I met talented textile designer Debbie Sun for a sunny al fresco breakfast in Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia on my first trip to Barcelona about four years ago. I later visited her beautifully-decorated apartment there, commenting to Jorge that I wouldn’t mind living in that space for a while… As she mentions below, Debbie recently moved back home to St. Croix and has since been filling her Instagram feed with photos of the Caribbean and my mind with wanderlust. Below, Debbie talks about her textile design process, shares some of her hopes and dreams for her small business and tells us about some of the challenges and rewards she’s discovering along the way. If you soon see her work featured in Elle Decor or one of her prints on the wallpaper of your favourite hotel, remember you saw her here first!
Little Observationist: Give us your tweet-sized elevator pitch. What’s your business all about?
Debbie Sun: Creating distinctive textile designs originating from silk paintings and photography that capture an effervescent spirit with sophisticated art.
LO: Now tell us more: What sets you apart from your competition?
DS: The terms that best describe Debbie Sun’s contemporary textile designs are “Casual Elegance”, “Simple Opulence”, and “Sophisticated Art”.
What sets me apart is my unique creative process originating with silk paintings and photography that evolves with multiple layers to create designs that are distinctly complex.
Most designs start with an original silk painting, sometimes with broad strokes, other times with intricate details. The following step is to convert the painting to a digital file. Once the image is on the computer, further artistic creativity ensues. Using various layers of details, colours, and images from photographs, while also playing with transparencies and filters, a complex pattern emerges. The next step is more mechanical which is setting up the digital artwork as a repeat pattern. Once completed, the digital file is uploaded to a textile company to be printed on selected fabrics using the dye-sublimation process.
The joy of working with textiles is the broad variety of applications ranging from home décor accessories to upholstery, lighting, art installation and fashion. Coming from an architectural and artistic background, I’ve found that there are endless opportunities for utilizing textile designs in creative, unexpected ways.
LO: Share a bit of background on yourself and your business.
DS: I am based in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, which is a tiny island in the Caribbean, with a very diverse history. Over the years, seven flags have flown over the Virgin Islands creating an infusion of influences reflected in our culture, architecture, cuisine and lifestyle. The Virgin Islands have been a territory of the United States since 1917 when it was transferred from the Danish. Growing up with the breathtaking beauty of the Caribbean and the vibrant colours of the Danish architecture, artistic inspiration continually seeps into my pores. Further, I see patterns everywhere; within nature, architecture, shadows and forms, and most often in unexpected details. I can easily say I have always been an artist in some way or another. In the past it was mostly as a hobby.
My background is in architecture, with a degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Over the years, while wearing many hats, I realized that ultimately my interest is in design, in a variety of forms and fashion which is what lead me to art, architecture and now textile design. I was first introduced to textile design by my art teacher and mentor, Cindy Male. Over the years, we’ve worked on many projects; each time I learned new techniques and, most importantly, each nurtured curiosity and encouragement to explore and experiment.
The year 2008 was pivotal when I decided to attend a one year international art program at Metàfora in Barcelona, Spain. I instantly fell in love with Barcelona, a city of inspiration and design. I ended up staying almost seven years until I recently decided it was time to return home to St. Croix, to start my new business as a textile designer.
With my love for architecture, textiles and interior designs, the name of the business, Debbie Sun Design Studio, intentionally leaves room to think beyond textile designs and celebrate the myriad of applications for which textiles can be used within art and design.
LO: Which social media platforms do you use for your business? Has this been time well invested? Any tips for newcomers?
DS: Keeping up with social media is a full time job and, one day, I look forward to hiring someone to be my social media guru. However, as a new small business, I know that I cannot have it all (quite yet) so I have chosen to focus my efforts on a Facebook business page and Instagram, as to take advantage of my strengths with graphic design and photography. I do also have a very small presence on Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn which is useful when people want to tag me.
In growing the business, I have undoubtedly seen the importance and relevance of social media. Each outlet has its distinct purpose and advantages and it is most definitely worth investing the time. Speaking of time, be purposeful with how much time you want to dedicate to social media. Without a conscious constraint, hours can fly by before you even realize it. Also, as it is with everything in starting a new business, you will always be learning. In fact, the moment you stop learning is the moment you are no longer relevant, so embrace it! There is no exception with social media. Learn all that you can.
I do have a few tips that I have learned along the way for navigating social media.
- Firstly, understand the science of posting. Pay attention to what tone of voice is favourable, what day and time is most effective, and what types of images and topics fetch attention. Of course, that directly relates to knowing your audience and their habits. Statistically, there are specific days and times that get better responses. I have found that posting on Facebook at 6am gets more interaction while people are having their morning coffee and perusing Facebook. Late nights on Instagram often gets good responses as people are winding down and enjoying inspirational images.
