Shaper: Afroditi Krassa

Show aired on 12th November 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Gregory Porter with Liquid Spirit. Good morning this is Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM’s Jazz Shapers. Thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right inside the mix of all of that we put a Business Shaper; someone who is shaping the world of business. I am very happy to say my Business Shaper today is Afroditi Krassa; I hope I have said that properly.

Afroditi Krassa
You said it absolutely perfectly.

Elliot Moss
You are going to be hearing lots from Afroditi very shortly. She is the founding director of Afroditi Krassa the eponymously name hospitality studio which she has created and founded and you will be hearing all about the kinds of spaces that she has been designing for many years, you will know lots of them. In addition to hearing from Afroditi you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we have got the music and it is brilliant today; Miles Davis is in there, the Hot 8 Brass Band are in there and this is also in there, its Madeleine Peyroux.

The delicious Madeleine Peyroux with Hello Babe. Afroditi Krassa is my Business Shaper here on Jazz Shapers. Founding director of Afroditi Krassa, easy because you kept your name there, I see what you have done. It’s a hospitality design studio and I am so happy you are here, thank you for joining me.

Afroditi Krassa
I am really glad to be here too.

Elliot Moss
Now tell me Afroditi what a hospitality design studio does when it is at home?

Afroditi Krassa
When it is at home, it is never at home I don’t think. What we do every day is design restaurants, hotels, bars and cinemas that define their category that they operate within so within that we undertake the interior design of the spaces, the brand design, the whole concept and every other brand that touch point that will create the world of the restaurant or hotel and the experience that the guest would have.

Elliot Moss
Now you’ve been doing… you set this up fourteen years ago. Tell me a couple of the brands that you’ve helped created.

Afroditi Krassa
Your listeners will probably recognise itsu which was my first project when I started the business back in 2002, a couple of years later I took on my first project, my first big project which was itsu and they would probably recognise the Chew which is one of the most successful casual dining concepts in the UK currently. We work with people like Hilton, Hyatt Continental from the big hotel groups. We work with restaurant chains and casual dining concepts such as EAT, Pret A Manger, we work with Heston Blumenthal and chefs. We work all across really. No business is too small or too big.

Elliot Moss
This is good, I love the sales pitch, very simple. If you are listening and you have a problem, Afroditi Krassa will make it beautiful.

Afroditi Krassa
As long as it is a business that can define the category or has potential to do that and that’s really important.

Elliot Moss
And I want to come back to the re-defining or the defining of a category because it is a very ballsy place to go and I think that is what makes you, you and your business, you. Just tell me a little bit about the bit before you decided to set up your own shop as it were.

Afroditi Krassa
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
You’ve had a, I mean, a text book history. You were sent to St Martin’s, you were at Royal College of Art, you worked at Seymour Powell and all that. At what point did you say ‘you know what, I want to do this for myself’ and why?

Afroditi Krassa
It’s a really good question. I think I kind of knew even before I went to study when I was a kid I remember speaking to my dad and he would always say – I come from entrepreneurial parents, both my parents set up their own business in different sectors, very academic and when I went to my dad and said ‘look I don’t want to pick up medicine’ which is what my dad does and ‘I don’t want to pick up law’ which is what my mum does and they have both been in three generations of doing law and medicine so the expectation was that I would pick one of the two and I said ‘look I don’t want to be doing any of this one, I am creative I want to be doing something creative’ and he said ‘good luck but you need to work out whether you will be an employee or an employer in your life’ and I said ‘what do you mean?’ and he said ‘there is nothing wrong with either, you just need to decide which side you want to be sitting on’ and that was when I was about sixteen and I thought I pretty know in my heart that I will always be an employer rather than employee, as things the way we were raised in our family, we weren’t very good at listening to other people and still I am not good at listening to other people and then went on to study as you said, you know I had a very formal academic training in design and when I went to the Royal College of Art I mean my whole focus was how do I set up my own business when I graduate and I never really worried too much about the academic stuff. I worried more about setting up my business when I graduated. I remember when I was at St Martin’s it was the same case. I spoke to my tutor and he said ‘what is your project going to be? Your final project, you know is the big project?’; I said ‘I don’t know, all I am worried about is how am I going to get a job when I graduate?’ and that was in my second year so I always had this ambition to do something after and I kind of knew what I wanted to do and I would shape my education to help me do that. But you picked up on Seymour Powell is perhaps an interesting thing. I was their first female employee so I graduated having trained as a project designer, at the time it was called industrial design which is a very unsexy term currently, nobody uses it and it was a very engineer kind of based of education and women would just not go down that route because they thought it was very technical and it would be very male dominated so I graduated from Central and I was Seymour Powell’s first female employee and then I spent three years there learning the trade and went back to the ICA to do my Masters with really my hope of setting up my business and I set it up straight after college.

Elliot Moss
And that’s what it is like when you are an entrepreneur, you just kind of know from quite a young age. I love that, employer versus employee decision and no judgment around it either.

