Today I’ve got some more fun things to share with you! Last fall (almost a year ago now!) I started working with The Citizenry. The lovely duo, Rachel Bentley and Carly Nance launched Collection One about a month ago and we’ve been jumping with joy as the word gets out about these beautiful products. The three of us really “hit it off” before the design process started and our friendship just continues to grow as we jump all the hurdles of starting a new brand. I’m beyond thankful they have brought me along for the ride.
Now that Collection One (from Peru & Argentina) is now officially LIVE and out in the world, I’ve wanted to sit down (interview style) with the girls and reminisce about the ups and downs of the development and design process. It’s been a learning experience for the whole crew and I’ve really enjoyed looking back through the past year.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
— Question —
All great brands start with a story worth sharing; can you explain
the story behind The Citizenry? What sparked the idea?
Carly & Rachel: The Citizenry started from our own personal frustrations decorating our homes. We wanted modern, beautifully-crafted pieces that would last for years to come and instead all we were finding was mass-produced “sameness.” When we’d travel abroad (which we were both doing quite a bit in our past professional careers), we’d find ourselves overstuffing our suitcases with unique designs handcrafted by artisans around the world.
It was during our travels that we decided we wanted to build a more inspiring home décor shopping experience back home – one that recreates that amazing feeling of traveling the world, shopping back alley markets, and working with master craftspeople to find products that are both beautiful and meaningful.
The stories on our product pages, artisan profiles, and films telling the origin and inspiration behind each collection were all a part of the original idea. We want our customers to get a glimpse of the craftsmanship and rich history behind each piece. The fact that we can deliver an experience that also empowers talented designers and artisans around the world, well that’s just the cherry on top that made “going for it” a no-brainer for both of us.
— Question —
With all the inspiration floating around the Internet, it can be really hard to
determine what imagery really lights a spark in you. Where do you go to
find inspiration? Are there any brands, artists or visual aesthetics that inspire you the
most during the design process?
Carly: Interactions with each artisan group usually light huge sparks. There’s something really inspiring about watching human hands execute designs they’ve been making for centuries. That’s why every item in our collection is made from a truly collaborative process, mixing those age-old techniques with our more modern style.
As far as my personal design process, it’s typically a process of reduction. I tend to start with a lot of ideas and then – bit by bit – take elements out, until the end design is simple enough to be truly special. We like to showcase one key element that makes the piece exquisite, whether that’s a focus on an out-of-this-world material or zeroing in on an intricate pattern. Because of that process, I’m really inspired by these minimalists right now:
Tom Dixon’s lighting – he’s a master of sleek design and mixing metals.
Hackwith Design House – a clean aesthetic I love drawing inspiration from.
Esther Stewart & Satsuki Shibuya – two very different artists, but both experts in restrained color palettes.
Native Line – weavings that just ooze beautiful patterns, textures, and colors. Saving up to purchase one!
— Question —
I’d love to chat about the design process that brought The Citizenry to life.
The design details are so important and help make a start-up company look well
thought out and put together. Do you have any tips or suggestions for those
individuals looking to hire a designer for branding or web design?
Carly: I really believe finding the right creative partners can make or break your brand. We put a lot of time and effort into our vetting process. First and foremost, we look for a shared passion. They have to be driven and inspired by the vision behind your company. That passion will come through in everything you guys do together.
The most practical advice I can give is to engage creative partners in a smaller-scale starting project before you hire them to execute the whole shebang – something that’s a few weeks vs. a few months. Even just a mood board exercise will shed light on how you two jive together.
— Question —
The visual aesthetic for The Citizenry is rooted in such rich photography
and simple design elements. Got to love that! When did you know photography was
going to play an important role in the overall design language?
Carly: The moment we decided our brand was going to celebrate travel and adventure, we knew photography needed to play a key role. It’s the simplest and most powerful storytelling device; the perfect image can transport you instantly. On a very practical level, it also opens the door for a broader visual language that can tell many stories across different collections, while still laddering up into one cohesive brand.
