Alison Hess is a talented Copywriter who has spent her career crafting “matchless voices” for internationally-known brands. You’ve probably even seen her work online, on TV, flipping the pages of a magazine or while riding the subway (for NYers). I first met Alison in Jamaica, while she was covering the country’s 50th year of independence, as well as all the excitement surrounding the 2012 Olympics for PUMA. I recently interviewed Alison to learn more about how she got into copywriting, her first project, her latest projects, and how she finds inspiration.
A Snapshot Profile of Alison Hess
Alison Hess is an award-winning copywriter, brand planner and creative director in New York City (NYC) who’s worked on some of the biggest ad campaigns with global brands like Subway and Nike. After working with a string of stellar agencies (like Opperman Weiss and Sylvain Labs), she’s returned to her roots as a freelancer.
Education: Williams College, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Organisation(s) founded: Alison Hess, Inc.
The Phresh Interview
Phil Rodriques (PR):What’s your favourite quote/mantra? Alison Hess (AH): I just read the best book I’ve read in years, A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, and I loved this line: “…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
PR: Where did you study? AH: I studied at Williams College. It was pure liberal arts, which taught me to think. I majored in Religion and English, and had the luxury of spending four years reading. I did a poetry thesis. Nothing remotely practical!
PR: What sparked your interest in copywriting, brand planning, and creative direction? AH: My mentor, Benjamin Bailey, hired me in NYC, three weeks out of college, and I’ve been working with him ever since. I knew nothing of what I do before meeting him; he taught me everything.
PR: Can you remember your first copywriting project? AH: The job with Ben[jamin Bailey] was at an ecommerce/catalog retailer that sold handcrafted things from around the world. Product descriptions, headlines, etc. were the first thing I ever wrote for a commercial audience. I loved it.
PR: Can you please name some of the biggest brands you’ve done work for? AH: Nike, American Express, Bacardi, Puma, Levis, Comcast, Godiva, Chobani, Martini…lots. Plus some great Jamaican brands like ICWI,Jake’s Hotel, Jamaica Tourist Board, Cable & Wireless…
PR: What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned in your 14 years as a copywriter? AH: I’d say that every brand deserves a unique voice, and it’s worth it to take the time to explore and find it.
PR: What’s your favorite part about being a copywriter? AH: It’s almost like being an actor with words.
PR: What drives your work ethic? AH: I’m freelance, so the relationships I make feed more work.
PR: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given in your industry? AH: Building a brand is part science, part instinct.
PR: What have been some of your unexpected career hurdles to date? AH: Sometimes it’s taking on too much work and not achieving any balance. Sometimes it’s chasing checks [cheques].
PR: What would you say have been some of your unexpected successes? AH: I was in the right place at the right time working on Nike+ and unexpectedly won every award in the industry in 2007.
PR: What’s the best part about working as a freelancer? AH: Choosing the projects I take on and the agencies I engage with. Essentially, I have agency.
PR: What aspects of a new project keep you up at night or make you the most paranoid? AH: Just deadlines. And sometimes client presentations.
PR: Where do you find the inspiration for each project? AH: I look around. New York City provides a lot to notice. I also read, because I tend to write in the style of whatever I’m devouring.
PR: What was your latest copywriting project? AH: I’m working on Comcast and Chobani right now.
PR: What advice would you give to aspiring copywriters? AH: Learn to be flexible with your voice. It’s not how you want it to sound…it’s how it needs to sound for the brand. The first thing you should ask is: “Who’s the audience?”
PR: Is there anything else you would like to add? AH: Look for a mentor. It was one of the best things I ever did.
I wanted to try something new, so I created this interview series dubbed “How you living?!” that will feature glimpses of city living through the lens of some friends of mine. Hopefully 10 to 13 questions are enough. Ciao! This week, we’re in Bolzano, an Italian city with German roots, to learn about the best places to eat, hiking and cable cars, medieval architecture, and the warm-hearted people!! Enjoy the interview and leave a comment using your Facebook or Twitter account!
Phil Rodriques (PR): Where are you originally from? Garfield Hunter (GH): I am from Clarks Hill- located in Golden Spring, a small farming community in Rural Saint Andrew, Jamaica.
PR: Why did you move to Bolzano? GH: Funnily enough, I keep getting this question a lot (given the location of Bolzano), because Bolzano is located in the Alps region of Italy, and is the capital of South Tyrol in northern Italy. It is a small town of 100,000 people. They are surprised that I would leave a large city as Shanghai [China] for a small town as Bolzano. I am currently a PhD Student in Shanghai and I applied for a Research Fellowship at the European Research Academy (EURAC Research) to gain more insight on Renewable Energy and Sustainable Urban Development. So now, I am a research collaborator for year.
PR: What’s the best part about living in Bolzano? GH: This has to be the surrounding environment. Bolzano is a sustainable city. It epitomises greenery, walkability, pedestrianisation (the entire town centre is car-free, with exceptions made for public transportation and people with disabilities); healthy lifestyle through jogging and running with bicycle, jogging and walking paths clearly demarcated. It is also remarkable to see men in business suits, women, and kids riding bicycles going about their daily tasks. The environmental awareness and historical knowledge of the people is amazing, and the social and political environment stimulates order and heightened quality of life for its citizens.
PR: What’s the worst thing about living in Bolzano? GH: Two things come to mind, one is a result of the other. Bolzano is the city with the highest quality of life in the whole of Italy; therefore, the cost of living is higher than other cities in the country. Therefore, the price for goods and services will undoubtedly be higher. A major hindrance though is finding inexpensive accommodation, so most people combine to rent apartments. I am not used to renting a room within a flat, so this is relatively new to me and I did not adjust easily to this.
