design

kate vs. the kitten heel

I love the clean, girlie-punk look of Elle style director Kate Lanphear — and I’m not alone. She’s got hoardes of online fans who dissect each and every thread she sports on the streets of NYC.

Even more impressive than Kate’s way with black silk and silver chains is her unwavering self-possession. In this story for Elle.com, Kate describes her conservative upbringing and a brief period of conformity via preppy plaid, ladylike slingbacks and knee-length dresses.

But when a pair of acid-washed jeans drew her like a sailor to a siren, she decided to chuck convention and wore the denim to a critical meeting. It was time to unveil her true fashion-savant self — take it or leave it.

Now her distinctive aesthetic is copied in cities worldwide. It’s perhaps her greatest professional asset. What’s even better? Fashion insiders say she’s a kind and generous presence in a notoriously catty industry. Heck, she’s even talked about leaving the fashion world to become a social worker. Kate demonstrates beautifully why style is always best served up with substance.

posted 21 Sep 10 in: design, fashion, inspiration, media. This post currently has no responses.

rue style

Have you noticed the new trend in home decor, design and lifestyle magazines? They’re going exclusively online.

First came Lonny. Now there’s Rue — a polished new publication from co-founders Crystal Gentilello and Anne Sage.

Like the pioneering Lonny, the free pages of Rue are beautifully laid out with a full index, searchable content, and clickable links that make it a breeze to learn more about featured items. You can also choose to read in magazine, presentation or paper layout, depending on your viewing preferences. All the pages are printable, too.

Thanks to bigger, brighter computer screens, e-readers and iPad mania, digital publications are coming of age. Both Lonny and Rue have strong content and staff that understand how to create for this brave new medium. I still prefer that slick paper in my hands, but more than anything, I love magazines. I want to see them survive.  For that selfish reason alone, I’m excited to see how this technology evolves.

posted 20 Sep 10 in: business, design, media. This post currently has 2 responses.

Roasting in PDX

The dog days of summer are here and I just returned from another quick trip to Portland, Oregon. I know I seem to write more about Bridgetown than my own home of Vancouver, BC, but there’s just so much creative, cool stuff going on in this city by the Willamette River. This time, one of the great surprise finds was Coava Roastery and Brew Bar on SE Grand Avenue.

We stumbled into Coava — Turkish for “green coffee” — after trolling the nearby vintage and antique stores. I’d finished an iced coffee just an hour earlier to fight the scorching heat, but the 10,000-square-foot space (yes, ten thousand) was so bright, open and downright pretty that we had to stop in. Why so big? Coava shares its counter and roasting area with the cavernous showroom for Bamboo Revolution – a collective of designers, product developers and bamboo craftsmen. It’s a brilliant cross-pollination of two very different businesses.

Coava was hatched in 2009, when Matt Higgins bought a coffee roaster from an East Coast church group café. He started by roasting small batches in his backyard to share with family and friends, and later sold the beans to local coffee bars. In early 2010, Matt’s best friend Keith Gehrke (a seasoned barista and roaster who worked in Seattle and the San Francisco area) joined the operation. The duo opened the Coava brew bar a couple months later.

Coava‘s focus on single origin coffees and educating customers on optimum brewing techniques will satisfy any coffee geek, but I have to confess that I was still gaping at the airy space while sipping the best espresso I’ve ever tasted — decaf, no less.

Coffee brewers have often shared real estate with other ventures, but I thought this combination was especially inspired. The Coava bar, walls and shelving are all constructed from bamboo and provide a fixed portfolio of sorts for Bamboo Revolution. They demonstrate what’s possible with this sutainable material. At the same time, shoppers seeking new flooring will quickly fall for Coava’s perfect pour-over brews and lattes.

Everyone wins — and gets fully caffeinated in the process.

posted 28 Jul 10 in: business, design, food, retail. This post currently has no responses.

meet sarah mccoll

photos courtesy Pink of Perfection

When the Internet feels bloated with inane semi-celebrities and nasty newspaper commenters, I gravitate to Sarah McColl – the sweet, gracious and whip-smart voice behind the popular blog, Pink of Perfection.

