Founder of cool-girl brands ST Studio and Supertrash, Dutch designer and businesswoman Olcay Gulsen talks feminism, empowerment and business instinct.
Olcay gulsen profile 1
Dutch designer Olcay Gulsen, founder of womenswear brands ST Studio and Supertrash set up business aged 23 in 2004. With fans including models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid and a flagship store on London’s Carnaby Street, Gulsen has made her name as a bold, daringly feminine designer. She spoke to Drapers about empowerment, feminism and the importance of trusting your instincts.
How would you describe your design ethos?
Everything that we make has a very feminine twist to it, and there are always classic tailoring elements combined with fashionable silhouettes. I think power dressing is in every item that we make – it’s the central DNA of our brand. We really like to encourage women to connect to each other and have a very strong but also vulnerable side to them.
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Do you consider yourself a feminist designer?
Definitely. I think I’m an uber-feminist. I feel that all women – all different types of women – are my inspiration. I can watch women talk and enjoy each other’s company for hours. I find them exquisite.
What inspires you in your designing?
We go back to iconic periods and we choose women who did something really new. The 1920s until the 1950s are the most inspirational times for me because of the huge development for women in that period.
How do you differentiate the brands from each other?
Supertrash is very young and trendy: the girl that still thinks she can rule the world, takes opportunities and is very self-assured. ST Studio is more for an established woman. She might find it important to have a deeper meaning with a brand or service she has a relationship with. It’s a little bit more of an intellectual relationship that we have with her. [Events label] Olcay Gulsen is very much designed for events or even for celebrities – we don’t produce a lot of it, but when we do it’s on a special request.
What has been your career highlight to date?
Launching our London store (on Carnaby Street in 2014) was one, and opening our New York head office was another. Last year we opened three stores in Hong Kong, which felt like a next step in my career. I’ve been so lucky up to now in doing great things and having success with it.
What’s the best business advice you were ever given?
Over the years I’ve had so much, but I think the best piece of advice you can get is just to believe in yourself. So many people are ready to tell you how you should run your business and I think, as a young person who is very ambitious, you tend to listen too much. But your gut instinct tells you which way to go and you shouldn’t be too influenced by people who have had their own experiences. You should follow your own instinct for business.
Who do you admire most in the fashion industry and why?
There are many female fashion designers – Tory Burch, for example – who have had such successful businesses and are as good businesswomen as they are designers. Being a designer is one thing, but turning it into an international business takes difference competences.
Tell us something about you not many people know
I’m super soft. People think I’m quite tough – that comes with the whole business territory – but I’m really soft and probably too nice. I disguise it well.
Favourite clothing brand
ST Studio, the creative direction of the line really suits my taste, I feel very empowered when I wear it.
Favourite places to shop
Hong Kong, New York, London – the biggest metropoles of the world. I like shopping in small boutique areas, and in vintage or more curated shopping areas.
Last fashion purchase
Aquazzura over-the-knee boots
Thailand – a really beautiful resort in Phuket
It’s a book about the artist Margaret Keane [whose story is also told in the film Big Eyes] – it’s inspiring to see a woman fighting hard to be accepted as an artist. She broke a lot of barriers for women. I love women who empower other women.
Last film you watched
I’m not really all that into films, but I really like box sets, Downtown Abbey and Netflix.
I’ve never done anything else. When I was 23 I finished school and started my company.
Making documentaries. I love travelling and seeing different cultures around the world