Starting from her mum’s kitchen table in Wirral in 2017, Mollie-May Cartwright created the fashion brand Caramella and is confident enough in its value to turn down retail giant ASOS. Tony McDonough reports
It takes confidence to walk away from a possible contract with online retail giant ASOS – and that is exactly what fashion designer Mollie-May Cartwright did in 2019.
Inspired by a passion for fashion, Mollie-May, from Wirral, created her brand Caramella in 2017, working on her mum’s kitchen table. At the time she was also studying for a degree in psychology and working in a part-time job.
She quickly realised she needed more space and moved out into a flat before needing to take more space at a storage unit at a friend’s premises. It was then she decided to quit her part-time job and focus on Caramella.
That decision has paid off. Now, with a lease on a warehouse unit, the brand is going from strength to strength. Caramella now has 234,000 Instagram followers and celebrity fans including Charlotte Dawson, The Only Way Is Essex’s Courtney Green, Amber Turner and Love Island’s Olivia Atwood and Elma Pazar.
“I have our space for 10 years now which is a huge warehouse as well as a boutique inside the space with changing rooms to allow our customers to try before they buy,” said Mollie-May. “I can already see us outgrowing this space in the next few years.
“In terms of growth, I really want to keep the brand completely exclusive. We were interviewed by ASOS two years ago to be stocked on their site, but after consideration, I planned to stay exclusive and just sell on caramellauk.com.
“We want to continue to grow naturally at our own rate, always remaining true to the brand, as it’s busy enough as it is.”
Caramella’s has gone from being just Mollie-May on her own to employing four full-time staff members, as well as her mum and nan who both work on the venture part-time. Despite the help, she has still found the recent period of growth has taken a toll.
She added: “Last year, I was working every hour in lockdown and just burnt out. I wasn’t making time to switch off and relax and my mental and physical health both suffered. I’ve changed that for the better and know that I can only give 100% if I feel my best.
“Previously, I’ve had a traineeship where a college leaver joined us and I’d really like to focus more on young people and offering apprenticeships to those who love fashion but might be unsure about what they want to do.
“When I was studying for my psychology degree, I couldn’t have felt more lost. It’s a scary world if you don’t know what you want to do but I want to help kick-start careers.”
For Mollie-May, seeing women feel their best in her designs is the reason why she’s in the fashion industry. Caramella designs many garments in house now, which can pose a financial risk, but one she feels is worth taking.
She explained: “It can be worrying to think what if people don’t like our designs, but they always turn out to be our best-sellers and I think that’s because you can’t get them anywhere else.
“We really strive to be inclusive to all, catering for all sizes and certain styles go up to UK 22. We aim for all of our garments to be available up to that size when we have the resources to do so.”