Described as “a guide to the simple pleasures of a creative life for the budget-minded bon vivant,” Pink of Perfection (or POP to its equally well-mannered readers) is a charming mix of recipes, inspiration, DIY projects, entertaining tips and thrifty finds. Sarah and her boyfriend (now husband), Sebastian, launched the blog back in 2006 as a forum to share the ups and downs of living a crafty, creative life.

The original POP featured video interviews and how-tos, but both Sarah and Sebastian were soon too busy with thriving careers to continue shooting and editing those time-consuming segments. Today, Sarah nurtures the blog for a loyal fan base and works as a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn. She’s written for high-profile magazines including Bon Appetit and currently blogs for the Shine network on Yahoo.com.

While it took some time to figure out what she wanted to reveal on POP, Sarah says the blog is now a comfortable online home and a source of creative motivation: “It’s as much a place of inspiration for me as it is for readers.” That down-to-earth approach comes through in a voice that’s warm, encouraging and unabashedly feminine – just like Sarah herself.

1. What fuels your work?

It’s like that old saying, “I only write when I’m inspired, but I get inspired every day at 9 a.m.” Habit is what makes me sit down every day, but inspiration is something totally different. I’ve been coming off a period where I felt like was phoning in my posts for Pink of Perfection, but I took a week off, relaxed, read some magazines, and that made all the difference. It’s important to let yourself go through those fallow periods.

It’s good to have habits that increase your chance of productivity, but when it comes to what actually fuels my writing, there are so many things: other blogs, great books, great art, podcasts, the seasons. I love being as open as possible to beauty. I’m really a sucker for beauty – in the biggest sense possible.

2. How do you organize your life so you still have the time, energy and focus to be creative?

You have to figure out what works for you and when you’re at your sharpest. I like to get up and just start the day. I like to get right into it. That doesn’t always mean that I get dressed, but it’s very ritualized, because I know that I can really focus in the morning. After lunch, it’s like my brain goes into a whole different space. But the morning is also the time when work is the most fun for me. So then it becomes an encouraging habit. And if your habits support your enjoyment of what you do, it’s much easier to get up the next day and do it again. You have to learn how to set yourself up to succeed.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I’ve always really admired Molly Wizenberg from Orangette. I assume she had full-time job when she first started the blog, but after a while she landed a column at Bon Appetit, which is every blogger’s dream. It’s a very legitimate, old-school outlet. Then her book came out, and she seems very entrenched in her community with the restaurant she now runs with her husband. I’m sure if I spent a day in her life I’d think, “whoa, this is too much!” but from the outside it seems like a lovely mix of national-level publications, a personal blog, and a restaurant where she gets to do something practical and hands-on (the opposite of cerebral writing) and she gets to interact with the local community, too. She seems to have it figured out.

When it comes to someone who’s at the level of Nigella Lawson, for example, who has TV shows and books and fame, I worry that you’d actually get away from the nuts and bolts of what made you start in the first place. So if there’s somewhere in the middle where you can live and make enough money and not be a superstar, that’s definitely the goal.

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your work?

Two. Freelance writing and advertising income. Pink of Perfection is part of the Martha’s Circle ad network.  Monthly revenues are determined both by page views and how much ad space the Martha Stewart team sells.

Sometimes I have a crisis of conscience about advertising, but I always come around to the fact that people are getting to enjoy content that they like – for free – so it’s okay to find a way to make it sustainable for me.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Freelance writing, editing and blogging.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

Technically speaking, the blog ads. But I don’t think of the POP advertising as passive, because I do feel like I have to – and I want to – create new content in order to get the page views that pay the ad dollars.

7. What tools or moneymaking opportunities are available to creative pros that you think most people don’t leverage?

I always thought about selling stuff on Etsy, but I don’t think I’m a tremendous crafter who has the level of skill or artistry necessary to sell things that other people would spend money on. I love crafting more in the sense that it’s fun to do things with your hands and it’s meditative.

I also love Three Potato Four, which is a husband-and-wife team who run an online shop filled with a beautifully curated collection of great objects that you’d want in your home: ceramics, art, furniture, etc. I think so many people have that fantasy of having a shop of their own. But I’d only ever do that online.

