Ocell Luxury thrives on exclusivity. Founded in 2015, Pooja Joshi envisioned a brand that would make one-of-a-kind accessories for men and women. Pieces that would disclose enthralling facets of the wearer’s personality. Be it via an open bold gesture or through a hidden accent that only the owner and a select few would be privy to. After all, Ocell strives to make each customer feel that they too are exceptionally unique. We talk to 27-year old Founder and designer, to find out more about the birds, the buzz worthy accessories and everything in-between.
Did you always know you’d go into fashion?
Honestly it was a last minute decision. Throughout my A-levels, I was set on being an interior designer. Then I did a little bit of work experience and realized that it would take too long for me to creatively express myself in a position like that. Someone then suggested that I should try fashion. Since I had always had some interest in it, it didn’t sound like a bad idea.
But I knew that I didn’t want to solely make clothes. Thus I chose to study Fashion and Textile Design with Enterprise at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom (UK). The textile portion of the course focused on fabric making/printing while enterprise was the business of fashion which is very necessary. Out of the three, I use enterprise the most.
You graduated in 2013 but didn’t start Ocell Luxury until 2015…
It took me a while to find a job as is the norm for most graduates. I did odd things here and there, from working in interior design – I know, the irony – to working for a company doing Christmas gifts. Then I applied for an internship with a company that’s fully-immersed in the fashion industry and ended up getting a job with them instead.
I want people to feel special every time they wear an Ocell Luxury product. We want it that when people find us, it’s even more worthwhile to have us.
Because enterprise was the most prevalent in my course, I ended up being more involved with the business end of fashion than the creative. The experience was very education but I knew that I wanted to have my own company. So, in the spur or the moment, I decided to leave the job to start Ocell Luxury. I was so naive at 24 to think I could start a brand immediately. Though Ocell was thought up in 2015, it took a year to actually have something to show and say about the brand.
Ocell is the Catalan word for bird. Is there a significance to your brand?
My business partner, Sara, and I are very obsessed with birds and it felt so natural to name the brand after one. Hence the two birds sitting on an O on the logo. When I was starting out, I needed someone to help me and I knew that she had a great eye for pattern and print. Not to mention, her ideas were similar to mine, so the partnership worked. She’s not as involved in the brand anymore, because she went on to pursue her own passion in occupational therapy. Though she’ll help me here and there, Ocell is mostly me now.
How did you decide your niche would be men’s accessories?
Talking to different people in the industry, I discovered that men’s accessories were hard to find. They either had to settle for generic products or they would have to buy from overseas brands such as T. M. Lewin which they’d be paying through the nose for. There’s a market of men that don’t just wear a good suit. And that’s how we got into accessories like pocket squares and lapel pins.
There’s something so appealing about knowing something is limited.
However, a lot of our products are inclusive. For instance our lapel pins are not just for men. I personally use one if I’m wearing a scarf or a throw over to keep it in place. If I’m wearing a jacket, I’ll wear one too. It’s about choice and your personal style.
What guides your design process?
It has to feel right. When I’m designing anything, it has to feel like ‘I would buy into that’ or ‘I would use that’. Everything is done with the thought of ‘If this wasn’t my brand, would I wear it?’ And yes, I would wear everything that I’ve made so far.
Do you make the fabric Ocell uses?
No. Sadly, the quality we’re looking for can’t be achieved locally just yet. Instead, our fabrics are hand-picked from select boutiques abroad. There’s a lot of us going to hand pick items as opposed to us sending someone to get it for us. For instance, I’ll go into a tannery and pick out the skins that’ll be used personally. Ocell doesn’t mass-buy anything, so if we have put out five pocket squares in a certain print, that’s it. We’re not going to do that again, it’s gone. That’s what makes Ocell a Limited Edition brand.
Why is exclusivity so important to you?
I just feel like when you mass-produce a product, it loses its essence and individuality. Especially when you’ve taken months to develop the ideas to a point where you’re satisfied with the final product. And we want all our clients to feel like we’re thinking of them individually.
So if we saw something in your previous collections, there isn’t a chance we could get something similar?
There was this beautiful dark brown wallet in the first collection that people still inquire after but we just can’t reproduce it. The leather and fabric we used on it are done. Everything we make goes on the shelf. There’s something so appealing about knowing something is limited and there’s maybe only five other people who own the same product as you.
Apart from the leather and the fabric, what other core materials does Ocell feature?
Of course feathers, because of the birds! Our lapel pins, for example, are all incorporate bird feathers and that’s what makes them in demand. All the feathers we use are in their natural state, none of them are dyed.
Pattern seems to be another crucial element to your brand, be it lining a bag or making a pocket square
I can’t quite explain it. Our fabric it’s always so bold because there’s something that makes you feel good when you see a fun fabric. It makes me happy to know that there’s fabric out there that can be used to make something else even more beautiful. So that’s why with all our bags, they are so plain on the outside but when you open the bag, it’s lined with our fabric. That addition is exclusively for the buyer and their own personal enjoyment.
You’ve had three previous collections – let’s start with the Eclectic 16.
Eclectic was the first collection, and because we were starting, we thought that we should have something that was for both men and women. So it had bags, wallets, pockets squares and lapel pins. That collection really taught us about design, production and finding a happy medium between your visualized expectations and the manufacturing reality.Next came The Statement 17…
That was my most favourite to design because of the bags. The collection was literally about making a statement and being bold. Which is why we were so particular on the details such as the leather we used, the size of chains, and the fabric design of the pocket squares. We had the ‘AVA’ which was a little envelop bag that had a detachable chain and a bespoke tassel charm. It also has the Tons De Bleu bag which is plain on the outside while the shades of the interior fabric are Tons De Bleu. We only made eight pieces.
Lastly, The Dapper Collection…
Dapper came out in 2017 and was it was geared more to men however, women can find some pieces for themselves. The A4 folios are unisex but when they were being designed we did think more about men just because a woman can choose to be subtle or bold. That’s why we put the detail in the interior.
Are your new Bespoke Messenger Bags an addition to the last collection?
There have also been a couple of goods we’ve put out in between collections. For instance, we did adjustable bowties which started late 2017, pocket squares in shade of green which came in after Christmas, and the lapel pins are a constant. We try and add a new element to the brand every month or so. And now we’ve added the Bespoke Messenger Bags that come in three shades with all the fun fabrics on the inside. This one has been a long time coming since I’ve always wanted to do bigger bags for Ocell.
There is a bag in the works that should be out by December. I can say with confidence that it’s really going to be breath-taking and it’s for women. I also do hand painted scarves, which is a labour of love. It can take 10 hours just to complete one but the results are inimitable and fascinating.
There must be some challenges in being a limited edition brand.
I’ve been told my business model isn’t the best for a consumer market. Obviously my costs are higher for producing smaller volumes and I’m only available at Made in Kenya and Online. But I’m sticking to this because I want people to feel special every time they wear an Ocell Luxury product. We want it that when people find us, it’s even more worthwhile to have us. It’s being competitive but still keeping to your brand identity. Because it’s very easy to lose the design aspect in an attempt to stay ‘relevant’. That’s something I never want to do.