PR: You’re an urban planner and Bolzano is known for its medieval city centre. What is your favourite historic building(s) and streetscape feature(s)? GH: There are several historical buildings, which are aesthetically pleasing to me, the Museion, (the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Bolzano), the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology that has the mummy of Ötzi the Iceman. However, my most favorite is the Bolzano Cathedral, which incidentally is located next door to my apartment. The Cathedral, which was constructed in 1180, is magnificent, and brings you on a journey where medieval meets contemporary architecture, with it’s with uniformity in design, attention to detail, and Gothic style of the Suevian mastery.
As an urban planner I was most pleased to see brick roadways in the historical centre of the city. This is in keeping with the historical nature of Austrian towns in South Tyrol (given the history of Bolzano, between Italy and Austria in the WWI).
PR: What would you describe as the most “touristy” thing to do in Bolzano? GH: I am looking forward to the winter season to start skiing lessons, but there are many more activities that visitors can do such as visiting all the historical sites, river rafting, and climbing by the cable cars. However, what separates this city and region from others is the availability of pristine natural environment, which facilitates hiking and camping (I do those every weekend). The major scenic spot is the Dolomites[watch the video], which is several kilometres outside of the town centre. If you do not feel like walking through the rugged terrain, you can take the cable car to Ober-Bozen and then a train, which goes further into the forest region for a day of sightseeing.
PR: What city districts or neighbourhoods in Bolzano would you say have the best places to eat? GH: The historical centre for sure, but to be more specific Walther Plaza, which is the main square, so it is usually a busy outdoorsy area with numerous restaurants, which maybe a little pricey. However, if you are on the go, you can find various official Kebab stalls around the town centre, my favorite is Donerland by Skampini, located at Piazza Domenicani.
PR: Where are the best places to go for the nightlife experience? GH: Technically, the library for me. However, there are several events happening in around the city centre on a weekly basis. The theatre usually has dancing and drama production from local and international groups. The Bolzano Cinema although not internationally friendly (as it only shows English movies once a month), provides entertainment for young people who speak German and Italian. There are several clubs and bars in the historical centre, which are usually abuzz with activities after work, but especially on the weekends.
PR: Where’s your favourite part of the city and why? GH: My favorite part of the city is the promenade as this is where I jog, ride and walk. I usually ride my bicycle to work over two (2) km per day (as this is customary for everyone in my research group).
PR: How do you get around the city on a daily basis? GH: I love my bicycle and it is the main means of transportation for me. However, during the summer months it is impossible to ride to work so public transportation (bus or train) was the alternative. Most of the activities takes place within the city centre so walking is ideal when undertaking activities in this zone.
PR: What’s the most horrific or memorable thing you’ve seen since living there? GH: Bolzano is the last regional stop between Innsbruck, Austria and Munich, Germany, so there has been a steady influx of migrants to Bolzano who want to go to these countries. I am broken by the desperation of these people and my heart is warmed by the reception that is given to them by the people of Bolzano. There is a voluntary reception centre at the train station, which provides shelter, hot meals and guidance to the migrants. The volunteers are very warm and friendly and treat the migrants as human beings.
PR: Tell us one stereotypical thing about Italians that’s true. GH: Italians are hardworking and very humble. Most of my professional colleagues at the research centre are doing a PhD or have actually finished. Most are also well-accomplished scientists and researchers whom have contributed to international best practices and projects. However, most times you will never know, as they will never highlight these achievements. My colleagues said this is not so for southern Italy.
PR: What’s the one thing every visitor must do before leaving Bolzano? GH: Tough question. I thought about it for a while, so I am sure about it; everyone should visit the Dolomites region of Bolzano. This will give you contrasting appreciation of the historical centre and the pristine natural environment that surrounds the urban landscape.
Dieter Crombezis the 34-year-old Founder and Lead Developer behind the Belgian startup, SiteManager that’s changing traditional web design processes for professional web designers, developers and webmasters. The company’s web design management software is set to launch in Fall of 2015. I recently interviewed Dieter to find out more about SiteManager’s story and how its new offering may potentially become one of the best options to hit the international web design market.
Meet SiteManager, the Web Design Platform Company
SiteManager builds the next generation web design tools for professional designers, developers and webmasters. We are constantly improving and updating our platform to create better solutions and services. We believe in creating long-term relationships, growing together and treating our users like partners.
A Snapshot Profile of Dieter Crombez
Dieter Crombez is an experienced web developer who founded SiteManager in Ghent, Belgium in 2012 with Alexander Hoogewijs and Johannes Degroote. He is the web design company’s current lead developer. Crombez is married and has a two year old son. He loves Lego, board games, and PlayStation.
Education: Hogeschool Gent [University College Ghent], Belgium Organisations founded: Divine Design and SiteManager
The Phresh Interview
Phil Rodriques (PR): What is your professional background? Dieter Crombez (DC): During my senior year at college (2002) I started a small web design agency with a friend. I immediately fell in love with [Adobe] Flash and built one of the first content management systems (CMS) for that platform.
We had some local success and the pleasure to create some cool projects for our clients over the years.
In 2012, in the midst of the mobile revolution, I founded SiteManager together with Alexander Hoogewijs and Johannes Degroote.
PR: What are you truly passionate about? DC: I love creating and developing. I am very grateful to live in an age where you can create almost anything that comes to mind (even with limited resources). I only do the things where I am very passionate about. I try to surround myself with like-minded people who have complementary skills and interests. I am very proud of our team.
PR: After building websites and systems for over a decade, why did you pivot to create SiteManager? DC: We always liked sharing and collaborating with others, it is in our DNA. When we built the platform to make our agency more efficient, we knew we would eventually want to share it with the web design community.
