We had the good fortune of connecting with Laura Grier and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Laura, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
My three sisters and I had a very unusual upbringing. Growing up, both of my parents worked for the CIA and we were stationed all over the world. At a young age I was living in Jakarta, Indonesia and I lived in London and Italy and I was constantly around new languages and cultures. Because of my upbringing, I was exposed to many cultures, languages, religions and foreign locales at a young age and I realized there was a huge world outside of my bubble. I know that this created a wanderlust/travel bug within me that will always influence my work.
My sisters and I would eventually all work at CIA headquarters in Langley as our first jobs during college and go on to live lives full of travel or living in other countries. The entire reason I became a photographer was because I was obsessed with watching Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic channel at a young age. I actually thought I wanted to be a Zoologist or an Archaeologist my whole childhood, because to me that meant being Indiana Jones and having adventures across the globe. I knew from a young age that I did not want a traditional corporate life and my initial interest in photography was that it would be a vehicle for me to have an adventurous life full of travel and not sitting in an office. I realized that I could combine the adventures of archaeologists, geologists, and explorers with my obsession for National Geographic imagery and become a Travel Photographer and nothing has gotten in my way since.
My photography career has been a natural progression in my life as I grow as an individual, seek purpose in my own life, and have learned to be a more intentional person with how and whom I choose to spend my time. As a photojournalist straight out of college, I knew that I was greatly affected by the subjects that I photographed. So it made sense that I gravitated towards photographing love, celebrations, and weddings instead of war and famine. I LOVE love and living life to the fullest and constantly seek beauty in the world. My wedding business led me to destination weddings and traveling more and ultimately shooting for hotels, travel brands, and National Geographic Catalog around the world.
By working with National Geographic’s artisan catalog and their indigenous artisans across the world for the past 12 years, my work has evolved to take on more meaning in my life. Through them, I have traveled many times to their regions around the world in Asia, Africa, Central America and South America and have had the chance to explore the Sacred Valley of Peru many times. On these travels to Peru I met these incredible Quechua women who are ancient Inca weavers and have an amazing hat culture. I love the energy of the Sacred Valley and wanted to find a way to work with these women to start a business. Thus the idea was born to create my social enterprise, Andeana Hats. The idea behind Andeana Hats was to combine the Quechua hat styles with their traditional weavings to create apparel that captures the energy and culture of the people of the Andes Mountains; infusing it into the everyday lives of those who wear them. Andeana has been a combination of every passion that I have in my life into one business: photography, travel, my love for Peru, writing, art, teaching, mentoring, exploring new cultures, vibrant color, empowering women, fashion and of course my obsession with hats and Indiana Jones, sparking the name of our company Andeana Hats.
I find that everything you learn and are inspired by along the way in life can always come back full circle and had you asked me a few years ago if I thought I would start a hat company as a professional photographer I would have laughed, but here I am. This is what is so exciting about following your passions in life, because you never know where they will take you. There is always room to try and start new endeavors and to learn and evolve as a person and business owner and it is never too late to be an entrepreneur!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I think what sets me apart from my competition is my constant energy, fearlessness to do what it takes for a photo or starting a business, and my use of vibrant COLOR and my crazy fun ideas and collaborations.When I went out on my own and founded Beautiful Day Photography in 2003, I had to ask myself “What kind of business do I want to have?”. If I truly wanted to be like Indiana Jones and to have this life of adventure, I would have to focus on travel and destination weddings. But how would I book destination weddings? How would I convince a client to spend more to have a photographer fly out with them? I had to ask myself WHAT made me different and unique, and the answer was that I am giving them a VIBRANT EXPERIENCE. Not only through my imagery, but with the service I provided as well. I love to travel and have adventures and I will do whatever it takes to the get the shot. I LOVE to tell a story that takes them on a surreal journey of their wedding that looks as beautiful and glamorous as they have envisioned it themselves. For my couples they are experiencing their weddings with heightened emotions, like they are on a high, so I feel like I just enhance my own images to match their vision. I am there every step of the way and filtering their own wedding through my eyes and THAT is my selling point. So when my client hires me, they are hiring ME, not just my photography, to capture the fun, beauty and adventure of the ENTIRE experience of the trip, not just the wedding itself. I have always branded myself as an EXPERIENCE not just a vendor.
I am proud that I took a leap of faith when I was 21 years old and packed up my bags and drove to LA and built multiple businesses from nothing and have worked hard to self fund all of them. In college and my first year in LA, I bartended to pay my bills. I even lived out of my car for a few weeks when I first moved to LA. I have always tried to focus on a life of travel and have worked hard to build my body of work and persona as a Travel /Adventure Photographer. It all started with just getting out there and doing it, long before I was getting paid to shoot overseas. My 20’s I lived off credit cards to support my travel habit and it definitely paid off. I hustled and worked very hard and then eventually the referrals snowballed and I didn’t have to search for work anymore and people were finding me. I had a couple of breaks though including going on the TV show Wheel of Fortune when I was 21 and I won $7,000 which allowed me to buy my first camera!
