Amy Voloshin And The Craft of Creating A Brand
I remember when I first came across Print Fresh Studio. It was 2009, and I was a design assistant at my first job perusing prints for our next season. I loved the contemporary and vintage-inspired vibe of the print collection, and I was also thrilled to learn that the company was based out of Philly. The years went on, and I started my own collection, moved back to Philadelphia, and became deeply embedded in the local design scene. Through the grapevine, I started to hear that Printfresh founder, Amy Voloshin, was starting her own collection: Voloshin. I was amazed, excited and confused. I thought: If you already have one successful business why start a second, especially since the fashion market is so tough to break into? But I also totally understood her decision: the excitement and journey of creating something that is all your own is exhilarating. I was able to connect all the dots after meeting Amy and her husband Leo Voloshin. They were both such exciting and engaged business people with a deep knowledge of their market. It was so inspiring to hear how Amy started her first business from scratch and grew it to become one of the top selling international print houses. I stopped in recently to her studio and was able to see the sumptuous Fall 2017 and Resort 2018 collection, in person. The Voloshin collection is comprised of artisanal woodblock printed tops and dresses, and soft, quilted cotton/linen pants and jackets. I love her choice of colors and easy silhouettes and it was so great to get to sit down with her and learn about the process of sculpting this brand.
Tell us about your beginnings, you had worked for a number of other fashion/ print design companies before you started Print Fresh Studio, when and why did you decide it was a good time to start your own business and what did you learn from your previous employers?
Well, I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and I had the amazing opportunity of working for Liz Collins for most of my time there. I was inspired by her creativity and her strong work ethic. Right out of college I was fortunate to be recruited by Urban Outfitters, I started on Monday after I graduated.
I was hired to work on the Urban Outfitters and Free People lines, this was back when they were just starting to open their first stores. I worked with some amazing and talented people and got to travel all over the world to look for inspiration and work with our vendors. It was a great first job. After a while, I felt the urge to pursue work in New York, something I’d always dreamed of and got a job at a textile design studio up there.
Unfortunately, I soon realized that the work culture was not a good fit for me at the time. My parents, had always worked for themselves and I even grew up riding my tricycle around their wood shop (they’re industrial designers) - so I knew it was time for me to strike out on my own. I was supposed to have 2 other business partners when we first started but in the end it didn’t work out and I recruited my husband, Leo, to be my partner. Back in 2006, the economy was great and I felt like nothing could go wrong. The things that I really learned from my previous work experience was a certainty about the kind of culture that I knew wanted to build at my own company. One that valued employees and the general atmosphere of the work environment.
What was it like in the beginning, how were you able to establish your business. Tell us about some of the obstacles you had to overcome as a creative start-up?
Starting Printfresh Studio was really challenging, at first it was just me in a studio I rented in an old converted textile mill in Philadelphia. We (Leo and I and my parents) had to do everything ourselves. From laying the linoleum on the floor to prevent the water from our screen printing washout sink from seeping into the loud performance space below us - to cold calling clients and hoping that they would give us a shot at presenting our collection. After a few weeks of sitting by myself in the studio, I hired our first intern (someone who would end up working with us for 7 years) and we got started from there. I had to do it all and that was both fun and exhausting.
Before I had kids, time was not a factor at all and I would just work 12 hours almost every day. There have been challenges along the way, from the financial crisis that rocked the retail industry in 2008, to 3 out of my 5 employees leaving us in the second year to start a competing business. But we’ve used every event like that as a learning opportunity and it has made us stronger. One thing that I learned over the years is to take things less personally. It took a while, and it’s still a struggle sometimes, but every year I get a little better at rolling with the punches.
Printfresh Studio is a thriving business that has 30 employees and designs prints for some of the top globally recognized fashion brands. Tell us about how you were able to grow this business and how you are able to stay competitive in a sometimes tough fashion landscape. Also, what has it been like to run this business in Philadelphia as opposed to another city?
