In this series, we delve into the works and musings of artists, fashion stylists, designers, entrepreneurs, and other creatives who continue to share their craft and inspire others to carve their own path and cultivate a sense of hope and passion.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
“I’ve split the new normal into three phases, the first was when we were all on complete lockdown, the second was the easing into GCQ (back to work for us) and the third, which is now, the “after”.
“During the first phase, I was a little relieved about the break as the start of the year felt more like a continuation of 2019 than an entirely new year. The Olive Tree was still busy with orders and product development for wedding giveaways for my 2020 brides. I was even able to squeeze in a sourcing trip to Ilocos Norte to visit our partner weaving community and a minimoon with my husband to Bangkok between January to March.
“When the lockdown was announced, I was only able to relax the first week until I realized (with the help of my awesome entrepreneur friends) that I needed to start planning for the year given that everything was going to change. At that point, the permanence of this pandemic was not evident to me yet. I thought that in a month or so, the universe will be able to fix itself… thank God for that little voice inside my head.
“The planning part was the biggest coping mechanism for me, being informed about what other businesses are doing, running a business in a WFH setting, making sure that I am still able to engage my clients without seeing them face to face and the hardest part was making sure that there’s enough work for our company to stay alive.
“The line that really resounded in my head was by Jack Ma, it was something like “2020 is a year of survival,” although profits grow businesses, I had to think about all the people I was responsible for once the ECQ moved into GCQ and how I can keep everyone together. I am very happy that our company is still intact and we are successfully adjusting to the new normal.
“On the opposite side of the spectrum, I was also able to cope with the new normal knowing that my family was safe and intact. After Jay and I got married last December, my husband moved into our home and I think this whole ordeal was like a crash course into living in the Olives household. I don’t think we’ve ever spent as much meals together as we have in the past decade or so; it was really nice. Through all of this, I made sure that I was still creatively stimulated either by reading, watching movies, listening to music, painting and even gardening. Jay and I, as a tag team, even shot for three brands! Jay has never shot a look book before and I don’t usually model, but we got it done (why not try something new right?).
“The lockdown has helped me find my center, realizing that pausing is not bad at all, focusing on things that have a greater bearing in life and removing all the clutter (physically and emotionally).
“Because we are all stuck at home, we have been trying our best to stay creative, whether in the kitchen, moving stuff around the house, exercising, singing karaoke, painting or designing Olive Tree pieces. By being creatively well-rounded, it helps me keep a fresh perspective on what is really important to me.
I try to capture the simple nuisances, mundane scenes and everyday life of us Filipinos and add a quirky spin to it
“Our collections in Olive Tree always start with a thought, feeling or an idea that really inspires me. This is usually the hardest part, pinning down what should be talked about or created at that specific time. Based on the current landscape and growing needs of the home linen industry, I try and create designs that tell a story or highlight certain aspects of Filipino culture that would spark curiosity and dialogue and increase awareness. Based on these stories and designs, I try to bring them to life and into client’s homes through throw pillows, placemats, blankets to mention some.
“I try my best to come up with designs that are unique, clever and timeless. The challenge for me is to have a collection that people still talk about years after they are launched, that means that my pieces still resonate with the Filipino spirit. I try to capture the simple nuisances, mundane scenes and everyday life of us Filipinos and add a quirky spin to it.
“I usually start with a large yellow pad and music in the background (Chopin Nocturnes usually) and then I just let my thoughts flow. I write everything down even if the thoughts are all jumbled up, the end is a yellow pad of about 2 pages with different doodles, imagery ideas, product details, sometimes even names of the prints. Then, I just leave them and go through them again the next day. I feel like the ideas should rest somehow.
“After which, I work on a color palette and find references for the prints. The design team and I always try to find inspiration in photographs and landscapes. From there, I create a simple narrative that I want to convey including elements that I want to include in each piece and then once we are happy with the outcome, we start the product development.
“The biggest change since the lockdown is not being able to go out and freely find inspiration. Sometimes as the collection is coming along, just being able to talk to the artisans can really propel the work forward. My graphic design team and I usually go on a ‘design break’ which is a month of just working on the new pieces, sampling, visiting the artisans and really just focusing on finishing the collection. It is so challenging now since I can’t personally be there to give instructions about how I want it done, but I trust in the skills of my artisan partners and the proof is in the pudding based on the excellent work they have done for me the past six years.
“Another hindrance to the Olive Tree touch is not being able to tell the stories to our clients as they hold the pieces in bazaars and pop-ups. We normally have a pop-up at least once a month to personally meet with our clients and so they can see the products first hand. We have decided not to participate in any pop-ups or bazaars to do our part in stopping the spread of the virus. In lieu of this, we have been communicating with our clients via social media and the website.
“I am very fortunate that with the shift of the times into this new normal/work from home setup, unique quality linens and home accessories are suddenly so essential. People are finding that creating safe havens should be a priority since we are now spending so much time at home.
“The biggest challenge right now is to reach a wider clientele without popping up in malls or events. We have strengthened our social media efforts since the lockdown and it has really paid off. We are also making sure that our clients are well taken care of and that we engage them as best as possible. We realize that positive experiences are so important these days that we really try to make communicating with our clients as seamless and as upbeat as possible.
“Another challenge is taking advantage of the digital marketplace. I figured that the website should be working double time, as a catalog and a shop. The experience should be as trouble-free as possible. Moreover, content language (website and social media) must be relatable and should feel personal. I want our clients to feel like there’s another person on the other side of the line that they feel relaxed talking to and asking help from.
“We are spacing out the launch of our items to every two weeks so we can continue to excite our clients without cluttering their social media feed. In terms of future plans, we are very open to collaborations, projects, and product development now more than ever. It will be challenging, but it will be worth it.
We want to launch a line that would be a symbol of hope, and that despite all of the negative things happening around us, the Filipino people will always prevail
“I am currently waiting for rolls of fabric I commissioned from our friendly artisan weavers of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. That is what I am looking forward to the most. Also, we are trying to launch a lockdown collection that we hope embodies the Filipino determination and resolve during these trying times. We want to launch a line that would be a symbol of hope, and that despite all of the negative things happening around us, the Filipino people will always prevail. We are planning to launch this by September if all goes well!
“The Olive Tree is always trying to diversify our product line with unique Filipino elements or artisan elements. This year, I will continue to design for the home and hopefully create more inspired pieces that make people happy.
“To my fellow creatives, I’d say, if you feel stuck, just detach completely. Watch a good movie, read a good book, take a walk, join a workout class, pet your dog, try gardening, try painting, cook something or just do something creative that’s completely not related to what you’re working on. There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back and when your mind is rested and ready to create again; don’t hold back. Always add a personal touch and make sure it’s unique and inspiring.” — Kyla Olives-Laurel as told to Carmencita S. Sioson