This is random, too, but I’ve found that selling books on Half.com can be surprisingly lucrative. Every bibliophile has stacks of cookbooks they don’t use or duplicate copies of a book, and I’ve sold stuff on there, plus vintage dresses and other items on eBay. I don’t know if it’s a good tip, but it’s something I do sometimes!

8. What have you done that has brought the most opportunities and attention to you?

When I started the blog, it was really important to me to convey the idea the nothing is so hard. Our culture is obsessed with experts and people who are super-specialized. Throughout my whole life, I’ve felt frustrated that people want you to specialize. They want you to be really amazing at one thing. But for anyone who’s interested in a lot of things – like cooking and crafting and figuring out how to create a life for yourself – that feeling that “you have to be excellent at something or why bother” can be discouraging.

I try to use a voice on the blog that says “You can do stuff. It’s just dinner. Or it’s just knitting.” It is just that and you can do it, but it’s also so much more, because it can really transform how you feel about your daily life. I don’t know if that’s brought me the most attention, but it’s really important to me.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

As much as I hate to say it, buying a smartphone has made my life so much easier. I was afraid that having a phone that was clever would make me feel over-connected. But it actually makes me feel less panicky about whatever I’m missing.

Another important investment for me was changing blog platforms. I started Pink of Perfection on MovableType, and in early 2009, I moved it to WordPress and I hired these really great designers to redesign my blog. It made the blog look much more professional. The original design we had in 2006 was really forward, but by 2009 it needed to be spruced up.

I think sometimes people forget to make sure the look of their blog works with the content. If you have great, smart, intelligent, wonderful content, I think sometimes people might not get to that because we love things that are aesthetically pleasing and design-y and that can make as much of an impression as your actual content.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

You can do creative work, and your creative work can be important and it can be invaluable to other people and it can maybe even succeed in making the world slightly better. But you can’t continue to do that work if you can’t pay your bills, if you can’t keep a roof over your head, and you can’t keep eating. So, I definitely think there’s a line that you can cross, but you have to be able to take care of your basic needs so you can keep doing the work that is good. It’s hard though, because it’s a constant negotiation to figure out how to do what you love and stay pure and honest with it, and at the same time, get paid for it.

Thanks, Sarah!

posted 15 Apr 10 in: design, food, interviews. This post currently has 3 responses.

meet pierre lamielle

photos & illustrations courtesy Pierre Lamielle

Talk about a Renaissance man. Pierre Lamielle is a Calgary-based author, illustrator, cooking instructor, graphic designer, blogger, and chef. His fabulously quirky illustrated cookbook, Kitchen Scraps, was published in October and will represent Canada in the Best Cookbook Illustration category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards on Feb. 11th.

Pierre graduated from the Capilano University graphic design and illustration program and worked for three years as a graphic designer at the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers before accepting a design and illustration position at the Calgary Herald. When the Herald’s critically acclaimed SWERVE magazine was born, Pierre and editor Shelley Youngblut dreamed up a column that combined Pierre’s lively illustrations with original recipes for gems such as the “stud muffin,” “Adam’s apple ribs” and “hot under the collard greens.”

A couple years later, Pierre left the Herald nest to attend the famed French Culinary Institute in New York City, while continuing to write and illustrate his popular SWERVE column. When he returned to Calgary, he successfully pitched Kitchen Scraps to Vancouver’s Whitecap Books (after several rejections that claimed the book was “too wacky and weird”) and launched his new, multi-faceted, freelance food-and-art career.

I chatted with Pierre just before he jetted off to Paris for the Gourmand Awards ceremony – and an envy-inducing itinerary of exploring, tasting, shopping and “getting jazzed up” for his next book. While he’s certainly hoping to bring home top honours in Paris, Pierre says he’s “totally fine” losing to Chocolate: A Love Story by Max Brenner. “The other two… I don’t know.”

Good luck!

