Boss Lady: An Interview with Alexa Shoen

Professional Business Portraits

Alexa and I met in San Francisco years ago when we met at work. We did a photo session on the streets of the mission and discussed how the city's evolution was taking its toll on us. This shared perspective on a place we had eagerly both chosen to call home instantly connected us. In the end, we both left the bay to find a better fit for ourselves. I returned to Seattle and she traveled across the globe.  Her journey led her to embark on a new entrepreneurial endeavor and eventually brought her back to the West Coast for a business trip where I got to reconnect with her all these years later and do some updated portraits. I asked Alexa a bit about the experience of traveling and starting up her own business and being a young creative entrepreneur. 

Business Portrait with Coffee
Creative Portrait Seattle Lifestyle Headshot
Professional Business Portraits

What's your company and why did you start it?

#ENTRYLEVELBOSS is a career coaching company for panicking job seekers. Even after doing everything "right" myself all through school--you know, good grades, good extra-curricular stuff, a couple internships--I still struggled to climb that giant mountain that is Starting Your Career. I became a career coach at age 25 because I realized that the internet broke the job search market, and nobody seemed to have noticed. #ENTRYLEVELBOSS runs virtual guided job search programs--led by yours truly--that take you from overwhelmed and underemployed to happy and hired. I'm also writing a book on the subject right now, due out in 2019. You might get well-intentioned advice from your parents' generation, but the rules of the game have changed. Even people who graduated before the recession don't 'get' how hard it is these days. It's my honor and responsibility to churn out career advice people as quickly as I learn it myself. I'm delighted to do it.

Fun Business Headshots
Professional Business Portraits
Professional Business Portraits

What's your favorite thing about living abroad?

The first time I spent any significant time in Europe (a whole summer in Barcelona during college), I instinctively knew it was home. I'm now very happily splitting time between London and Berlin--and answering this interview question from a café in Paris today, actually. What I love most: more eye contact, good conversation, and the warm milk served with your coffee.

Lifestyle business portraits seattle
Creative business portrait Seattle
Creative Business Portraits Seattle

Where can people find you?

I am never not on Instagram (@alexashoen). I've also documented my own career growth and career learnings for the last three years in everybody's favorite weekly newsletter (alexashoen.com/join-now/). Come hang out with me!

Beautiful Creative Entrepreneur Portraits
Business Headshot Creative
Business boss lady portrait
Creative Business Portraits Seattle

Love Your Space: An Interview with Designer Lelia Tran

Interior Designer Portrait Session

Well, happy 2018 everyone!  I love kicking off this new year with some inspo from my dear friend Lelia.  We met about a decade ago working on a TV show.  In the months that passed we became fast friends bonding over color coordinated files and a love of coffee breaks. In the years that would follow we found that we had much more in common, a love of spaces, food, travel, and of course wine.  Lelia launched her new interior design business last year, Ulivo Design and it has been really incredible to watch her tackle the challenges of entrepreneurship.  We recently met up at Lady Yum over in Kirkland to do some new photos for her business and we were treated to a perfect afternoon of macarons and champagne. I thought it might be nice to pick Lelia's brain about what inspires her, how she approaches spaces, and what keeps her energized creatively. 

Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session

1. How did you know you needed to branch out on your own and begin an interior design business?

After nearly 15 years as a TV/video/content producer and working my tail off day in and day out, I got tired of feeling unvalued and unfulfilled in my work. I was yearning for change... to do something more meaningful, to make a difference or at least bring joy/positivity into someone's life. I really took to heart that life is too short to not do what you love. But what was that for me?? I had no idea... I felt so lost. After about two years of soul searching + trying to figure out what to do next with my life, a first-ever home renovation project ignited my new passion for home interior decorating. My husband had come across a newly listed townhome that was hard to pass up. I agreed to buy it on the condition that we renovate + update it to make it our own. Figuring out the finishes, the paint colors, the flooring, etc and working with a contractor (for the very first time) - all of it was challenging but I was hooked! (Looking back though, I guess I've always had a knack for prettying up spaces whether it was putting up artwork to camouflage my concrete college dorm room or wallpapering dingy walls of a tiny storage closet-turned-office.) Inspired by my home renovation project, my obsession with the hit show Fixer Upper + encouragement from an architect friend, I took a leap of faith + decided to start my own home interior styling business. I haven't looked back since.

Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session

2. Why do you think places and spaces matter so much to us as humans?

We all have places + spaces that we call home... that inspire us... that we dream about... that we cherish or yearn to visit. Practically every part of our daily lives is intertwined with our surroundings, whether it be our home, our workplace, a neighborhood restaurant, or even a quaint shop we pass by everyday. Oftentimes, places become part of our fondest (and sometimes our toughest) personal memories... they tell our story. For example, Italy holds a special place in my heart because it's where I traveled alone for the first time, it's where I got married, it's where my husband and I call home a few months out of the year. The different towns and regions I've come to know + love in Italy are a part of my personal story.

Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session

3. You and your husband have somewhat recently made a second home in Italy. Can you describe the town you've settled in, and why you love it?

It's been our dream to have a house in Italy one day... well that one day ended up arriving two years ago -- way sooner than we ever anticipated thanks to good timing + a good opportunity that presented itself. After scouting nearly 60 properties all over Italy in 15 days, we ended up choosing a lovely 19th century townhome in a medieval village called Ficulle which is located in the Italian region of Umbria (a lesser known but just as beautiful of a region as Tuscany). It is the perfect midway point between Rome + Florence. We fell in love with Ficulle for its quaint, medieval charm and the local, small town feel. It was important for us to be in a (non-touristy) town where we could assimilate with the locals and experience the authentic Italian culture. Because Ficulle is located at higher elevation on a hillside, the views overlooking the green valleys are breathtaking. I love waking up in the early mornings and opening up the windows + shutters to the sight of the sun rising over the hills and the sounds of birds, roosters and old men gossiping outside a nearby bar. We can't walk out our front door without someone saying "ciao" (hi) and "come stai?" (how are you?)... I love that! In the beginning it took awhile for the locals to warm up to us but after getting to know us and seeing our efforts in wanting to be a part of the community, many have embraced us and become dear friends. We feel at home every time we come back. BTW, did I mention a fabulous family-owned winery is only 5 minutes down the road from our house?! Let's just say our home is always fully stocked with delicious wine. :)

Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session

4. We spend a lot of time talking about our shared love of spaces and food and how they can take something to the next level in terms of experience. What are some of your favorite Seattle spots (yes, the east side counts!)?

Oh boy, since I'm more of a homebody these days, I feel so out of the loop with all the great restaurants + shops that have popped up in Seattle. But when I do go out, my go-to spots are: Mamma Melina - a modern chic Italian restaurant with a fantastic happy hour that's hard to beat Le Caviste - a beautiful French-style wine bar that reminds me of the ones in Paris; their selections of French wine + charcuterie board offerings are delish Black Bottle - a modern industrial gastrotavern that offers an eclectic menu of great dishes to be enjoyed in a communal setting Little Brother - I love the rustic modern, airy vibe of this new neighborhood restaurant on the Eastside; it's a place where you can hang out for a cappuccino + pastries or enjoy a nice lunch/dinner with friends

Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session

5. If someone were starting to think about how they could re-think a room, what tips would you tell them to get started? At what point should they consider an interior designer to help them bring their vision to life?

If you're thinking about re-decorating or changing a room but don't know where to start, I would first suggest listing out what you like about the room and what you don't like about the room. Also ask yourself how you want to use the room - what is your intended purpose for the room. Knowing this will help provide a roadmap for your room re-design. Then go on Pinterest and/or Houzz and pin images of spaces that you are drawn to. You can also cut out pictures from home decor magazines that inspire you. The collection of these pins + pictures will serve as your inspiration/mood board and help jumpstart ideas for room layout, color palette, furniture, etc. If you're still feeling stuck or overwhelmed with a mish-mash of ideas, this is where an interior designer or stylist can come in with his/her expertise + curate those ideas into a cohesive room design that reflects you. If you're looking to renovate or remodel your space but don't have the time or desire to do it on your own, an interior designer or stylist can come in + take care of all the details -- managing the project from start to finish.

Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session

6. Where can people find you?

People can learn more about me + check out my latest decor projects at www.ulivohomedesign.com (my blog will live on this site too once I can sit my booty down long enough + start writing). You can also find me on: Instagram: @ulivohome_design Facebook: UlivoHomeDesign

Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session
Interior Designer Portrait Session