I don’t want to sound to businessy given how creative our business really is at its core, but the reality is that I’m a very competitive person at heart. Growing up, I competed in horseback riding for 15 years and played sports throughout school. Initially, I didn’t have lofty goals, but we got some great coaching and it finally dawned on us to set goals. Part of that initial goal setting process was to write a mission statement and it became “To become the artwork studio that best understands and satisfies the needs of fashion designers worldwide”. From there we set goals to grow each year and worked hard to understand what things were trending and really deliver the best version of it in the market. Over the last ten years, we’ve been fortunate to work with some of the most talented and dedicated people who really make it all happen. One thing that sets us apart from I would guess all artwork studios in the world is our training program. Being somewhat geographically challenged by being in Philadelphia and coupled with being, a small business we always have had a hard time being able to recruit people with lots of industry experience. We had to set up our own training program that teaches talented textile designers and illustrators how to really do what we do. In the beginning, I and a few other managers did all of the training but in the last few years we’ve been able to expand that to some other members of our team and that has made all the difference. It is definitely easier to recruit people in fashion capitals like New York and Los Angeles but we are happy to be in Philadelphia and making a positive impact on our community as a result of our growing business.
I think most of us want to have a successful business, but also one in which our employees feel fulfilled and are excited to contribute to the team. Describe what the company culture is like at Printfresh and how you help to manage and empower team members.
We definitely lead with company culture. Being a small business in a niche industry has it’s own set of issues and makes it really hard to compete for talent with large national and multinational companies that are located in our region like Urban Outfitters, Lilly Pulitzer, Destination Maternity and Charming Shoppes. All of those companies are able to pay people more than we can afford but what we strive to offer people is more of a community and a better workplace culture. Many years ago we rolled out our Core Values to our team and we’re really big on that. Leo, my husband, and CEO is very much a big proponent of the concept and talks about it all the time. In fact, it’s a key part of our interview process for Leo or myself to describe the company’s core values to our prospective employee. We really hire and fire based on our core values. Our core values are Team Player, Takes Initiative, Is Authentic, Works Hard / Enjoys Life, Committed to Excellence, Customer Focused and Positive Work Environment (our no-jerks policy). It may sound a little hokey but it really does make for a much better place to work. We feel like since everyone who works with us is committed to spending about 40-50 hours a week in our workplace we owe to them to make it pleasant and productive. The people who are most successful in our company have a natural affinity for our core values and it makes them stronger contributors to our company and gives them a positive experience in terms of their growth.
You are in the midst of launching your own namesake collection, Voloshin, which is so exciting. Many people could observe that you already have a successful business, why jump into a totally new venture? What spurred you to create Voloshin? What has the process been like of this new creative venture, and how has running Printfresh Studio aided you in the creation of Voloshin?
Thanks, I’m really excited about my new line. Honestly, it’s something that I always dreamed of doing. My children starting sleeping through the night, and I decided it was time to start on this new venture. It can take a long time to establish a business so I felt like the sooner the better! As a working mom, I’ve often struggled to find easy casual clothing that I can both feel comfortable and fashionable in and still be able to chase after my kids. Having had Printfresh Studio for all these years has really been great because I have a much better understanding of how to run a business and have some internal resources that I can leverage in helping me get started. The process though has had its ups and downs. Our first collection was supposed to be spring ‘17 but was late by several months and ended up becoming our upcoming resort ‘18 collection. And when it did arrive from our first manufacturing vendor it had been accidentally shredded by an improper wash process. I’m lucky to have a great network of being in the industry for so long and was able to find a better manufacturing partner and I’m hopeful that our new line comes in at the quality that we’ve been seeing for the last few months. We’ve got a fair amount of confidence in what we’re putting out there in the first few seasons but at the end of the day, it’ll remain to be seen what people really react to and like. I’m really interested in artisanal techniques that are mostly only able to be executed in India and that has been an interesting aspect of this startup in terms of having to find partners who can execute it and be reliable and still meet the strong ethical manufacturing requirements that I would like to be a part of my life.