Afroditi Krassa
No absolutely not.

Elliot Moss
None at all. Stay with me for much more from Afroditi Krassa, my brilliant Business Shaper but right now it is time for some more music and this is Billy Taylor with the brilliant I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.

That was Billy Taylor with I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free. Afroditi Krassa is my Business Shaper today; founding director of Afroditi Krassa – so easy I love it. You were explaining really passionately and truthfully about this urge in you to kind of… or this decision your father said be an employer or an employee which I think as I said earlier is such a simple question and such a wise question to pose and you went for it very early on. Did you find… you mentioned this feeling you were creative and you talked about three generations of law and three generations of medicine – both of which have creative people in them of course.

Afroditi Krassa
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
But to be fundamentally creative – how did you know you were creative I guess is my question?

Afroditi Krassa
How did I know? I don’t know. I think if you are you don’t know any other way so you don’t know how people who are not creative realise that they are not creative. Do you see what I mean? To me it is a kind of given. I guess…

Elliot Moss
But did you see stuff, you know, we are going to get into kind of the design of a restaurant and the experience that that design gives. You have a sense. There is no book.

Afroditi Krassa
I remember, I will give you a simple example. I remember taking the school bus on my way home every day from school and I would sit on the bus and constantly think if I was to relay the bus, the seating, if I was to redesign it it would be much more efficient, you’d get a lot more people sat down and that was at the age of ten or something and it would be a much more comfortable ride for everyone and I would look at the bus and think ‘how would I reconfigure it’ and to me it is not so much a creative exercise but more of a problem solving exercise. To me I always saw design as a way to solve problems or make things better. In Greece we would have these typical little kiosks on every kind of road that sell newspapers, you know it is like mini kiosks you have them in Italy and other countries and you buy drinks and I would go to the local one to buy, I don’t know, the newspaper and I would again think ‘oh if I had this business if this was mine I would display the newspaper in that way because that would be better, they would sell more’ and I would constantly think how to change things for other people in my head and I would cook and draw and build things and generally be very, very enamoured with the idea of spending time on my own thinking things and making things and drawing things. I just didn’t have a name for it to be honest Elliot. In Greece unfortunately school training doesn’t really guide you to something creative. At the time design was completely unknown, I didn’t even know it existed as a profession so my only option in my head was to be either an architect or a graphic designer. I wasn’t really sure. I knew I didn’t want to do arts. I knew I wanted to do applied arts and yeah so that’s how I kind of felt as a kid. I never defined it. To me it was just me.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper today. We are going to come on to Salmon’s as well and swimming away from the competition which I love and will explain what that means but before we do that, latest travel is coming up in a couple of minutes and even before that happens, yes it’s exciting isn’t it, some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday I meet someone who is shaping the world of business, someone who is defining categories in their own special way and my category definer today, using her own words actually is Afroditi Krassa. She has a hospitality design studio, her background as you were hopefully hearing earlier was in kind of product design, as you said, it wasn’t sexy they used to call it industrial design at Seymour Powell but really it started when you were as you were saying, a ten year old child who didn’t really know what to call it but you were kind of looking around wanting to fix stuff, wanting to make things better. Your ambition to do that was realised. You went and did it you said, and I can see how it happened because it wasn’t a moment, it had been brewing for many years. When you actually set it up and you opened the doors and you are doing it and it is your baby, were you suddenly saying ‘oh this is different’ or did it feel just the way you thought it would feel. Was it liberating, was it exciting?

Afroditi Krassa
I need to tell you that straight away. As a business person I am probably the least organised and kind of pre-planned business person ever so I remember when I was in college I had a lot of friends who would also be setting up their own studio and we would meet up and they would give me advice because they were a year ahead and they would say ‘have you got your five year business plan in place’ and I would say ‘what?’ and then they would say ‘what is your exit strategy’ and I said ‘I really don’t have a clue, I just know I want to be doing what I want to be doing’ and you know I have told this story many times. What I did I find a little disused garage space in Battersea that has been transformed into a business unit at £60 a month which was an absolute bargain. I bought a Vespa, I bought a laptop and I thought ‘I am in business’. To me that was it you know. I remember vividly the day I bought the Vespa because I needed it to commute. I packed in my laptop, I drove for the first time to this place which was very, very rough and my partner at the time thought I am crazy to be going into this place and working every day from there and I went in, opened the door, put my laptop and I thought ‘what do I do next?’.

Elliot Moss
And what did you do next? I mean when did the first job come in? How soon after opening the doors?

Afroditi Krassa
It took a while. What I did next I would, you know, I would go on the Internet, start researching who I would love to work with. Start contacting people, started exhibiting my work in different trade fairs, different shows. I would literally pack all my work in a suitcase and go to Japan, to New York, to Paris, to Germany and display my stuff and try to meet people get to know people and then I would make my own products, my own ranges with very little means and put them together in this workshops/office, spent you know all night putting things together then as I said, fly out, show it to people and I really had no plan whatsoever but things, I truly believe and that’s always been my advice, that things happen organically and if they don’t you need to let them happen organically and a few years down the line I met, my first serious client was the founder of Sketch, this great restaurant on Conduit Street. A guy called Brad Masseuse who is an absolutely creative genius and he called me up and he said ‘I’ve seen one of your products, I love it, can you come over and meet me to see if you know, we can work together’ and we installed these lights that I designed in Sketch in the gallery and that was my first collaboration with a restaurateur.

