I met Krystal Vaquerano for this interview at her Brooklyn apartment; a bright and cozy space adorned with hanging plants, handmade ceramics, and vintage picture frames. Those design accents sat perfectly next to a shelf full of inspirational books and a small, mid-century modern desk where she works day and night as Creative Director and Co-Founder of Shea Brand. Before we sat down to chat, Krystal offered me a tiny glass of kombucha and twirled her luscious hair into a loose knot, held in place atop her head with a 90’s-esque tortoiseshell clip. Despite already knowing this stylish woman, I was struck by how clearly creative she is, and by her modest but serious manner.
To Krystal, and to Shea Brand, art and creativity are a driving force. She shared with me what that means when it comes to her day-to-day grind and why it’s so important to the aesthetic of the brand. Read on for a glimpse into the inspiration, teamwork, and challenges that inform Krystal’s work for Shea Brand
What does a day in the life of Creative Director look like?
KV: Currently my routine has been a bit out of whack, since I just finished moving and life has been a little all over the place. My days usually start with taking care of urgent emails first thing. I’d love to get back into the habit of meditating each morning before making breakfast (I’ve been on an oatmeal kick lately) and then checking emails. If I can, I like to tackle my most creatively challenging work first thing so I can take a mid-afternoon workout break and feel accomplished. Then I work on whatever pending work needs to be done, which can be either creative or totally unglamorous.
I would say that most days are actually a chaotic mix of me designing a project while running errands, traveling to and from our Ft. Greene studio, managing emails coming in, and helping Austin and Marie get immediate needs taken care of. There is an ideal way that I’d like my workdays to go, but the reality is that things are often pretty crazy. Surprisingly, though, some of my most creative moments happen late at night, so I don’t always mind an all night work session.
What are you working on now?
KV: Right now I’m working on a few packaging designs for some new products we plan on launching in 2019. They are CBD-based products, which we’re are super stoked about, so I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how they’ll look.
To be honest, I have had some moments of struggling with how to make the new products feel exciting because they all have the same active ingredient. I love everything we’ve done thus far, but with our CBD line expanding I want to ensure that they are cohesive with each other, but are also special and distinctive.
Sometimes I feel like I waste so much time obsessing over these tiny details and I wonder if anyone will even notice them. To me those details are so important because I want to give people the absolute best experience with our products, but the reality is that time is limited
You used to work in fashion, and now you’re the Creative Director for a clean beauty startup. What is different between those two worlds, are there upsides and downsides?
KV: As a designer the creative aspect is very similar. I try to create something that is distinctive and different, yet beautiful. For me, I love that about both fashion and packaging design. I guess what I’m trying to say is that creating something out of paper vs creating something out of fabric and make it really stand out is what I find interesting. It’s rewarding to turn simple materials into a complete product.
What do you love about being Creative Director and Co-Founder for Shea Brand?
KV: Having creative freedom is something that I really love. When I worked in fashion I was always working for someone else, so there was someone who could come and tell me where to start or to say no, our customer won’t like that. I really enjoy getting to work on my own vision. I have the freedom and agency to come up with my own ideas without those guidelines. Sometimes when I sit down to work on a new design idea, I feel this surreal sense of euphoria that I never had when working a full time job in fashion.
Of course, we are a team so I don’t get the final say on my own, but I’m lucky that Austin and Marie really respect my vision and the design work I do. Being a part of a team is actually really helpful because I have people to bounce ideas off of when I’m stuck seeing something with tunnel vision. Austin is really detail oriented so he is especially great at giving feedback. Marie is also a really talented designer, so I’m thankful to have her perspective and support when it comes to cranking out creative work or making decisions.
What are some challenges you run into as Creative Director?
KV: As our line has been expanding I've been challenged with the task of designing each new product in a way that feels new and fresh but still cohesive to our brand. Sometimes the pressure to evolve our aesthetic and strike that perfect balance can be overwhelming, because I do feel like we need to always be pushing the envelope with our designs on some level. There are days when the creative freedom to work on my own concepts is so surreal and incredible, but there are also days when being overwhelmed makes me feel so stuck. Just like with anything in life, there are highs and lows.
Another big challenge for me is when we’re on a time crunch. We will have meetings where we decide to launch 6 new SKU’s in a month and all I can think is “ok, how do I start?” Creative work is wonderful, but can be tedious and draining, too. I think only creatives can understand the feeling of loving and hating something all at the same time. So battling that alongside making sure our designs and packaging aren’t so rushed that we make mistakes, means that working on a tight deadline can be really challenging for me.
How would you describe the Shea Brand vibe and aesthetic?
KV: I would say that we are a mixture of a little bit of eccentricity, but also very classic and clean. We are design oriented and artsy. Being art focused is really big for us.
What role does art play for Shea Brand?
KV: We design our products and packaging to feel like a beautiful piece of art you can display on your shelf or in your home. I want to design something that’s beautiful but that’s also affordable. There are so many cheap products out there that don’t have any detail put into them, and I don’t think you should have to compromise beauty for affordability. Striking the balance between being cost effective and creating something artistic and of high quality can be difficult, but we want to give everyone the opportunity to have something beautiful on their shelves.
Where and how do you find inspiration for Shea Brand?
KV: I get very inspired when I’m in a design-centric environment, so I always love to go to coffee shops that are cute and curated. I focus better in an aesthetically driven environment, so my space is very important to me.
I also am always seeking inspiration from interior design, architecture, and museums. I recently purchased a pillow for my new apartment and told Marie that it was going to be my inspiration for our next product. I love when ideas comes from products that have nothing to do with beauty. Traveling is another huge source of inspiration for me as it helps me gain a whole different perspective when it comes to certain design aspects and culture.
Follow Shea Brand on Pinterest to see what is inspiring us!
What are some of the most important creative tools that you couldn’t do your job without?
KV: Well, I obviously couldn’t do my job without Photoshop and Illustrator, your typical design tools. A lot of the beginning stages for my creative process have to do with finding inspiration. Whether I’m working on packaging, marketing, or pop-up displays, I always start by looking at what is going on out in the creative world before using that inspiration to drive me to the next step. For that I also look at Pinterest and a website called Trend Land for inspirational images in the world of architecture, photography, and product design.
What creative skill or project would you like to work on next?
KV: I would love to create a huge painting – that’s been on my personal bucket list for some time now. Art is so all encompassing, it’s vast and unrestrictive, which makes it inspiring but also intimidating. As a student in art school I could never master figure drawing as well as some of my classmates, so I kind of wish I could go back and challenge myself more in that area. Back then I never felt that I was good enough at art, but now I see that that’s kind of the beauty of it. Some may view an art piece as awful, but to someone else that same piece seems genius. At the end of the day, though, creating art is all for yourself, so I’d like to tackle something purely artistic like a painting just for me, now that I have let go of some of those art school insecurities.
This post was written by Faye Lessler, a California born, New York City based advocate for holistic sustainable living. Faye is the author of sustainable lifestyle blog, Sustaining Life, and is passionate about making an ethical & eco-friendly lifestyle easier and more accessible for all. Faye is also a freelance writer, consultant, and the Events + Talent Manager for the Ethical Writers & Creatives. Faye has been featured in Glamour and NY Magazine and has collaborated with sustainability leaders Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, Thinx, and Klean Kanteen.