How I Became A Designer: Allegra from Pact
Welcome Allegra! Did you always know you’d become a designer?
If you’ll allow me to digress:
When I was in high school I fell in love with writing. I ended up joining my high school newspaper as an extracurricular activity, and then became editor of the paper. At the time, I had this vision that I would transform my high school paper from a standard black-and-white paper to a glossy, full-color magazine. So I had to learn a lot about printing techniques and how to cost that out. That’s also simultaneously when I fell in love with design.
Graduating in 2008, the economy was in shambles. And so I had to think: Would a degree in journalism be the best degree to pursue in this economy? I decided to go study design instead - that felt like a more “practical” skillset. And perhaps I’d re-explore journalism later down the road.
In design school - I was doing a lot of print design work. The internet was around, but the design skillsets practiced were still largely analog. And because I liked written communications - I figured I might one day become a print or book designer. Upon graduation - I got a job at Sid Lee in Montreal, a large advertising agency.
I quickly learned that I didn’t want to be in such a big agency, even though it came with a lot of caché. I felt restricted and wanted more freedom. This was all happening around 2014 when the Warby Parkers’ of the world were blowing up.
So I left my job and started working in startups, and that was gratifying because I could act as a Swiss Army knife. I could write, work on social, figure out emails, write content for the website, design the website etc. I really loved working at all these venture backed startups.
And eventually this opportunity to join a small studio called Dynamo came up. They were punching above their weight doing work for really interesting brands. One of them was Blue Bottle Coffee. That was the project that put them on the map.
I started as an Art Director and then eventually went on to lead the design team more broadly. I got to work with amazing founders like Emily Weiss of Glossier and Yael Aflalo of Reformation. I had this incredible opportunity to understand their vision and work to distill it into launchable products.
That’s ultimately how I landed in a place where I can unify my passions for writing & design and found my footing in the direct-to-consumer space.
And the work that you do now is under your own agency, right?
So the agency that I mentioned: Dynamo –that was the best job I've ever had. I loved my bosses and loved my team. I could’ve worked there for 100 years.
But I was pregnant in 2017, and a few days before my son was born, my boss called me in for a discussion: Glossier would actually be acquiring our company and I had a choice to be in on that acquisition or out of it.
Knowing a long-term maternity leave was probably not going be in the cards, I decided to take a flyer on myself and consult. I was devastated that the job I loved was no more. It was hard to make the decision to consult and give up the opportunity to work for Glossier.
So I started consulting and remember thinking: If I can make $500/mo, I’ll be able to cover my rent. But from the moment I made the decision to start consulting, it was always ‘feast’ and never ‘famine.’ I had a lot of really amazing opportunities. I worked with Twitter, Nike and a whole host of other next-wave D2C startups.
I think I was uniquely able to produce work that performs, without missing out on brand. That felt like my secret sauce. Not because I was really brilliant, but more-so because I spent all of those years working directly with founders who cared deeply about their bottom line.
And eventually - during Covid, I decided to team up with a developer I had been working with for a long time: Alex Leclair and form an agency: Pact.
Alex is a phenomenal technologist in every way. He had built eCommerce sites for huge brands in Canada including Frank & Oak. But he not only did that, he also 10x’d their growth by helping them operationalize in terms of going international, figuring out their 3PL & more. I knew that he was the developer that was gonna have that shared drive in terms of business acumen.
Together, we founded Pact. Our philosophy is that traditional agencies are built on a business model that isn’t sustainable. They try to get as many clients out the door as fast as possible. But Alex and I would be working on building long-term partnerships with our clients. We want our clients to never leave us, and that’s why our name is “Pact”: A commitment to one-another.
We've had phenomenal success in building long-term partnerships with brands like Hill House Home or Studs. In the case of Studs, we don’t just handle their e-com operations, we also help customize their booking flows, consult on their stores and so on and so forth. It’s the omnichannel dream.
Tactically: How do you draw up the contracts for the ongoing work with those clients?
It’s typically a retainer-based structure. In many instances, we don’t first come in and redesign their site. In today’s economic climate - not everyone wants to pour a significant sum of money into a new site. So instead, we talk about goals & define a roadmap. We try to get a really good understanding of where they want to go in the next 12-18 months.
We use that to inform how we structure the time commitment: Do they need 1 or 2 designers? 2 or 3 developers? Is the work more maintenance-based? Or is innovation-based? etc.
For instance - with Hill House Home we worked on a “waiting room” feature to support their drops and prevent their site from crashing. That could have been a maintenance job, but instead we mutually chose to make that an innovative experience. We called it “the nap room” and customers in line were entertained with shopping experiences, polling, quizzes etc. Something to actually build community. That was obviously very bespoke and phenomenally successful.
Last question: Having worked so closely with Emily Weiss - Do you remember what made her so special?
Since working with her, I’ve had many businesses ask me: “Just build for me what you built for Glossier”. That makes sense because what she has built is phenomenal.
But part of what made her so successful is that there was no ulterior motive. When she led with community and writing (Into The Gloss), she didn't use content as a way to get people to Glossier. She came about the content in a really genuine and authentic way. She had a phenomenal instinct on that.
And then, Emily brought something I’ve seen so few times since then: Incredible precision in terms of product vision. Glossier is skin first, makeup second. All of the products are very sheer. They’re meant to celebrate you in your natural beauty – which is wonderful in and of itself, but so vital in the context of one of the first digitally-native brands. She knew customers weren’t going to be able to swatch colors on their arm like in a Sephora or at the beauty counter of a large department store. She nailed that.
Love that answer. Thanks Allegra! So glad to have you on Storetasker!