- Secondly, know your relationship with each outlet so that your posts are relevant. Instagram is great for introductions. It facilitates meeting people of similar interest from all over the world while others find out who you are and what you do. Facebook, for me, has been useful for getting the word out locally. It is great for highlighting achievements and making announcements in a more timely way than updating my webpage and blog. Facebook is also extremely beneficial when your link is broadly shared; in other words, the hope is to go viral. Figure out what people want to share. Perhaps it is witty commentary, a strong image or some kind of novelty. I have also found that pride with a dash of humility goes a long way toward building support. Just know that social media is relationship. You have to invest a lot of yourself to receive the love and appreciation you deserve.
LO: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given that still resonates with you today?
DS: So much has been said and so much has been helpful which makes it difficult to choose one piece of advice. Being organized is even more crucial for creative people to remember. Keep up with bookkeeping on a regular basis. Remember to jot down notes before you forget the grand ideas (and then organize all the tiny pieces of paper where you jotted down the notes; my artist friends will know exactly what I mean). Set up systems so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time. Take the time to tidy your work space and tidy your mind-space, too.
Know what you are selling which I realize may sound obvious. Most business ventures are multi-faceted and filled with endless possibilities, especially in this fast-paced world. With all this potential, it is more important than ever to be focused on your main intention and be specific. In the same vein, set measurable goals with a specific time frame.
The best advice of all is to dream big. Ideas are free, dreams and hopes are free, and there is no reason to let fear steal that away from you. Think big, dream big, and truly go for it!
LO: What are your favourite resources for small business?
DS: The answer varies depending on the question. I always turn to the Internet for research which often times directs me to blogs, articles, books, inspirational videos, and how-to videos on YouTube. Additionally, my parents and friends have been a wonderful outlet to share ideas, brainstorm and learn from their experiences. Typically when I start a project, I think about what I want to accomplish and then search online to find out how to do it. Through the process, I tend to collect notes, copy and paste in one location and then go back to pull the thoughts together. Fortunately, with word processing, I can eventually organize my findings and create some sort of document outlining the research. Lastly, I did buy a book called The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster by Darren Hardy, however I have to admit, I haven’t made the time to work through the recommended exercises. There are so many great books for learning the ropes; the key is to dedicate time to learn more.
LO: What have been your biggest challenges and greatest rewards as a small business owner?
DS: I can definitively say that one of my biggest challenges is wearing a million hats at once. I’m fortunate to be skilled in many ways, however, it also means that I’m doing a lot of the work myself instead of hiring out. As the business grows, the plan is to add staff for specific needs. For the time being, however, I am the glorified in-house publicist, marketing developer, web designer, photographer, copywriter, graphic designer, promoter, event planner, accountant, networking facilitator and, of course, textile designer – and that is just today! Who knows what job titles tomorrow will bring. There is no sugar coating the process; running a small business is a roller coaster ride with constant challenges and highlights, too. I love what I am doing so keeping motivated comes naturally. Frustration and doubt sneak in sometimes and the challenge is to not let those moments direct your actions.
The greatest reward is seeing a project come to fruition just as I envisioned it or, better yet, even more beautiful. Convincing clients of the vision can sometimes be a challenge, so it is extremely rewarding when I see how happy they are with the outcome. It is also very rewarding when I realise my efforts have bought joy to someone, whether it be in a sale or a design revelation.
Another celebratory moment is when a design comes together. My design process is layered with so many steps that it’s not always clear where it is heading. When it becomes a cohesive design, it is truly an “aha” moment.
LO: What are your hopes for your business going forward: what would you most love to achieve as a short-term goal? And long term?
DS: My hope for the business is to expand the product line in home décor and fashion with the short term objective of introducing a few key products beyond pillows, including scarves and fashion accessories. The emphasis at this point is creating an expansive portfolio of designs and building brand awareness.
The long term outlook is two-fold where I will make available many more items such as wallpaper, bedding, possibly swimsuits and towels, and art installations. The second component will be taking advantage of the digital process by offering custom designs. For instance, an architectural feature in the client’s home can be the inspiration for a design or I can create a pattern to work with an existing space and the client’s preferences. My first commissioned project with the newly renovated hotel in St. Croix, the Hotel Caravelle (photo below), has been wonderfully received. I look forward to doing many more throughout the Caribbean.
My dream is to be a premier textile designer in the Caribbean and Barcelona, being showcased in a variety of applications from décor to fashion. Plus, I would be over the moon to be featured in impressive interior design magazines such as Nuevo Estilo, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and Maco just to name a few. The opportunities are endless and the process is exciting!
LO: Little Observationist is all about appreciating life’s little luxuries. Name three you’ve enjoyed recently.
DS: My little luxuries tend to be moments and experiences. However brief they are, they often have a lasting effect.
- Savouring the moment of sipping a flavourful chai tea while reading an inspiring interior design magazine is my little luxury.
- Getting in the zone while painting with music loudly playing in the background is yet another luxury. It feels almost like an out of body experience where the heart has its own rhythm while the mind takes a back seat.
- The scent of Aloha Orchid candle by Capri Blue is a third. The fragrance always carries me to my happy place….a luxury that does not go unnoticed.