It must be very exciting to step back into the role of fashion designer. What defines the Voloshin collection and who is the Voloshin woman? I would love to hear about the process of crafting the brand.
The Voloshin collection focuses on natural fabrics, pattern, and a feminine sensibility. Much of my design process is based on the design philosophy of Wabi Sabi - worldview centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.
The Voloshin woman is often 30-50+ and has a love of subtle luxury. She enjoys relaxed fits, and looking pulled together but comfortable. Many of our customers are moms too, and they love something that they can look cute into wear while out shopping or out to brunch, but can also just as easily were it her children’s soccer practice!
You are entering the wholesale market with your line Voloshin, but you already have a huge amount of sales and marketing experience from your other ventures, do you have any good sales/marketing advice for other designers who are just starting out?
Don’t give up! I think one of the things that it took us a while to figure out with Printfresh Studio is that if you really have a product that you know is right for someone - NO should always be interpreted as Not Now. That’s something hard to learn because we’ve always had the phone hung up on us or the door shut but that just inspires us to try harder the next time with a better collection or a new approach.
I always love to meet husband and wife teams who are both working together on their business and also juggling domestic life. Your husband, Leo Voloshin, has been with you through all the different stages of your brand, how do you guys work together and what are some of your different roles within the business.
Leo and I are very different and that has been both the source of our strength and sometimes the source of our struggles. At the end of the day, I know that I can count on him 100% to support me and what I’m interested in pursuing and he in-turn can count me. We’ve been working together since before Printfresh Studio, for a few years prior to that we had a t-shirt line called Moonblood - we were big in Greece of all places. It’s been interesting for both of us to grow together. Leo’s style is more spontaneous and bold, while I try to take things in a more measured way and am the more strategic and operations focused one. One recent example was our current pop-up at Field in Fishtown - Leo had the idea and set it up with Erin and took care of some of the bigger picture things but I had to step in at the end and make a checklist to make sure we brought everything and that it all happened on time. We complement each other nicely, although I wish we could have a third party senior operations person to take care of the nitty-gritty details of running our businesses so that I could focus more on the creative side of what we have going on.
Alongside Printfresh Studio and Voloshin, you also have a stationary line: Printfresh. I am amazed at all these different ventures along with learning about you and your husband’s creation of the Fishtown Flea. Were running all of these different ventures always part of the bigger picture for the two of you? I imagine it must be very exciting to have all these different projects in the works, but what is it like to manage all of them.
I wouldn’t exactly say that having these other ventures was part of the bigger picture. For us starting Printfresh came out of a desire to have something more tangible and for us to be able to build a consumer brand around what we’ve been working on for the last ten years. The Flea came out of a desire to activate a long-vacant space on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown while also serving to create a local platform for us to highlight a curated selection of Philadelphia’s best design talent (and of course for us to have a place to sell some of the things we’ve been working on). From an execution perspective we couldn’t do it without the amazing team we have around us. Our team has been front and center figuring everything out and trying to execute our vision to the best of their abilities. We’re very grateful for having them by our side in all these exciting ventures we’re working on. One thing that I wanted to add is that we’re also working on Jasper Studios, which will be our new office along with 55 artist studios up in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. We are very excited to launch that in the upcoming month as well.
With these creative interviews, I always like to end with something that is inspiring you. Whether is it new trends in fashion, new business ideas or even just other brands or artists that you are excited for, tell us what recently has been inspiring you on a creative level.
We have been experimenting with different ways of selling on a more experiential level. Retail is going through such a challenging time, and we are all watching online become such a strong presence. We have recently founded the Fishtown Flea - a juried artist, designer, and maker fair as a way of selling product directly to customers. The event hosts designers who share an aesthetic, food trucks provide interesting culinary options, and the best local DJ’s play music to enhance the shopping experience. I’m very excited to see where this shopping concept takes us. We have another event October 21st and we are hoping to expand the concept in the spring.