CityLife COVER STORY
Camilla’s Secret to Success
Survival In Business & Life
By Danae Jones
Global designer to the stars Camilla Franks had the opportunity to holiday in the Tropical North for five days with her partner JP and daughter Luna prior to our Annual Business Retreat and Inaugural VIP Charity Dinner. The tourism industry really turned it on for them with flights in private helicopters to Mount Mulligan Lodge, exclusive accommodation at the magnificent Bali Hai and a long line of iconic experiences that she says she will treasure forever. The entire trip was captured on camera to help promote our destination. While here she shared her secrets to success in business and in life in an up close and personal exclusive interview with Danae Jones.
WITH 22 boutiques throughout Australia and the United States, a successful online business and an impressive list of Australian and international stockists, Camilla has managed to capture the hearts of our nation and the world. She’s known to many as the ‘Kaftan Queen’ and an iconic brand that has stood the test of time. From a small start-up in Bondi Beach, Sydney with very little behind her, she has grown her empire to one of rock star status dressing some of the world’s biggest names including Oprah, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson and Miranda Kerr. Her rags to riches tale is one of true inspiration. But her journey hasn’t been easy, there have been many business and personal trials and tribulations which she has had to overcome along the way.
At the age of 42, Camilla found herself a mother to a newborn, a business owner of a growing global empire that needed her creativity and drive, and in the fight of her life to beat the aggressive breast cancer that had entered her body.
“All of a sudden the universe and Mother Nature had different plans for me. It’s like I jumped on a rollercoaster ride that I had never bought a ticket for and I just wanted to get the hell off! JP and I had been traveling around Australia working on the collection. I found a lump on my breast, and while everyone told me it was just a cyst, it kept growing and growing. I think when you’re breastfeeding you really bond with your boobs right? I sort of knew something was wrong. When we came back to Sydney, JP told me I should get it checked out. In the morning I was tested and by the afternoon they called me back and all I remember was this beautiful woman saying, ‘I’m so sorry, but you’ve got stage three breast cancer’. It felt like my whole world came crashing down. When your mortality is questioned you feel this primal fear and terror. So there I was – on this ride that I didn’t want to be on, one which took me on some crazy twists and turns, but here I am today. There has been so many lessons learned. I think that as human beings we kind of don’t know what our limits are until we’re forced to explore them. And explore them I did. I’m just so grateful to be here.”
Her outlook on life and her cancer journey has been nothing short of inspirational. Her can-do, positive philosophy is ever present, even in her business dealings.
“When you launch a brand it’s a 24/7 job. I never stopped working and it really did affect my body at times. I remember back to where it all began: I used to schlep my collections in a suitcase all around the world on my own, season after season, rejection after rejection. I kept going back every year and the buyers were like ‘the crazy Australian is back again!’ I refused to take no for an answer. I had a screw it, let’s do it attitude, and I believed in my baby with my full heart. Fast forward 17 years to now, and here we are. But that time was really scary and really lonely. I wish I could go back to the girl I was and tell her everything was going to be okay but back then I just didn’t know. I love what Brené Brown says that ‘Courage is not without fear, but the willingness to show up.’ Showing up makes you that little bit stronger and braver each time.”
“My cancer journey started off as really fear based. Then I saw this amazing documentary called Heal, which talks about how the mind can heal the body, and I became really curious about that. That became the catalyst for me to go in a whole new journey of self-discovery. So every morning I’d wake up and I would meditate. I was always really diligent with my meditation practice, and I’d visually go into my tumour, see my tumour and heal my tumour. I became my own student. I went deep, I went dark, and I stretched myself and pulled myself apart and really focused on healing my body. So that self-practice, alongside magical modern medicine and my amazing family and tribe was what healed me. When you’re surrounded by so much love and support, that’s undeniably the biggest healer in the world.”
Through her cancer battle and while breastfeeding her baby, Camilla was forced to make the heartbreaking decision to have a double mastectomy and undergo complete reconstructive surgery.
