You can’t do it alone so use the resources that are out there. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey and I thought I had to do it by myself. Then I realized there were incredible resources, mentors, advisors to help me along the way, and I have now created a network of support.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophia Clark.
Sophia Clark is a Cum Laude graduate from a CIDA accredited Interior Design program at Utah State and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in sales and marketing. Sophia has obtained a Master in Interior Design at the Florence Design Academy in Florence, Italy. Having lived for 18 years abroad (Ecuador, Qatar, Mexico, Spain, Peru, France, Italy) and having traveled extensively, she has discovered a wide variety of cultures and aesthetic designs that have enriched significantly her artistic abilities. It has also enabled her to develop an ability to write and speak fluent French, English, and Spanish and a proficiency in Italian. She was privileged to be mentored and to work for design icons such as Campion Platt and Sam Robin. In addition to other initiatives, she is the founder and creative director of Galiatea who specializes in curating and designing luxury custom furniture and accessories from Brazil and Peru. As an award winning furniture designer, she showcased her collections in some of the world prominent trade shows such as Salone del Mobile, Top Drawer, the Hotel Show in Dubai, etc… Through Galiatea, Sophia wants to redefine the notion of luxury and to free it from the confines of the mainstream brands as it focuses on quality materials and authentic generational savoir-faire. She also aims at safeguarding cultural heritage while promoting social consciousness about artisan communities worldwide. Her company is committed on helping them thrive through their art and is giving 10% profit back to the communities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I was born in California from a French mother who passed onto me her love of art and a passion for traveling and an American father who is an international lawyer. At age 3, we moved to Quito, Ecuador, then we spent seven years in Doha, Qatar. Then from age 11 to 15 , we lived in Mexico city, and from 16 to 18, in Lima Peru. After finishing my bachelor in interior design/ marketing in the United States, I decided to do a master in Florence, Italy. Through my youth, I was privileged to spend a lot of time in Europe (France and Spain mostly), in Brazil, in the Dominican Republic, and to travel to more than 65 countries.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I believe that design and art can dispel ignorance, and promote economic growth for underrepresented communities that could become extinct if we do not act. Nowadays, when someone talks about a handcrafted, artisan-made object, the first thing that comes to one’s mind is often the vision of a “souvenir”, a cheap trinket in a touristy market. However, there are true artists that exist in these dying communities but whose art is ignored. Some insist on quality of details instead of quantity of objects, and you can have a finished product that is a masterpiece, that has a soul and a story (unlike mass manufactured items). That work of art can have its place in the most luxurious setting, being “a thing of beauty”, “a joy for ever” to quote Keats. Giving work to these artisans will save a family, a community, and will keep the savoir-faire handed from generations to generations alive. They can bloom economically, be recognized for their craft, and pass it on to the next generation. I have also always believed that many of the world’s problems- racism, inequality and poverty- would be solved if we truly got to know one another, if we understood each other and our cultures- it would unite us, connect us on a human level. Each of those works of art not only has its own story but can also give us a tremendous insight into their cultural heritage. This art can be a bridge between cultures: we understand, then we respect and finally we love and embrace each other’s culture.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
As a 16-year-old student in Lima, I would go teach English on Wednesday afternoons in Manchay, a very poor neighborhood of Lima. Many houses were just adobe walls and a dirt floor, with an aluminum board for roof, often having to share a bed for the whole family. At the time I already had a strong belief that one’s surroundings would have a deep impact on one’s self. Many of the children would turn to being on the street most days because they didn’t want to go home. I wanted to partner with Habitat for Humanity, but instead of providing simple bare bones structures, those habitats would have rooms and basic furniture made by local artisans. These children would have a room with their own furniture, a place they could call their own and the artisans would have work.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I was in Brazil visiting my parents. I had just returned from the world’s largest furniture tradeshow, Salone del Mobile in Milan, for the first time. I had spent hours upon hours admiring the beautiful Italian designed pieces but realized after a few days that everything was a blur- every product looked like slight variations of themselves- the real distinguishing factor were the amazing booths the companies had designed and built! We went to visit a small artisanal village that seemed lost in the wilderness and I started walking down the narrow cobblestone street. In front of each small house, a small table displayed cute souvenirs. I was looking at a few small sculpted Espirito Santo doves when I heard the noise of an artisan working. I went inside and saw him bending over a small piece of driftwood similar to the ones in front of his house/store. But around him, on the walls of his house were grandiose sculptures of Espirito Santos, absolutely stunning pieces, whose designs and details clearly showed the artisan’s mastery. I marveled at them but quickly understood that no tourist would ever buy those…no suitcase could ever take them. And it hit me like a ton of bricks- THIS, THIS is what was missing! There are artisans from all around the world who do not have the privilege of showcasing their work in tradeshows like Salone del Mobile, but their craftsmanship, techniques and use of exotic materials are just as valuable and beautiful… their work had a soul, a uniqueness that is so specific to handcrafted pieces. I thought however that few people got to admire their talents and that sadly, with the rise of mass production and cutting costs to increase profits, we might slowly be losing these artisans’ gifts. I thought then and still think that there is a thirst in the world for what is authentic and unique, and because of that, the work of those artisans from all over the world should be represented in the furniture and decorative accessory market. Their traditional techniques combined with contemporary designs could be the next movement in sustainable luxury design. And I decided to create Galiatea.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I had the vision, I had a marketing degree, I thought I knew what I was doing…wrong! I first came up with a name: Galiatea. It is the fusion of two words: Gaia ( Mother Earth) and Galatea, the muse of art created by Pygmalion as the perfect woman and the representation of the perfect work of art, or in other words, the fusion of nature and art. I then incorporated, spent a lot of time meeting with artisans in Peru and Brazil to find the ones I wanted to work with, found an associate in Peru. It took three years to develop the unique technique we are using and to create the pieces of furniture and accessories. I then took hundred of pictures to put in my newly created website, determined prices with shipping. I talked to local lawyers, shippers, business consultants, attended trade shows and finally launched the website.