1. What fuels your work?

Organized chaos is pretty helpful – especially when you’re trying to be creative. But everything around you needs to be organized in a way that doesn’t make you crazy. That means going to the library, looking in different sections that you’re not used to and exploring things that you’re not familiar with. Researching – that’s the chaos side of things. The organized side means that you need to have a system that you can feel comfortable in and make slightly repetitive. It’s important to create habits, but also when you’re in the creative process, it’s good to go elsewhere to find new ideas.

2. What are some of your habits?

I find that dangling carrots is effective. For example, I’ll tell myself that I can’t have a cup of tea until something is finished. And when I’m doing illustrations, I use a specific pencil, I use a specific pen, and I have a set way of doing things. Writing is a little bit more free form, but I try to keep a consistent format.

3. How do you organize your life so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

I don’t keep it all that well organized. My mom’s in Vancouver, and she has an accountant that helps me with my taxes. I give her a shoebox, she takes a look at it, then gives it to her accountant. I’m sure it’s riddled with mistakes, and I miss lots of things and I don’t write off everything I should.

Day-to-day life can get bogged down, but luckily I’m not very important, so I don’t get very many emails. I keep a low profile. I don’t have anyone I need to talk to on a regular basis. But it does get interesting, because I juggle a few small jobs. I do the column, I teach cooking classes and I try to work on my new book. I also live with my girlfriend and we have her two small kids with us every other week, so it’s hard to keep things consistent. It’s a day-to-day juggle.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I teach cooking classes and write the column for SWERVE. And then to supplement, I do illustrations for clients. I don’t solicit, because I find that you just don’t get anywhere. It’s a real struggle to approach art directors. So, I wait for them to come to me, and basically, I’ll say yes to anything that’s about food. Then I do some small catering jobs on the side. Oh, and there’s also the book. It’s an income stream, but I would say it’s the most work I’ve ever done for the least financial payoff.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

It’s a combination of the cooking classes and the column. I teach at The Cookbook Co. Cooks in Calgary, which has two demo kitchens, a wine shop, and a book and food emporium. I teach both public and private classes. So, it’s either group of accountants from an oil and gas company who come down and cook themselves a five-course meal – and I just make sure it tastes good. Or it’s the public class, where couples or singles or little groups of people come in and mingle and make a five-course meal.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

No. I wasn’t organized enough to think of anything that I really wanted to merchandise for the last book, Kitchen Scraps. I didn’t want to do illustrated prints, and I didn’t want to do mugs or anything like that. For the next one I’ll probably be more organized and now that I’ve got the process of a book down, I might be able to figure something out.

7. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

The book and maintaining a blog along with it. I think those two, hand-in-hand, have helped each other out. But that being said, I’m kind of sick and tired of doing a blog, because there’s no revenue stream, and it’s an awful lot of work. You either have to have some really good bread and butter work and be passionate about the blog, or be marketing a product and use the blog as a small marketing tool.

8. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

Education. That’s pretty safe to say. Going to graphic design and illustration school was huge and got me on that career path. But then going to cooking school was phenomenal, too, because as much as I loved cooking and I’d always cooked, there’s something about the structure of a learning environment that catapults you way beyond anything that you can self-teach. There are aspects of being self-taught that are phenomenal and invaluable, but it’s also invaluable to get the foundation for learning.

What has had the least financial or professional payoff?

It’s hard to say. I’ve done this blog for about a year and I don’t really know the cash value of it. I suppose I’ve expanded the book’s reach, but I also don’t think it has really catapulted the cookbook anywhere.

9. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

I think you could quite easily sell out. I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything for fast food. Basically, wherever your personal ethics lie, if you feel strongly about something and you go against that grain, that’s selling out.

10. Is there anything else you’ve learned and want to share?

When you work at home, it’s really easy to wear pajamas. Your other pants will quickly become outdated. In fact, I just bought five pairs of pants the other day, because I realized that I had no pants – just one pair of jeans.