PR: What have been some of the unexpected hurdles? DC: We have a small team with the big ambition to create the future of custom web design. It is very challenging to attack all aspects (not only development) of our startup with only four people. So every day we face some unexpected hurdles. It is our power to always do what needs to be done and tackle the challenges as they present themselves.
PR: What makes this a better design management tool than those already out on the market? DC: I believe we are different because we address the complete spectrum of web design. Not only design, but also development and content management are equally important. We start with the base of good web design practices and build our platform and tools around that. We don’t try to create a [Adobe] Photoshop for the web application. Instead we try to think what would be the best and most efficient way to design and develop a website.
PR: What makes it possible for users to be able to create professional websites and save up to 3-4 hours a day? DC: We built three timesaving applications that seamlessly work together. When a designer creates the website layout it is instantly coded, responsive, CMS ready and developer friendly. We call it design that works. Developers no longer have to reinvent the wheel and do redundant work. They just make specific changes there where it is needed. We also have a neat back-end builder they can use for the CMS. The webmaster only has to focus on creating and editing content. The fact that all actors involved work on the same platform is a real timesaver. It also leads to a more efficient way of doing things.
PR: Is SiteManager designed specifically for webmasters, designers and developers or can anyone use it? DC: We don’t believe everybody is a (web) designer and that everybody should focus on what they do best. Businesses who take themselves seriously will always need the support of professional designers, developers, and marketeers to build their online presence. A website is more than just some text and pictures you put online. We understand the specific needs of these professionals and build our tools for them. The CMS part is made for their (non-technical) clients who can easily edit and manage the website afterwards. They have no access to the design or develop application.
PR: You’ll be doing a period of beta-testing. When does the final version of SiteManager officially launch? DC: There will be a period of private beta-testing followed by a public beta. The public beta will be released before the end of this year. I already consider the public beta to be a launch since everybody will be able to join. During this period our beta-testers will be rewarded for helping us with their feedback. When we feel the product is ready we will simply drop the beta-test status from the platform.
Our platform is in continuous development so there are no versions or things like that. It just naturally evolves over time.
PR: What are some of SiteManager’s milestones for the next six to 12 months? DC: Our (beta) release of the platform is obviously the biggest one in the next six months.
Between that and 12 months our biggest challenge will be the growth of our start-up. My co-founder Alexander Hoogewijs is really good and passionate about these things. Business development, finding the right people, etc. I will continue to work on the platform and create some new features we have not announced yet. [Dieter smiles]
PR: What is SiteManager’s “ultimate goal” in five to 10 years? DC: We hope we can grow together with our community and build the best and most complete platform for custom web design out there. With every update we will try to raise the scope of things you can do until “ultimately” there is no limit to what you can create, design or develop.
PR: What have been some of the unexpected successes? DC: When we put our launch page online we were very curious how the international web design community would respond and if they would actually sign-up. So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive and a lot of people are signing up every day.
PR: What aspects of SiteManager’s pursuits keep you up at night? DC: I have a two-year old who keeps me and my wife up most nights anyway so there is that. When I wake up at night it’s mostly with a new idea that has something to do with our business one way or another. If it is a really good one I will try to write it down to make sure I don’t forget. It’s a very unbalanced experience. On the one hand you are very tired because of the long working days and pressure. On the other hand you are very excited and can’t wait to share the platform with the world.
PR: Is there anything else you would like to add? DC: I would like to thank you, Phil, for taking the time for this interview. We really appreciate it. If people are interested I invite them to visit our website at www.SiteMNGR.com and sign up for our beta release.
I wanted to try something new, so I created this interview series dubbed “How you living?!” that will feature glimpses of city living through the lens of some friends of mine. Hopefully 10 to 13 questions are enough. This week, we’re in Barcelona, the city of Picasso’s early years, to discover the fantastic food, nightlife, architecture, and the “perfect weekend”!! Enjoy the interview and leave a comment using your Facebook or Twitter account!
Phil Rodriques (PR): Where are you originally from? Nicole Harper (NH): I’m from Hamilton in Ontario, Canada – fondly referred to by locals as “The Hammer”.
PR: Why did you move to Barcelona? NH: While researching my masters thesis in Sweden, I learned about an urban innovation startup called Citymart that was doing really cool things in civic tech. They were hiring at the time, so I applied and got the job – the fact that they were located in BCN [Barcelona] was a total bonus!
PR: What’s the best part about living in Barcelona? NH: Oh man, it’s difficult to choose among so many perks: unbeatable Mediterranean climate, a simultaneously relaxed and cosmopolitan atmosphere, gorgeous natural surroundings and stunning architecture… and all of it surprisingly affordable! But best of all, I think, is that there is always something fun and interesting going on – it’s impossible to get bored here.
PR: What’s the worst thing about living in Barcelona? NH: It can be difficult to find well-paid work – the average wage is pretty low here compared to the rest of Western Europe.
PR: Barcelona is known for its architecture. What’s your favourite historic building(s)? NH: I love the Palau de la Música Catalana – the thing is an absolute fairytale, especially at dusk. See a show there, because the interior is even more stunning than the incredible façade!
PR: What would you describe as the “perfect weekend” in Barcelona? NH: I’m going to assume you spent the week seeing the typical touristy sights like Parc Güell and La Sagrada Familia and describe a local’s perfect weekend to you instead! Here we go: Friday night starts in Poble Sec for post-work tapason Carrer Blai – La Tasqueta is my favourite place! To really start the party, head to El Rincon del Cava and get your photo on the wall of fame (which happens to cover the entire restaurant!) End the night with dancing at Apolo’s Nitsa Club or Barts.
