We had the good fortune of connecting with Lori Escalera and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lori, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
The interview questions I was asked to select from, are wonderfully complex. The hardest thing is to pick only one to answer! The “thought process going into starting my own business” incorporates the other questions nicely because starting my own business involved “risktaking,” ideas of what makes me “happy,” and “success.” Going into business was fated some 40 years ago (1981!) The way I went about it involved almost no risk, really. The upside was rewards of major proportion for a hard worker like myself! Women were underpaid at that time in salaried position jobs in Graphic Design (my focus: collateral materials, communications marketing, and print) It was before the days of the internet and web design. Everything needed to go to the printer. There were always new mailers, magazine ads, corporate flyers, annual reports, business stationery, logos, folders, and book jackets, and paper information needing to be put into the consumers’ hands. There was no shortage of work at the time. I had been working for Ben Mayer Architect – Interior Design firm as his protege (1980-81). Ben decided to retire into his astronomy passion, while at the same time I had a major retinal detachment putting me out of commission for a couple of months. It was a terrifying time, almost losing my sight and losing my job. My husband, at the time, was not financially dependable, and things were getting a bit desperate. Upon recovering I started looking for jobs. Women of my caliber were not as desirable as men. I’d interview three times for a job and it would go to a much less capable man. Larry Flynt provided the opportunity for me to be Art Director at Hustler Magazine (I look back as that being an extraordinary honor!). The salaried position worked out to about $15.50 per hour on a 40-hour workweek (including benefits) but the weekly demand was about 55 hours – the pace demanding, and the work a bit “racy” for my comfort level. I was frightened by the stress and workload of that industry. Ben was writing a book and said if I went into business he’d throw the book graphics my way to start me off. My husband had a day job at Continental Data Graphics (publication house) and he was willing to work additional hours to help get us started. He was a good wingman. I was a great saleswoman and designer, but my sight was not good in the darkroom so he was a great production partner complement. I bought two books for $5 each. One was The Graphics Artists Handbook (still in publication, I highly recommend it for any artist), and the other “Small Time Operator” (Bernard Kamoroff – how to start your own business – it’s still available for $5!) The first book gave me an ethical operation guideline and the second one gave me a practical outline of my obligations for the government and record-keeping as a small business. There was nothing more to know after reading those books. I only needed to go “do” and gain experience under my belt. My husband would keep his day job and as I recovered I would start “selling” my business “Graphica by Lori.” I decided I liked to work out of my home and took advantage of home-based deductions. It was easy to empty the dishwasher and talk shop on the phone; put in a load of laundry while I waited for the adhesive or ink to dry. As a small business owner who worked at home, I had the great advantage of keeping my overhead down so my rate of $40 an hour was highly competitive and I began winning many projects. Because I was really good at what I did – I was reliable – professional – and a quality business supplier – we got so overwhelmed with work my husband had to quit his day job. We were wildly successful with more work than we could handle and we began hiring other graphic artists. But to know your limits is really important. 2 – 4 Artists was it. My business partner became unreliable with a substance abuse problem and we hit a wall. Things unraveled over the decade and it was time for me to take an “outside” job and figure out a divorce. I think knowing when one has to make changes is crucial. Life accommodates one making changes better than trying to beat the proverbial dead horse or try to deny things have changed. In 1987 I started “Design Etcetera” on my own. I will be the first to tell you these decisions are momentous – there is NO guide book – and sometimes you have to keep trying to figure out the right path — even though your “heart” takes a different path than your “head.” This started a kind of “back and forth” of being in business and taking other jobs over the next 20 years which included a divorce, a baby daddy, a child, a separation, another husband, a legal separation – which all included periodically shifting back and forth between my own business and taking other jobs (sometimes both!), civic volunteering, creating an art group, and working on an environmental nonprofit. Sometimes I acted “on” things and sometimes fate acted on me as I was fired four times! Being fired was not bad! It was remarkably the best thing to happen each time. I did better financially (the first time making 400% more the following year) and the second time I was able to be involved with my son as a chaperone at school events, etc. Each time I was let go at a “job” I went home to more freedom, earnings, less stress, and increased happiness working for myself. When the work dried up it was time to go back and find a job. As I aged, and women had more opportunities in the workplace, job opportunities became more equitable. Looking back, what I feared as risk or change – was nothing more than “fear of the unknown.” It was ALWAYS fear-based to make changes in my vocational life, Being fired was always a crushing blow to my self-esteem in the first 24 hours, but it was always the right thing, leading to greater success, stability, and freedoms in the end. Leading to the next interview question: “The thought process behind leaving your business into retirement,” LOL!
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.
How I overcame my challenges – was by getting up every morning and showing up for my work. No, it is not easy at times, but it is my life. It is a struggle but it is my life. We all live a life where struggle resides as a crucible. My crucible is to continually reinvent myself. I kinda hate it. But, hey – as long as I know what my life issue is – I can accept it faster and address what needs changing. What I want others to know about my story – will be different for each person. I hope my experience will “resonate” with those who need to hear it. Just like my own desire to find others with who I could “resonate” through their life experiences. Our brands are unique to us. So we can’t entirely provide solutions for others. But what we can give is a glimmer of hope, understanding, and exposure to the options possible for life’s challenges.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my bestie was visiting – I’d visit Venice Beach, The Getty Museum, The Descanso Gardens, Malibu coast, Redondo Beach, Wholesome Choice (Middle Eastern foods) in O.C., Titos Tacos in Culver City, and find some great Sushi Restaurants. I’d walk my dog around the neighborhood of the Carlson Park Tract in Culver City on over to the downtown district. I love walking the neighborhood and looking at the cute ways people fix up their homes. I am also nostalgic since I would run the streets of the Historic Tract 1775 area in Culver City as a child. And I’d go knock on my neighbors’ doors on Jasmine Avenue because it’s still the most comfortable thing to do. I still love running away to San Diego. I will have always left my heart in San Diego.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I credit my father and mother for being the worst and the best models. They gave me “tools” of discipline, commitment, tenacity, and ferocity. But I could not BE them and that disappointed them greatly for a lifetime. My instructors: Ellen Vener in high school who was a role model for every professional and interpersonal thing I wanted to be like – she was talented, patient, and cool. Shirley Eisman in my early college years for giving me her joy of painting, fabric design and trapunto; professors Bowman, Anderson, Miller at SDSU for teaching me nuts and bolts of arts and photography; SDSU Jerry Elliott for taking me on as an intern and then paid employee at SDSU Graphics department. He cared so much about training and preparing his employees for work; my professors at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College for being tremendous professional mentors. At work: Ben and Lou Mayer at Envel Design gave me my first professional start and so many foundational experiences in working for a family-owned small business.
Other: http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-lori-escalera/ https://www.artmoire.art/lori-escalera https://www.wescover.com/creator/lori-escalera