How Lauren Lived on Four Continents as a Graphic Designer
Meet Lauren! She’s a graphic designer who has lived on 4 continents, is the Founder and Principal of Crème de Mint, and saved up to buy a horse (?!) when she was 9-years-old. Whoa?!
So, Lauren, before we get into your business and world travels, tell us about the time you saved up to buy a horse as a kid. I bought a hamster as a kid, but you, well…
Ha ha! Yes, when I was 5-years-old I told my parents I wanted a horse. They said, ‘Okay, sure, when we move out to the country.’ So, I started doing chores, a quarter to clean the bathroom, a dollar to sweep and mop the house and before I knew it I’d saved $700! We did end up moving to the country (Spokane, Washington). When I was 10-years-old and I had enough to buy a horse, so I did. I paid $250 dollars, plus $20 a month to keep her boarded at a pasture. I had her for a year and it was the best year of my childhood. It was one of my most amazing childhood memories: that I took the money I had earned and put it towards a passion and purpose. It was a huge achievement.
Wow! It’s amazing that you were so determined and diligent at such a young age. How does that play out now in your life and business?
I really think you have to be proactive. There were times when I didn’t have experience for a gig or job, but I had confidence that I could do it. Sometimes you’ve got to just believe in yourself and take a chance.
I definitely agree. Planning like crazy is one thing (and I’m guilty of analysis paralysis more often than I like to admit), but taking action is completely different. That said, tell us about what you did to start your career and business in graphic design.
I graduated from the Univerity of Texas, Austin with a B.A. in Theater -- costume design – and got out making $8 an hour for the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. I loved the creativity of making hats, masks and wigs for theater, but after a few years, I felt unfulfilled, I missed designing and wanted a better work-life balance. I went back to school for graphic design at San Diego City College, an amazing community college lead by Candice Lopez in San Diego. She was a huge inspiration. She introduced us to Doyald Young, my favorite logo designer and exposed us to David Carson, Neville Brody, Eames design, Art Center...so much.
When I started the program everyone graduated with a job. Unfortunately just a little over a year later when I finished my studies, the bottom fell out of the job market. There were no jobs! And although I wasn’t at the top of my class, I was one of two people to get a job. I applied for everything -- a secretary at a graphic design firm, just to have an opportunity to do a design project during my lunch break. In the end, I landed a job with Martin Furniture by Kathy Ireland.
I eventually I wanted more and set my sights on New York City where I landed a freelance gig at Victoria’s Secret Headquarters designing gift sets, hang bags and packaging. The economy was still very bleak and after about 30 interviews from New York Magazine to Vanity Fair and nearly 9 months of searching, I found myself desperately applying. I applied to Victoria’s Secret (VS) as an Art Director; which I wasn’t qualified for, but I applied anyway. I ended up freelancing for VS, and then got hired full-time after 6 months of freelancing. I also worked in theater in the meantime. So, that was my foray into freelancing.
But, after 2 years at Victoria’s Secret, I had this daydream: I wanted the freedom to live and work and travel overseas -- my eyes turned to Australia.
I think many people dream about having the freedom to travel. You actually took it to the next level and lived in four different continents. Where did you go and how did you get there?
I definitely have the travel bug. I can’t remember a time it wasn’t a part of me. I did various things to travel -- study, freelance, and eventually start my business. I wound up living here in the U.S. – New York City and Miami -- Australia, Asia and Europe.
Although I was on some really amazing projects at Victoria’s Secret -- like redesigning Pink’s and Dream Angels new fragrance lines -- I was drawn to the outback for an Aussie adventure.
I got a four-month working holiday visa for $500. I freelance designed in a couple of places in Australia, as well as picked up a few design clients and began working on the road for the first time. I went to Thailand, China, and Bali and was inspired by the graphic patterns of the language, architecture and indigenous crafts. I was inspired by Balinese mask-making and shadow-puppetry and stopped for a month in Bali to study with two masters. Travel inspires me and connects me.
It’s not all roses though. Working overseas as a graphic designer is filled with challenges and roadblocks. When we grow up in a culture, cultural icons are second nature. There are many things we don’t even realize we know. For example, I was working at an Ad agency in Sydney and had to design an ad for a finance client, and the first thing that popped into my head was making it green…green equals money, right? Wrong! The creative director was annoyed, he didn’t understand why I didn’t make it yellow or purple. In Australia, green isn’t a large curency denomination.
After Australia and Asia, I went back to New York for a few years and worked for Avon as a package designer for fragrance launches. That was a great job. I loved creating the look and feel of a new brand - like designing Fergie’s fragrance line, and was Lead Creative Designer for over 20 Avon brands.