— Question —
As you probably know by now, developing your company’s look & feel can
be a daunting step-by-step (one foot in front of the other) kind of task.
Am I right? What has been your favorite step along the way? Let’s give those
individuals considering starting their own company a little hope 😉
Carly: Any time an idea in your head becomes real, there’s a bit of magic that happens. Whether it’s the web user process that was mapped on your wall for months or a product color scheme you were debating for days. When those ideas become real things in the world, for better or worse, that’s something worth celebrating. You made something that didn’t exist. You dreamed it up. Take a moment, and think about that. It’s kind of cool. Then, it’s back to the grindstone (ha!) until the next little magical moment.
Rachel: My favorite piece so far has been seeing our final product designs come to life and then sharing them with customers. Once a package from The Citizenry arrives, the quality and detail blow people away. We have people placing orders for 2 or 3 more of something, literally within an hour or two of receiving their first order. That’s the best compliment we can get!
— Question —
The Citizenry has officially been launched for over a month now.
Congrats by the way!!! Now that you’ve got one collection (from Peru & Argentina)
are there any aspects of the product development, branding and website creation
process that you would have done differently? Maybe you’d like to revisit a step
along the way and refine?
Rachel: One of the most difficult things we do is product sourcing & development – there’s always tremendous back and forth to get something right and tweaking it is not easy! I don’t think people realize just how long and painstaking the development process is for a throw, a pillow, a chair – I know I didn’t before this journey. I wish we had be able to do even more products for this first collection but with limited resources to start and a desire to bring only the very best to people, we limited it to about 30 items.
Carly: Thanks! There are so many things we’re always working to refine; one in particular, is our product development process. We’ve come a long way. This time last year, we started working in a country we’d never visited, and didn’t speak the language or have any real connections. Needless to say, it took us longer than expected to develop our first round of samples (and we made PLENTY of mistakes along the way), but we’ve certainly made progress – especially considering where we started. I think it will continue to be an area we work to streamline for years to come.
— Question —
Starting a business can be a pricey adventure…I’m sure. I also know good design doesn’t typically come cheap. What are your thoughts on investing in great design,
photography and video? Have you found any budget friendly options or good resources?
Has it been worth the up-front investment?
Carly: We’ve definitely spent a lot of time and resources thoughtfully designing every aspect of our brand, and it’s certainly helped us stand out early on. When you’re competing against players with MUCH bigger budgets, you have to invest in things that deliver more “bang for their buck” in terms of the overall customer experience. I think great design and content are a few of those things.
As far as saving money, I think defining a clear brand vision in the beginning is very important. Define your overall story, values, and personality before any design pens (or styluses) get put to paper. It will save lots of headaches and re-working in the end. As far as resources, custom solutions are always ideal, but that’s not always the case with limited budgets. A few off-the-shelf resources to use in a pinch: deathtothestockphoto.com, themusicbed.com, and the all-powerful “free font” google/pinterest search
Rachel: It’s definitely not cheap – and it’s even far more expensive than people realize… there’s not many places to save when you are hiring good designers, developers, and photographers. We’ve tried to be as smart as possible about saving money where people don’t see it (like travel or our office) or in little things like sourcing all 20+ elements of our packaging cheaply by comparing lots of options. As far as worth it, we’ll see!
— Question —
I’m sure the both of you are already dreaming about the next collection. What inspires
you to explore a new destination? Can you give us a little behind-the-scenes insight into what planning an upcoming collection looks like for The Citizenry?
Carly: We pick places based on a brilliant natural resource (so we can keep as much money in that community as possible) and a history of craft and expertise creating certain products. We’re always looking for designs we haven’t seen before or pieces that can be reimaged in a more modern way.
Rachel: We’re always looking for something that doesn’t exist in the market yet –like our copper chairs! – or global stories that aren’t being told – like design in Argentina. We love those discoveries but it’s tough to find something we’ll say is good enough for new collection.