Part of my mission at Zelos is to support zealous Greek Artisans: small businesses with big dreams, people who work in the challenging economic environment that is still the reality today in Greece. I’m always inspired at just what determination and perseverance can accomplish, which is why I want to share these stories with the Zelos community. As a designer, I also have a soft spot for especially creative stories, which is why I knew I would want to know more about the designers behind Sparoza’s beautiful products.
It was the striking tins of Sparoza’s tea that first caught my eye at a very busy Greek trade show. Sparoza founder, Efi Ekmetzoglou, had mentioned that they had been designed by friends of hers but it was only last month that we finally had the chance to virtually meet Nikos & Xenia and learn their story. This creative couple met while working 15-hour days together at an Athens advertising agency, but when the time came to start a family, they decided to branch off on their own. It was a daring move, given the timing in 2014, while Greece was still suffering the impacts of the financial crisis, but the gamble is paying off, as Island12 has developed an eclectic portfolio of work that has still allowed them to do the work they love and keep the flexibility needed to raise their two young children.
Here is an excerpt of a long chat that Nikos and Pauline, my marketing partner, had, where they talked of the inspiration behind Sparoza’s designs and advice for other creative entrepreneurs.
Pauline: Niko, tell me how you came to work with Sparoza and Efi (note: Efi Ekmetzoglou, Sparoza founder).
Niko: Well, actually, Sparoza was our first client! We had a common friend that brought us together, just as Xenia and I were looking to start our own agency. We wanted to move from classic advertising to more design work, creating more local content from scratch, rather than just adapting material that would come from far-off multi-national headquarters. Efi had a very clear vision of where she wanted to go with Sparoza, she knew who she wanted to target and how she wanted to brand the products. We were looking to communicate Greekness but in a modern, contemporary new way. There was already a lot of minimalism in the new food scene, so we decided to create a face, a personality, something almost pop-art-like that would stand out more.
P: Maria and I just loved how you matched Aurora and Avaris to the spirit of the products, the ideas behind them. What about the cooking blends & wine jellies, what was your inspiration for those?
N: For the herb and spice blends, we still wanted to have a face, like with the teas, something that would reflect the Mediterranean/Greek look. We were also inspired by the textured white walls of Xenia’s summer home on the island of Kalymnos, which we decided to use as the backdrop, turning the design into a nod to graffiti art. Efi took this all the way to the choice of the rough white paper that she uses for the packs themselves, which recall those walls. With the wine jellies, given the unique product, we wanted to go more surreal, a little blasé, hence the expression of the face on the cork. We’re always trying to inject a bit of fun into our work for Sparoza, these are fun products, they allow you to create, to bring people together…they bring a smile to your face.
P: I’m really impressed that you decided to start an agency in such a challenging, yet competitive market, like the Greek one. What do you think is your point of difference versus all the other creative folks out there?
N: I think our competitive edge is our flexibility. We’re like a chameleon, we can adapt to what’s needed for each client. We don’t have a defined creative style that we impose on people. I also think our holistic approach to advertising, thanks to our agency background, helps us stay strategic: we don’t just start from an idea or from a concept but we really push our clients to define their creative strategy and then build everything from there. It’s true, the environment is challenging now, but there is also a rich start-up/scale-up culture in Greece, which is exciting.
P: Any advice for other creative people looking to start their own business?
N: Take advantage of all the hubs out there! There are so many start-up accelerators that can help you craft a robust business plan to bring your idea to life. It also helps to love your products…and maybe that’s our real point of difference, we truly love our clients’ products as much, if not more, than they do. We care, we’re part of their team.
You can see more of Nikos & Xenia’s work next month on their new website, island12.com (let us know in the comments below if you can guess where the name comes from!).
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