Olivia Villanti has a home grown studio in Mexico City where she produces the most exquisite shirts and dresses for her brand Chava Studio. It’s not a typical business model of a fashion house, instead of constant growth Olivia is focused on a sustainable business that is fair to all involved. Read on to hear why she’s committed to only selling 10 garments a week..
Can you describe the business model of Chava Studio, as it is different from a regular fashion line.
Chava is a line of made-to-measure and cut-to-order clothing made by hand here in Mexico City. We don’t own any inventory at all—with the exception of our fabrics, which are mostly deadstock. We also invite every client to customize and become part of the design process, meaning every purchase requires a note to include your size or your measurements (if you’d like a made-to-measure garment), a request for a specific color of fabric, a monogram, etc. We don’t charge extra for any of this customization. The studio we work with is family owned and run—it was started decades ago by my husband Guillaume’s grandfather who imported luxury fabrics from Europe into Mexico. Today it’s owned and operated by my husband’s uncle. It’s all very familial, my husband literally grew up playing soccer in the courtyard and on the street outside. There’s so much history here and I feel it enormously. There’s also quite an archive of beautiful fabrics and buttons and finishings—some dating back to the 1940s. It’s impossible to not feel inspired by the materials.
As for our daily business model: We accept 10 orders a week and once we’ve reached that order limit, we mark each product as “sold out” on our site until the following week at Tuesday, 10AM Central Time. This helps our studio manage their workload and also helps manage the expectations of our clients: every order ships two weeks from the purchase date.
Why was it important to you to find a new and more sustainable model for your brand?
I’ve worked in this industry for 15 years and it’s, quite frankly, depressing to see the volume of product out there. Especially in light of the obvious climate change we are experiencing globally (I’m a mother and boy does this give me worry lines!). I’ve been coming to our studio for years (the past 17 to be exact) and have been floored by the beautiful materials available. There are meters and meters of Alumo Swiss cotton (one of the best mills in the world, I am not being hyperbolic). It feels so wrong to create something new when something beautiful exists right in front of us! Also I could never afford to buy inventory. This project is entirely self-funded, every piece of it. It was the only way I could do this. And honestly it was a complete riddle, figuring out how to translate made-to-order to e-commerce, and it took me time to think through. At this stage (we’re three weeks old), it seems to be working really well. We have molds for each design in standardized sizing so we are prepared to create orders when they come in, but we don’t have the liability of owning any product.
I also think that sustainability and a return to craftsmanship go hand in hand. If we can look towards the past in terms of production and scale, we can start to rectify some of the destructive components of this industry. It also requires us to be less volume-centric and in turn less profits-driven which is probably not realistic for many businesses. I wish it were though! Slow fashion just feels so important, not only for its environmental impact but the relationship we have with our clothing. If something is made with love and care how can you not feel the same love and care towards something? Well I hope that’s as logical as it sounds. Haha!
Who or what do you look to for inspiration when designing for Chava?
I am constantly living in the past—ha! But I’m not kidding, this is true. I really need some more “Be Here Now” in my life but this is who I’ve been since I was a child. I literally devoured English thrillers set in the 1800s when I started reading novels. Thus I’m forever in love with flea markets, vintage, things with history. When I met my husband Guillaume, I think he just amplified my love of details, of hand-made elements as he has always had such a unique style himself that’s also rooted in tradition (he grew up surrounded by these beautiful fabrics, how could he not!). He’s the one that will point out some small design element I missed when we’re in a market. All that to say, Chava is deeply influenced by the past: by bespoke shirting elements, by vintage childrenswear, by the fabrics we use themselves. But I also think there’s something so modern about Chava, it’s a mix of minimalism with those elements that I think make it really special. Ultimately my goal is to create designs that you can wear for years, that don’t feel rooted in a moment in time, that seem to have a place in many different decades. We use materials that can stand up to that: Alumo Swiss cotton, Czech linen, Italian mother of pearl buttons… I say on our site we’d like you to “…keep your Chava garment a very long time. Maybe forever. We can dream.” And yep, I’m always dreaming!
Also, I was recently speaking with a friend about the design sensibility of Chava and we were commenting on how gorgeous the city is, so colorful and vibrant. In a way a muted palette and clean lines feel so right against the backdrop of beautiful, cosmopolitan CDMX.
What do you feel when you are working in your studio? When you were setting it up what was important to you?
Not to mess with it too much! The building and studio have seen decades of life—it’s truly a magical space that feels minimal but quite intrinsically Chava. It does feel like you’re traveling back in time a bit. All the furniture is vintage, the mirrors, the tiles are original.
It’s really meant to feel like an old school atelier and soon we’ll have an additional dedicated space with a dressing room and meeting room that I’m revamping right now! I hope, for reasons of course far beyond my business, we can comfortably take appointments more frequently and open this space up for visitors to try on our samples, have their measurements taken, feel the fabrics and meet our incredibly talented seamstresses.
How would you describe your own style in three words?
Classic, Minimal, Spritzed (I’m a fragrance junkie!)