What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19?
Risking sounding tone-deaf, COVID has surprisingly reenergized my work. I’m finding pleasure in being tasked to chart a new course for my clients. The Culture Creative’s various service arms are all concerned with brand strategy, and right now strategy and creative biz dev are needed more than ever. Whether you were an established business or an emerging brand pre-COVID, a paradigm has abruptly shifted our world, and recontextualizing one’s work and action planning in this moment of time is essential. I feel honored to be on the front lines with my clients, to support the bold decisions needed to adapt.
My clients and I are likeminded. We haven’t been taking this moment as one of pause. Instead, we have been very present to a new world forming, practicing reflection, while pursuing new ideas and planning strategies to adapt. Across the board, we are finding our clients are manifesting the most passion-inspired work of their careers yet. Faced with a new world, true creatives are unapologetically pursuing their truths outside of former market pressures.
Since COVID, we’ve been working on several initiatives, big and small, for our clients’ design businesses to adapt to this moment. With new parameters comes newfound inspiration. Here’s a partial list of some of our recent strategies.
For my longtime client, designer Natasha Baradaran, we have been fortifying her company’s website to have more inspirational content and utility for customers of her furniture and textile collections. We’ve also been pursuing growth in “performance” fabrics, which have antimicrobial properties, in anticipation for more market interest in protective home products.
Across the board, we are finding our clients are manifesting the most passion-inspired work of their careers yet. Faced with a new world, true creatives are unapologetically pursuing their truths outside of former market pressures.
For the American heritage brand Sister Parish Design, we are developing their consumer-facing home collection to grow their retail category, in anticipation of a growing interest in tableware as people will be living and entertaining in their homes more, even far after dining restrictions are lifted.
For emerging L.A. architect Chet Callahan, we are supporting the development of a new initiative for his firm, in the form of a community-minded design incubator called “WE.”
For N.Y. antiques and contemporary design dealer Bernd Goeckler, we are developing an online “viewing room” on their website for virtual exhibitions.
For upcycling design studio ReWeaveLA, we have launched a limited edition patchwork quilt from discarded waste fabric from the Pacific Design Center, to bring attention to the fact that L.A. has the largest landfill in the country, and to encourage conscious consumption, as we believe climate consciousness is intrinsically linked to this pandemic.
And for Furth Yashar &, the occasional, roving exhibition program space I curate with my partner, interior designer Oliver Furth, outside of our respective practices, we debuted our first Instagram-based group exhibition as a way to galvanize our creative community to respond to these unprecedented, isolating times.
As traditional forms of experiencing culture are now shut down, we embraced something new—a non-physical exhibition. The show also questions how an exhibition is “installed” in a time when conventional avenues for access to culture are currently shut down. Unique works were posted over a two-week span, beginning at the start of the quarantine, with the desire to provide daily inspiration for all of us who are spending a lot of time on social media right now. We wanted to balance out darker information with some light.
What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation?
“Change happens slowly and then all at once.” I have lived by this statement for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had a knack for feeling shifts in society. My intuition has been my strongest sense, which I believe is what makes me good at what I do, and why clients come to my company for guidance. I always advise clients on the importance of pushing oneself past one’s comfort zone, to continue to be a student to your craft. Today, you’ve got to disrupt yourself before you’re disrupted.
Even though our clients are all in the decorative arts industry, there’s significant variance in the work they do and services we subsequently provide. From artisans, designers, architects, to brands, galleries, and institutions, there’s not a one-size-fits-all way to strategize, as each client is coming from a different vantage point in the industry.
As for new business, we have been seeing an uptick in inquiries for our services since COVID, which for me is a bellwether for the collective mood of the decorative arts industry. Regardless of whether our services are a fit or not for those who are inquiring, I like knowing that design brands out there are thinking and preparing. It’s a good barometer to understand that the design community as a whole is aware that this is the time to plan for the future, to seek the guidance needed to chart a new course.
How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?
I believe that the post-COVID economy will be more of a correction than a depression. What I see happening is that almost everything we predicted, anticipated, and advocated for our clients to do in advance of market shifts is just happening now at an accelerated speed. We aren’t really faced with unforeseen challenges for business, as much as we are seeing everything we knew was coming is now here at rapid speed: rise and dominance of e-commerce, transparency, virtual launches, social over print advertising, short-form video content, and service-based apps.
I’m planning for market growth in niche pockets of decorative arts and design. As people have been experiencing living more intimately in their homes at this moment of quarantine, a deeper understanding and appreciation for making space is in an incubation period. I wouldn’t be surprised to see smaller, nimble design brands growing their market share post-COVID, by offering new design solutions for our new world.
What have you learned from other difficult times in the past?
I started my company in 2010 in the last great recession, and I believe my success is tied to that paradigm moment. We came into the market with a service offering that maybe wouldn’t have been as understood or accepted if the temperature were mild and it was business as usual in the design industry. It was a time of great disruption, and we were able to leverage that shift change. Recessions are periods of flux, on the verge of a major change of guard. A new era has been set into motion, and the good news is that designers today are ready to take on a new world. Most designers and design brands see the value in opening doors to a historically closed-door design industry, and in turn, the decorative arts (and craft culture in general) are being understood, respected, and desired in the mainstream more than ever.
A mistake to avoid in this time is sitting back and waiting to see what happens. Every single person has the ability to write new code for what the post-COVID program will be.
Safe–and entertained–at home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime
As cliché as it sounds, I’ve always started my day with positive affirmations and gratitude, to get my energy in the right place. The only difference now is that I’m sitting down for a quick breakfast after, instead of rushing out the door for a meeting.
I’m finally watching Top Chef. Binging a decade’s worth of seasons, back-to-back. The show pairs well with all the cooking we’ve been doing lately.
I often spend free time on Instagram these days. I’ve been experimenting with producing contrarian design content that questions notions of taste, mostly to entertain myself and my friends, but also as a counterbalance to the derivative mood-board trend I feel has reached a saturation point on the platform.
What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
My partner and I have found that enforcing structure to the day ensures that we have quality time together. So it’s mostly about knowing when to stop working for the day and making time for each other, in the absence of a “normal” schedule.
What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
A short hike around my neighborhood just before sunset, followed by a long bath. In general, I’m someone who thrives in creating daily rituals.
Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
Since we prepaid a trip to Morocco before COVID, I’d like to go there first before my credit expires.