I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be involved in the cross section between design, fashion, and art. I went to Parsons School of Design to study fine art and graphic design. I soon realized I wanted to be an Art Director. My dream was to collaborate with fashion and lifestyle brands and provide them with visual storytelling. Following a 3-year stint at Wolff Olins, where I learned what branding was all about, I went out on my own to freelance in 2006. Now, 9 years later, I’m the Chief Creative Director of RoAndCo, a multi-disciplinary creative studio where we serve a range of forward-thinking fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and technology clients.
There were so many influences, ranging from music to art to fashion to film. I was a culture sponge in my teens; soaking it all up, waiting for my chance to let it all out. I spent a ton of time going to museums and art galleries. I watched every art house film under the sun. I was inspired by so many artists and art movements; from Donald Judd to Louis Bourgeois to Matthew Barney. I also spent an equal amount of time consuming pop culture through MTV and going to music shows/concerts. I would also sit in magazine shops for hours flipping through fashion and art magazines. I treated those magazine stores, like Universal News on Broadway, like my library.
There have been several along the way! From my teachers at Parsons, to the incredible people I worked for at Honest and Wolff Olins, also my friends and parents, but no one stands out more than my husband. He has been my biggest cheerleader and in a lot of ways a mentor as well. I would not be a business owner if I didn’t have him encouraging me every step of the way.
My husband is my rock. He was the one behind the scenes that really pushed me to go out on my own, forge my own path and stick with it through all the ups and downs. To have someone to come home to every night that believes in me and also has a vision for what he thinks I’m capable of has been invaluable.
It was a bit of a departure from where I envisioned working, but I gained some really good experience while I was there. At the time I took the job I had just graduated from college, I got caught up in life, traveling, going out, and then all of the sudden the day of reckoning came down on me– I had to get a full time job! I had been freelancing at Wolff Olins and they offered me a full time position. I took it because I knew it would make my parents happy and I loved the team that was there at the time. I got so much out of the experience. I learned about the full branding process from research and strategy to design and execution. It was great to work with big brands before going out on my own and it gave me the confidence I needed to work with clients of all sizes. Also, being in an agency environment taught me how to structure my own team.
I had a dream of starting a small studio, but really didn’t know if it was possible. I think I was young and naïve enough to just go for it with little fear. At first, I just took on any work I possibly could. I experienced a lot of trial and error, as well as learning on the fly. I would go into most meetings telling myself to “act like you know!” I quickly got a lot of projects and needed help, so I advertised for an intern on Craigslist. I got my first intern and we worked out of my apartment. Some days I would be in my pajamas all day long. My friends, the founders of Refinery29, were looking for a studio mate so I decided to rent some space from them. I just kept getting more and more work, so my intern turned into a freelance designer, and then I decided to just bite the bullet and hire a full time designer, and then two more designers, and then a project manager, and so on. I had no grand plan for how to grow, it just happened organically. Thankfully there has always been demand for our services and we’ve always been able to grow to fulfill that demand.
In some areas of the design industry, things haven’t changed a bit; there still aren’t that many female-led design studios and supposedly only 3% of Creative Directors in this country are women. Shocking! When I was working at Wolff Olins I knew it was going to be really challenging to work my way up the ladder. I saw that all of the Creative Director roles were filled by men. My mom always likes to remind me that I told her I had to leave my job and go freelance so that I could appoint myself as Creative Director and then get hired by some big agency as a Creative Director. I guess I was right.
On the flip side, when people started asking me my opinion on what it’s like being a female entrepreneur/business owner in a male dominated industry, I was honestly surprised by the question. I never considered myself a female business owner, I just considered myself a designer that wanted to be freelance so that I could make my own schedule and collaborate with the people I admire. I guess I knew then that getting to the top would be a battle unless I worked for myself or for a female led business.
Becoming a mother has been one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. I finally understand why my mom has always told me that family is the most important thing in your life.
Stepping into motherhood when I already had my own ‘baby’ (my own business) was hard. It seems impossible to devote the time I want to my business and equally impossible to spend the time I want with my daughter. I’m always going to want more TIME. Time is the most precious thing we have, so I’m trying to spend it wisely. I also know I can’t do it all and I can’t have it all, so I try to give myself a break and do the best that I can on both fronts.
To be honest, I prefer to ignore design trends when I can and focus on finding solutions that intuitively work for each client. Although, from a business perspective, the design industry is changing rather quickly and what seems to be on trend right now is building out really custom experiences. This is what our clients want and what we want to provide them with. Brands are looking to clearly define who they are in order to stand out in the noisy marketplace. At RoAndCo, we partner with them to create their personalized definition and articulate their story through a compelling brand experience across all customer touch points. There are so many brands right now since the startup world is popular; so, our job is to evaluate the market, pinpoint the audience, identify the white space, and create a visually distinct presence with consistent tonality. We give our clients core foundational elements that they can really own from custom typefaces to accompany their logo mark, to developing photography styles that live on every channel, from their homepage to their Instagram imagery. Custom typography is not a must have, but it is a nice visual cue for the customers to subconsciously, or consciously, recognize the brand in all the details.
Taking vacations is the best way for me to recharge and get inspired. I find that I need physical distance from work to actually stop thinking about it and start thinking about new ideas. If I can’t get away, I love going to museums/galleries to see art–I find that I tend to slow down, take it all in and really think.
The big thing on the horizon for RoAndCo is our 10-year anniversary, which is coming up in the fall. We are taking a taste of our own medicine by rebranding RoAndCo and relaunching the overall positioning and website. And the really big thing for both my family and the business is that we plan to open a studio out in LA next year, so it’s going to be a big year of change and lots to sort out logistically in terms of being a bi-coastal family and business.
Neighborhoods: Fort Greene & Clinton Hill. Restaurants: Vinegar Hill House, Chuko and Sant Ambroeus.
Photos by Gemma Ingalls.