Online boutique Supermandolini was launched in 2007 by graphic designers Emanuel Lakoutsis and Ellie Kakoulidou. The pair, who hail from Thessaloniki, Greece, have used their design skills and fashion savvy to create a well rounded boutique, offering graphic tees for men and women, art-inspired homewares, and a great variety of jewelry. They also control all aspects of the brand's visual presence, from the product designs themselves all the way to web design, packaging, photography and promotion. Makes you wonder how can two people manage to design and in the same time run a boutique of this level but if you are passionate about what you do then the sky is the limit.
• So, you guys design and produce every product and aspect of Supermandolini™. What advantages does that creative control give you?
It allows us to make sure that every aspect of Supermandolini is on brand. From the look and feel of the website to the products themselves it is our job to make sure everything is spot on. As designers, we like to explore as many fields of graphic design as possible, so it felt natural to take control all aspects of Supermandolini's visual identity. It was and still is a difficult task to undertake, complicated and very time consuming but we love challenges... in a masochistic kind of way ;)
• How do you think that your total involvement in Supermandolini™ has helped to shape the brand, and what do you see the brand identity as?
Supermandolini is about our emotions, experiences and naturally design. Most of our products have a small story attached to them that makes them personal and unique. We didn't start this venture having a business model in mind and we didn't try to shape it to what it is now. It simply grew with time and it became an outlet of all our creativity and passion. Through that process we realized that many people could relate to the messages coming through our work and so we kept on doing what felt natural. Design and communicate.
• Supermandolini™ is a brand that goes beyond clothing and accessories, offering art prints and home wares. "Lifestyle" brands, as they are called, have become a large share of the retail market. Is that your key to your success?
We believe the success we had this far has to do with our motives. We try to communicate messages through our products and people clearly respond to it. Those messages are the result of our emotions, thinking and lifestyle and as designers we channel them into our products. By doing so we automatically attract a target group that is on the same level of thinking and shares the same views we do.
• What inspired you to start your own brand as opposed to manufacturing products for other retailers to sell?
Being graphic designers even before Supermandolini's launch our job was to answer briefs and design for clients. Some selected pieces of those works can be seen at Be Nice™, which is our design studio, and which we still run alongside Supermandolini. Through the years a large amount of unused conceptual work started piling up, ideas that were too "crazy" for clients or in most cases designs that we did for our own enjoyment or would love to see becoming real products.
We pretty quick realized that we had to do something regarding this issue as we would have hated ourselves watching all that work 'picking up dust' and so we simply took the economical risk and realized all those ideas into products, housed them under one brand and that was basically the birth of Supermandolini - Online boutique. It is the place where we are allowed to go wild with ideas and visualization any concept without restrictions. It is simply our playground.
• Where do you draw your creative inspiration from, and what, if any, is your creative process from conception to the realized product?
We draw inspiration from everywhere and everything. From the mundane all the way to the most thought provoking and exciting things. It is just a matter of open-mindedness and being in the right place at the right time. Soon as we have a fresh idea we just simply work it up on the computer. We used to sketch and draw most of our concepts but nowadays we find it quicker and easier to take it straight to digital form. After years of designing on paper and computers we have learned how to stop software from taking control and visualize our ideas without compromises.
With regards to the process of conceptualizing we many times do brainstorm sessions but what is interesting is the unorthodox ways we sometimes explore in order to reach those ideas. One example is by creating a strange imaginary target group of people, make a list of things they would like or hate and then design according to the contents of that list. The results in general are hilarious but some of our best products have come out from such sessions.
• What trends are you really rallying behind right now, and which ones are driving you crazy?
Trends by nature are ephemeral and as a result they become boring and dated after a short amount of time. So as you understand we try not to follow them and if we do we shape them to our own style and liking. Originality is hard to find these days since we are bombarded everyday with the same stimuli through mass media channels. Today's art and design we believe it to be a collage of cultures, a mix and match era which gives birth to new trends but not necessarily originality.
• For a company that started out with a line of graphic tees, Supermandolini™ has experienced a great growth in the range of products it offers. How do you see your products lines expanding in the future?
We are considering expanding our clothing range since at the moment the internet market is over saturated with t-shirt sites. We are also looking into making more products for the house and office space. Since we designed our first coaster sets they had an overwhelming reception and so we felt that at the moment we need to make more colorful and fun items targeting living spaces. Last but not least one other area we would like to explore is consumer electronics. There is one crazy concept we got in mind and if we manage to find the right manufacturer it will look just stunning. We still keep it a secret because if the product goes into production it will be quite a departure for us from the usual range of items we got online. Fingers crossed...
• As the brand continues to grow, how do you plan to ensure the quality of your products and continue to offer unique handmade goods?
We try to be present at every step of the production process and choose the right manufacturers depending the nature of the product. It's extremely time consuming finding a partner that has the same eye for detail and respects your artistic needs, but we go to great lengths in discovering those professionals that feel passionate about their work as much as we do for ours. In most cases we love to get our hands dirty and make up some of the products ourselves but if that is not possible right before a product is ready to be shipped it has to get our stamp of approval - we have to be and we are the most demanding customers.
• What does the future hold for Supermandolini? Are there any exciting new projects in the works?
We have been online for almost a year now so we haven't had the time to think how we plan to act in the future. We would like at the moment to promote our work further, be a bit more aggressive and reach more people in order to achieve stronger brand awareness. Depending on our progress during the following year it will determine which big step to take next. As for exciting new projects well some things have to remain a secret but make sure to keep in touch.
Interview by Melissa Tan