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Ana Bianchi, mom of a 6 year old, married to a lovely man. We live in New York City with our dog Pepa the Pug. Designer, painter, printmaker, home cook, maker of things, world traveller, storyteller. I am the designer/founder of PaperGirl Collection, a clothing line for little girls 9 mo. -6/7 yrs. that are beautifully illustrated and each include a mini storybook. PaperGirl Collection celebrates childhood curiosity, imagination and creative freedom through dresses that spark little girl’s imagination.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Were you creative as a child and as a teen? Did you go to school to be in the creative field?
I am originally from Mexico and ever since I can remember I wanted to be an artist. XMAS wish lists were full of art materials and in school I was always famous for my drawing abilities (funny story, when I had the mumps the art teacher gave me an B+ because I did not make the drawings for the week, there was an uproar in school by the other girls saying: “You just can’t give Ana something that is not an A in drawing!”) So with this reputation I only had two options to pursue: Art school or Design school. My parents pressed for something that I could actually get a job doing and went to Graphic Design school for 5 years. I taught design, I taught illustrations and I got my first job as a full time illustrator at a major newspaper in Mexico City. Rough hours! But it allowed me to save money for graduate school: Fine Arts in Florence Italy.
In Italy I was in paradise! Free to do art, and move about. I was 25.
I eventually went back to Mexico and divided my time between bill-paying graphic design and illustration and soul-searching Art, painting and sculpture until a fantastic job offer came to me and I moved to New York. I continued my “double life” working in branding by day (in great projects like rebranding airlines like American Airlines and AirCanada whose planes have my design!) and still making art, mostly printmaking, in the evenings.
Then I turned 40 and became a mom and I had to rethink what I really wanted to do. That is when I started to think about creating something that merged my design and art experience, with my interest in so many things and, something I had never done, writing stories. Those were the main ingredients that I put in the blender along with making something meaningful and imaginative with and for kids. That was the recipe to create PaperGirl Collection
Can you tell us a little about PaperGirl Collection? How did you get the idea to start this business?
PaperGirl Collection is my line of illustrated dresses for little girls (9 mos – 6/7 yrs) that tell stories around themes all kids love: the sea, the forest, the garden, the circus.
Each high-quality dress tells a story by featuring original artwork I make in my studio and play out on the mini story-book that is included in each dress (I also write and illustrate these). Girls can read the story, imagine, discover and enjoy their dress as part of it. For some dresses I also created matching toys. All dresses are 100% high-quality cotton and are made in the USA (including the printing of my fabrics).
It all started around the time Florencia was born when I had a big shift in life. My mother and sister, sadly, had passed away in the previous months. At 5 months pregnant I sorted through my childhood home in Mexico and discovered two trunks of beautiful little girl clothes, my artwork and books from my childhood, my sister’s amazing art (she had developmental and intellectual disabilities that kept her as an eternal girl). This period of change and those first couple years of my daughter’s life make me think a lot about childhood and what really matters, how discovery, curiosity and imagination are so important. I reconsidered what I wanted to with my work life. I had been working as a brand designer creating brands big and small for others and I decided to repurpose my talents into something more meaningful and personal.
With PaperGirl Collection I have created my ideal job and a platform to do something I really care about: sparking kids imagination and curiosity.
The dresses in the collection are much more than beautiful clothes. Girls wearing my dresses love reading the story books that come with each one. They immerse themselves in this story, relate to the characters or discover more about nature and the World.
PaperGirl is also a way for me to give back. Increasingly I am devoting either time or a percentage of sales to non-profits that support children literacy and art programs or, like GirlsWriteNow.org, that help girls reach their potential
What is the thing you dislike the most in running your business? What is the best thing? What are the biggest challenges?
The best thing is that by creating PaperGirl Collection, working on my dream job. I am doing the things I love doing every week –drawing, writing, creating- I am able to understand and apply branding practices into my own brand and yes, I also feel challenged by many things that I don’t know how to do but I feel excited enough to be learning (aka, “the business stuff”) and I am collaborating with people to make something that matters in the lifes of kids.
What I dislike the most is being forced to non-stop multitask. Since I am still such a micro business I have to do everything and wear all different hats. Some hats are fabulous and comfortable (creative, designing, writing, talking about the brand) some other activities require pragmatism and discipline (inventory, managing vendors, production, etc) for which I can be good once I figure out a system to address them. Some are really hard from me, like anything related to an excel spreadsheet and the efforts of sales outreach, mostly because they require a different mindset and these courtships with stores are very time consuming and since my design process is so involved, time is a very limited resource. I am actively looking for a sales rep or showroom right now since the biggest challenge I have, year 2, is to increase my brand presence and increase my production volume through sales.
