Dotty Winters talks weasels, long walks and clenching buttocks with Lauren and Karen Mead, the creative mother-daughter team behind accessories company Louella Odié.
If someone you’d never met sent you a tweet offering to send you a weasel what would you do? That’s right, just like me you’d send your home address to an internet stranger. After my weasel arrived I wanted to find out more about these international weasel traffickers.
Because they are currently based between two islands, the tropical, car-free Lamma Island in Hong Kong, and the marginally greyer (but still awesome) Isle of Wight, it took a while to schedule a time for an interview.
When we did manage to catch up by phone, daughter Lauren was in England, and mother Karen joined us by Skype from Hong Kong. “Hi Dotty, you’ve just interrupted a conversation about eunuchs,” was their cheerful greeting.
I’m desperate to ask you about weasels straight away, but I’ll be grown-up and talk about the business first. How did Louella Odié get started?
Karen Mead: I’ve been a print maker all my life, I was born and grew up in Hong Kong, but did a masters in Bristol. I ended up moving back to Hong Kong because my husband was working in China, so I decided to go back to being an artist.
It turns out that it’s hard to be an artist here if you aren’t young and Chinese, so I decided to use what I have and make something out of the prints I love. When I told my husband my plan, he said “Whatever you do, don’t do cushions!” I started exploring what I could make with the prints.
The amazing thing about being based here is that if you can imagine it, you can have it made. I got some samples made and asked Lauren if she wanted to come and work with me. She said she definitely didn’t. So, she went travelling. But by the time she came back I had better samples and she decided to come on board.
Talk me through the set-up…
Lauren Mead: We have a tiny studio on Lamma Island, it has a very tropical feel and quite a bohemian reputation. When we are both in Hong Kong we go to the studio every day. Karen is the creative force behind everything, and I do the rest, the marketing, the website, pop-up shops and so on. We put out a couple of collections a year.
KM: I couldn’t do it without her; being younger she brings something I don’t have.
LM: There are no doors in the studio…
KM: … so Lauren wears headphones all the time to drown me out.
LM: I have a new appreciation for The Archers.
KM: I have The Archers on to drown out your music.
LM: We often get asked how it is, working together. People wonder if we have mother-daughter arguments, but we don’t really. We get on really well. We do different things for the business, so it just works.
KM: Sometimes we just take strategic long walks.
So it all works out?
LM: Yes, it isn’t always easy. We definitely have days where it can feel that the fun factor has gone but that’s where having the family connection helps. We are both invested in making this work and that keeps it going. We can’t quit, so we come up with really creative solutions.
KM: And gin. Gin helps.
Who is your customer?
KM: She knows what she likes and isn’t driven by fast fashion or trends; she is a strong woman, often 30-plus, she is looking for something that is unique. When people hear our story they like the mother/daughter relationship and the artisan angle. They usually discover the weasel after that.
Yaaaay you said weasels. We can talk about the weasels now! Tell me about Fuck Weasel.
KM: I saw an auto-correct that was doing the rounds that someone had tried to say that their dress was “fuchsia” and this has been auto-corrected to “fuck weasel”. I loved it and it became my expletive of choice. This was before Louella Odié.
Lauren was working for this crappy manager that kept giving her lectures. I made her a weasel in a purse, so that when he was giving her a lecture she could look at the weasel and remember that it would pass.
I started making them for other people. I made myself one when I started the business to remind me that I could do this. I’d look at the weasel and think, “I can fucking well do this. I can grit my teeth, clench my buttocks and do this.”
I am a passionate feminist. All women need a fuck weasel. Very early on we started putting weasels in all the bags. Initially we didn’t tell people much – it was sort of hidden on the website but then people started hearing the story and it spread. The meaning of the weasel changes; it depends on each woman who has one. Everyone has their own story.
LM: Some people call them Luck Weasels – students get them when they have exams.
KM: I think luck weasels is a bit lame.
LM: Then we did this interview for Apple Daily – Hong Kong’s third biggest newspaper, in Cantonese. It got a bit lost in translation, and they said it was about unrequited love. For a while I got a lot of requests from these young Chinese men who wanted weasels for women who didn’t love them. We got a request from all the women on one floor of the Forbes office in New York who needed them because they have to put up with so much shit.
We love sending them out and hearing the stories.
I love it, tiny feminist weasel superheroes. What’s next for you two and Louella Odié?
LM: We’re moving back to the UK soon and we have a big collection coming out in spring. We do a lot of popup shops and it’s brilliant to meet people face-to-face. So, our plan next year is to get a rowing boat – and we’ll be going round fairs and festivals in the UK. The brand is so linked to island life and being on the water, so the boat makes sense to us.
Bright colours and tropical/island themes are core to what we do. We’re moving to being a bit more Eurocentric, working with some new suppliers. We might be a small business, but we have big, big plans.
KM: If any Standard Issue readers want a free fuck weasel, just let us know. We’d love to send you one.
Yeah. You heard.
Meet more of our Glass Ceiling Smashers here.
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Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.