Thanks, Pierre!

posted 9 Feb 10 in: art, business, design, food, interviews, media. This post currently has 2 responses.

everyday inspiration

Victoria, the prolific and design-savvy blogger behind sfgirlbybay, just did a lovely post on inspiration boards. Peeking at other people’s creative mishmash of photos, clippings, mementos and objects is like reading their diaries. I’ve got one hanging beside my desk, and Victoria’s post is a reminder to keep it fresh. Here are some great images from the inspiration board 2010 Flickr photo pool. Click on each photo to see the original upload. Enjoy!

from Aunty Cookie

from beatriz macias

from chelliswilson

from afewthingsfrommylife

from coco+kelley

from Lari Washburn

from museumpiece

posted 3 Feb 10 in: art, design, fashion. This post currently has no responses.

meet jason matlo

bio-matlo

photos courtesy Jason Matlo

Jason Matlo makes clothes that make women look good – and not just in a day-at-the-office kind of way (unless you work for a certain Condé Nast publication, perhaps). We’re talking slinky, shiny, drapey dresses, sleek cigarette pants and sharp jackets. The Vancouver-based fashion designer sells his creations in select locations from Edmonton to Boston to San Juan, but everything is designed and manufactured in Canada.

Born in Calgary, the 39-year-old, self-described “blackaholic” usually wears darker tones than the women he dresses – witness his Jet Set Barbie resort collection for spring / summer 2009 – but he’s got a famously sparkly personality and a dead-serious work ethic.

Jason made his first splash in the fashion industry when, fresh out of school, he won the 1998 Smirnoff Designer of the Year Award. Since then, high-powered clients have worn his dresses on red carpets at the Academy Awards, Gemini Awards, JUNO Awards and Leo Awards. He also appeared in an episode of the Life Network / Oxygen reality TV series, Making it Big, winning the opportunity to display his designs in the chic windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The Jason Matlo brand currently includes his main ready-to-wear collection, a bridal collection and a new line, Babe, which retails at about half the price of his ready-to-wear pieces. His style is a mash-up of cultural, aesthetic and historical influences, with a special eye on the modern femininity of the 1930s. But the women who wear Jason’s clothes are not exactly fanning themselves in the back garden. These are bold, confident creatures who are writing their own rules – much like the designer himself.

1. What fuels your work?

There are so many variables and components that fuel my creative process. I think the process seems insane to people who look into my world, but there is an order and structure to the chaotic madness.

First, there are timelines and deadlines. It is not easy to be creative on a deadline, but I am energized and fuelled by deadlines and a fashion market with a voracious appetite. I’m very inspired by the women I dress: my private clients who are very strong, successful, confident women; my mother, who has always had an amazing sense of style; Edie Bouvier Beale and the Grey Gardens documentary.

LADY GAGA!

I’m a bit of a cultural voyeur. My eye is fed by movies, architecture, books, magazines, drag queens, senior citizens, Starbucks and my friends. It is all a massive tapestry of eclectic inspiration that somehow results in a collection each season.

2. How do you organize the less creative parts of your business so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

Running a successful fashion design house today — and I qualify that statement with “today,” because the industry has changed so much over the last decade — can be illustrated as follows: 98% perspiration and 2% inspiration. There is very little creativity about what I do, so I have to be really creative to do it. I’m required to create a constant balance between fashion ideas that make a cohesive collection that also flatter the body with razor sharp price points. Creating a collection with design and commercial value is the Golden Ticket!  To answer the question on time and energy to focus on my craft; between midnight and dawn, the eleventh hour, time is my most precious resource. I’m always in a race against time!

3. Is there another creative pro whose business model you admire? Why?

This is such a cliché but here we go: Madonna.

I don’t think the majority of people would see Madonna as a creative pro or a business model. I DO! I so admire her drive, tenacity, bold naked ambition, and unrelenting determination. I believe she is a business person who knew where she wanted to go. She is a visionary.

She is a master of disguises, the media, and promotion. She has created a product that is important and contemporary over a 30-year time span and until recently, was totally relevant and modern. She is a cultural zeitgeist.

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your business?

I’m streaming. I have as many ways to make money as there are days in the week. Ready to Wear collection, Babe diffusion and Bridal are all streams coming from the same body of water, and there are also my private couture clients. I’m not afraid to work hard, so I’ve always been able to earn money.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Private couture clients. I have a group of fashionable ladies in Vancouver that have supported my work even before I received any critical acclaim. They are true devotees of fashion. They have never faltered in their loyalty to me. They still support me, even now that the clothes are available in stores. I love them!

