieces end up being in the collection. One of our best-selling pieces is called the Winter and it came from a bride who had a beautiful dress and she told me, “Do whatever you want.” So I made that headpiece and I really liked it, so we put it into production!
The actually process is all in my head. Sometimes I draw, but I’m not a very good drawer. But it’s in my head, I know my materials very well. When it’s in my head, I can make it with my hands. Sometimes it works like that, other times, I just have the material around me and I’ll just start making something. Sometimes I discard things, some are keepers. But that’s how I do it.
FAME: How big is your team today?
Sandra: I only have two employees, so we are three in total. In the beginning, I felt to be successful I had to have a lot of employees, but now I feel differently. It’s very good to have a big company and give jobs to other people, but in the end, especially for brides, you are a part of something that’s meaningful for them and that’s meaningful for us.
FAME: How would you describe the Olvia the Wolf bride?
Sandra: They like different things but mostly, they like eclectic styles. A lot of our products are a mix of trends. For example, the Ren Halo is a romantic vine, but it has a chain in the middle and it ties with tassels, so it’s a mix of bohemian-romantic-art deco piece. More and more, modern brides are looking for that–they don’t want to buy the whole package of anything. They like to mix things up, and I think that brides who want to mix like our products because it’s not just one trend or one style or one theme. They can find their own personality in the product.
FAME: The wedding industry is steeped in tradition; your brand is not so traditional. How do you bridge that gap – can you talk a bit about being a strong, unique woman in an industry that has its origins in disempowering, patriarchal practices?
Sandra: The industry now reflects the evolution of the brides and of weddings; the fact that you can find a lot of nontraditional brands that have their own voice and their own style reflects how women now don’t think about weddings as something that they’re submitting to. You find brides who believe it’s the most important day of their lives, and I respect that–but more and more you find the people that do it because they’re in love and it’s a party, but they have realistic expectations. I think that’s why they don’t like buying the package; it’s just about an individual. They want to do their own thing. You can be a strong woman and still decide to marry and have a traditional party. But the bridal industry more and more reflects the bride’s personality.
FAME: How would you describe your personal style?
Sandra: I would say it’s very eclectic. I like a lot of different things. I can wear Mexican embroidered dresses, and then I can wear a leather jacket, I don’t have a defined style. Or some days I want to dress more in black! I like to play a lot with that. I’ve never had a defined style. When I was 18 or 19 was chasing that; I was everything. I was a hippie and I was punk, I was trying everything and in the end, I’m not anything!
FAME: What advice would you give to someone who’s still trying to figure out their style?
Sandra: Experiment with everything; whatever you feel like wearing or doing, do it. I grew up in a very conservative city in Mexico. When I was in high school, I dyed my hair pink–and right now it’s very normal, but at the time, in that city, it wasn’t. Even my dad told me I would find out who my true friends were, because the ones who told me that it looked good were not my friends!
I knew I didn’t look prettier, but it wasn’t about that. That’s the message that people don’t understand. People think that women especially do things with their hair or their clothes to look prettier, and it’s not about that. Don’t do it to pretty; do it to see how you feel wearing it or doing it. It’s not about looking pretty.
FAME: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?
Sandra: Try to align your emotions with what you’re doing–that’s different to saying, “Do what you love.” I think there are a lot of ways to engage emotionally with any business, and I’ve found over this year that in order to do good work, being aligned emotionally with what I’m doing is very important. You can find different ways to do that. Sometimes you’re very passionate about the product, and that’s the easiest. But sometimes you’re passionate about the people you work with, or the life you can get by doing it, or the places you can go. Whatever it is, just find that emotional engagement with your businesses.
There are a lot of things I don’t know, and I still struggle with my business. But I’ve found that whenever I go through phases where I’m not emotionally engaged, I can’t do a good job. No matter how disciplined I am, I can’t! You can build that passion if you really follow those emotions… I find passion in the creative process for sure, but also the people that I work with, the owners of the stores that I work with. They’re all –it’s so inspiring to work around wonderful women.
Find out more at FameAndPartners.com.