Saturday is beach day, but there’s a secret catch: the further from the city you go, the better the beaches get 😉 After getting your swim and tan on, check if there are any vintage markets like Lost and Found, Brick Lane or Palo Alto – you’ll get to shop from local designers and sample lots of yummy street food in one go! For dinner, head to Gracia and try some hearty traditional Catalan food at Cal Boter. Dance the rest of the night away at Razzmatazz in Poblenou – with 5 rooms to choose from, you can’t go wrong! Recover on Sunday with a leisurely brunch at Picnic or Brunch and Cake, and then head up to Montjuic for Piknic Electronik – the ideal way to end a perfect BCN weekend like a local!
PR: What neighbourhoods in Barcelona would you say have the best places to eat? NH: All of them! Seriously. With the exception of maaaaybe Poblenou, you can’t really go wrong. Just avoid places showing giant menus with photos of the food outside – that’s a big red flag. And don’t eat on La Rambla. Just don’t do it.
PR: Where are the best places to go for the nightlife experience? NH: Razzmatazz and Sala Apolo are legendary! There’s also La Barceloneta with a ton of more mainstream places like Opium and Carpe Diem. In Eixample you have Bling Bling, Sutton and Otto Zutz. One of my favourites, though, it is a hole in the wall called Magic, where they play oldies and soul!
PR: Where’s your favourite part of the city and why? NH: I just love my barrio [neighbourhood], El Born. It strikes just the right balance of bohemian elegance – full of cool bars, interesting hangouts and right next to the beautiful Ciutadella Park.
PR: How do you get around the city on a daily basis? NH: Barcelona is super walkable, but my main mode of transportation is Bicing – the public bike sharing system. They’ve recently introduced electric bikes, which I’m excited to try!
PR: What’s the most horrific or memorable thing you’ve seen since living there? NH: The Fiestas de La Mercè are totally crazy. Human towers, giants and TONS of fireworks. Everywhere. There are still holes in my clothes from the flying sparks! More fun and memorable than horrific though, promise.
PR: Tell us one stereotypical thing about Spaniards that’s true. NH: They really do eat dinner at around 10pm!
PR: What’s the one thing every visitor must do before leaving Barcelona? NH: See the façade of the Sagrada Familia – it’s out of the way, expensive to go inside and the crowds are maddening, but at least look at the Passion Façade and be fully awestruck for a moment or two.
I wanted to try something new, so I created this interview series dubbed “How you living?!” that will feature glimpses of city living through the lens of some friends of mine. Hopefully 10 to 13 questions are enough. This week, London’s calling (#TheClash) with exceptional museums and art galleries!! Enjoy the interview and leave a comment using your Facebook or Twitter account!
Phil Rodriques (PR): Where are you originally from? Brendan Cormier (BC): I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada.
PR: Why did you move to London? BC: I was living in the Netherlands at the time editing a magazine [Volume] about architecture and urbanism. But I was looking for more opportunities to curate exhibitions, because I think they can speak to a broader public. I applied for a job at the Victoria and Albert Museum as a curator, and I got it. The fact that it was in London was a bonus.
PR: What’s the best part about living in London? BC: For me, it’s about access to so many good people, interesting design practices, great museums, and excellent schools. If you’re doing anything related to design it’s a great place to be.
PR: What’s the worst thing about living in London? BC: The Rent. Is. Too. Damn. High.
PR: You’re an urban designer. What are your favourite streetscape features throughout London? BC: I’m a big fan of the post-war housing estates that were produced in London. The Barbican is an obvious one, and it’s truly incredible, but they exist throughout the city, and it’s a delight to explore them all. They aren’t streetscapes in the traditional sense, but the interior layouts of the estates behave like streets, or sometimes even streets in the sky.
PR: These days, you’re a lead curator of 20th and 21st century design working in London that’s steeped in the arts. What are some of the best museums and art galleries you’ve visited? BC: There are too many to count. When I first moved here, I had the ambition of visiting every one, and would do one per weekend, but I haven’t even scratched the surface. The big ones are excellent like the Tate Modern, the British Museum and of course, the Victoria and Albert Museum. But there are smaller ones with really unusual collections that are worth your while. The Soane Museumis one man’s personal collection all stuffed into one house. The Wellcome Collection is a great source of medical oddities.
PR: What parts of London would you say have the best places to eat? BC: You can eat well in almost any neighborhood in London. That said, you can find terrible food in any neighbourhood in London as well. So you need to do your research.
PR: Where are the best places to go for the nightlife experience? BC: Catching a show at Soho Theatre on the weekend will put you in the center of the city with tonnes of people around, and you’ll get a bit of culture while you’re at it.
PR: Where’s your favourite part of the city? BC: My new neighbourhood, Highbury, which is quiet and boring, which are rare commodities in London.
PR: How do you get around the city on a daily basis? BC: I started by taking subways everywhere. But now I try to take the bus as often as possible. If you only take the Tube, you never really see the city or learn its geography. But if you sit on the top of a double-decker bus, you get the sights and you also start to connect the dots between places.
PR: What’s the most horrific thing you’ve seen since living there? BC:Brixton Station at rush hour when an escalator is out of order. It is a mass mob of people slowly shuffling in to catch a train.
PR: Tell us one stereotypical thing about Londoners that’s true. BC: They drink a lot.
PR: What’s the one thing every visitor must do before leaving London? BC: Go to the British Museum. It really has some of the greatest treasures of humanity all assembled under one roof.
