How I became a designer: Caley from Wildes District
Welcome Caley! So did you always know you’d become a designer?
I was into art for my whole life - but I didn't know that graphic design would be my path to express that.
It was in college, while on an illustration track that I learned about the wider potential of graphic design.
The cool thing is that I still use my illustration skills quite frequently. It’s actually quite rare for a design agency/studio to offer illustration in-house, usually that’s contracted out.
Tell me about your first job: What was it?
I graduated college in 2010, right on the heels of the 2008 recession. It was a really tough market to get a job for anybody.
I was also in Boston, which wasn’t the biggest hub for design agencies. But somehow, I ended up discovering this incredible design studio called Tank Design. That was my first job out of college and to this day, it’s still one of the best jobs I’ve had because it was the best group of people to work with. I still keep in touch with many of them to this day. We get together for drinks, collaborate on projects, and refer work to one another. Tank was roughly 25-40 people at the time and that, to me, is a really good size for an agency, before it starts to get too big and bloated.
Any design trends you remember from that time?
Ha! The big trend in design back then was definitely the ‘maker's movement’. Everything was all about craft cocktails, handmade/DIY, vintage typography, and an overall artsy crafty style that was very tactile, with distressed edges. I think this was a response to the recession that had just decimated the U.S. economy. Suddenly all of these former bankers and corporate types were laid off, and many pivoted to launching small businesses focused on small batch/craft products.
Eventually you moved over to the mecca for design: New York. Is that right?
Yes I moved without a job lined up — but I knew I’d be able to find a good opportunity in due time. That’s how I became immersed in the world of luxury, working for a boutique digital agency called Tender Creative (which was acquired by VSA Partners) where I worked with a great portfolio of brands like Chanel, Rolex, The Row & many others.
That transition was a very exciting one. Suddenly, my life felt like it became the “movie version” of itself: High-profile fashion clients, fancy cocktails after work, invites to really cool events (but also, long working hours…). It was a really exciting time for me, especially coming from Boston which was much more of a sleepy town — it felt like a huge leap forward. I couldn’t believe I had made it to NYC.
So fun. And what came next after the agency?
From there, it’s a long and winding story up until I started Wildes District - my own agency in 2018. But I’ll give you some of the highlights.
After Tender Creative (now called VSA partners), the D2C model was just getting started. Birchbox, Warby Parker, Casper etc — all those businesses were starting to make a real name for themselves.
I ended up joining the team at Birchbox as their first full-time product designer. And back then, “UX/UI” as a career path was just really beginning. It was still a time where print and brand designers would work on the web. There was not really much science, method, or established practices around product design like there is today. Today, it’s such a robust and intricate discipline that takes a lot of time and focus to become an expert in.
I learned a lot in that job & then pursued the technical aspects of product design even further in the blockchain space when I joined a blockchain-based encryption startup in 2015. I focused on UX, and because some of our standards for encryption today are based off of very old technologies from the early 90’s, there are lots of interesting edge cases and complicated problems to solve for.
Ultimately, I wanted to go back to building brands and experiences that weren’t just highly functional, but were also beautiful. So I got linked up with the team at Red Antler and joined their all-star team, working as a freelancer for almost two years there.
Epic. What was the experience like at Red Antler? Did you enjoy your time there?
The leadership there, led by Emily Heyward, is so intelligent and talented and they are some of the best in the biz. They do incredible work and I cannot say enough good things about them.
I met people there who became lifelong friends, and we did incredible work together. Many of us who worked there during that time still hang out all the time, and we maintain a really tight-knit community. We all still stay in close touch, collaborate, and refer projects to one another, similar to my experience at Tank Design. They are the most talented designers, developers, copywriters & strategists you’ll find.
Eventually - you started your own studio: Wildes District. What’s that been like?
Running a business is one of the hardest but most rewarding things you can do. I realized very early on that I wanted us to focus on working with women-owned businesses, particularly within the luxury and lifestyle space. It feels like a return to my roots from when I first moved to NYC. And surprisingly, not a lot of other studios work with these brands across both brand and digital. And even fewer (1%!) studios are actually run by women — who are ultimately the largest cohort of consumers for luxury products. To be able to choose a specialized area of expertise to focus on is really exciting.
What are you most excited about moving forward when it comes to your agency?
I am most excited about launching brands into the world that feel new and fresh. I think we are just at the beginning of a new era in luxury, innovation and technology that is going to explode. And suddenly, there’s a renewed focus on brands that are pushing the envelope and focusing on niche, unmet needs rather than brands that are just built for the sake of making money. Areas like sustainability, femtech, women’s health, and web3 are getting more and more traction which is exciting. For instance, one of our clients, Elix Healing, is finding innovative ways to solve a variety of women’s health issues via Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s the first time many women are seeing a company that actually cares about what they’re going through, and one that actively has an ongoing dialogue with them in order to better understand their needs.
And finally - you just became an advisor of Storetasker! What made you want to do that and what are you hoping to achieve with that responsibility?
I am so excited to be an advisor of Storetasker. I see a huge opportunity with Storetasker to source and provide talent to brands that are just getting off the ground. Often, finding the right knowledge and expertise can be a barrier to building and scaling brands. I want to help remove any friction for founders between ideation and execution. This is a win for everyone because the more innovative brands that are launched into the world, the more evolution we’ll see for our society as a whole.
It's a pleasure to have you on-board Caley!