Names: Inslee Fariss and Roxy Te Owens
Ages: 28 and 30, respectively
Titles: Illustrator and founder/designer of Society Social, respectively
Location: New York City and New York City/North Carolina, respectively
What was your first job ever? Have you always wanted to do what you’re doing now?
Inslee: My first job was in a clothing boutique when I was 18. I’ve always wanted to be in the fashion/design/art arena, but I didn’t always know this would be my career. For a long time, I thought that illustration was just an outlet for me to be creative, an escape from a “normal” job. It took me a while to realize that my creative outlet could be my source of income.
Roxy: Yes! Mine was at a retail store at the local mall when I was 16. I didn’t know it then but my experience helped me land amazing internships while I was at Parsons. The fashion brands I worked for liked that I already had experience on the sales floor dealing with customers and in-store merchandising. Never underestimate a modest first job!
When did you know it was time to launch your business?
Roxy: It was more of a gradual realization versus one moment. I was in my third year of a corporate job in the buying office of a large department store. I was buying for about 300 stores and helping manage millions of dollars. Not only was it extremely stressful but it was also the same drill every day: 9 to 5 (though usually 7 or 8) in a gray cubicle hammering away at a computer. It wasn’t rewarding or fulfilling — not the kind of life I wanted to live!
Inslee: I didn’t really realize it until after I’d started my business… Whoops! I launched my website and sold a small collection of stationery while I was still in school. It was very much a back-burner side project. For a long time, my parents fielded the requests that were coming into my website while I was finishing up my degree at Washington & Lee. After graduation, we transitioned into me reading and replying to those emails directly. When I realized how many people were interested in my illustrations and willing to pay for them, I quit my post-graduate unpaid internship and threw myself fully into growing my art into a brand.
Tell me a little about the process of creating a new piece.
Roxy: My designs start with a variety of things: a look I love, a fabric, or a proper cocktail hour! I’m not technically trained so my team of designers and engineers are instrumental in making my ideas come to life. For my first bar carts, I knew I wanted to incorporate lots of faux bamboo, fretwork, natural cane, color, and functionality. There’s a lot of dialogue and brainstorming around the key attributes of my initial ideas, then sketches, then editing, then the spec’ing of the product. The designs that make the cut go to prototyping and on to production. It’s a fun collaboration with all parties involved but nothing makes it to the next stage without my direct approval.
Inslee: When I’m working on something like my yearly calendar or a new card design, I create a big secret Pinterest board and compile tons of image inspiration. When I’m working for a client, I let their vision inform how I work. I always ask what little details make them unique. Things like “I always wear these earrings my grandmother gave me” or “please make me five inches taller” are common remarks that help me capture my subjects.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Roxy: Running a small business requires you to take charge of many roles, from designer to bookkeeper to marketing manager, so every day is different. I’m always learning something new!
Inslee: The beauty of this job is that there rarely is a typical day. Today began with working on a new blog post and then I had a client come in to meet with me about a commission… the subject of which is “two little girls and their cat, Olaf!” This afternoon I’ll be working on an interesting mix of administrative and creative work: both installing our air-conditioning unit and beginning a new bridal commission.
You crack me up. Besides your new AC unit, what’s inspiring you right now?
Inslee: I just launched a new product that I’m so inspired to work on: large, gestural nudes done in bright watercolor washes and sumi ink. It’s so much fun for me to do something different from my usual pen and ink and watercolor small character sketches.
Roxy: Travel! I just returned from a spectacular Mediterranean cruise. We visited Italy, Greece, and Croatia. The buildings were powder blue, bright pink, salmon, terracotta, minty green, golden yellow, and so much more. And the sea! Deep, saturated shades of cerulean and teal. I want to splash my apartment and all of Society Social with the hues of the Mediterranean!
What’s one pinch me moment you’ve had so far?
Roxy: About three years ago, I was unemployed and deeply entrenched in the 20-something battle of finding my life path and passion. Sounds dramatic, right? Well, it was! When I see my designs in national glossies, I still can’t believe it. I’m so grateful.
Inslee: Well, I can’t reveal too much just yet, but I’m partnering with an NYC stationer with a rich history in the finest of papers. Our collaboration will launch in a matter of weeks so stay tuned!
That’s so exciting! When will you know you’ve made it?
Inslee: When we can afford an apartment with a dishwasher.
Roxy: Really all I’m asking for is a little more natural light and a second bedroom. 😉
You know you live in New York when… Ha! Any advice for the next generation of creative entrepreneurs?
Roxy: Five tips, to be exact!
Inslee: Learn how to build and code your own websites!!!