Design Your Story: An Interview with Designer Jake Rossilli

Seattle Designer at Preserve and Gather

Earlier this year I embarked on a rebranding project with my pal and co-worker Jake Rossilli.  Jake is a filmmaker and designer and as anyone who knows him would say, one rad human.  Since last Jan, we met at coffee shops, our homes, and pubs at all hours we could find outside of our work days, personal lives, and side projects to try and bring this thing to life. It initially stemmed from a desire to make a coffee table book about coffee shops (fun, right?) and instead we thought what might make more sense for us both right now would be to actually look under the hood and do some brand work on ourselves.  So I poked and prodded and asked him every question under the sun about his love for brand identity, perspective on design, how he got started, and what kinds of projects he wanted to work on. To say that our conversations around our creative passions were intense would be an understatement. When Jake reacts, he's very quiet, deep in thought and processing what to say next. I am a jump on it talk about it right this instant kind of person so it was kind of a hilarious back and forth sometimes (ahem, pastries, coffee, beer...always helpful for such things).  Then he did the same to me...except for my photography and omg, was that hard to have the brand focus on me for a change. Colors? Mmm hmm, I like pretty much all of them.  Design style? Minimal and geometric but yet lots of bold brush strokes and organic textures like botanicals.  You see the challenge.   What came out of it is a brand identity I am so over the moon about (you can check it out here if you like) and a direction we can both map to in terms of where we're headed next.  Given that this has been an entire year's space of time there is no better way for me to share about this process than by asking Jake some questions about his process & inspiration, and how to design your own brand story. My favorite takeaway from our time during this whole brand adventure: Great design does the job better. Amen my friend. 

Jake Rossilli Designer Portrait
Jake Rossilli Seattle Designer

We just went through our own personal branding exercise together. What was the most challenging part of the process (you can be honest) and what was the best part?

It's always my mission to take a wide range of things and simplify them as much as possible, to concentrate them into something powerful. We both have complex and multifaceted work. There's a lot of experience we are trying to bring. It's really challenging to create branding that encompasses all of that. I also had to design outside my comfort zone with less clean lines and more ink to page. Techniques I don't normally use. Having confidence in that was difficult. Difficult but rewarding. Pushing yourself is never comfortable. Looking at my own work from a big picture perspective was super hard too. What's the goal of all of this? It was tough to be honest and objective.

Jake Rossilli Coffee Sketches

Let's say a client comes to you for logo design. What would you want them to bring to the table at the start of the project?

I always feel like I need to get to know them. Can we sit and have coffee? Tell me the "why" of your work, your business. What are you and your company all about. What keeps you doing it? Why did you start? I need to find the story behind everything. That's what fuels great design.

Seattle Designer Jake Rossilli Portrait

How do you know when it's time for a refresh on a brand identity? Are there some telltale signs?

If an identity no longer represents the company behind it. We grow and change as people and there are these wake up call moments in life where who you used to be doesn't match who you are now. The same thing happens with brands. Time and experience creates change and the company outgrows the identity. Now you find yourself wearing the same clothes you wore in high school but you're not that person anymore. You need a new wardrobe that represents you properly.

Designer Jake Rossilli
Seattle Designer Jake Rossilli
Designer Sketches and Notebook

I've been incredibly inspired by how you moved to a new city and found a creative community. How did you find people to connect with?

It was a lot like online dating. "Hey your work is cool. I'm trying to do cool work too. Wanna get coffee and talk about our favorite things?" I had to reach out ALOT. I tried to get a pulse on the creative work going on in the city through social and portfolio sites. Then I just leaped. Took the first step, messaged people, asked around. It worked. I made some incredible friends who inspire me creatively and are just all around good humans.

JakeCLAppVideoSessions-3.jpg

Your family is full of some of the most spirited women (big and small) I've ever met. How do you pass on your passion for creativity to your daughters? How does your wife inspire you?

It sort of goes the other way. They pass their passion on to me. Have you ever seen a little girl tell you a story about a drawing she made. There's crazy passion and creativity in there. I just try to encourage them to let it all out. I make dumb jokes and make up poorly thought out stories. If I'm silly and weird then they sort of have unspoken permission to let all their weirdness out.

Rossilli Family at Mountainview Blueberry Farm Snohomish Washington

Where can people find you?

My never finished site - jakerossilli.com or Instagram - @jakerossilli

A Woman on a Mission: An Interview with Sondra Mastrelli

It's hard to say when exactly I knew I'd be friends with Sondra.  If I had to bet it was somewhere between us laughing over a moment in Bridget Jones' Diary and us then taking it 10 steps further by actually reenacting an entire scene in person, WITH accents (as you do).  Let's just say even with thousands of miles between us and limited opportunity to actually connect on a regular basis I feel incredibly close to this sassy and fiery lady and therefore immensely grateful.  She's the kind of person that would fight for you if anyone so much as looked at you sideways and she has such an immense heart.  Last month I ventured back east for some visits and my first stop was to see Sondra in NYC. We're always commiserating on life, love, work, and general ponderings and this trip was no exception. Sondra is a Director of Technical Design at Ann Taylor LOFT and LOFT Outlets. She has been there 18 years!  Given that so many of us seem to job-hop a lot these days (myself included) I wanted to dig in a bit more. I think it's invaluable to learn from one another's experiences whenever we can so I asked her if I could interview her to learn a bit more about her career in fashion, living in New York (after years in New Jersey, she's a new-ish resident of Brooklyn), shopping trends (just in time for the holidays) and how she continues to look for ways to stay relevant in an ever-changing industry and workplace.      