Then the travel bug bit me again and I left Avon for Europe for another adventure. This time I went to Europe to study product design at Central St. Martin’s in London and NABA in Milan. Afterwards ending up in Holland where I interned for an interior design company in product design. After the internship, I realized my true passion lay in graphic design - branding and package design. I began freelancing in Holland.
Completely exhilarated and forgetting my Aussie experience from years before I dove in. Surrounded by Dutch -- a language I didn’t speak well, working at a co-working space inside an international Dutch ad agency, I was surrounded by the Dutch language and culture daily. Again, I found myself up against a wall, when I was asked to design a poster for politics and media. I knew nothing about Dutch politics and media. I didn’t have a grasp of the dynamics between parties, the cultural history, icon and humor. Imagine, in the U.S. we have very specific icons that are republican and democrat for example. For every culture it is different. Sense of humor is also very cultural. To truly understand these things you have to be a part of the culture for a period of time, a good period of time to really grasp the nuances and effectively communication. Living in Holland emphasized to me how hard it is and to move to a new country and start a business, especially a graphic design business.
You then came back to the States after Holland right? You bought a place in Miami while in Holland. Tell us about that.
Yeah, I’d always come back to the States to visit family, and back to Miami, since I lived here for about 6 months before going to Europe. During that time I thought buying a place here would be a good investment. I always wanted to be close to the water and knew Miami was a place I would always want to come back to, so when the market hit rock bottom I made my move.
I honestly thought I’d end up in San Francisco because I was attracted to the entrepreneurial spirit there, but I ended up starting an entrepreneur group in Miami. There was no real entrepreneur community then. I remember coming back from being inspired by San Francisco and looking on Meetup.com to meet other entrepreneurs and couldn’t find anything. So I thought, I’ll just start one and see what happens. That was December 2011.
Our first meeting 25 people showed up. I didn’t really know what I was doing, or how to structure it, so I was a little terrified. But, I did it anyway. People were starving for connection and at the beginning we would meet every Sunday. Eventually the structure found itself.
At every meeting each person introduces themselves, shares what brought them to the group, and shares a challenge they need help with in their business. Everyone brainstorms to help them solve that challenge during the meeting.
What I love about this format is it gives everyone a chance to contribute and learn and become a part of the conversation. It has brought people together. I love to help people succeed, and creating new brands or products. It’s what excites me most about my business now, whether for a brand new cold-pressed juice or a large beauty company like Avon. We’ve had several successful members come through our Entrepreneur Starting a Product Line group.
Tell us more specifically about your transition into your business full-time. And, what advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t worry if it’s not a direct path. For me it’s been more of a zigzag. Technically I started my business in 2010, but for the first few years I worked regular day jobs or part-time day jobs on and off while freelancing on the side. The last time I was working a full-time job, I committed to myself that this time I would make it the transition to full-time freelance. The timing worked out perfectly. When the company I was working for moved, I was left with a decision to follow them or take a leap. I took the leap.
That was two years ago. It’s been a bumpy road. Those other years count, and I kept experimenting during that time. Like starting the entrepreneur Meetup group. That was a risk but had great rewards. Several of those members have become my clients and those designs won awards, and now Crème de Mint is an award-winning design firm. That wouldn’t have happened had I not taken the risk.
You’ve got to take risks. Being an entrepreneur and designer, you are constantly experimenting. Test an idea, observe the results. Do things that others are afraid to do. For example, when I first started out, I was too scared to cold call companies. So are most people. Write down why you are scared and then brainstorm ideas of steps you could make to overcome. For cold-calling, I learned from another entrepreneur & tech-writer to create a script. We would meet every other week to do our phone calls together. Write the steps you need to take to overcome the things that scare you.
I love that -- write the steps you need to do things that scare you. That’s golden.
The other thing that took me a while to learn was follow-up. I would meet so many people at networking events. I would follow-up once or twice and think, never mind, they are not interested, but then a friend told me something that changed my mindset forever: “60% of sales are lost in lack of follow-up.” That stuck with me. Another risk I took was starting a meetup group for Entrepreneur Starting a Product Line, also known as Entrepreneur Minds Academy. My entrepreneur group became instrumental in my business, my friends and life in Miami.
Don’t let fear stop you from doing the things you want to do. Get out there and experiment...your experiments today may turn out to be your best decisions tomorrow.
Well I’m certainly glad you took the risk and ended up here in Miami and created the community you needed. All too often people feel stuck when they’re seeking a change, but you started before. You were proactive and dove in.