Erika Brechtel is a strong believer that to make the most of life, one must constantly work on improving oneself. It’s no wonder that the brand stylist and owner of small shop and mother to darling little girl considers herself very busy. With a background in art history and interior design, she has a lot of experience and passion for art and design. Erika pursued a secondary degree in Interior Design from FIDM and quickly took it upon herself learn Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML hard coding in order to expand her horizons and create an online portfolio.
When her position as an in-house Art Director with an international corporation came to sudden end, she ventured into founding her own business. Erika realized she had been providing more than graphic design to clients for 11 years and decided to expand her business to include brand styling as well. “I have a real passion for helping form a comprehensive vision and then implementing that for and with my fantastic clients. It is extremely fulfilling and I feel so fortunate that I get to make people happy in this way.”
In addition to her great successes as a businesswoman, Erika has worked with blogs like Brides and Glitter Guide, and is currently contributing to Ocean Magazine. She tells us about the importance of making real-life connections, balancing her career and family life, and overcoming the obstacles she has faced as a brand consultant.
Full Name: Erika Brechtel
Age: Let’s just say Kate Moss and I are the same age ;o)
Current Title/Company: Brand stylist, owner of small shop
Educational Background: B.A. magna cum laude in Art History, UCLA; secondary 2-year degree in Interior Design, FIDM
Please tell us how you landed your first job out of college? Did this job require you to utilize your college degree?
During my last year at UCLA, I started working part-time for an interior designer, which led me to pursue a secondary degree in Interior Design from FIDM. Once I completed that program I immediately interviewed with a few interior design and architecture firms, and was able to land my first big-girl job! While it wasn’t directly related to my field of study in undergrad, I would imagine having that 4-year degree with honors from a reputable institution on my resume no doubt helped me get my foot in the door. The applicable degree from FIDM ensured I had some know-how, as well as a strong portfolio to start.
What drew you to pursuing an Art History degree at UCLA and an Interior Design degree from FIDM? When you entered college, did you already have a passion for art instilled in you?
I had several years of art training and initially wanted to pursue a degree in Design. But as luck would have it, UCLA closed the program to revamp it my freshman year. It worked out because the Art History classes I had been taking completely fascinated me! You get the visual component, the historical context, and the social significance all in one. I still use that knowledge to this day and would not go back and change it if I could.
How were you able to take your degree and previous jobs and transition into graphic design?
I worked in interior design when it wasn’t as shiny and fun as it is now – the internet bubble was much more attractive, so I taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator, taught myself how to hard code HTML to create an online portfolio, and scored a great learning position with a small firm that eventually led to an in-house Art Director position with an international corporation. (I’ll never forget my first day on the job was boarding a flight to Hong Kong!)
You ventured out on your own and founded your own business, which has expanded from graphic design to also brand styling. How did you go about opening up your own business? What steps did you take (financially and mentally) to prepare for that?
I was actually forced into it because aforementioned corporation filed for bankruptcy and was acquired by a corporation in Asia. It was completely terrifying especially as I was just about to get married and move to New York to support my husband as he attended grad school. So I hit the pavement and started interviewing right away, of course! During the job search however, I began to gain clients of my own providing complete branding packages, while the jobs I interviewed for were one-dimensional. I made the decision to continue working for myself, and I’ve been very fortunate to do so ever since!
What gave you the idea to become a brand consultant? What does that job title entail when you provide comprehensive brand development?
Even though I’ve been doing this for 11 years now, I recently realized that (duh) I actually provide more than just graphic design – I’m giving clients strategic guidance, helping them form marketing and social media campaigns, assisting them in creating not only each component of their brand image, but also on a high-level what that looks like, feels like, sounds like. I have a real passion for helping form a comprehensive vision and then implementing that for and with my fantastic clients. It is extremely fulfilling and I feel so fortunate that I get to make people happy in this way.
You’ve worked with well-known magazines, businesses, and blogs like Brides and Glitter Guide and are currently a contributing travel editor for Ocean Magazine. How were you able to create those work relationships and develop them?
I make an effort to attend conferences and events as much as possible to make real-life connections – it makes such a difference to put a face with a name. It can be intimidating to have to always put yourself out there when you’re on your own, but as long as you’re true to yourself I think you have nothing to really worry about. You can’t be afraid to introduce yourself and strike up a genuine conversation – integrity goes a long way and you’ll be memorable. You never know what opportunities could arise!
Not only are you a successful businesswoman, graphic designer, and brand consultant, but you are also a wildly popular blogger. What prompted you to start the Small Shop Blog?