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

NO!  Everything I do involves a lot of hard work!

7. What tools or money-making opportunities & ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

Frankly there are not enough tools or funding available for creative people in Canada. I’ve looked, I assure you. There is so little support for the arts in Canada, with exception of Montreal, which very much supports the arts. It is actually disgraceful how the arts and creative people are under-funded by our government in this country. It is why we lack the rich creative history of other countries.  If you want to do anything creative in Canada, good luck to you!

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

This is a hard thing for me to pinpoint. I think I’ve always operated from a critical mass perspective. So my process has always been more revolutionary than evolutionary. By this I mean I would accept several opportunities at the same time. So when you introduce many variables at the same time, it’s hard to track which one or ones are the crucial components. The reality TV show [Making it Big] was probably a big help, or was it the Academy Awards gown? Who could speculate? Maybe it was a combination of it all. Getting attention seems to be the only thing that has not been hard work.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career? What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

The best investment that I have ever made in my career was in building my team. I have a group of people who work with me and are the backbone of what I do. I have invested in them, trained them, and taught them tricks of the trade such as sewing, draping, pattern drafting, you name it. They have been loyal and have stood by me when times were tough and the money was lean. You cannot undervalue your support staff and you cannot be heard as a single voice!

I’ve been very good about time management and money. Time is money and I don’t like to waste either!

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

Sell Sell Sell!!!

Thanks, Jason!

posted 18 Jan 10 in: business, design, fashion, interviews, retail. This post currently has one response.

meet alex witko & courtney hunt

Organelle portrait

photos courtesy Organelle Design

While Alex and Courtney of Organelle Design are not the first to transform waste into design objects, they may be the first to actually make these objects cool — to create something you’d be proud to feature in your home. Just take a peek at their lovely hangeliers, which turn lowly closet hangers and discarded bike rims into a series of inspired lighting fixtures. But that’s not all you can expect from this talented duo. They’ve got serious technical pedigrees and have built a practice that moves seamlessly between architecture and both interior and industrial design.

Courtney earned an honors degree in environmental design from the University of British Columbia, while Alex holds architectural degrees from the University of Maryland and UBC and has studied, practiced, and taught architecture for the past 10 years. They launched their partnership in 2006 and have quickly built both buzz and respect (not an easy combination) within the creative community.

When they’re not salvaging scrap materials (such as colanders and ironing boards) to create innovative pieces, Courtney and Alex work on architectural commissions, offer design and educational consulting, and provide contract building work. They’ve also got a strong social conscience and often collaborate on projects with non-profit groups in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, including a custom bench design and hangelier installation at Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women.

When asked how they handle the not-so-creative side of running a business (think paperwork, accounting, development and other less-than-glam tasks), Alex and Courtney gamely argue that business IS creative. I couldn’t agree more — and I do stand corrected. Read on for some great insights on design, marketing, and the challenges of creativity from the principals of Organelle Design.

a3_05

1. What fuels your work?

Our work is fueled by a simple ethos – waste is the most abundant local resource our cities have to offer.  This provides not only a limitless and ever-changing surplus of material possibilities but also a well of creative inspiration.  We often say that one piece of waste is usually just that – garbage, but once you start to have multiples of one thing, potential uses can be unlocked.  We also work from different positions simultaneously.  On one end creatively testing uses for found materials, and on the other hand, sourcing materials for current projects.  We apply this way of thinking to all scales of work, from buildings to furniture.

2. How do you organize the less creative parts of your business so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

While we agree that it’s time consuming, we would disagree that running a business isn’t creative.  Design and business are both based on problem solving and you can be creative about it or take a cookie cutter approach.  It isn’t always our favorite topic, but we have been more successful because of integrating it into our design methodology.  As a nascent design firm you can’t afford not to.  The minute you see [business] as part of the design parameters, it becomes an inspirational challenge rather than a nuisance.

p2_matt_05

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

We have been inspired by some really successful social enterprise non-profits.  We recently worked with one who had shifted to this model and increased their income by tenfold.  This is inspiring because while technically a non-profit, they aren’t at the mercy of donations and are in a much better position to actually help others.  Our work is helped by a lot of people in our community but you can’t overstep your bounds.  We have seen that people are more likely jump on board with something if you have a solid base.

