Maker Profile: Svitlana Pimenov, Owner of Eclectic Lab Designs - Boston
Hi Svitlana! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Svitlana, I love a boy named Alex, coffee with milk, fried onions and string lights all year round.
How did you begin your career in photography?
I just found myself in the situation. I was offered to be paid in exchange for my ability to see and capture things in a certain way.
I didn't even own a camera back then; I was using friend's camera body and invested in my own lens, and was bugging everyone with my photo espionage at every party and every trip we went to. They all thanked me after, but eye rolling is something I was used to back then.
Photography job opportunities started coming around 2010, but it took me a couple more years to call myself a photographer even though I was producing the result other people charged big money for, so I had to learn how to sell at some point.
What led you to begin Eclectic Lab Designs with your husband Alex? What was that transition like?
Alex and I are into all things handmade; we've been making furniture and decor for our own home since we started living together. When the food photography era of my life started (it was about the same time Instagram happened to me), I ran into an obstacle of needing backgrounds to shoot on, but I didn't have any. Sometime later I met a friend who is in food photography too and she started seeding this idea in my mind that we could totally create photo backgrounds because there is an obvious demand in this certain niche and we are so handcraft inclined and so on. But eLab (short name) did not start then, it started about a year later almost impromptu. I say almost because I did not give up this idea and carried it in my mind for a while, but being busy with other stuff, I didn't quite believe we could pull it off successfully, and my inner perfectionist was scared to death about failing such a thing. Then that same friend gave us a serious pep talk at some get-together, after which I cuffed my perfectionist and started working on creating the first line of designs. Alex picked up, seeing that I was serious about it and eLab just became a part of our lives as if it always was.
Tell us more about the origins of the brand’s name.
Coming up with the name was a bit of a pain I have to tell you. 95% of names that resembled the idea I had in mind (even pretty unique ones) were taken. Besides, we were just starting, nothing was set in stone, who knew where the next turn would take us, so we thought the name had to be "spacey", had to allow room for development and still be a cool outstanding name. I don't like boundaries, so "eclectic lab designs" was specific enough to describe what we do, but not too specific to set the boundaries, which made me quite happy. I would tell you more about my ambitions for eLab development, but I don't think I'm comfortable sharing that yet, you'll have to come back and ask me some more questions sometime later! :)
How do you come up with your designs? Do you have specific design plans or do the materials themselves inspire the design?
Some of the very first designs were obviously inspired by things we found online and things we had seen other people use for their photography. We wanted to try and see if we wanted to keep doing this, but then in the process of making, ideas started popping up. So yes most of the designs are being born during the process of creation. I browse the web and get a lot of inspiration from things I see around like old walls and color combos. I make notes and plan the designs I want to make, but there's always a big chance that in that process I'll come up with another two or three new ideas. The more you work with materials the more you know about them. You learn the texture, the interactions, the ways to create patterns, to age, to make it stick, to waterproof, and you just experiment. I love the feeling of satisfaction that this human/material interaction brings.
How do you connect with your customers and community?
Instagram mostly, reading blogs, exploring hashtags and also trying to attend more creative meetings. I am definitely working on a plan to go beyond Instagram and connect more in real life, which we already started by meeting prop stylists and providing our backgrounds for food photo workshops. I also run one on one food photo workshops from time to time, but that's more of my own way of having fun, rather than doing business. Maybe I should revisit the purpose!
Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local makers?
My vision is, when things are made small they have more soul to them, more meaning and character. They have this energy of love put into them. Small businesses are driven by a force which now I know consists of the desire to bring a piece of one's uniqueness into the world, to make it a better, prettier, healthier place. It is important to support local supply because it's like seeding carrots in your own garden, you feed them, they feed you. Besides, I prefer to know where things are coming from. If I have a chance to meet the maker or learn as much as I can about product's origin or get answers to my questions, then I feel connected and important.
What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
I can get as messy as I want! I don't know how to be neat while creating, I get carried away, I spill paint, I wipe my hands on my apron and it looks like it has been dipped into paint-plaster mix few times.
My workspace is the place where I unleash my messy self and let her take over.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Here's a funny thing (well, maybe not so funny), but when I want to draw something, I get stopped often by not wanting to mess up a white page, but when I make surfaces things just click and I can spend hours at my workstation without noticing. It makes my mind bubble with ideas and thoughts flow. It's like a meditation of sorts. These ideas keep me up at night and wake me up in the morning, so I guess one of the things that make me passionate is that I can apply 100% of myself here. Being good at something makes me feel happy. Bringing the product that I'm good at making to the community and hearing all the nice things back makes me even happier and gives me purpose and drive.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting your business?
Learning how to sell on Instagram. Or learning marketing in general. This entire organizational and planning part that I'm so bad at has been the biggest challenge. I'd rather mess with paint, cook, style and shoot food than do marketing, but there's no one to give me the choice, so I bite my lip and do it all.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
This may sound strange, but I think that women simply know a bit better than men how much a girl needs love and support. Very simple kind words can move a mountain if said at the moment she needs them. I believe women can recognize, feel and understand those moments in each other's lives, and that's why supporting each other can be so empowering.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Ariele Alasko (@arielalasko) , Maria Kutsogiannis (@foodbymaria) , Tata Cher (@tata_cher), Ezgi Polat (@ezgipolat), Cinzia Bolognesi (@cuordicarciofo) just to name a few.
Was there any particular person who helped shape your career in formative way?
My friend Alena Haurylik (@alenafoodphoto) was that person who kept pushing me to start eLab. She is a huge inspiration to me, I love her and will always be grateful for making me believe I can do it.
What have you learned from owning your business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
Small things. Small but powerful.
Show up no matter what. Don't complain about competition, just put your best out. Be honest about yourself and curious about others. Be proud of what you do. Keep on keeping on.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating your business?
There are a couple of podcasts that I really like to listen to, like TED Radio Hour, Social Media Marketing Podcast and Femtepreneur. They keep me inspired and provide necessary emotional support, as well as valuable information. We do most of our sales through Instagram, so it is one of our most used tools for sure. Our beautiful website was created using Vigbo (@vigbo) templates, these guys are from Belarus and do a wonderful job helping small businesses like us to maintain their business. I also read their blog, where they share a lot of useful info on how to improve your biz, but it all is in Russian language only, unfortunately.
What are some of your favorite places in Boston?
Boston is my favorite place entirely, but if I had to pick, I love Esplanade and bike path that goes along entire water line at Storrow Drive, I love it the most at sundown.
Arnold Arboretum, you should check it during Lilac blooming.
I also like to take a stroll in South Boston, red brick and industrial feel there hypnotizes me and sets my mind in creative mode.
Another spot is Harvard Business School Campus especially during spring, they have lots of blooming trees, Charlestown and North Point Park, Boston Public Gardens, in other words, many many beautiful places, honestly!