New York Portrait

Can you describe your career path? Did it follow a specific trajectory from childhood or did it evolve a lot?

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work in fashion. From eight on, I was doodling designs in a sketch book on a character named Martha Martle that I invented. I decided to go to Syracuse University because it offered a full liberal arts education. I wanted this just in case I was 100% sold on my new career. When I graduated I had a hard time finding a job as a designer. While SU focused on construction and pattern-making skills, they did not push portfolio. Other schools like FIT and Parsons work with students all four years on portfolio, so once they are interviewing they have projects to show employers. My portfolio skills were not strong enough to land me a job in design. I started freelancing at Ann Taylor in the Technical Design department. My boss, who is still a mentor of mine, Renee Bavineau, really took a chance on me. I was a 21 year old kid out of school, and I had zero experience. It wasn't like today where everyone has 3 or 4 internships before they start working. The interesting thing is I fell into Tech Design, but it's what I'm best suited for. I never had the most interesting or creative design at school, but I was really good at helping others to make their pattern better. I sort of lucked out that I'm in a position that I'm well suited for. I am responsible for maintaining fit integrity while also making sure the factory understands the aesthetic of the merchant and design team. I've been with Ann Taylor/LOFT 18 years. I'm a definite anomaly in that business. I'm also constantly open to evolving how I work and trying to pay attention to the industry, so that I have skills that will carry me into the future.

New York City Empire State Building
New York Streets

What is your favorite thing about working in the fashion industry and even more specifically working in product?

My favorite thing is the creativity and the constant change of the industry and business. I love working on product and figuring out how to make it better. It's really easy to work on expensive product, because there are no limitations. In my work, we have to continually find ways to move the product forward in a way that is appropriate for who we dress, while still staying within a certain cost and price structure. I manage a range of products at work, but my favorite is dresses because they are challenging to fit, but also so beautiful to work on. Dresses are emotional and feminine. I just love them!

New York Subway

You're located in NYC, one of the most inspirational cities in the world. What do you find most invigorating about it? Is there anything about it that you find challenging?

I love the energy of New York City. I grew up outside of Buffalo in a small little town. I wasn't exposed to many people who were that different from me--lots of working class Roman Catholic Italian and Polish families. I love that New York has exposed me to all different types of people. It really forces you to go outside yourself and to be open in a way that was not possible for me if I stayed close to home. The constant go of the city is this energy that just feeds me and keeps me moving, learning, growing and challenging myself. When I leave New York for too long I go through withdrawal. I get really anxious and I just can't wait to get 'home.' The things I sometimes find challenging--the cost of living, especially real estate and getting to an age where I am considering buying my own home. And also dating. With so many people it should be easy, but I haven't found it to be.

Colson Patisserie Brooklyn New York
Colson Patisserie Brooklyn New York
Sondra 1500-7183.jpg

You recently moved to Brooklyn, arguably one of the hottest boroughs in New York. Do you have any insider favorite things to do or places to go eat in your new hood?

I love Brooklyn! I wish I moved here five years ago. I moved to South Park Slope from Hoboken, NJ in May of this year. I still have so many places to explore but some of my local favorites are Laconda Mariella, a great Italian spot with good wine. And I also love Piccoli Trattoria another great Italian place a block away from my apartment. Also in Downtown Brooklyn Dekalb Food Market recently opened. That is a great spot--all different local food vendors from around NYC and Brooklyn.

Bryant Park New York City

People seem to be making more purchases these days with littler known companies that are more mission-driven to make a difference in the world. Do you have any favorite brands that you're loving right now who are being innovative on that front?

Yes! I love what Everlane is doing with their total transparency. I also really like Rachel Craven Textiles based out of LA. The shoe company Coclico is all about sustainability, and accessories designer Clare Vivier uses more natural dyeing processes on her leather goods. My newest love is a local store in my neighborhood called Bhoomki. The only sell ethically made goods and they have their own label, which is made in an all women factory. And they are all about sustainability and employing factory workers in an ethical, fair way.