Can you tell us more about the social enterprise non-profit model?

The idea of a social enterprise is somewhere between non-profit and for-profit in that it follows the rules of a non-profit (having a board, donation and tax requirements, etc.) but it is focused on making a profit through some kind of enterprise.  That profit is then put back in or redirected to internal projects without funding.

An inspiring social enterprise is Vancouver’s Potluck Cafe and Catering. They are now 90% self sufficient with catering/cafe sales, all while employing a variety of people within the Downtown Eastside. Any external funding allows them to do special projects (renovate or expand, for instance) and a lot of their donations come in the form of food from local stores who need to get rid of, say, 50 pumpkins because they have no capacity to use them on short notice.  Potluck, in turn, made a bunch of pumpkin- and squash-based goods for the holidays at little cost to them and then were able to pass savings on and turn a profit.

That profit goes back into the business to keep it going and doing more great things for the community.  The cafe, being a relatively small group, also teams up with others with similar interests and models to share and provide better purchasing power in the market — something that has also been working for us.  It’s not design per se, but it is an interesting and well-thought out model and I think there is design in that.

a2_organelle

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your business?

Five.  Fixed-fee contract design work, fixed fee contract build work, hourly consultant work, educational consultant work, and retail sales.  There might be more… diverse incomes have kept us afloat and allowed for exploration and experimentation.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Contract architecture work.  This pays the bills.  But if we did this all the time we couldn’t explore other avenues, so the other sources of income go back into our business.

a2_9

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

We have some found objects — furniture and lighting that bring in some retail sales.  Some small investments as well.

7. What tools or money-making opportunities & ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

It’s always amazing to us the number of young design entrepreneurs who don’t have business cards and websites.  This combo will bring you the most bang for your buck, even if you’re just starting out.  As far as physical tools go, try to share and exchange services and overhead as much as possible.  Good relationships will come out of this.  Most importantly, you have to allow for some experimentation and exploration with your own time and money.  Clients aren’t always willing to give you so much flexibility, but you don’t procure commissions without having a built body of work.  Most designers can’t get by on a resume — even if it’s spectacular.  You have to put a lot of time upfront to show that you’re capable and so the early processes of making is extremely important.  We believe strongly in compensated work, but you have to put yourself out there first — then the opportunities will open up.

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8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Though diverse in practice, our approach and ethos is very clear and distinct — we have set ourselves apart and this has been the best thing for us. It brings us closer to those who share similar passions, while providing a guiding light for our work.  It’s a lot better than some marketing strategy, because the branding is built-in.  People see it for what it is.  Some may decide it’s not for them, but those that do will seek you out rather than just say “oh, that’s kind of nice.”

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9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career? What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

Making things has been the best investment.  You have to be creating — constantly.  Ideas are great, but we’ve found that people really relate to things in a more visceral way.  This may be the crux of a young architect’s struggles, because it’s hard to build a lot in your young career and even if you do, it’s probably not a prominent structure with lots of exposure.  Our secret may be that the small scale stuff has led to larger scale commissions because it is relatable, accessible and conveys our larger vision.

The biggest waste of time is directly related — not making things.  If you spend too much time in your head or even in a computer design program, then you’re missing key opportunities to move forward.  We find that it’s always different in reality, so to speak.  Those differences are not barriers, but will expedite the process by providing key sparks of inspiration and information you couldn’t possibly foresee without the materials in hand.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? Do you believe it’s possible to sell out?

Because we believe business and design are quite intimately linked, I’m not sure one could truly sell out. Some might think that being true to your craft means you aren’t making money, but for us, being true to our vision has brought us income and business.  We think that (reasonable) profit is in part a sign of a well designed business.  It’s more like “selling-in” and believing that your craft is worth something — to you and to others.

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Thanks, Alex & Courtney!

posted 8 Dec 09 in: business, design, interviews. This post currently has 2 responses.

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