I wanted to try something new, so I created this interview series dubbed “How you living?!” that will feature glimpses of city living through the lens of some friends of mine. Hopefully 10 to 13 questions are enough. This week, we’re live from New York, New York where the buildings touch the sky and the city never sleeps!!Enjoy the interview and leave a comment using your Facebook or Twitter account!
Phil Rodriques (PR):Where are you originally from? André Haffenden (AP): Born in Mandeville, Manchester, Jamaica. Spent formative years in Cross Keys, South Manchester.
PR: You’re an architect. What’s your favourite building in New York City (NYC)? AP: Hmm, this is a tough question, because there are too many great buildings/structures here. I’ll just list a few that I admire, I don’t subscribe to “favourites” really. In no particular order: The Guggenheim Museum, The Highline, The 9/11 Memorial Pools, Apple Store (5th Ave. location), Flatiron Building [pictured below], The Cooper Union, Brooklyn Bridge (other bridges are awesome too)… I’ll just throw in the subway as well.
PR: Why did you move to NYC? AP: Big city bright lights man. Mainly for my son and job opportunities.
PR:What’s the best part about living in NYC? AP: Waking up every morning and upon inhalation, the stench of the city filling your lungs to capacity, constant reminder you’ve made it to NYC. Really though, there’s always something to do, something to see, something new… hard to get bored. And food.
PR:What’s the worst thing about living in NYC? AP: Rent.
PR: Who’s the biggest celebrity you’ve ever walked by on the street? AP: Probably Daniel Libeskind (Celebrity Architect), literally bumped into him on sidewalk downtown. Biggest that the popular culture might recognize was Lady Gaga (Singer + Songwriter).
PR: Where are the best places to eat? AP: This question would have to be broken down by where you are in the city, by neighbourhoods. There are far too many great places to eat.
PR: Where are the best places to go for the nightlife experience? AP: Perhaps the West Village.
PR: Where’s your favourite part of the city? AP: I like the piers and the Highline. Central Park as well, although I don’t go there often.
PR: How do you get around the city on a daily basis? AP: Mostly by subway; then buses, taxi, Uber.
PR:What’s the most horrific thing you’ve seen since living there? AP: The aftermath of an apartment building explosion on the same street I live on. Even more horrific were the bigoted comments online about the incident.
PR:Tell us one stereotypical thing about New Yorkers that’s true. AP: New Yorkers are ALWAYS in a hurry. Facts!
PR: What’s the one thing every visitor must do before leaving NYC? AP: They must get out the way of people trying to go about their business, ugh. Then they should visit the Highline and 9/11 Memorial… try a restaurant in at least five different neighbourhoods, and most of all, go uptown.
From the time she launched her fashion label “LUBICA” 10 years ago, business has been growing steadily for Lubica Slovak. She’s been busy developing several unique fashion collections under her brand that have included: Blue, Bliss, Bloom, Toucan, Trinity, Beyond, and Dream, along with launching her signature Lubica flower applique. I recently interviewed the talented young fashion designer to learn more about starting her own fashion line, the biggest lesson she’s learned to date, and her advice to aspiring fashion designers.
A Snapshot Profile of Lubica Slovak
Lubica Slovak is an artistic Slovakia-born, fashion designer who founded LUBICA, a clothing company based in Jamaica. Slovak has previously partnered and collaborated with international recording artist Tami Chynn on a female boutique dubbed “Belle” and an award-winning collection, “Anuna”.
Education: Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada Organisations founded: LUBICA and Belle
The Phresh Interview
Phil Rodriques (PR): What favourite quote/mantra do you live by? Lubica Slovak (LS): Don’t sweat the small stuff… let it go, everything will work out as it should. I have to remind myself of this one often.
PR: What sparked your interest in fashion? LS: I have been interested in fashion from when I was a little girl. I remember always wanting to pick my own outfits to wear from very young age and then as a tween and a teen always wanting to look different and stand out with my outfits. Looking back…I didn’t always stand out in a good way though. [Lubica laughs]
PR: You studied fashion design in (Toronto) Canada and never worked for anyone else. Why did you launch your own label straight away? LS: Because it was my dream to have my own line and create outfits that I really wanted to create. I am a Taurus [Zodiac sign] and we do things our way…it may not always be the best thing, but we definitely know what we want and go after it.
PR: How do you balance creativity with business? LS: This is very hard for me. As a creative person I think more about colours and fabrics rather than numbers. It is very important to balance the two as talent alone is not enough these days. I am still working on this one.
PR: What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your fashion company? LS: That you just can’t do it all yourself. For the line and brand to grow it is important to find the right people to work with. And also to take risks and follow your instinct.
PR: What’s your latest fashion design project? LS: My line/brand is a constant project.
PR: Where do you find the inspiration for each Lubica (fashion) collection? LS: [Lubica laughs] My “favourite” question. Inspiration comes from different things. It could be a song, a movie or a mood that I am in. [Lubica collections]
PR: Where do you see Lubica in 5 years’ time? LS: I would like to expand and grow the Lubica brand and for it to be a successful brand available worldwide.
PR: What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers? LS: Be a dentist! [Lubica jokes] I would say make sure that this really is your passion. That you absolutely cannot live without it and then make a good plan and be ready to work really hard. Create cohesive collections and be clear on who your customer is. And most importantly be a business person as much as a creative person.
PR: Would you ever consider designing menswear? LS: Yes of course I have considered it and maybe one day I will. Just not sure when. [Lubica smiles]
When you first meet Carole Beckford, you’re in complete awe of just how animated she is. On the second meeting you realise her personality is 100% genuine; what you see, is what you get. It’s no wonder she’s such an incredible connector in her industry. She knows exactly how to leverage her network for either an ambitious goal or a noteworthy cause. Her latest professional adventure has taken her to the “Jamaica Film Commission”, where there’s no business like show business. I spoke with Carole to learn more about her role as film commissioner, the Jamaican film industry, and the upcoming inaugural film festival.