New York Portrait
Lumas New York

You've had a very successful career to date, What advice would you give to someone just entering the work force?

Be kind and be willing to work hard. I would rather employ someone with gusto, drive, and willingness than someone who on paper has the 'best' skill set. Dress professionally for your interview--I don't necessarily mean a suit, but look put together. It does matter how you show up and present yourself. And try to have fun with what you do. Try to create a work environment that is pleasant. You spends hours a day there, so you might as well enjoy it.

New York Street Vendor
Portrait in Alexandria Virginia

Break Free and Do What You Love: An Interview with Event Planner Beth Burns

Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits

Last month I had the pleasure of photographing my friend Beth for her new event planning venture Feast & Spectacle.  About 6 years ago we were co-workers at a Seattle ad agency sifting our way through project plans and budgets trying to find ways to make the creative team happy and to help the client hit their goals.  Now we're in completely different boats and thankfully we've been able to keep in touch through all these crazy twists and turns during our careers.  This shoot was such a fun collaboration.  We tackled things that we knew we'd be able to accomplish at this phase and dreamt about what we could do in the future (hellooo, styled tables in a giant field), I even managed to sneak in a couple of photos of her daughter, Clementine (my assistant on the shoot) during costume changes.  I asked Beth to answer a few questions and share a little bit about her experience of taking the leap and starting her own business. Here's what she had to say.  


Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits

What made you decide to leave a full time gig and go out on your own and start a new business?

I had lost that feeling of fulfillment, the excitement of new challenges, professionally, and have always had a desire to "do more". I knew that leaving a cushy job was what I needed to slow down, discover what my core values are, and translate my skills and experience into a career I'm passionate about every day, even the bad days. My desire to "do more" has everything to do with pouring my heart into a business that I believe showcases our best selves, connects our true selves to each other in moments of pure joy. It seems a heavy load, but unfortunately there's so much to be sad & angry about these days - I'm just trying to help people have a good time in the midst of it.

Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits
Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits

Do you have any fears around taking this leap? How do you challenge those fears?

All the fears; what if it doesn't work, what if my vision isn't desirable, and on and on. I try to face them head on by working on my brand, working on different parts of my business, and continuing to tell myself that it's ok to take risks. But it's hard, and some days I just don't want to, and I think it's good to take a beat and come back to it re-energized. I've been so fast-paced for so long that now there's this weird guilt about giving myself time to think and plan! BUT YOU HAVE TO. 'Mostly intentional' is my current motto.

 

Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits
Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits

Feast & Spectacle is such a great name! From a brand perspective, why did you choose it and what do you think it conveys to your clients?

I've always pushed against convention in some form or another, so that's what I wanted from a name. But I still wanted to give a nod to the event planning industry in a way that felt fresh and playful. I'm trying to communicate that it's more about the experience you and your guests have collectively, or the feeling everyone walks away with, than it is about the action of getting married or having a party. I also hope it says the brand (and I) have a sense of humor.

Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits
Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits

In terms of wardrobe and props, do you have any styling tips for other creatives who are prepping their own photo shoots?

Hone in on your brand's personality, or attributes, and pull together what's real and true for those. Come up with elements that feel unique to you. It sounds trite but I can tell you from experience that if you don't know who your brand is, you can scour Pinterest all day long but everything will feel off. I actually started with a completely different vision for this shoot and up until a week before, was trying to pull something together that just wasn't inspiring me (her inspo board is below). I did find inspiration from a florist I was following on Pinterest, and that just set the course for these photos that I'm absolutely obsessed with - it just takes that little spark, usually from somewhere unexpected, and trust your gut. Always trust your gut.

  Beth's Original Mood Board for the Shoot

Finding work/life balance is so challenging these days. What things do you do to help you find it?

If someone has figured this out, please call me. Seriously. I have two little kids, and a third on the way...I'm busy and still trying to figure it out. And it'll evolve as the kids get older so balance for me right now is giving more personal attention to my clients and to my family. I'm slowing down, taking on less, really focusing my time and my energy where I want to go in that moment. I'm hoping that by saying it aloud, and writing it down, that it holds me accountable too. But I'm screaming on the inside to go, go, go. It's hard.

Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits
Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits

How can people find you?

Much like my work/life balance my website is currently under construction (feastandspectacle.com) so for now: On Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest @feastandspectacle Or reach out directly feastandspectacle@gmail.com

Feast and Spectacle Business Portraits