“I never, ever thought I would have fake boobs because my boobs were always my thing. It was really a grief-led process saying goodbye to them, they were such a part of my identity, and they were what fed and nourished Luna. I remember sitting in the shower the night before my double mastectomy just crying and grieving. It was such a weird and out of body experience. Getting that operation is a life or death situation, so it’s a non-negotiable but it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Deciding on her treatment plan to survive her cancer battle wasn’t taken lightly either. Camilla and her partner JP investigated a myriad of options to ensure they were making the best choice for survival.
“I think that was probably the most overwhelming experience of the whole journey. All of a sudden I had to be schooled in cancer and immerse myself into a world I really didn’t want to know about. I’ve bounced around from MRIs and CAT scans and blood tests, to oncologists and surgeons, and it was an information overload! You’re told that you’re dying of cancer, and you have to sift through all this information and make all these choices. I shifted into gear and became the CEO of my own body. That was really important to me. JP and I cannot tell you how many doctors we spoke to, he said we drove them absolutely mental. I just wanted to make sure I was making all the right choices.”
“I had a new daughter, my man and my business. I needed all of that. I had more life to live. I drove everyone insane! I put two surgeons together that had never worked with each other before, they didn’t really like each other, but they were the best at what they did. I decided to do a particular treatment plan that was a little bit new, and I did the zooper of all chemos. I did what I thought was right for my body and in hindsight, I’m so happy that I did, because I’m just not too sure whether I would have survived otherwise.”
Giving birth to her beautiful daughter Luna she says changed everything for her in life.
“I think when you have just given birth, there’s an unconditional bond and connection that’s undeniable. She was the love of my life. And with that it gives you that extra fight. It’s like she gave me a Wonder Woman cape, and on those days where I was so sick, and so tired, and I just wanted time out, I’d look at her and fight. I’d go that extra mile, I’d run that marathon, actually I’ll fucking sprint that marathon. She and JP gave me courage, lifeforce and got me through it all.”
Camilla is incredibly passionate about more than just business and the brand of her namesake, her rise to fame more a means to create positive global change and empower women who have no voice.
“Owning a business comes with a sense of social responsibility, and if you don’t have that within a business I believe that it lacks heart and soul. My vision for my brand stretches far beyond the walls of CAMILLA. Our dream is to help women in third world countries that don’t have access to what we do. I believe empowerment comes through education, and so we started up The Butterfly Effect in Bihar in North India in 2018. So far we have sent 500 beautiful girls back to school, and prevented over 550 childhood marriages. Our hope for The Butterfly Effect is what the name implies, a beautiful ripple effect within the community. So with these amazing girls we’re educating, they’re teaching their sisters, their brothers, their uncles, their grandmothers, their grandparents. They become powerful agents of change for future generations of women.”
And when asked how she feels about her rise to cult status in the fashion industry and all the big names donning her designs, she says she still can’t believe it.
“It still surprises and humbles me, you never really get used to it! It’s kind of a strange thing, especially when I’ve never met half of these women. There’s this excitement and joy that ripples through the office. I think as designers, there’s a vulnerability when you’re creating, you always fear that the next collection is not going to sell and you’re going to ruin the business. So when you see someone famous wearing your designs, you’re being validated for your work and that’s a beautiful thing. These women get to choose whatever they want to wear, from whatever brand and the fact that they choose to wear us is really amazing.”
Oprah Winfrey and Camilla Franks ended up meeting in the most unique set of circumstances and Camilla reflects on how she went from a Sydney based designer with a big dream, to hosting one of the world’s biggest celebrities in her home.