A Snapshot Profile of Carole Beckford
Carole Beckford is highly considered as a strategist for marketing, communications and public relations campaigns at the development and implementation stages. Carole’s work has stretched across a number of industries to include sport, entertainment and news. She was also the publicist for Track and Field Superstar Usain Bolt for four years.
Organisations founded: The Business of Sport
Books published:KeepingJamaica’s Sport on Track (2007) and Jamaica is in – Sports and Tourism (upcoming)
The Phresh Interview
Phil Rodriques (PR): What’s your favourite quote/mantra? Carole Beckford (CB): You get as much as you are prepared to give.
PR: What sparked your interest in Jamaica’s film industry? CB: Sport has been a favourite of mine, so entertainment/film was easy. Those industries have the same blessings and the same curse and they both involve creative minds. It challenges me to participate and to see how I can add value.
PR: Who inspires you the most in international film industry? Anyone who stands out? CB: I learnt Television as a producer and as a result inspired by live shows producers. I like living on the edge I guess, what better way.
PR: What’s your favorite part about being a film commissioner? CB:The idea of helping to make the connections necessary to unite the industry. Jamaica’s efforts are best served united.
PR: What’s your favorite film shot on location in Jamaica? CB: Can’t have a favourite; that would be telling too much. My job is to get more films, commercials, and photo sessions done here. The [film] industry needs the employment and those who want to grow much further, need the credits.
PR: What drives your work ethic? CB: I am results-oriented and I like to ensure people meet and connect with the right people. I have had access to some very important decision makers and maintain those relationships. That drives me to ensure others have the same opportunities.
PR: How do you balance creativity with commerce? CB: Oh that is a hard one, but I measure time so I am always insisting that folks I interact with have the same ethic. Once we honour that commerce becomes easier. Also people like when you deliver.
PR: What are some of the Jamaica Film Commission’s strengths? CB: Connections to international contacts; ability to create a friendly environment; and history of being in the business for over two decades.
PR: Where do you hope to see Jamaica’s film industry in 5 years’ time? CB: [In five years’ time…]
– TV shows created by Jamaicans shown on local, regional and international television;
– Series on Netflix, etc.;
– One feature a year in cinemas worldwide;
– Lots of filmmakers creating features for other film festivals globally.
PR: What’s the biggest lesson that you have learned since you became film commissioner? CB: Never underestimate the power of a creative mind. [Carole smiles]
PR: What have been some of the unexpected successes? CB: Being able to connect international media experts to people in the industry. Horace Madison for example, has made great connections here and is helping people. My association with Jeremy Whittaker, producer/director of [the film] Destiny (2014), which has promoted Jamaica in a really positive light and has been in theatre.
PR: What’s your latest project under the Jamaica Film Commission? CB: The coordination of the inaugural Jamaica Film Festival; an event which we hope can inspire the local industry to get organised. [July 7 – 11, 2015, Kingston]
PR: How has the upcoming festival been received locally and internationally? CB: [The reception thus far…]
Lots of interest from both markets, we are hoping for a turnaround in a few ways:
– Kingston must be credited as the cultural city of the region;
– Local producers must be inspired to work together.
PR: What aspects of the Jamaica film industry keep you up at night or make you the most paranoid? CB: You wouldn’t want to know. [Carole smiles]
PR: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers, scriptwriters, and actors? CB: Be prepared. You never know who you’ll meet on a daily basis. [Bonus tip] “Never leave home without make-up.”
PR: Is there anything else you would like to add? CB: Film is big business and the time is now to get involved. There are way too many platforms not to produce films for consumption – get involved now!
Matthew Markus is the CEO and Co-founder behind the new company Pembient that’s using biotechnology to create an unorthodox approach to fight poaching. He’s just part of a larger “biotech startup movement” in Silicon Valley aiming to solve everyday problems. I recently interviewed Matthew to find out what Pembient’s story can teach us about using offbeat ideas to both launch a company and tackle global issues through innovation.
Mark Twain once said, “Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute.” It’s hard to argue with that sentiment. Every day platforms like the National Geographic highlight the atrocities faced by endangered species throughout Africa and Asia including lions, elephants, rhinos, and tigers. Most recently, a trophy “hunter” paid $350,000 for a permit to kill a black rhino in Namibia. There are an estimated 5,055 remaining in the wild. The black rhino ranks as one of the most critically endangered species in the world. Outside of trophy hunting the biggest issue continues to be poaching.
South Africa within the last four months of 2015 has had nearly 400 rhinos slaughtered for their horns. This is an 18 percent increase in comparison to the same period in the previous year. Since 2011, statistical data has shown an increasing trend to kill rhinos for their horns, with the number of deaths more than doubling by the end of 2013 (1,004). But there is some good news. Park officials in South Africa have highlighted an increase of 40 more arrests of poachers when compared to the April 2014 period. Across countries like Kenya, Cameroon, and others, over 100,000 elephants had been slaughtered for their ivory tusks in just three years (2010 to 2012). In 1979, the elephant population across the continent was approximately 1.1 million. In just under three decades, we’ve managed to reduce that population to a range that falls between 472,000 and 690,000 elephants (the IUCN’s African Elephant Specialist Group). This is as a result of poaching and other human conflicts over living space, food and other economic resources.
