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Hidden Gems: Meet Sophie Taylor

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sophie Taylor.

Hi Sophie, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Growing up, I was always collecting cool business cards and flyers when my parents and I went somewhere, and I was always drawing fashion figures.

At the time, I didn’t know what “graphic design” was, but when I later figured out that was a career, I combined my love for fashion and graphics and pursued a Fashion Design and Visual Communication (Graphic Design) double major at the University of California, Davis.

When I got to Davis, I took a sewing class, and that showed me that I do NOT have the patience for sewing, so graphic design it was! While at Davis I had graphic design jobs in three different departments, including managing other student designers.

I started freelancing, finding my first clients outside of the school through MySpace, including clients in other States, Iran, and Australia. People weren’t really using social media for business connections at the time other than to promote their music, and it proved to be a great platform for me.

During my senior year, I did a semester abroad in Germany, at a new design school that had just opened in the small town of Schwäbisch Hall, where my mom was born and raised and I spent a lot of time. It wasn’t an official exchange with UC Davis, so I went into a 5th year when I got back home.

I actually ended up graduating with a BA in German Language & Culture (which was my minor initially, then my 2nd major when I decided against fashion design) because otherwise, I might have had to spend another year there to get my BA in design.

I moved to Toronto in 2009 and earned a Master’s degree in Fashion at Ryerson University. I researched branding, including marketing graphics and product design, in high-end fashion companies that were diversifying their product offerings to include categories such as home goods or beauty.

At the time, I was working a soul-crushing part-time design job with a terrible boss, and working in the (Wedding) Gift Registry department at a major department store, first as a consultant and then in a role, they created for me (Signature Service Lead) where I managed the customer experience in the department and worked with the VIP couples and customers.

My negative experience at the design job, unfortunately, dulled my passion for design, but the Registry job introduced me to the wedding industry.

I ended up taking a Legal Assistant job at a large corporate law firm, thinking I would be happy just doing design as a hobby, but after a year or so I realized that wasn’t the case; I started doing more freelance work again, starting my brand Castlefield and mostly focusing on wedding invitations and event stationery – branding events.

I lost my job when they were doing some restructuring at the firm in 2015, which was a blessing. And not one in disguise. I had a great boss and his clients were so nice, but I was very comfortable there and I don’t know when or if I would have quit pursuing Castlefield full time if I hadn’t been let go.

I went on unemployment for a year; continued to build my portfolio, network, and client list; and was proudly able to fully support myself with my freelance work within that year.

Now it’s been 7 years and I LOVE what I do. My path to get here had a lot of twists and turns, but – and I know this sounds so corny!

I think everything happened for a reason. I feel like I’m where I was meant to be, and I don’t take that for granted because I know that so many people around the world are working jobs that they hate because it’s the only way for them to feed themselves and their families.

I’ve had jobs where that Sunday anxiety hits you and you dread going to work. It’s horrific. I make sure that the designers and illustrators that work with me know that they are valued because I would never want anyone to feel those negative emotions because of me and Castlefield!

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Studying abroad changed my graduation year from 2007 to 2008, which of course was horrible timing.

The recession made it impossible for experienced professionals to find work, let alone work that paid well, so a new graduate didn’t have much chance. Friends who had already graduated and been hired had lost their jobs. I ended up moving back into my parent’s house on the Monterey Peninsula, feeling like a failure.

At some point, I decided it was time to move. I was initially going to head up the coast to San Francisco but then decided to either go to Toronto or somewhere in Germany. I decided I’d try Toronto (I’ve now been here for 13 years).

More bumps in the road came from not actually having a degree in design. At the time, employers would weed people out right away if they didn’t have a degree in the field. I feel like now, with so much education available online (and a lot of it being free), people don’t necessarily need a formal design education to learn design, so people focus more on the applicant’s portfolio – which makes sense.

A degree and decades of experience don’t magically make someone a great designer. I think that my struggle to find a job in-house (especially with the recession) was what led me to freelance design.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Straight from the website: Castlefield is a boutique luxury branding and design studio. We create dynamic brands and distinctively beautiful designs for diverse clients worldwide.