“That was wild. She had been wearing my stuff for quite awhile but we had never met. I managed to be invited to Melbourne to see her, and we were both so excited to meet each other. When we first locked eyes it was like the whole world stopped for a moment. I cheekily said to her afterwards, ‘you know, if you get bored later and you want some tequila shots (because I know she loves tequila) hit me up!’ thinking nothing of it. I went back to my friend’s house and then the phone rings and it’s Oprah! She says ‘so about those tequila shots…’. The house was a mess, so we were manically trying to clean, and had to run out and buy some tequila because we realised we had none. She arrived with all these SUVs and her entourage, but she was like a breath of fresh air. We did tequila shots and she taught me how to make the ultimate margarita. It was a weird, fun and wonderful experience.”
And it seems the positive outcomes just kept on coming for this vivacious soul. The Oprah story is just one of many unbelievable circumstances that have occurred for her. One most recently was during COVID. As many retail and fashion businesses were and still are reeling in the wake of COVID-19, Camilla managed to not only pivot her business, but take it in a new direction that has reaped rewards in more ways than one. Her willingness to try new things is clearly an advantage to her success in these times.
“Oh, shit got real! When COVID hit, there was a huge sense of uncertainty and fear and vulnerability. But with anything in life what I’ve learned is that uncertain times are a beautiful opportunity to change and morph into a new way of being. That’s exactly what my team and I did. We shifted into first gear, we held each other tight, and we decided we were going to save my brand that I’ve built from the ground up. We came up with all these different crazy concepts and we had no idea whether they were going to belly flop or thrive.”
“We started doing virtual trunk shows and private styling sessions, and all of a sudden we opened up doors to places like rural Czechoslovakia and rural Russia and rural Australia. We could suddenly reach women that weren’t able to connect with our brand before, and we were able to give them the CAMILLA experience from the luxury of their homes while they sat with a glass of champagne. We promoted this on our own channels and word got out very quickly! Our customers loved it and we had a super high conversion rate. It was a huge win for us so it’s now a part of our day to day offering. Then the design team and I shifted into new lines. Let’s be honest no one wants to really float around the house in silk all day when they’ve got nowhere to go. We knew we had to do something different, so we created brand new Zenwear Active and Lounge lines. It was this whole capsule of jerseys and tracksuits and active wear, and it all sold out within 48 hours!”
The future has never looked brighter for this Aussie success story and she says from here on in she takes every day as a blessing on earth.
“2021 for me is all about sucking the marrow out of this great big, beautiful life we’ve been gifted with and really appreciating all those magical moments. I want to continue to colour the world with CAMILLA. My dreams are big and slowing down is not part of my DNA. I want to have a CAMILLA hotel with CAMILLA cars, wallpaper, cushions, homewares, the whole thing. Whatever we can print, let’s print it! And of course marrying my man, and spending more time with my beautiful girl.”
And her parting piece of advice to those wanting to start their own business: “I think my favourite slogan is stolen from Nike: Just Do It! I think if someone said to me years ago, ‘Do you have a business plan? Do you have a budget? Do you have this and that?’ The answer would have been God no! Just go for it. Put one foot in front of the other and learn on the job. You don’t need to know everything. I didn’t study fashion design and I learned everything the hard way. I made every single mistake you could possibly make, but that only gives you a few more edges in your career. Just do it and enjoy it, find the joy in the terror.”
“As human beings we don’t know what our limits are until we’re forced to explore them and explore them I did during that time and I think I’m so grateful to be here.”
“So that self-practice, alongside magical modern medicine and my amazing family and tribe was what healed me. When you’re surrounded by so much love and support, that’s undeniably the biggest healer in the world.”
“It still surprises and humbles me, you never really get used to it! It’s kind of a strange thing…”
“So, the fact that we’ve been able to still sell the stock but in different ways and avenues and save the business is remarkable.”
TO WATCH the full in-depth video cover story interview tune into the CityLife Media YouTUBE Channel, go to our Facebook page or go to our website to watch: www.citylifemedia.com.au
NB: Camilla has recently been announced as one of the faces of the new season of Celebrity Apprentice airing in 2021 on Channel Nine, so stay tuned for more Camilla adventures.