In April 2015, Thai Custom Officials had success after uncovering and seizing three tons of illegal ivory (511 elephant tusks worth $6 million) smuggled in bags of tea from Kenya. The ivory was destined for Laos and eventually to buyers in China, Vietnam and Thailand. The previous week they seized four tons of ivory, this time from Congo. What would make a country go so far as to smuggle the remains of elephants amongst a “traditional” consumer product like tea? Could it be a selfish or misguided attempt to preserve their cultures and traditions for future generations? Mainland China was the world’s leading tea consumption and production country in 2010 with the average person consuming 400 cups of tea every year. We’re presented with quite the moral and cultural paradox and understanding both could be the key to unlocking change.
Meet Pembient, the Biotech Company
Pembient is a new biotech company in Silicon Valley that has introduced an unconventional idea that has considered the importance of preserving and respecting people’s cultural and traditional ways of life. The company’s ambitions involve leveraging the latest developments in biotechnology to manufacture wildlife products, such as rhino horn and elephant ivory, at lower market prices than those that drive the demand in poaching. With the black market valued at around $20 billion, Pembient’s ultimate goal is to replace the illegal wildlife trade, with sustainable commerce. The company has so far developed prototypes for synthetic rhino horns using 3-D printing technology.
A Snapshot Profile of Matthew Markus
Matthew Markus is an experienced technologist who co-founded Pembient with George Bonaci and is the biotech company’s current CEO. Markus has co-founded the startups in the mobile, genomics, and internet sectors.
Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Washington, St. Louis Organisations founded: iHear Network, Mendelia, and PrivacyBank.com
The Phresh Interview
Phil Rodriques (PR): What is Pembient truly passionate about? Matthew Markus (MM): So obviously we’re really passionate about conservation, but I don’t really consider myself a conservationist. I think we’re sort of interested in, well I’m personally interested in solving complex problems and I think the poaching crisis is a complex problem. I mean you have lots of things going on. You have governments; you have black market syndicates; you have technology; you have economics; you have different languages; different cultures. I mean it’s a complex problem and I guess that is very attractive to me, because there are lots of things you need to learn, lots of things you need to understand and you have to figure out the best way you can probably have an impact on that problem. And that’s what I’m kind of passionate about I guess.
PR:Why create Pembient? MM: Well, okay so the approaching crisis for rhino started around 2006, so that’s going on nine years ago now. It’s slowly crept up over time and if you look at the compounding annual growth rate of poaching in the last five years is like 30%. So last year was a record year, 1,215 and this year it’s unfortunate, because the government isn’t releasing figures at regular intervals like they use to do, but there are estimates at (I don’t know), maybe 580 to 390 have been killed or 360. Again it’s on track to be another record year, this year. I think we said a lot of “standard conservation techniques” have been tried and basically if you measured the results of those techniques, obviously you’d probably come to the conclusion that they’re failing. So you can measure the number of rhinos killed, you can measure the growth rate in poaching, you can measure a lot of different things. But none of these trends, none of these statistics are positive in anyway and that’s after nine years of effort. So basically I think we said well, are there other opportunities or other ways or processes that can be used here in order to basically counter the poaching and I think there are and I think basically if you look at the West with fur products, like there’s three things that go on with fur products, right: there’s effective laws and regulation governing fur products; there’s basically organisations like PETA looking to reduce the demand or consumption of real fur; and then there’s also substitute fur products, for people who still like the feel or look of fur without necessarily harming animals.
If you see that kind of repeat over and over again, we were kind of shocked that’s really sort of never used as substitute for the hard portion of the equation was not really used when it comes to these problems in Asia and we thought that’s kind of a shame. There should be a strong substitute or safety valve so that people can continue their traditions without necessarily causing ecological damage or anything else like that. That’s where Pembient comes in. We say we’re founded on the belief that animals are precious and traditions are important. In the past, talks have been animal populations are going to be decimated and traditions have to be stopped; you can tell somebody to stop maybe one tradition or one culture to stop one tradition, but if you look at Asia there’s like so many traditions that people (advocates) want stopped. They want the use of rhinoceros horns stopped. They want the use of ivory stopped. They want the use of shark fin stopped. They want the use of bear bile stopped. They want the use of manta ray stopped. They want the use of tiger bones stopped. They want… you know what I mean. It goes on and on, so at some point, I don’t think you can really just say “you need to stop all culture, traditions and practices” and really expect that to happen. It’s a hard problem.
PR: What are or have been Pembient’s milestones for/over the next 6 to 12 months that need to be achieved? How long have you guys been in operation? MM: Yeah, we started it sort of as a project, not a company initially, just trying to gather data and learn more about the problem [poaching]. We started maybe about a year ago now, during March of last year I guess, and then we didn’t incorporate until January 2015. So there’s definitely a period of months where we were just kind of running it as a project and the milestones for that project were many. I mean we basically set out to first survey the population there (Vietnam) and try to learn how rhino horn is used and their potential acceptance of alternatives. And then based on some of that data we developed prototypes in the lab that had the same physical and chemistry properties of rhino horn. We took some of those prototypes to Vietnam. Then in Vietnam we interviewed some people who used rhino horn and got their feedback on not just the prototypes, but understanding more about their life and what they’re doing and why they’re doing their behaviours and stuff. So I would think those are all major milestones leading up to basically our acceptance into Indie.Bio(biotech accelerator in San Francisco) where I’m speaking to you from right now. So basically it’s kind of trying to prove out the science of some of the market so that we would basically have a strong case for acceptance into a biotech accelerator. And then with the accelerator we get access to another set of lab capabilities and we also got money to further our development.
