I first met Ouigi Theodore of The Brooklyn Circus back in 2011 during one of the coldest Brimfield trips I can remember. Our team was huddled around an outdoor table eating chowder when we noticed Ouigi and his team, and we ended up talking about both being from Brooklyn and working in creative fields. Despite bringing home some great pieces, the best thing we came home with that day was inspiration in the form of a new friendship. I have watched Ouigi’s brand (which focuses on historically-inspired menswear) continue to grow and thrive with great admiration and respect for the commitment he has, not just to his design work, but the community that has grown around what he has built. Today I’m thrilled to share an interview with “the bearded man” himself about his journey to success, what inspires him today and the driving force behind his #100yearplan for his brand. xo, grace
Photo credit: John P. Midgley
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
I sort of had no choice. I wanted to work in the design industry (publishing or fashion) but had no experience and a lot of time on my hands after college. I wasn’t crazy about the office environment and so embarked on my own. The goal was to work as a freelance designer and eventually launch a design firm. I figured if I started and built slowly I would eventually get somewhere. My patience paid off #100yrplan, I met a few people, attended a few trade shows and the rest is history.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?
I’ve always considered myself a graphic designer and creative director over fashion or apparel designer. I attended Brooklyn Tech HS and had to pick a major — yep in high school. I picked Graphic Communications over Architecture, which I was also really interested in. Might have been because Graphics involved photography as a major requirement and a lot of the teachers were cool, creative types. I was 15, and cool, creative adults were the best of both worlds to me. After high school I was really interested in television but ended up at Stony Brook, where I majored in history. After graduating from Stony Brook I pursued Advertising Design at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology).
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
“Never spend your own money.” Unfortunately I ignored that advice. Another good one was “Find a need in the market, research it and put a plan together,” something like that — I ignored that, too. I went with all gut and what I liked and wanted to see. But the very best advice has been “never give up, never give in.”
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
I would say funding and staffing. Good, fair wages and loyal help is hard to find.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Stay teachable! Talk, but listen more — it’s simple but it can be a tough thing to do. So many lessons, they all seem big at the time, but I can’t say one is bigger or more important than the other. Staying eager and knowledgeable about your industry or more importantly, LIFE, helps a whole lot.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Too many failures to list. The more mistakes I made the more I needed to make. As long as I don’t repeat the same mistakes. But I welcome new mistakes, they are part of the growth process.
If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
Longevity and integrity. I am very pleased to see that things that we produced 10 years ago are still valuable. All part of out “100yr Plan.”
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
The internet is a great source of information, but not the only source. Go see the world or go outside, for crying out loud. Go meet other people who are doing what you want to do. Not to copy them, but to contribute to the global creative conversation.
Photos above from The Brooklyn Circus’ new u·ni·form ˈyo͞onəˌfôrm/ collection
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
If you review your failures as experiences, they’ll always be an opportunity to learn. I’ve turned down situations that I should have accepted but have also accepted offers that I should have turned down. So you have to carefully balance the no’s and the yes’. Saying yes when you should have said no, is failure to me. Always looking to learn how to balance those two answers better.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Ha ha, first and last would have to be Instagram since I no longer watch TV. I check out @thebkcircus for The Brooklyn Circus updates & @dailynewsboy a new Instagram feed about modern people and brands inspired by early America.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
STAFFING — paying and keeping good people. We are always in the market for new talent, true collaborators who are not after their next check. People that really want to contribute to the creative landscape and make a creative difference towards culture, growth — not their purse or portfolio. All of that comes after!