My advice would be to start small, but start. Instead of building the entire infrastructure (and not being sure if you will succeed)- build and test as you go. I waited to have everything in place before launching and I wish I would have launched a lot sooner.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Since my goal was to present the artisans to the world , I applied to the world’s largest trade show, Salone del mobile. I barely believed it when I was accepted. I was part of the “up and coming designers” which were grouped in a certain area of the show. To me, just being there after one year of starting my company was a huge success but it also felt wonderful to have many visitors telling me that I should have been in the main section of the trade show!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Crisis + time = humor… at the time I was presented with an amazing opportunity to showcase my furniture pieces in an up and coming showroom in Milan. I was promised great visibility, and that would have been a terrific way to expand my brand awareness. In order to participate, I had to place on consignment several key pieces of my collection. I shipped them from Peru, attended the showroom opening and had great hopes for sales. However, few months went by when I received a letter telling me they had shut down and they were no longer responsible about returning any items. I was devastated as I thought that I had been scammed… I didn’t have a solid contract in place and believed that every one would work in good faith. I never told my father, the lawyer but I learned a great lesson!
I think my naivete was helpful to move me forward. If I had known all the difficulties I would encounter, I might have quit! However, it is important to remember that even if your product or service is amazing, there is more to that in order to be successful… I had to learn!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
A friend of mine invited me to an accelerator program and that was just what I needed. It gave me the structure that I was lacking when I started my company; it helped me rethink through my strategies and allowed me to adapt to the world crisis; it provided mentors that pushed me. As far as cheerleaders, my parents have always believed in me and supported me through thick and thin.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
When I met Angel, in the small impoverished neighborhood of Villa el Salvador near Lima, he was working several jobs furnishing Alpaca souvenirs to several employers often unable to make ends meet for his wife and two children. As I explained to him my vision, he completely embraced it and my Peruvian business partner offered him a job with fair wages and health benefits that provided him a different life, economically and emotionally.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I wish communities were more in touch with their local resources. There seems to be an attitude that if it is from around the corner, it is not as amazing as something from far away, which is so very strange for me! Communities could support local shops. I wish society realized that artisan’s creations are truly unique and value them as such, instead of preferring cheaper mass-produced items. Handcrafted items with its irregularities can be more than souvenirs, it can be truly works of art, and with the right design, it can be elevated to luxury. I wish politicians would promote their country’s cultural heritage and all its artisans. I wish more countries had an association such as Prom Peru who promotes their cultural heritage through tourism and locally sources goods.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1- You think you know but you don’t know anything. I thought I could do my web design and spent a lot of time trying to figure it out before realizing I needed to get help.
2- Your business isn’t you and don’t take things so personally. I had put so much time and energy in it, that I considered my company to be my baby. When someone was giving me advice, it felt as if it was a criticism, and I was not very teachable. I learned over time than in order to succeed, I needed to learn from other people.
3- It’s going to take a lot more money and a lot more time than you think it will take. I had this idealized timeline in my head and not a very planned out budget and it took at least twice as long and twice as much money to get going.
4- You can’t do it alone so use the resources that are out there. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey and I thought I had to do it by myself. Then I realized there were incredible resources, mentors, advisors to help me along the way, and I have now created a network of support.
5- Pivoting and changing your mind and failing is part of the process and is not a bad thing. We are so trained in school to believe that failing is bad but in truth it is a way of learning. One of my mentors once said to me “ fail often and fail fast” and I realized that no great entrepreneurs are where they are without having failed at some point of time. What I have learned is that instead of looking at it as “failure”, I can see as an opportunity for growth. I was crushed not to be able to open a showroom in New York, the investment fell through and I had to pivot towards e-commerce.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
You can do business while doing good, it is not mutually exclusive. I believe that’s how a business should be run as a standard. There is a lot of talk about the duty and responsibility to the shareholders but not enough on social responsibility and duty to mankind. There is a difference between working simply for a salary and working to help others along the way.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
“Love your family, work super hard, live your passion”, “ Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: What do I want to do every day for the rest of my life? Do that” These are the kind of thoughts that pushed me through the hard times. So I would like to say thank you to Gary Vaynerchuck because when I was feeling like a complete failure, I would turn to his podcasts, and be reminded that every one comes from somewhere and empire aren’t built in a day, that I need to be patient with myself and that it was my duty in life to pursue what I love. “Passion is priceless”
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on Instagram as: @embrace_the_wander and @galiateacollection
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!