Living the dream, one dress at a time
Feminine, romantic, classic and right on-trend, Kameo’s designs have been mesmerising women across the country – and beyond – for nearly a decade now. Designed and manufactured in Cape Town, and exclusively available at YDE stores, the Kameo story is one where the success of the brand runs parallel to the dream, discipline and downright hard work of the owner and designer Karla Louw.
The best, most defining way to understand the vision and ethos of the Kameo ladieswear fashion brand is from something Karla herself said, almost coincidentally, when she was showing people around her factory where every piece is designed and made. She said, gesturing to the women and men cutting, sewing, ironing and labelling:
“This is my dream. I always wanted to combine my love of fashion and beautiful things with creating employment for people.”
A powerful statement and an admirable vocation, Karla is humble but realistic about Kameo’s success.
Local is better
Kameo is, first and foremost, a LOCAL brand. “I am very passionate about local design. We have exceptionally talented designers, pattern makers, seamstresses and machinists that are unemployed because it has become so much cheaper to import clothing than manufacture locally. We can’t allow these skills to go to waste. Textiles and the related industries is one area where we really have make a dent in the unemployment statistics in South Africa.”
Growing the brand
While Kameo’s been around since 2010, it was only in 2015 that Karla took full ownership of the brand as her business partners decided to pursue other endeavours. “The opportunity came at a good time because I was ready for the challenge. I believe that faith and divine intervention had everything to do with it.”
“I was delighted to finally have the creative freedom to do things the way I want to. But every freedom comes with a big responsibility, but I understood that to be part of the package,” she says. Despite being well prepared for the challenge, the business lessons came fast and the learning curve was steep. “Year one was all about managing cash flow and setting up the factory in the most efficient way. And finding the right people to go on this journey with us,” Karla explains.
The people make the brand
When she talks about the people behind the Kameo brand it is with respect, gratitude and admiration.
“Every member of the team bring something unique to our offering. I try hard to ensure a happy working environment for everybody here,” she says. She adds though that in working with people you learn to appreciate that the world is not black and white. “There is so much grey in the world and you need to learn to be ok with that, and do operate with integrity in that mist. Despite the grey areas, Karla is adamant that – and proof thereof – that one doesn’t need to be ruthless or unfair to get ahead in business. “Kindness and fairness matters here. It’s how we choose to do business,” she says.
Fashion as creative expression
In addition to the full-time management of Kameo, together with her husband and business partner Hannes, Karla is also a new mom and still does all the designs herself.
“Fashion is a form of expression for me,” she says.
“There is so much emotion tied into what we wear. So often our memories of occasion are coupled with what we wore to the event.” Many of Kameo’s designs are vintage-inspired and, asked about what inspires these styles, Karla chuckles and says “I just design what I like!”
It’s not entirely surprising that she has been surrounded by patterns, fabrics and sewing machines all her life. “My mom makes custom swimwear and I grew up playing in her studio at home. I would use the material scraps and offcuts to make clothes for my dolls, and later for myself. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t enjoy being around clothing.”
Karla has only praise for YDE, the local platform for young designers through which she retails all her designs. Designing for YDE is a dream for any young designer as the platform offers them free reign. “Nobody tells you what to design or how to manufacture it. It’s entirely up to the designer. Of course at first this is as liberating as it is terrifying, but that sort of autonomy helps one to develop your own style much faster than you would otherwise.”
And her own style is certainly something she has perfected defined, though highlights there is also room for it to evolve. “Our goal is to keep designing garments that make women feel beautiful and to do it right here in Cape Town,” Karla concludes.