Photography by: Jennifer Daigle
Already a fan of Erika Brechtel’s popular blog, Small Shop Studio, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting her earlier this year at an event for Restoration Hardware. We immediately bonded over our conversation about Hawaii, the challenges of being working mothers and the treat of being out with our husbands for the evening. Erika’s graphic design business is her bread and butter, helping companies define their personal brand. Her stylish self-designed home was recently featured on The Glitter Guide, (photographed by Jen Daigle, who also took these lovely images of Erika and her family). Classy, focused, business-minded and creative, Erika is the kind of woman I look up to and I am so happy to have had the pleasure of getting to know her this year. I know you’ll enjoy her, too.
You’re originally from Hawaii. Tell us a little bit about your childhood. How did it lead to where you find yourself today?
Hawaii and its people are obviously so beautiful. But what I love most about growing up there is the “Aloha spirit” – it’s a general optimism about people, community and life. It’s being kind to others and to the environment. It’s being grounded and putting others above yourself. I hope I can teach my daughter to practice this simple philosophy in her life.
How did you first discover your passion for the visual?
I was always an artist, even as a kid. I would make my own cards, paint, and would lay out furniture plans in the back of my mom’s HOME magazines. (Remember those?!) what I love most about growing up in Hawaii is the “Aloha spirit” – it’s a general optimism about people, community and life.At UCLA, I decided to major in Art History because I felt it was a comprehensive education that connected historical events, societies, trends, figures, and art. I feel that I got so much more out of that education than perhaps directly applicable or measurable, if that makes sense. A greater appreciation for global perspectives, other cultures, history and design in general, perhaps?
You have a widely popular blog, SmallShopStudio. Tell us a little about that journey.
Even though I’ve been in business for myself for ten years now, I started the blog two years ago as a marketing tool. It has done so much for me personally and professionally than I could have imagined. In addition to gaining 99% of my business from the blog and the press I’ve gotten out of it, I’ve met so many fantastic and creative people.
I hope that my readers and clients know that what they’ll get from me is contemporary with a bit of glam, edge and prettiness thrown in the mix.
What is your favorite thing about blogging?
I love that it forces me to be creative every day. It forces me to stay connected to the design world, whether it’s interiors, fashion, travel or art. Especially since I work for myself, that connection is so important, and keeps me continually inspired.
You’re also a branding expert. Share a little bit about your style and brand.
I made a real effort to create a brand around my style when I decided to start my blog. It was a goal of mine to become more than an anonymous graphic designer behind a computer. I intentionally infuse my own personal style into my posts, projects, outfits, home… anything that comes from me has to look like it’s me. Brand recognition is the most important aspect of branding, and I hope that my readers and clients know that what they’ll get from me is contemporary with a bit of glam, edge and prettiness thrown in the mix.
What advice do you have to offer to a woman searching to find herself and to solidify her personal brand?
I am a lot older than the average blogger, so I’ve had a lot of time to get to know myself, but I still explore and push the boundaries to see what sticks. That said, I would recommend making a list of inspirational figures and designers, collecting images, fonts, colors, products, anything that you think expresses your style. Sometimes when you see it all together you can get a real sense of your style “truth” – it gives you something to measure against. For example, for me sometimes, I would think, “What would Kelly Wearstler do to finish this room?” or “What would Kate Moss do to finish this outfit?”
If you could go back in time and give advice to the younger you, what would you say?
Probably take some business classes! I have been fortunate to have been busy this long, but it’s definitely been a learning process. My husband always says I’m too nice. I do wish I had more business savvy.
Your husband is an architect. Where did the two of you meet? What do you find are the benefits and challenges in navigating a relationship where both people are in creative careers?
We worked together at an architectural firm when he was an intern. (Yes, I had a crush on the intern!). That was 13 years ago! Over the years we have remained hugely supportive of each other’s careers, and are always willing to step it up when the other has an overfull workload. The most difficult part is the inconsistency and the long hours.
You have a young daughter. Tell us a little bit about your decision to become a mother, and the challenges you’ve faced trying to create a career while parenting.
Two years and three miscarriages later, we had our daughter in 2009. I’ll admit we were so focused on having a healthy baby that we did not plan well for what happens after birth. I was naïve thinking I could work from home with a baby, so she started in full-time day care when she was 4 months old. And although there are many days when I wish I could just be a mom, I know she is in the best care – her teachers certainly know more than I do about child development!
How do you stay organized and prioritize your time?
I live and breathe by my Outlook calendar and mailbox. I have to be very strict about scheduling my time for my various projects. Sometimes it’s tough because everything comes back at once, or a client needs a last-minute project from you, or you or your kid gets sick. Life happens and priorities do shift, however. For example, because I can only blog at night, I found it was really wearing on me. I’ve had to cut back on the amount of blogging I do to keep myself fresh for my clients during the day.
Charity work is a big part of your life. How did you become involved, and what do you love most about giving back in your community?
I have been volunteering consistently since college, but most recently, I joined the Junior League of Orange County, CA. I’m currently on leadership for our big fundraising event being held in Orange County at the Hilton Costa Mesa, November 9-12. The women and the work are amazing, and I’m so honored to be a part of a group of women who give so much of their time and talents to better the lives of at-risk kids in the community.
Between work, life, love, marriage, home, kids, friends, travel – I’m finding more and more of us are feeling like a failure just because we don’t give 250% to everything we do.
If you could change something about today’s culture for your daughter and for the future generation of women, what would it be?
I have discussed this a lot lately with female friends and colleagues: there seems to be a general feeling of being completely overwhelmed. We all try to do SO much. Between work, life, love, marriage, home, kids, friends, travel – I’m finding more and more of us are feeling like a failure just because we don’t give 250% to everything we do. And that makes me sad. I think we need to find what our happy place is and be OK with that. I struggle with this too, but I definitely don’t want my daughter to remember her mommy as always being busy and stressed about not doing enough. I want to be present, for her. She is my motivation.
How do you envision your future?
Honestly, I am really happy where I am right now. I get to work on fun projects with clients I truly admire, and make them happy and successful in the process. I get to have lunch and dinner dates with my husband every so often, and visit with friends and family when we can work it out. And best of all, I get to spend time with this incredible little creature that blows my mind and melts my heart every day. It doesn’t get any better, does it?
Girl Friday is a phrase more common to the 1940s and 50s, defined as “a female employee who has a wide range of duties,” and is most recognizable from the film His Girl Friday. Here at Move LifeStyle, we’re resurrecting its saucy vibe for the title of our last column of the week which profiles inspiring women in the workforce.