In my photography career I am most proud about recently being honored by the Discovery Channel UK to be named as one of the “richest people on Earth”; Rich in life experiences that is. I was listed amongst 19 other amazing global entrepreneurs who have made a difference to their local communities, artists who have made their work their life, and offbeat outliers who have defied convention. This may be the best and most important accolade I have ever received in my career as a photojournalist, because I totally believe being “rich” in life is not about money and “success” is not based on getting the most money, status, or celebrity jobs, but based on if you are doing what you love everyday and creating an impact in the world.
Some lessons I learned along the way are that being a woman doesn’t have to be limiting and at times it has its advantages. In my industry of photographing weddings, it is easier to take photos of a bride getting ready as a woman. It is easier to establish a bond and connect with my clients and their emotions as a woman. In my profession your work speaks for itself and not your gender or age. No one ever told me how many types of creative jobs there are, that there is a lot of financial assistance for women business owners out there, or how to start my own business once I graduated college. I learned that if you want to launch any business you have to LOVE it, be passionate about it, and you have to be prepared to focus a lot of free hours and energy on it. If you go into it thinking it is a “side project” it will never grow larger or be more successful than that vision. I wish someone would have told me that I had more control over the types of jobs I wanted and to go brand myself from the beginning and told me that being unique was a good thing and to stop constantly comparing yourself to everyone around you. We all are guilty of it and it is never productive.
My biggest challenge has always been saying “NO”. I need to value my time at work and personal time out of work. I try to do it all and I spread myself too thin sometimes. Hiring assistants or interns to help and making sure you have days off and that your clients value and respect those days off is super important. Your clients will appreciate having your full attention when they do have it and so will your friends and loved ones. Being a successful business owner is not about who is the most busy, who makes the most money, or who has the most Instagram followers. If you are doing exactly what you love and doing things like following your passions, collaborating and sharing knowledge with others, and constantly putting yourself out there, you WILL live the lifestyle that you want to lead and your life will WORK FOR YOU. It’s all about positioning yourself to be in front of the right door when it opens…
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in Venice Beach in beautiful Southern California so we tend to get creative over here. I believe that a well-rounded trip involves adventure, relaxation, exploring and learning something new, and somewhere where you can have a bit of nightlife and good food as well. I like “journeying” somewhere whether it’s on a boat or a road trip, so I would say the perfect weekend here would be to come to Venice Beach and ride bikes along the boardwalk or eat with your feet in the sand at Baja Cantina, lay out and relax in the sun. Then have a dance party on the beach at sunset to a silent disco on the beach with @TheWaveSilentdisco or enjoy the nightlife and live music at the nearby Winston House or any of the many bars or restaurants on the westside. Abbot Kinney Blvd is a great boutique shopping street in Venice Beach with many funky stores, great restaurants, and fun art.
You could always pack a day bag or weekend bag and drive to Long Beach to take the ferry to Catalina Island. There you will always see tons of dolphins and wildlife, including their resident wild Buffalo and there are a ton of adventures you can have on the island such as:
-rent golf carts and tour around Avalon
-go shopping and stroll along the boardwalk with ice cream
-go snorkel in the kelp forests
-go for a ridge hike overlooking the Channel islands
-Reward yourself by relaxing in the sun at Descanso Beach Club in a Cabana and partying with the boats that pull up
-Have dinner and drinks at one of the beach bars at Bluewater Beach
-then head home on the ferry or stay the night in a cute B&B!
When you are back on the mainland, you can cross town to West Hollywood and spend a relaxing day at a hotel pool like Chateau Marmont and walk around Melrose and shop OR just stay in the Marina and paddle board and have an evening picnic on the beach with friends. The beach is now the “happening place” to be and all of the bars and restaurants have moved outside, so you can bar hop on your bicycle! If you have more time, driving up the coast to winetaste in Malibu wine country or even Santa Inez Valley Wine Country outside of Santa Barbara and exploring the cute surrounding towns is also one of my favorite activities.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would love to give a Shout Out to Awamaki (www.awamaki.org) , a non-profit organization based in Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, who work closely together with multiple indigenous communities in the remote mountains of Peru. Without their help, we would never be able to have access to some of these communities, have Quechua translators to go to the villages and place our orders and ship them to us, or have a pulse on the ground in Peru that keeps us connected daily to our artisans that we work with. Andeana Hats has partnered with Awamaki and together we invest in women’s skills, connect them to global marketplaces, help fund women’s leadership and confidence building programs, and create sustainable income opportunities to help lead their communities out of poverty.
photography by Laura Grier