In addition to having a space to explore what’s inspiring me, it was part of my early marketing strategy to have a blog for my business. Not only is it useful in showcasing my style for potential clients to ensure we’d be a good fit, it’s been an incredible platform to get my name out there, be a part of a larger community, network, and promote my skills outside of my daily duties. In doing so, I quickly learned the power of interiors blogs — so I set out to decorate my home, photograph it, and submit it to MadeByGirl. (Eventually La Dolce Vita picked it up, Glitter Guide, Adore Home, and most recently, Style Me Pretty.) It’s been an amazing ride, and the best part is I get to keep redecorating and recapitalizing on it (until everyone is sick of it, that is!).
You are a very busy woman! How have you been able to juggle being a career woman and maintaining such a close (and adorable) family unit? Has your family influenced your work in any way?
I am extremely busy, but I admit, it’s by choice. Not only do I prefer to be moving forward rather than sitting still, I also work for/by myself – the buck stops here! But it is important to me that I am constantly improving myself and trying to make the most of this life – whether that’s serving in leadership for a volunteer organization, learning new skills to apply in my work, figuring out ways to better optimize my time, or taking a time out to enjoy family, friends, festivities. If I’m happy and fulfilled in all areas of my life, I am a better wife and mother. It also helps that my husband is more of a workaholic than I am! And my daughter is in school full-time – but I know she is getting the best education possible from experts in the field. So when the three of us get to spend quality family time together, we truly enjoy it and do not take it for granted.
What have been the biggest obstacles in starting your career and how were you able to overcome those hurdles?
Whenever you try to break into a new industry (or stay relevant in your current one) there is a large learning curve and you have to put the work in, period. I certainly navigate and investigate before deciding what steps need to be taken, and then I set goals for myself with tangible to-do’s that will lead to bigger results. But I think we can overwhelm ourselves if we aren’t patient and realistic about our capabilities and limitations. No one can do it all, well. I’ve learned for example that for me, Quickbooks is the devil…so I got an accountant that’s an angel.
Best moment in your career thus far?
Every time I land a big client or an amazing feature, it feels invigorating and new! It keeps getting better and better through the years – but I do work hard to make it that way for myself. (I’ve already got my sights on the next two goals…stay tuned!)
What words of wisdom do you have for other young women interested in pursuing brand consulting?
First things first, have a brand of your own. Show your potential clients why they should hire you through everything you put out. Be consistent in that message, and diligent above delivering it. Own your style and work it. But above all, be kind, considerate, and honest – you will attract the same!
Describe for us a typical work day for you.
My daughter is my alarm clock and we’re up by 6:30am doing our morning routine. I get her off to school at 8am and spend an hour (or two!) on emails and social media. I like to schedule myself weeks in advance and if all goes to plan, I have my to-do list set for me in my calendar. I try to focus on 1-2 projects a day only. I eat lunch at my desk, and 2-3x a week I’ll get out to the gym (spin, treadmill, weights). I’m picking up my daughter by 6pm, having a glass of wine and cooking dinner while she does her homework (and we get a dance party in!). After her bath and bedtime, I try my best to only work/blog every other night if I can manage (and some nights, I’m at Junior League meetings or social and work events). But regardless I’m typically off to bed at midnight.
If you could travel to any place in the world right now, where would you go?
It’s funny, I’ve been asked this question a lot lately, and the answer is always: Portofino! It’s on my bucket list and definitely one of those go-big-or-stay-home trips that will be once in a lifetime!
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Take some business classes. There is so much I don’t know I don’t know, and it would have been so much easier to have learned it young, when I actually had free time!
Erika Brechtel is The Everygirl…
What is your secret talent?
Give me a football, and I’ll throw a perfect spiral.
Aidan or Big?
I have an Aidan and I can say without a doubt he’s exactly what I need. A man I know I can depend on, no drama, no fuss, totally stable – like a rock. I don’t have time or energy to worry about all that, plus, I get to be silly and emotional and the big dreamer because I know he’ll always be there. Bonus: Aidan is a great dad.
What is the last thing that inspired you?
Attending Art Basel in Miami (bucket list!) this past December was an enriching experience personally and professionally. To be surrounded by so much creativity and by those that truly appreciate it was fulfilling in more ways than I would have guessed. It reminds me that being creative is not just the job you have, but that you’re a part of a global community that drives innovation and ingenuity. Working for/by myself I can forget that sometimes, so it was really invigorating – just as I had hoped!
If you could meet with any woman for lunch, who would she be and what would you order?
Kelly Wearstler, (bronze) hands down. But I’d be so nervous I wouldn’t care or remember what I ate!