How has becoming a mom changed how you work?
The biggest change is the subject matter: I used to design airlines, banks, restaurants, etc for others and now with PaperGirl Collection, I design for my own company and for little girls instead of corporations.
When I was single and with no kids I would work non-stop, or work really late. As any woman who is a wife, a mom and a company founder, I now place great care and effort in keeping balance these three aspects of my life. I strive to pay attention to details and make things and moments meaningful, beautiful and memorable. I strive to do this in my relationships as I do in the products I design at PaperGirl Collection and before.
Do you have any tips, resources, or tools for managing work/life balance?
Working from home and managing business and family life feels like being inside a tumble week a lot of the time. I am more successful at managing my time when I create blocks of time (3-4hrs) for the most important activities during this blocks I single-task in deep focus (design collection or write books) with small water breaks to move about. Then smaller 1 hr blocks to multitask the smaller activities (purchasing, emails, outreach, research, billing).
I try to compress all the work during school hours so that afterschool I can spend a few hours doing my daughter’s activities and enjoy them by being really present and involved (aka, no iPhone while we are together).
I have had a lot of good intentions by using tools or resources, but I find it cumbersome to learn to use them so I still rely in my old-school calendars, to-do lists and post-it note reminders.
What creative activities do you like to do with your kid(s)?
Making things….all kinds of things! From baking, to drawing (we love sharing the magic markers as I draw artwork for my dresses and she makes her own drawings), we play with Pepa our dog and make costumes for her, we discover characters in the patterns marble slabs in the hallway, per her request we are redesigning her room to turn into a “jungle room”, and a lot of activities with the imaginary friends.
Do you have any advice for moms thinking about taking the plunge into working on their own/starting a business?
My main advise is that if you are going to start something it was to be something you really, really are interested in. It will require a lot of your time (and your family’s support). It is hard sometimes to figure things out or to balance the sheer volume of the to-do list, so it requires commitment, and grit to do it and self-awareness to do it with balance your life. It takes a lot of patience and the right kind of stubbornness to make it past year one, year two, etc, so what you pick has to be something you are passionate and convinced about. If not when things are rough and sales are slow, you may feel like asking for the chicken exit. Am I a poster child of this? No, but I am definitely giving it my best!
Do you recommend any resources (websites, organizations, books, etc) for people interested in pursuing a career in fashion/design/illustration?
For creative people the most important thing is to always refill your visual arsenal, go to museums, read books, go window shopping for beautiful things, practice a habit of observation: observe nature, the leaves, the trees, observe the clothes of people in the subway. Stay curious, in being curious is where ideas are found.
For actually making things, very useful resource for me is MakersRow where I have connected with factories to make everything.
In NYC there are several free programs offered to small businesses that are great. I did one called FastTrac before I officially started and it help me get a panoramic view of all that is needed in a business.
Join mom groups, meetups of women businesses. They are good for networking and meeting like minded people, just beware, they are also trying to sell everyone their goods or services.
Try to find a mentor or group of advisers to help you periodically with their expertise. There are mentorship programs linked to universities and also to professional associations. But a mentor can also be someone near you that is an expert at something you are not, It can be lonely or overwhelming at times to make decisions on your own, find someone you can bounce ideas with on a consistent basis.
Which of your work are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of PaperGirl Collection as a whole. I managed to create this dream job for myself, to create a universe of stories and beautiful drawings that can be worn girls and that spark their imagination. And of course I am super proud that it is in a store like Bergdorf Goodman, the pinnacle of fashion. Now I need to bring it to all the small boutiques that can help make PaperGirl Collection something that moms and girls want to enjoy collection after collection.
In my graphic design career, I am most proud of the Air Canada livery design. I dreamed of the design on the tail of the plane, it was hard to execute with paint but now I swoon when I see in any airport the “fresh fallen snow” effect I really wanted to achieve with it. American Airlines was also a great project. As I was designing and implementing the new design of those planes I though it is quite an American dream for an immigrant woman from Mexico to redesign such an iconic American brand. Getting a Clio award for it, also made me proud 🙂
If I could have a super power, it would be it would be to fly. Hands down!
A famous person I would love to meet Leonardo da Vinci or Picasso.
Books,art,nature and humanity specially if it is colorful inspires me.
The thing I love best about my adoptive home town, New York, is that it is a sampler of the world and a place where if you dream of making it you can actually make things happen (just add grit)
If I weren’t a designer, I’d be, a history researcher, a collector of pretty things or a lifestyle blogger.
If I had an extra 2 hours in the day, I’d do the same things I do but a little bit less rushed.