Our fourth woman in our Women in Business series is Kalisty. Kalisty is the superstar behind the personalised embroidery business, Oti and Marn. We had a chance to chat to Kalisty about her journey into embroidery and personalisation which was very much inspired by her two lovely children, the namesakes of Oti and Marn.
Tell me about your journey, what is the story behind the creation of Oti and Marn?
When I had Marnie, I was gifted a towel that had been personalised with her name from a friend in Australia who kept up that tradition with Oti. I loved them so much that I wanted to get something similar for my friends in New Zealand but I discovered that no one was doing personalisation through machine embroidery here. I never considered myself crafty or creative but I thought surely it can’t be that hard so I got a machine and taught myself the basics to give these beautiful gifts to my friends and family. I also thought that to be creative you had to know how to draw and be artistic. I didn’t understand that what I am doing is also being creative but I feel like I get a creative outlet from it as well. I think that thread arts like embroidery are undervalued and I love to see people really love what I have created and get interested in the creative process.
It was very soon after I started doing this that I thought I could sell these. I already knew there was a market for it and that no one else was doing it here. I decided straight away to back myself and set up a website. I always thought that it might not work out but if I don’t try then I won’t know so I may as well try. It took another 2 years before I took another big gamble and invested in myself again to buy a much larger and more capable machine. The new embroidery machine was definitely a big purchase and that was a bit nerve-racking but it allowed me to expand my product range and improve the quality of my stitching. The third time I bet on myself was recently with the expansion of my workspace. It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t fit myself and my stock in the small space I had so we decided to convert our garage into a studio for my business.
It sounds like to create Oti and Marn, you had to have a lot of faith in yourself and allow yourself to step up to the next challenge. How important was it to have the support of other people around you as well?
I couldn’t do this without the support of my family. From my husband believing in my idea to my parents helping me with orders and doing quality control on the product, I am very lucky with how supportive everyone has been. My family comes first so part of what makes Oti and Marn so amazing is that it provides a flexible environment so that I can pick the kids up from school and spend time with them and then finish some orders once they are in bed. And it hasn’t just been my family that has been supportive, my customers are amazing and I have made friends with people all over the world that are doing similar things. It can be lonely being the only person in the business in New Zealand but I can talk to people around the world about the highs and lows of being in this industry.
What are the highs and lows of your work?
There is inconsistency of orders at times of the year so I tend to second guess whether something is working. I am constantly asking myself why hasn’t this sold when it sold so well last month. This can be quite difficult when I am needing to plan long-term for the stock management. I want to keep costs down for everyone, particularly at the moment when inflation is driving prices up everywhere, so I have changed to shipping products by sea rather than air but this takes so much longer so I have to think much further in advance and try to predict what is going to be popular. Having said that, I am so proud of myself for how far I have come. I keep looking to the future and where I want to go which is good but I also need to appreciate where I came from and celebrate the wins.
As much as I love working from home and the flexibility that it gives me, I do still find the lack of separation between work and home hard. There is always things that I could be doing for Oti and Marn and there are always things that I could be doing as a wife and mother. Finding the balance between these roles has been difficult but definitely worth it. I will never call Oti and Marn work because that turns it into a chore rather than something that I love. I very much believe in do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.
The love that you have for your business is so lovely to see. What are the best parts about it? What makes you love it?
I love the joy and warmth and emotions that come from people that receive these gifts. The connection that children have to their names with a beautiful product. At first you can see that the joy is from the parents, and as the children get older they go through the stages of recognising their name through my products. This is so exciting to me, to see a child love their hat or their bag because it has their name on it. All those children that missed out on the keychains when I was growing up won’t be left out of my products. I love the fact that all names can be embroidered. Those with accent's or hyphens, or names of foreign origin - I can put those names on our products.
Someone once told me that a name is the first gift that a parent gives their child and I think that is so fitting to your ethos. You are able to reflect that gift for everyone in the products that you sell. Why should people choose Oti and Marn for this?
I am the first business in New Zealand to do this so you will know that your gifts are being made with love and care in New Zealand. The personalisation aspect makes the gifts unique and bespoke which I can see is always so appreciated in my customers. The people that give an Oti and Marn present have really thought about it and want to give a meaningful present. I also think that part of shopping with small businesses is the customer service. I answer every question gets asked and I make an effort to connect with my customers so that I can give them my best. I am also open to being creative and flexible and work with the customer even if it is not what I have done so far. I would love to branch out into dog coats or pet wear so if anyone wants to get a personalised dog coat they should reach out!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. It has been lovely getting to know a bit more about Oti and Marn and what goes into a business like that. Before you go, can you tell us what are your favourite pair of Nicole Rebstock shoes?
It has to be the Gigi animal print sneaker. I am a mum and really busy so I go for shoes that I can wear everywhere and be comfortable. What I really love about the animal print is that it is a little bit funky and cool so some of my personality comes through while still being practical.