An interview with Tati Guimarães from Ciclus Ecodesign.
A while ago I had the privilege to interview Tati from Ciclus —Diseño con alma (in English: Design with soul). A mutual friend introduced us and after a few emails back and forth, Tati agreed to the interview.
We decided to meet in front of a small cafe in Gracia, Barcelona. We sat down at one of the tables in the back of the cafe and we both ordered an (iced) tea, as it was still quite hot here in Spain. I pulled out my notebook, a pen and the paper with the questions I prepared for Tati. I was very excited to talk about the tricks of the trade with a fellow change maker.
So, I cleared my throat and fired away: “Hi Tati, it’s so nice to meet you. And thanks again for your willingness to answer a few questions about your adventures in the world of (sustainable) entrepreneurship. Please tell a little about yourself and Ciclus.”
“Well, my name is Tati. I’m a Brazilian designer from Barcelona, Spain and the founder of Ciclus.” She explains what Ciclus is all about: "When designing, I go beyond functionality, beauty and sustainability. I seek to design versatile objects which convey a message, which interact with people, move them and invite them to live new experiences.”
A GREAT RESOURCE
I ask her if she can tell something about her greatest resource in the early stages of Ciclus. She replies: “I had a lot of support from the Servei Solidari foundation—an organisation that helps foreign people to become entrepreneurs in Barcelona. They really helped me with writing a solid business plan. It took me a whole year to get it right. I really took the time to put my thoughts together.”
What started out as a dream or a romantic idea, was transformed into a realistic business plan. She adds: “The government offered me coaching, no financial support. So I needed to make sure that I had money to live, pay the rent and buy groceries, before I could go full time with Ciclus.”
Being an entrepreneur was totally new to Tati. “Nobody in my family and friends was an entrepreneur, so I had no role model. I had to do it all by myself —with some help from the government of course.”
Tati started with a little personal funding. “I never applied for loans from the bank or received financial support from my family.” For four years she had a part-time job on the side to pay for rent and groceries. Any extra income was spend on Ciclus. This made it possible to grow Ciclus step-by-step. “After four years of saving up money, I had €20.000 to invest in my business. Normally people my age invest their savings in buying a house, but I choose a different path.” This enabled her to work full-time on Ciclus. “I already had clients and a product portfolio ready. So, I was good to go.”
I asked Tati if she could tell a bit more about any ups and downs she experienced so far:
She said: “After the financial crisis hit Spain in 2008, business became a lot more difficult for Ciclus. A big part of my revenue was coming from the corporate gifts business. And during the crisis that wasn’t a priority in the business world anymore.” Tati had to start looking for other avenues of revenue. “It was a very challenging time for Ciclus.” —she said.
It’s 2015 now and the economic climate feels a lot more stable for Ciclus. Tati made some changes to her business plan to make this happen. “Slowly my revenue is stabilising. I now have regular distributors for some of my products.” This ensures that part of her revenue is coming in at regular intervals (every year or month).
Image: Bakus Trivet
“Let me tell you a story. As I mentioned before, the economic crisis hit Ciclus hard. And not surprisingly, the corporate gifts business became a very difficult market during the crisis. Priorities shifted drastically after 2008. To cope with this huge change, I decided that I had to get out of Spain with Ciclus and go international.”
That turned out to be a great decision. Not one without risks though.
“I thought long and hard about the best way to present Ciclus to the international market. Next to starting an online shop, I had the idea to go to the one place where you need to be to get noticed in the design world: Salone Satellite in Milan, Italy. But to get there I had to invest €15.000 —a huge chuck of my savings. Eventually I decided to go for it!”
The results: “I got great reviews in Milan and even sparked the interest of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.” This eventually led to the MoMA licensing one of Tati's products and a lot of exposure for Ciclus: “The MoMA has licensed the Bakus Trivet, which is now a best seller in the MoMA store.”
She concludes: “Visibility has seen such an important part of making it as a business in this economic climate.”
To keep improving revenue, she has decided to keep expanding her horizons: “I now teach, give workshops and conferences as well. I work as a consultant for the Catalonian ACCIÓ team and I work as a freelance designer, and of course I’m still is the entrepreneur that designs with soul.”
When I ask her what has surprised her the most about being an entrepreneur, she replies: “One of the things that surprised me the most when I started Ciclus was that I had to spend 80% of my time on management. There’s hardly any time left for creative projects.” At times she really misses a business partner —one that could take care of the management side of Ciclus: “I've been looking for a business partner to support me, but haven't been able to find the right match yet.” As a creative she felt that she needed a business-minded partner to complement her creative side. “Another creative-minded partner wouldn’t add anything new to Ciclus —at least not what I thought was needed to make Ciclus grow.”
Therefore she’s now looking for either a coach to help her transform Ciclus into a ‘real business’ or hire a full time project manager to take care of the management side of things. “That way I’ll have more time to work on the creative projects that make Ciclus Ciclus.”
I ask Tati: “If there were a sustainability genie in a bottle, what three wishes would you have?” It didn’t take her long to come up with three wishes. “Firstly, I’d wish for a stable economy for Ciclus to thrive in. Secondly, I’d wish for that business partner to help me with the decision-making and with the management side of Ciclus.” And her third wish would be: “I’d love a chance to work on social projects with a ‘realistic' budget —instead of always having to bootstrap projects like these.”
To conclude our interview, I ask Tati one final question: “So, how do you communicate what you do to the world?” She replies: “I have a background in graphic design & a love for writing. This is really helpful when communicating about Ciclus. Besides that, I collaborate with good professionals (e.g. journalists) who help me with copywriting.” Collaborations are invaluable in business.
We talk a bit about visual identity and Tati mentions her love for “unpolished, rough, simple-to-understand design that looks clean and elegant.” These aspects shine through in all communication for Ciclus.
When she founded Ciclus in 1998, sustainable design didn’t exist yet —at least not the way we know it today. “I chose not to emphasise that aspect of my products in my communication at the time.” Instead she chose to focus on emotion:
“Ciclus expresses emotion through design. Ideas and materials are transformed with sensitivity into unique products. As a philosophy, in every creation innovative solutions are sought that respect the environment and the fundamental principles of ecodesign: reduce, reuse, recycle.”
A choice that proved to be a great one, as the majority of businesses and consumers base the choice to buy a product first and foremost on the benefits it’ll provide, and then —only then— the environmental impact of the product gets considered.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Tati for participating in this interview and sharing her thoughts! We definitely need more changemakers like her.
I hope you find my interviews with fellow change makers valuable. If you think: “I also have a story that I’d like to share.” Great! Just fill out this short questionnaire and I’ll contact you as soon as possible to schedule an interview.
And if you’re interested in learning more about Tati and Ciclus, definitely visit:
Atelier Pan | Visual Identities for Change makers