PR: What do you foresee as the positive implications of your bio-technology on poaching? MM: Sure! We’re sort of part of a larger movement, so in this accelerator (IndieBio) and Silicon Valley specifically, there are several companies that basically are removing animals or eliminating society’s dependence on animals for end products. So there’s a company fermenting egg white proteins in yeast, so basically you can create a “chicken-less” egg. There’s another company that’s fermenting milk protein in yeast so you can create “milk without a cow”. So basically we view our association as an extension to that sort of a movement where we basically want to remove animals from the food and goods chain. And poaching we think or with wildlife, we think there is a great opportunity to sort of jump over because the next logical step for wildlife unfortunately is farming. There are already proposals to farm rhinos and what not, so we’re hoping the technology can do what it’s doing right now where basically companies in the United States are trying to remove animals from the factory farms, so basically you don’t eat these animals in the factory farms, we’re hoping we could just jump over that phase where you have to farm wildlife products and just jump right to the end phase which we believe is to get lab-produced animal products.
PR: Have you considered that 3D-printed horns could have negative consequences for the endangered wildlife (rhinos/elephants) that you are trying to save? MM: I don’t know… people tell us, “Oh your idea won’t work and it’ll also increase demand” [laughs] so you know what I mean, that’s kind of a weird situation to be in where people won’t want your thing [synthetic products], but at the same time they’ll somehow want the other thing [animal products]. We don’t think… there’s a lot of historical analogies like if you look at Christmas trees – fake Christmas trees versus real Christmas trees. The introduction of fake Christmas trees did not lead to a demand in real Christmas trees; in fact the demand for real Christmas trees dropped after the introduction of fake Christmas trees [Phil laughs]. So there’s definitely a historical precedence where basically that doesn’t really occur necessarily where you basically had this knock on demand for the real thing per se. I mean we’ve studied it in some detail, we think it’s a really strange edge case that probably will not occur. We intend to build the best product we can for our clients. So hopefully at the end of the day there will be no way to distinguish us from wild product; except maybe the fact that wild product will contain pollutants, whereas we [Pembient products] won’t contain any pollutants at all, because we’re built in a quality-control lab facility. So basically we want to create the best product there that basically is a full and reliable substitute for what people currently use and we think that… we don’t really see how it’s going to necessarily inflame demand for the wild product. I mean our product is a unique offering and it’s actually better than the wild product in lot of ways.
PR: What have been some of the unexpected hurdles? MM: Unexpected hurdles… good question. Well you know, there are always technical hurdles around creating a product itself, because basically we have to build a prototype and then we have to sort of compare it to the data that we’ve obtained from rhino horns. And then we always need to go back and see why we are not matching in some aspect or characteristic and then do some reverse engineering on the wild horn itself to figure out what we’re missing or what we need to include. So there are always those things going on. I guess on the other side we always knew that we’re challenging the orthodoxy as far as conservation is concerned. So it’s not like an unexpected hurdle per se, but obviously we have people who think we’re a breath of fresh air and that we’re shaking up the [conservation] conversation and trying to figure out new avenues for approaching this problem. While on the other hand we have people who just don’t want to hear about anything that we’re doing. So that’s a hurdle, I guess.
PR: What have been some of the unexpected successes to date? MM: Oh well, I guess the press. [Matthew laughs] We’ve had a lot of press and that was almost too soon and too early, but it was great. We enjoyed talking to everybody and hearing other people’s opinions and getting feedback on what we’re doing. But it’s been a lot for the last week or two it’s been a lot of extra work [Matthew laughs]. So that was unexpected, but it is a positive.
PR: What aspects of Pembient’s pursuits keep you up at night? What are you most paranoid about, if anything at all? MM: Good question too. I guess we want to enter the market in partnership with companies in Asia that maybe have used water buffalo horn or are using water buffalo horn or maybe used rhino horn in the past in their medicines or their durable goods or their other products. So basically finding those partners and basically also as part of partnership agreements, we want to basically help them with the marketing message, so that basically people understand that this is a product made in the United States. We’re kind of like… you know Brooks Brothers, right, [Phil agrees] the makers of suits and stuff like that. So there’s another company called Loro Piana, which is a wool textile-maker; so a lot of the times a Loro Piana wool will end up in a Brook Brothers suit. So we want to sort of have that brand or like Gore-Tex in like a The North Face jacket.
So we want to be like a “branded ingredient” to these other products. So we want to basically develop these partnerships that are more than just like we’re an ingredient, but that we’re in partnership with them and that we help with their marketing message and communicate the value of lab horn or Pembient horn versus the value of wild horn, which we think is much less. And so I think just establishing those partnerships and getting the marketing message and branding right with them you know obviously would keep me up at nights, because it’s a complex thing and it requires a relationship to form and it requires us to work in partnership with these people [Asian companies] effectively. It’s always difficult, especially when they’re language barriers and then there’s other things involved so I think that keeps me up at nights a little bit.
PR: How did you guys come up with the company name? MM: [laughs] Sure. There was an article in the New York Times about naming companies and the process to do it. I guess there are consultants that make hundreds of dollars an hour naming companies. I actually found a very similar process myself, but I learned about it afterwards. Basically I just had a dictionary putting down words and then putting down suffixes for words. So “pembe” in Swahili is like horn or tusk. I think there was some elephant named Pembe in a Disney movie at some point [Matthew chuckles] and then “ient” is like “indication of” in English as a suffix. So those two words just jumped altogether in my mind at some point. So “Pembient” would mean “indication of horn or tusk” and I thought it was a pretty cool name so that’s what I went with.
PR: Who designed Pembient’s logo? MM: [Matthew laughs] Me. [laughs again].
PR: Is there anything else you would like to add? MM: No. I just want to thank you for reaching out and thank you for posting us on your Facebook 60 words or less. [referring to ‘Do Good 365’]