Today, our interview is with Effie Zafiropoulou – COLOURBOX by the Art & Deco house/Athens.
Born 1963 :It’s a girl!…again… 🙁
1970-1981 At school learning what I liked (actually everything as I was and still am a compulsive reader with an insatiable curiosity) and drawing on nearly everything even desks and chairs to make surroundings more..interesting.
1981-1985 Art&Design College &English Studies.
1985-1996 Teaching English and doing my first interior design projects.
1996-NOW: Doing what I love most: designing and supervising the production of kids decor products , lifestyle accessories and seasonal decorations.
Do you remember the first piece of work you ever sold? What was it and who did you sell it to? How did you feel?
Hard to forget! The first piece I ever sold was a large wooden wall art clock. It was back in 1996 and my husband and I had opened a giftware shop in Athens. It was very niche at the time with imports from the UK and handmade objects by Greek applied artists. I felt the need to try out my own work so I hung these wooden wall clocks I was making on the wall.They were an instant success and the most fastselling item in our store for years.I still make one or two a year but only for personal use or for friends.
Can you describe the evolution of your business?
I started with a small retail store and soon I was making my own products and selling along with imports and local products.Soon it was clear that we could go into wholesale with our own products and we started taking part in local trade fairs.As business was growing in Greece we decided to take the plunge and take part in Ambiente in Germany.Later we also exhibited in Formland in Denmark having ties with the Scandinavian market.
We now produce all of our products in Greece by outsourcing with local manufacturers and we do only the design inhouse.
What has been the most important lesson you have learnt along the way?
It is a challenge for a designer not to go too mainstream to reach out for a larger audience and sacrifice originality but at the same time not to go to niche to fall below subsistence point.
We’d love to hear a bit about your process. Where do your designs begin, and how to you develop them through to the finished product?
I always start by determining a colour palette I will be using for the season.I find pantone colour trends very helpful because they refresh my vision. I then start making handrawn patterns much like the process used by poets for stream of consciousness works. When I have had enough a take a step back and chose which ones will form a connected collection.
Then I draw all the character images by hand either handpainted or left blank to fill in with the patterns I have made. Finally the material is all brought together with specific products in mind and new material is conceived along the way.
At each major growth point of your business how do you make yourself take the big leap?
I am a very quick decision maker. I always follow my first gut feeling and instinct about my moves.It works most of the time and this is what is important.You can never be infallible so it is the balance between mistakes and correct moves that takes you forward.
Please share a little about how your brand look and feel has developed over time
My brand look is tradi trendy with a pinch of whimsical.Both my patterns as well as my characters are fresh and look trendy but I like to incorporate a more traditional feel to them. Especially in the case of children’s collections I feel that this makes sense since I can establish a connection between the generations involved in bringing up the child. The granny who may chose a product as a present,the mother who creates the space the child will be brought in and of course the child. The very weird and sophisticated characters in vogue for children especially by French designers and the streamlined minimal of the nords are perfect as stylistic exercises but I am not sure they can be really really loved by the child.
I did shabby chic before it went mainstream then it turned more wabi sabi and now I would definitely say I am more and more at ease with trendi trady style which allows me to work across a wide colour palette and does not impose strict rules or become materialistic.
What kind of team do you have around you to support you and your business?
I work with my husband who takes care of all the administrative work (thank God!) and two very efficient ladies who take care of everything else.
How has the industry changed since you started?
When I started my market was still very conservative. Globalisation had just started to be visible in the giftware market and the prevailing style was ethnic mainly with very badly made products mass produced in India. The wholesalers were bringing in whatever they could lay their hands on without inputting design. The order of the day was if it’s brown and roughly made it sells.
What makes you excited about your business now?
I have recently signed with an American Art Licensing agency to represent me and I am really excited! This will give me the opportunity to reach an international market and see my designs on products I could never produce in Greece.
What is your creative space like?
I am a very organized person and I work better and am able to concentrate where there is order. I like beautiful surroundings so I try to keep everything as neat and tidy as possible. Also as I spend more time in my workshop than I do at home I try to give it a homey feel.
Which of your products is your favourite?
Difficult question as I am fond of all my products and I wouldn’t want to single one out. However I have always particularly enjoyed my string lights.I think that a room without string lights is dull and boring so through the years I have always had string lights in my collections.
What advice would you give to an emerging designer looking to follow a similar path to you?
Beware of the work hours!It is not a nine to five job and you truly have to love what you do because creative jobs really suck you up.
What is the big dream for you as a designer and your business?
To have my fairytale characters branded by an international manufacturer and see them brought to life and happily go off to live happily ever after among children all over the world.
I like to think of myself as an artist and product designer. My first memory is of a garden.I am four years old and I am making stuffed vine leaves in my grandmother’s lovely garden. The vine leaves are real but the stuffing is mud from the garden.I do not care about the taste,though.What interests me is the beautiful design of this greek dish and the exquisite combination of colours:sap green and raw earth brown. Since then I have always looked at life in colours.I feel in colours and my memories are mostly of colours.I even dream in colours.Hence the name I have chose for my brand: COLOURBOX.
When we first started our home interiors and giftware company with my husband 18 years ago people had a great fear of colour and it was extremely difficult to persuade anyone to buy anything that was not in earth tones.I am proud to say that with my work all these years I have helped a little to make people less afraid of colour. Nowadays my work can be found in boutique stores all over Greece and Europe.