Have you ever had a persistent itch to leave your corporate job to start your own business? You know, the kind that comes and goes in waves, hitting you hardest when your ideas get shot down by upper management and when you find yourself still in the office at 2am on a Wednesday? Well, maybe it's time you take a hint from Studio Cult Co founder, Yuliya Veligurskaya, and just go for it.
After working a corporate design job for a year out of school, Veligurskaya knew her life was meant to follow a different path—a path that lead to designing enamel pins and other small objects for designers who typically create things for others. From enormous PhotoShop pins to toolbar keychains, Veligurskaya designs and manufactures humorous, high quality artifacts that represent the trials and tribulations of the design process. Here she details the highs and lows of starting your own studio and gives advice for those considering a similar path:
How did your design career begin?
I studied architecture at NJIT and then worked as a junior at a large architecture firm in New York City for a year. However, it was always a dream of mine to open my own store and make cool little objects. After a while I couldn't ignore the itch, so I left my job to start Studio Cult Co. Growing up I was very inspired by museum gift shops and design stores, more so than the actual museums. I love collecting and enjoying the stockpile of chachkis I accumulated over the years, so what I ended up doing with my career makes perfect sense.
When did you decide to create Studio Cult Co, and what were some of the driving factors of branching out to start your own studio?
I feel that when you work for someone you are building someone else's dream. I'm very driven, but I never really found jobs that inspired me. I searched far and wide for interesting employment opportunities, but I either received no response or was confronted with very low salaries. So you see, the natural answer was to start my own business.
"I thought it would be a great idea to start a brand that creates gifts for people who committed their lives to making things for others."
I'm also a big personal development junkie and was aware of the booming e-commerce scene. Books like the 4 Hour Work Week were so fascinating to me and inspired me to make a business of my wild imagination. It was part situational, but I was up for the challenge. I wasn't going to wait for someone to give me an opportunity or settle, so I created one myself. This was the best choice I have ever made.
What is the inspiration behind your humorous, often sarcastic, designs?
The name "Studio Cult Co" is short for "studio culture." I noticed that there were no brands that were dedicated to celebrating the culture of the design community. I thought it would be a great idea to start a brand that creates gifts for people who committed their lives to making things for others. Whether you are a seasoned professional or an incoming design student, almost anyone can appreciate these funny trinkets. From pins that say "I don't get paid enough to put up with this" to keychains that look like toolbars we've used on a daily basis for the last 10 years, my goal is to capture the little moments in a designer's life into fun objects that celebrate our day to day. It's all about also finding joy in the ugly, funny parts of design. The brand celebrates the first and final draft, as well as the whole journey along the way.
What are some of the challenges and triumphs you've faced during the manufacturing process?
I experience a lot friction trying to create innovative pin ideas. Typically the process is straightforward for something more run-of-the-mill, which can be a bit off-putting with some of my peculiar requests. Also certain factories are better at a particular process than another, so it takes time to figure out who can deliver the best result.
For one of my designs, I had to approach about ten different factories to find one that would produce pins with my very specific instructions. It's very hard to change my mind on how I want something to be made. I have found that if you insist enough, more often than not you figure out a way to achieve the desired result. There was one time I decided to let go of a factory because they could not deliver the desired result, and the sales representative responded with 20 crying emojis... I wasn't sure how to console her.
When I first started I had another factory send me several beautiful samples. However after placing a large order with them, nearly half the inventory I received had to be thrown away. Finding your first manufacturer can be a bit of a shot in the dark if you have no references like I did. I think the greatest triumph is that I now I have great relationships with high quality manufacturers. They are critical to the success of the studio and are total rockstars.
"[Studio Cult Co] celebrates the first and final draft, as well as the whole journey along the way."
What's a product you haven't made before that you hope to make in the future?
I am currently developing a mid-range unisex jewelry brand called Components for Humans which I am very excited about. I like to describe the upcoming pieces as architectural interventions to the body. I plan to launch this brand in early May. As far as the Studio Cult Co brand, I've been itching to create a kitchenware line: silverware, towels, plates, small decorative dishes and so on. I envision it to be along the lines of the digital nostalgia theme that I love so much.
What have been some of your biggest challenges as a young designer in NYC starting your own business?
Honestly I think the toughest part was starting. It was difficult to acquire solid footing in the market. It was a delicate balance of what I am talented at, what I care about, what the market cares about, cost of production and healthy margins. It took a lot of research, and for a while I felt like I could only see 5 feet ahead at a time. NYC is an expensive place to live, so the pressure to succeed is very real. Although, if that pressure wasn't there I don't think the brand would be where it is now. I try to take my own advice and enjoy the journey. People in this city have been incredibly encouraging, and I think it's a great place to be a young designer. I have met so many talented people here fighting the same good fight.
Do you have any tips for designers looking to delve into getting some of their work made for the first time?
Being a good business person and marketer are essential to the success of an independent designer. Before you start coming up with any ideas, get really clear on who you want to sell to, how big that market is, who your competitors are and what would your market absolutely love to have at the right price point. Answer all of these questions first, and then let your imagination run wild.
Also, pick one thing and make it be exceptional. Something I hear quite often is that people want to hit the ground running and make several kind of products in five different variations. I discourage this, especially if you're planning on doing this alone. My advice would be to focus on making one phenomenal thing, get known for it and then expand from that point. Trust me it's easier that way.
Emily is a freelance writer based in NYC with an interest in all things design, specifically the design process. When she's not writing about design, Emily can either be found taking care of her 31 houseplants, going on "nature" walks in her neighborhood or studying Japanese. Before going freelance, Emily was an Editor at Core77.