From Graphic Design to Own Business

What work have you done in the past?

I was a graphic designer at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

What are you doing now?

I am the founder and creative director of Aya Paper & Co., a company for durable writing and gift products.

How did you feel at work before you decided to make the change?

I loved being a graphic designer.

Being in the museum allowed me to work closely with artists to create designs that made their work accessible to a wide audience.

I was also the only designer at the institution, so it gave me a lot of freedom to create independently.

Why did you change?

While enjoying the independence the job gave me, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I expected to produce, with no design team to support me and no room to grow into other areas of work.

I am a creative person, but I am also strategic and interested in growth and evolution. The role did not give me the ability to strengthen these other talents.

Alongside this work, I was also a freelance designer working on other print and digital projects to interest me. But even that has become overwhelming.

Starting, executing and finishing new projects every month has taken a lot out of my creativity. I was frustrated that I would put so much work into things that I would have no information about it once the products were completed.

Overall, I just longed for the opportunity to build something new and exciting; Something I was passionate about and was able to spend a lot of time cultivating.

For a while I tried to look for it in other job opportunities, but I came to a lot of dead end. Although I had a lot of talent and experience, being a young designer in a city without an MFA made it difficult for the exciting performances I really wanted.

And I did not want a boring job of an agency that puts out designs for someone else.

When was the moment when you decided to make the change?

Once I realized that it would not be so easy to find another job that I loved, I started thinking about starting my own business.

Instead of offering only freelancer services, I decided to try a product based business that would allow me to sell my designs on a larger scale, and give me the freedom to create what I want outside of any client.

How did you choose your new career?

Greeting cards looked like a cheap and simple product I could create, with endless design options.

I’ve always loved sending tickets to loved ones, but I also noticed how clichéd and stale most of the offers were. Finding cards that I thought were really beautiful and had words that I really connected to was not easy.

So I decided to create the things I wanted to see.

Are you happy with the change?

I am very happy with this change.

I can not see myself doing anything else. I have never felt more satisfied, peaceful and in control of my life.

Why do you miss and why do you not miss?

I do not miss the rigidity of going into the office every day for eight hours, sitting in long meetings, doing work that I am not excited about and navigating the politics of the office.

Being my own boss allows me to get up whenever I want, have slow mornings, take only valuable meetings, and do only projects that are in line with my goals.

Being a young person with talent is not always appreciated in industries where you are expected to ‘invest the time’. It was only when I worked with my team that I realized I unintentionally made myself small in my previous career to make others more comfortable. I really enjoy working with a team where everyone feels encouraged to showcase their talents and contribute their ideas.

The only things I really miss are the income and the consistent benefits. Running your own small business is unpredictable, and I’m still learning to navigate highs and lows.

How did you make the transition?

While I was still working on my design work, I spent six months designing Aya Paper & Co. and then another seven months putting it aside.

When I resigned from my job full time, I still had not earned my salary through the business, but I was willing to make my full effort. There were a lot of opportunities that popped up and I was exhausted from trying to balance them both – even having to take time off from work sometimes to fulfill Aya’s duties.

I was standing at a crossroads and decided to make a leap.

How have you developed (or transferred) the skills you need for your new job?

I did a lot of pattern design in my museum work and that’s probably what made me even interested in product design.

Working with printers, deciding which printing process to use, which paper to choose, setting up print files, etc. are all things I use in creating products for Aya.

I also managed internships in this job, which gave me some skills in reviewing resumes, interviews, building and managing my team now.

Many of the other skills I used in this position were developed years earlier, as an intern in start-ups, as an online community manager, and in college classes where I studied marketing, social media and two terms in business school.

What did not go well? What wrong inquiries did you make?

Honestly, I do not think there were any wrong inquiries.

Every choice I made contributed to me getting to where I am now so I do not see them as ‘wrong’. Everything is just a lesson to be learned.

How did you handle your finances to enable your shift?

I returned home for a year to relieve myself of financial stress in the early stages of building a business.

It was definitely helpful and allowed me to take smart risks that eventually paid off.

What was the hardest thing about the change?

The hardest thing was learning to trust myself.

In my work at the museum, I had a boss who also had a boss who answered to the board, so things always had to be tested and approved by a number of people before they were completed. By the time I got an assignment a lot of decisions had already been made for me.

When I ran my own business, especially in the beginning, I had no one to bounce ideas from. I could not defer to someone else’s judgment. I did not have ten more groups of eyes looking at things before they were in the world.

It made me very anxious around every decision I made and I often doubted if it was the ‘right one’. I also experienced a lot of fatigue in decisions and I would put things off for days or weeks because I was so tired of making choices.

Over time, and with care, I was able to build my confidence and confidence in myself to make decisions that would be right for my company without being too stressed about them.

What help did you get?

Mentors and consultants who have experience and knowledge that I do not have.

A therapist who will help me be the best version of myself for my business and navigate the stress of entrepreneurship.

Family and friends who support me and are willing to lend a hand when I need it.

A community of other business owners who are my age and sometimes go through the same challenges as me. Sometimes we offer each other solutions, but sometimes we just find solace in knowing we are not alone.

Local organizations like Makerhoods that have helped me set up my business officially, create financial forecasts and think like a CEO.

What resources would you recommend to others?

Find as many successful mentors as you want.

There are things you just can not Google search; Having someone to ask for advice can go a long way.

IFundWomen is a great resource if you are looking for financing as a business woman.

What did you learn in the process?

Everyone’s journey is different!

My path to entrepreneurship and through it is not like what I have read about in blogs or business articles. They always say wait until your hustle and bustle brings in your salary, or build six months of savings, and do it all yourself, and work late nights and weekends. I have not done any of these things, and my business is successful and I am happy!

So I learned not to compare my journey or my choices with anyone else’s.

What would you advise others to do in that situation?

Trust yourself, you will have a safety net, and do not be afraid to take a risk.

Photos © Shanté Carlan Photography

For more information on SaVonne’s business, visit

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