I’m the Art Director and Primary Designer, but I have a few amazing (in talent and personality) designers and illustrators who work with me on some projects. We create beautiful, aesthetically-pleasing designs that do what graphic design is meant to do: communicate and connect with an audience.

I’ve been designing for 18 years and have had the pleasure of working with a wide variety of clients in industries including fashion, beauty, professional sports, events, law, interior design, realty, and culinary arts/confectionery in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Oceania.

Castlefield’s client work has been featured in publications such as Marie Claire Hong Kong; our stationery has been part of over 50 wedding editorial shoots and featured in publications such as MunaLuchi Bride and WedLuxe.

Our brand was featured as a case study in the first edition of Marketing Fashion from Laurence King; and I am a 4x consecutive winner of ByBlacks’ People’s Choice Award for Best Graphic Designer (2018, 2019, 2020, 2021) and received the Black Designers of Canada Award of Excellence for her brand and design work. (A bonus: our branding and design client Zandria’s Dessert Boutique will have her luxury dessert vending machines at a Memphis sports arena soon, so look out for that!).

We offer a variety of services, including brand strategy, brand identity design, designs for packaging, marketing graphics (print and digital), surface/pattern design for products, invitations and event stationery, graphics for interiors, signage, and website design. People come to us to elevate their brands, but also to have personal collections designed for them, like bedding sets or social stationery.

While there may be a Castlefield “signature style” (luxurious, sophisticated), we design to fit the brand we’re working with. We don’t really do “trendy” designs very often; we craft brands that can evolve over the years so that our clients don’t have to do an annual rebrand. The use of typography, color, pattern, and texture is generally what sets Castlefield’s work apart in a sea of designs that generally all look very similar.

Our pricing starts at $10,000 USD for branding because our clients are investing in high-quality work and valuable experience. We often have clients come to us after trying two or three other designers who offered very low rates, but they ultimately spent more on designs that they couldn’t use. We do offer reduced pricing for clients like students or non-profit/charitable organizations.

In addition to the studio, I also have a Castlefield shop (https://shopcastlefield.com) with lifestyle goods (décor, fashion, accessories, and stationery) – travel bags, laptop bags, notebooks, and robes are customer favorites. Last year I added a collection to Castlefield that lives on a separate site, Belamar (https://belamar.co). Belamar offers products for home, office, wellness, and travel, and a percentage of sales is donated to Plan International to help girls and women around the world. (Use coupon code MemphisVoyager in either shop to get 15% off your order.)

I also do digital art and recently got into 3D, which I’m loving. Some of my art is available in the shop, and I do custom commissions – for example when people want a portrait for a special occasion. My focus, especially being Black myself, is on showing the beauty of diversity, since we don’t always see many non-white faces in art and mainstream magazines.

I have a few side projects as well:

The Art of Design (coming soon! – https://art-of-design.co) is a site that is essentially a treasury of luxury, art, design, and culture, with a focus on craftsmanship and sustainability. My client-turned-friend luxury interior designer and decorator Dima Ahmad is working on it with me.

The Beauty Concierge (https://beauty-concierge.co) is a directory of BIWOC-owned high-end beauty and fashion brands and service providers which I created with copywriter Talia Leacock. It hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s still a rich resource for people looking to support and buy from Black, Indigenous, and Brown women.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
People often say “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, which absolutely can be true, but I’ve found that the winning ticket is having talent, being skilled, and being a likable person. Not being “popular” – I mean having a reputation for being kind, genuine, and reliable.

If a potential client or customer is choosing between two people with equal levels of skill and talent, but one is unlikeable or seems difficult to work with, they’re going to choose the other person. So it’s not just “who you know”, it’s what the people you know think of you, because they’ll tell other people about what you’re like, good or bad.

I take great pride in how many of my client testimonials talk about their experience with me as a person, not just the brands and designs I created for them. I love that I can chat and laugh with so many of my clients and that so many of them have turned into friends or at least people I keep in touch with.

So treat people well, be an honest, genuine person, and do great work.

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