Be Honest. Be Authentic. Interview with WantedDesign
I had the pleasure of meeting the two women responsible for a design initiative that has taken New York by storm. This May they will celebrate their 8th edition of WantedDesign in NYC – a week filled with product innovation, design education, parties, networking and interactions of the best of the best in the NYC design industry and beyond. Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat, co-founders of WantedDesign, have a unique synergy and passion that are ever present when talking about their company and their goals within the NYC design community.
Odile – “I moved to NYC in 1999 with my husband. I took the role of Galleries Director, for Gallery R’Pure. It was there that I realized how lacking NY was in regards to design weeks and gallery interactions. In 2010, a friend put Claire and I in touch, we met, instantly connected about design in NYC and we decided to work on a new initiative together.”
Claire – “I had recently left a brand working as a marketing manager in the US and Canada. That’s almost exactly when Odile and I met. Together, we brought very different experiences and backgrounds but the same passion and mission to do something bigger in design.”
Odile and Claire fell naturally into a seamless team. Their experiences not only complimented each other but they shared the exact same vision. They agree that the importance of having the right partner and team behind you allows the dream to become a reality.
Odile – “We have the same approach and sensibility so we had the concept since the beginning. We wanted to combine commerce and culture, design and education.”
And with their luck, not only did they match well from a professional standpoint, but they were both French women who had come to NYC years before and fell in love with the city!
Claire – “It is definitely easier to work with someone with the same cultural background and personal history. It is hard to find a partner in life let alone a partner in your career life!”
“It just happened, we started talking about plans, backgrounds and then after 3-4hours, we said let’s do it together. A very natural decision but one we never would have made by ourselves.” - Odile
The design community in New York City jumped right in to support and engage in WantedDesign. Within year one and their first event, they had an overwhelmingly positive reaction and people eager for it to happen again.
Claire – “When we started, we had the support of the community here in New York, they were all enthusiastic to finally have platform for them to talk about American design. That was our mission and a key part – we wanted to be a place to talk about American design. At that time there was no official design week, which was our ultimate goal. We got it years later, so we worked together with support of the design community based in NY, from official organizations, schools, museums, showrooms, designers, small and big companies.”
And there was never a question that WantedDesign would find its roots in New York City.
Claire – “You always have to go where the opportunities are. And in NYC, there was a huge gap when it came to this type of design initiative. We know what it takes, you really have to spend a lot of time and be focusing on what is going on in New York. It was about doing something that reflects what New York is about, not trying to duplicate what other cities or design weeks are doing. We were sometimes naïve but it was very genuine and original. We wanted to make something that we ourselves would attend. It was really very personal. I feel like what separates us is that we never let go of our mission and vision. We always had this ultimate goal of connecting people, creating a place for conversation, creating a design hub during design week and keeping the conversation going all year long. We started early after the first event to have blog posts and be on social media. The first few years it was sad to close on the show because we felt that there was so much more to say. So we started to host events, showrooms, and we started to partner with international design weeks and have events in their design weeks, so the next thing you know we were active all year long in the showrooms. It was one of our ways to say we are always here, we never rest. This is a brand that gives a platform for designers all year long”
The partnerships that WantedDesign has been able to grow have enabled their team to expand in an organic way with partners that bring in experience, expertise, and their own insight and connections within the NYC design community. They act as ambassadors who chose to be a part of the WantedDesign community which makes them even stronger as an external team with a further outreach.
Odile – “I think one of the strengths is that we really combine culture and commerce that I think define vey well what design is today. It’s not just about product showcase and product launch, but also about the conversation around the people. We decided a few years in not to grow our team in the office or to expand to other cities or countries with WantedDesign. We decided to work with people that would help us and be partners. We made the call to stay the size we are now. That doesn’t mean we are not growing, because we’ve been growing every year just in a different way. We didn’t want to end up one day saying we are just managing people now and not even touching the show anymore”
Opening up their second location (the first being in Chelsea) in Industry City was a big evolution for WantedDesign, creating a Brooklyn hub for design at a time when the majority of design was still happening in Manhattan.
Odile – “It will be our 5th year in Industry City. For Industry City, the vision of the developer was to create a design district in Brooklyn. When we came here in 2013, it was completely empty. But when we arrived there was just so much space and the scale was amazing. We thought, ‘we can do something here’. It is a special place for creativity in particular. So we decided to create a design hub in Brooklyn that didn’t exist at that time. Everyone knew there were makers and designers in Brooklyn so that’s where we wanted to be. And there were definitely no design weeks in Brooklyn. We did the first year with mainly local organizations and designers, we brought a little bit of international design and we did the big opening night. In a space like that, you can bring thousands of people, so we did!”
Odile – “It was a way to keep Manhattan very trend focused and allow our Brooklyn hub to be more about design education, the culture of design or how we make things, and all projects rather than products. Here we have a lot of freedom. An experimental lab of sorts.”
“We are enthusiastic to be partners with Industry City. We are building something with them.” - Claire
Odile and Claire curate their stores and showrooms, with products ranging from $5 to $3,000. In a time where buying local is increasingly important, WantedDesign has developed a space where local designers and brands are not only supported and sell their products but can connect with consumers and build a community themselves. They have truly developed a place that supports a multitude of local brands and companies.
And with their store location at Industry City, Claire notes that the goal was to, “mix large brands and international brands with local and small designers from abroad, with an interesting range of products.”
Odile – “When curating, it’s very personal, it’s what we like. But the store is not just a store, it’s a place to educate and inspire. There are not so many design stores in New York. There are galleries but people are sometimes intimidated to go in. We wanted something that was inviting and to utilize iconic designers so they can discover big names.”
Starting your own company is no easy feat – and having ongoing success, some would say is even more difficult than taking the leap into entrepreneurship. But for those willing, Odile and Claire had some advice.
Claire – “What served us a lot was our network, our partners and sticking to our vision. You have to be consistent with what you do and use your network and the people around you. You can’t do it by yourself. We had friends and supporters and people who believed in us.”
Odile – “You have to know your market and take the time to build up trust and knowledge before starting. The idea also has to be sustainable and have room for growth. Be honest. Be authentic. Be humble. We were always open and honest and I think people appreciate our authenticity.”
The passion these two women have for their community, design and New York City is truly palpable and something that is a pleasure to witness. We at MiND certainly look forward to the growth and nuances that are to come with WantedDesign.