INTERVIEW: by We are the Sorority
WE KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT:
LILA THEODOROS OF OH BABUSHKA
If you're anything like us, chances are you've seen that loo door design that's doing the Insta-rounds.. no? Well, in case you haven't seen it... 👀
So now that's out of the way, let us introduce you to the brains behind the project, Lila Theodoros, founder of design studio Oh Babushka.
We asked her our customary questions, and we were so thrilled with the responses.
We hope you will be too.
What motivated you to start your own business? What's your story?
So many things motivated me to start my own business! I wanted flexibility in my work, control over my own time, the ability to say yes to clients who inspired me, the ability to say no to clients who didn’t.
I had been working for more than ten years for different publications and creative agencies and felt that I was ready to step out on my own. I had learned and listened and asked. This time was invaluable for growing my skills in design, writing, business management and ideas generation.
I also saw that things in my industry were changing – a lot of small business owners were getting lost in the big agency system. I saw small business owners really taking a massive jump into the unknown to chase their dream and the process of an agency did not suit them – they weren’t a priority because they were small and they felt out of the loop because they generally never met the actual designer working on their life-changing new idea. These inspiring people were creating something from their heart, and mostly, taking great personal financial risks in order to get the right start for their business. They needed to feel supported and heard. I knew that I could offer these businesses something different – I could be the actual person that they met with, spoke to about their exciting project and worked with closely to make it happen. I could also provide a business structure that worked as collective – if the client didn’t require copywriting, I wasn’t paying that person to be on staff or absorbing that into the overall costs for the client. This makes my service much more cost effective and also gives my clients access to additional creative services where needed – I work with an amazing collective of copywriters, photographers, developers, illustrators and content strategists, bringing them into the project when their awesomeness is required.
What challenges did you face in the outset? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was working out what my point of difference was. Why would someone want to work with me over another graphic designer? I think that one of the biggest mistakes we can make as designers is to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. I know the things that I do well and then I collaborate with superstars who do other things better.
I also made the decision early on to change the typical language of business from “we” to “I”. It was getting so uncomfortable writing about the business as though I had a whole room full of employees making up the team. I made the decision to stop feeling like I had to communicate as if there were a whole pack of designers sitting in my studio and really start owning the privilege of being involved with every project, every client, every hurdle and every win. This was one of the reasons I set out on my own in the first place. I knew that I didn’t want to build a big business. I wanted to build a real business with real and honest connections. And the response to this simple language change was amazing! I had so many people contact me and tell me how excited they were to finally find someone who they knew they would meet, talk to and actually collaborate with. People are really seeking honest connections and by bringing this to my business I create solid client relationships, beautiful projects and a happy me.
How have other women helped you during hard times?
I am so lucky to have been surrounded by strong, inspiring and loving women all of my life – they lift me up with their support and advice. My mother gave me some fundamental advice when I was in year 12 in high school, right when I was having to make MAJOR LIFE DECISIONS about my career/life path – she said: “the world needs creative people”. This was life changing advice and reassurance at a time when I was struggling to see a future where I was going to be able to do something that I would love with all my heart – I didn’t want to be a lawyer, or a pharmacist or an accountant. I was a creative. I dream. I think. I make. Her words gave me the power to carve a future path that was decision-lead from the heart, always.
Add to this unending support from the sisterhood throughout my career – my family and friends have been major and super vocal supporters of everything that I do.
After I had my son a few years ago, I was faced with the daunting task of rebuilding my business and myself – when you run your own business, any sort of leave can potentially mean the business just has to go on hold. I had an incredible network of women who supported me in this return. We called ourselves “The Unofficial Mother’s Group” and made it a priority to meet for coffee (and avo on toast) every Friday, with or without kids in tow. This face to face contact was so important and meant that we weren’t just facebook-lazy friends, but we were real friends, who had real conversations, gave real hugs and invaluable support. These women pulled me through one of the toughest times I have ever had. I was a new (scared/tired/overwhelmed) mum, I felt like I had been ‘out of the game’ professionally for ages and my confidence was flat. Every Friday they would ask ‘what exciting things are you working on?’. I would show them some design ideas that I was playing with for a client. They would rave about how awesome everything was … even if maybe some of it wasn’t, but it felt so so good to hear it.
What does female support mean to you?
Female support IS belonging to a sisterhood. It is love. It is laughter. It is the connection. Female support lifts you up and encourages you to fly. Leslie Knope is one of my favourite fictional female characters and she says “Ovaries before Brovaries”. Word.
How has social media changed the shape of your business?
Instagram is everything! It is so full of inspiration and has given me access to amazing creative people all over the world. It is also the ultimate business tool. I am a visual person, so being able to use a promotional tool that lets me communicate in pictures has been the best thing to happen to my business. A picture tells a thousand words. And when you are in the business of visual communication, Instagram gives you an outlet to tell your story and connect with so many amazing people. And I get to go a little crazy with emojis – and it is totally justified!
Tell us about your ingenious toilet doors in Brisbane...
This was a dream project – supportive client + blank canvas = ideas explosion!
This was such an exciting project – I had never really done anything like it before. I was tasked with creating a branded space that could excite and engage the community and bring life back to an old retail centre. My amazing client gave me an initial brief – “it just has to be awesome”.
Working collaboratively with my client, and Idea was formed.
Sherwood Square is a revitalised retail centre, bringing energy, creativity and vitality back to 600 Sherwood Road. We want to build and foster our community and offer a collective space for retailers and visitors alike.
I developed a creative brand and personality to complement the refurbishment of the retail centre to engage, energise and revitalise the precinct. In addition to branded signage, creative elements were designed to give a subtle element of fun to the centre – such as positive posters, cactus murals, custom laser cut screens and some of the most exciting – and Instagrammed – toilet doors found in Brisbane. We just wanted people to be happy in the space. A little joy never hurt anyone ;)
AND I was listening to Lemonade on super high rotation. So that happened.
STRENGTH AND RESILIENCE
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in business?
You don’t have to work with everyone.
Early on, of course, I was grateful to just have work … any kind of work! But, then I realised that my best creative ideas came when I was engaged and excited by a client or project – when I had a real connection to the project, my work became more joyful and almost effortless.
I think it is really important to understand who you want to work with. Going out on your own gives you the greatest privilege to actually determine what you want to do. I absolutely recommend taking a moment to just sit down, and really think about your ideal client. What do they do? Why are they doing it? What kind of business is it? And, most importantly, what kind of projects really excite you? Then promote to these people and be brave and say no to the work you don’t want to do.
You will be happier and your work will shine.
What do you believe is the greatest strength of a female business owner?
I love working with women because we know that we can always be better. We know that there is always something to learn, always a skill to strengthen. And this makes us a powerful force. We just keep getting better and better. We keep learning. We keep challenging ourselves. We stay humble and listen and learn from others whom we admire.
Being a female is my most cherished strength in business and beyond.
When I was working in various agencies, I was surrounded by the very masculine – and in my opinion outdated – way of doing business. There was so much ego and a really stagnant energy. I was surrounded by people who truly believed they had it all worked out and were better than ‘those other agencies’ etc. But, if you’ve got it all worked out, what else is there to discover? What a disappointing and boring career you will have.
The core of my business is support, positivity, celebration and gratitude – for my clients and for my peers. I truly believe that there is new way to do business, and that way is female.