Alessandra Mele is the owner and designer of The Homegrown Studio. She is inspired by local farms and businesses and giving them a voice through her design and branding services. She derives a lot of her love for the agricultural businesses around from her family’s own farm and being a part of that lifestyle. Keep reading to hear more about Alessandra’s story!
First off, tell us about your business!
The Homegrown Studio offers creative marketing services to small businesses and farms looking to best tell their stories. I do this primarily through graphic design and branding work, which is all handmade and original.
What is the story behind your business? How did it all come to be?
I started The Homegrown Studio as a side project about three years ago, when I noticed a real need in the local agricultural community for marketing guidance. A small-scale farm owner myself, I’ve always had a strong love for the agricultural roots we have here in New England, and firmly believe in supporting local farmers and artisans on all levels. I’ve also always had a passion for art and design, and while my full-time marketing job did allow me to use those skills, I wanted to feel a deeper connection with my creativity by pursuing projects I was excited about. So I began offering design services to local farmer’s markets, and many took me up on that. Word of mouth took its course, and I was soon designing for farms and local small businesses regularly. This past September, I committed myself to The Homegrown Studio full time, and thank goodness work that I love seems to keep coming my way! I’ve never been busier.
What is your background and did you always want to be doing this?
I grew up in Western Massachusetts and call Wilbraham, Mass. my home today. I studied studio art and English in college, where I was lucky to have the opportunity to explore painting, drawing, and collage pretty freely. In the meantime, I took on several internships with graphic designers and advertising agencies where I was able to translate my artistic instincts into powerful marketing skills. I loved it and was thrilled to see there were ways to pursue my interests as a career. I was hired at a Western Mass based animal health care products company after graduation, and spent five awesome years there helping develop marketing campaigns on a global scale. That’s where I got my marketing education, and still use that foundation when I approach branding projects today. I wasn’t crazy about working for “the man” though, and have always had a hunger to be my own boss. It took a lot of hustle in the years I was developing The Homegrown Studio alongside a full time job, but now that I can call myself “boss”, it sure was worth it!
What is behind your business name ?
“Homegrown” applies to both me and my clients, referring of course to the agrarian roots that inspired all of this. My designs are all homegrown!
Favorite things to create?
Logos! I love this first and most important step in the branding process; it really sets the tone for everything that follows and it’s where I can be most creative. Bringing together my illustrations, the perfect typeface, and a client’s personality into a balanced design is the moment when I feel most accomplished.
What are your sources of inspiration and creativity?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say Instagram and Pinterest. There are so many talented, unique, inventive designers and artists showing their stuff on these platforms. We all know the negative side effects that go with it, but wow, do I love being able to so easily see what other creatives are up to.
Fortunately, there are far more fulfilling opportunities to gain the best kinds of inspiration all around me! Following a trail in the Berkshires. Secondhand bookshops. Traveling someplace new. The Brimfield Antique Fair. Farmers markets. Unique local shops. Chatting with other creatives at Ladies Drawing Night Western Mass. The Smith College Botanic Garden. Getting lost in Mass MOCA. Visiting another artist’s studio. Reading great books. Inspiration is all over the place.
What do you do when you feel you are in a rut?
Usually when I’m in a rut it’s because I’m tired. I don’t work well at all when I’m tired. So a good night’s sleep and approaching the problem fresh the next day is usually the solution there.
What has been the most challenging part about having your business? What has been the most rewarding or fun?
I think the most consistent challenge I struggle with is knowing when I’ve done enough at the end of the day. Coming off a 9-to-5 job, I’m finding this to be difficult to gauge. I’m always feeling like I could have done a little more, or like I could have used my time differently, and that makes it difficult to ever shut my brain off from work. I’m trying to set measurable goals, quantify my successes, and take note of my failures to try and shake that annoying feeling. Also accounting is a bear; I’m still wrapping my head around taxes, yikes!
The most rewarding moments lie in the relationships I’ve made. I’ve connected with so many inspiring, encouraging, and interesting people since I started this business, and they have all contributed to my business in different and important ways.
Are you originally from New England? How has the New England community played a roll in your business?
I’ve lived in New England my whole life, and the community I’ve grown into has shaped my business in so many ways. I’m fortunate to be planted in an absolute sweet spot for creatives here in the Pioneer Valley, and try to take full advantage of that. Locals make up the vast majority of my client base, which makes me so happy. I love helping local businesses and farms tell their stories and build strong brands, because they are the heart of this community and when they succeed, we all benefit.
What are your favorite things about New England?
I love finding secret swimming holes in the Berkshires in August, or talking to one of those salt-of-the-earth farmers about the ways things have changed and the ways they’ve stayed the same. I love the way traditions and rituals are so deeply engrained in our culture, like chopping down Christmas trees in December and James Taylor at Tanglewood in July. I love taking in the foliage from my saddle in the fall and planting rows of seeds in the spring. Above all, it’s the combination of family and friends rooted in New England that will always keep me calling this place home.
What do you think is unique about your business or craft?
I think I have a knack for making marketing genuine and authentic. Marketing is crucial for any business, but in this age it is a downfall to be too “sales-y”. I think storytelling is the solution, and handmade branding that stays true to the character and values of a business is going to be the foundation for that. I love exploring this idea and creating the elements that make marketing feel more natural.
What other local businesses do you love that we should know about?
We have so many talented makers and artists in Western Massachusetts that have built strong businesses. Some of my favorites that I am continually inspired by: Kelly & Co.,Secret Holiday & Co., Of Note Stationers, Molly Hatch, Tiny Anvil, Scout Cuomo, Cara Totman Photography, Audrey Helen Weber, Tandem Ceramics…I could go on and on.
What does the future look like for your small business? Any grand plans?
I hope to keep growing and producing work for clients that I am truly passionate about. That’s when the best stuff comes out, and when I can best witness my own growth. There are other directions I’d love to explore too; it’d be great to find time to get back into art-making that isn’t so brand and client focused. I’d like to get back into a consistent practice and even explore some retail opportunities with the results.
Where can we find you or your work in the future?
I am excited to be teaching my first branding workshop for farmers this winter, as part of Community Involved and Sustaining Agriculture’s Winter Workshop Series. Local farmers can sign-up here. Otherwise, you can catch me monthly at Ladies Drawing Night, I sort-of-regularly update my blogwith recent work and adventures, or if you ever just want to chat, meeting new people IRL is my favorite thing. I’m always up for tea, please drop me a note!
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