Elliot Moss
And there is a lot more that happened after that culminating a few years ago in fact, I think you were Designer of the Year according to Eldeco back in 2010.

Afroditi Krassa
Correct.

Elliot Moss
And you have got many other things as well. Stay with me for more about how the woman on the Vespa and the laptop with nothing except a kind of vague idea she wanted to work for herself actually has made a fantastic business and working with some of the biggest brands in the world. Time for some more music, this is Miles Davis with Time After Time.

That was Miles Davis with Time After Time. I am talking to Afroditi Krassa today, she is my Business Shaper today. She is the founding director of her own business, Vespa, laptop and now a quite funky place I imagine. I am not sure where you are right now. Are you still in Battersea?

Afroditi Krassa
No, we are in Notting Hill now.

Elliot Moss
You see what happens, you have gentrified. You’ve let me down I thought you were going to stay true to your roots but anyway. So this growth that happened, you sweetly say well you know, I am really disorganised, I am super creative. It does strike me if you are very, very creative it is also very hard to be very, very organised and whilst the world is not a simple as you are either an organised human being or you are a creative human being. Our predisposition is our predisposition. How have you coped with the organisational side? Is it about team? Is it about bringing in people that do that or have you just not worried?

Afroditi Krassa
It’s yeah, maybe I will go back, disorganisation might not be the most accurate way of explaining because I am generally organised, it’s just that I don’t make extremely long-term plans. I take things as they come, I don’t have this massive down the line kind of thinking. To me it is about doing things that you love, as good as you can do them on a daily basis working with really great people and things will just happen. That’s what I fundamentally believe in. In terms of organisation, yes I think you do need the right people to help you with all of that because no matter what is going on in your head you need another set of people who can help you make all that reality and the way my brain works, I think I have got about twenty new ideas every minute and that is part of the problem because you really need to prioritise and say this is important and this isn’t and if I had an enormous amount of time and I lived for a thousand years I would probably make all these, you know, fantasies that are in my head, reality but I need to be realistic about what I can achieve within my team and within you know, the time that I have got.

Elliot Moss
And what I imagine helps you is your philosophy and I mentioned earlier Salmon’s and swimming away from the competition. How have you stayed true to the idea of defining the category because that is a big statement to make but it feels like that’s what you do. So what is it that enables you to, those twenty ideas that may become one or two, they still deliver that incredible look and that incredible experience and I put the two in there because restaurants need to both look beautiful and feel good.

Afroditi Krassa
Yes and people I don’t think realise that they are designed just for a visual perspective rather than an experiential perspective.

Elliot Moss
So what has made you able to retain that high level of delivery?

Afroditi Krassa
We have a very… we try to distil you know the things we have been doing well as a process in the studio and distil it to a process that is more concrete so that we can repeat it across with every client and without going into every detail, we created a proprietary process and mechanism within the studio that through very, very analytical research allows us to understand within the category that the client operates, whatever that is, let’s say business hotels. We look at the category, we establish all the clichés, all the stereotypes and what everybody else is doing and from there we pick up the pockets of opportunity of differentiation and so we go back to our client and we say, this is what everybody else is doing and these are your opportunities to differentiate yourself in terms of design and experience and then we try to implement it in a way that makes that the unique selling point in terms of brand and design. So there is some science to the whole process, it is not completely loose but like anything it was a process that grew organically and then we try to kind of break it down and be able to turn it into something that we can repeat again, and again, and again.

Elliot Moss
It makes perfect sense, those gaps lead to opportunities which then enable people to be different.

Afroditi Krassa
Yeah. It could be very small things sometimes.

Elliot Moss
Yeah. Final chat with Afroditi coming up plus we will be playing a track from the Hot 8 Brass Band, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

We Shall Walk Through The Streets Of The City from the Hot 8 Brass Band. Afroditi Krassa is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes and we have been talking about design, we’ve been talking about Vespa’s, jumping on the bike, starting up a business and all that and you mentioned earlier, your first proper break and I’d love to know a little bit more about it because I imagine it still defines how you see the growth of the business and what that taught you. Just tell me a little bit about it, it was Julian Metcalfe of course was itsu. That’s a big number to land properly. How did you make that happen?

Afroditi Krassa
Yeah. Yes I had this habit every Friday I would go through the papers and read about people and pick up a person who I thought would be interesting to write to and write them a proper handwritten letter. It’s you know, it’s a very simple new business strategy and a new way of meeting people. So I read an article on Julian Metcalfe and I thought ‘wow this guy’s really fascinating’. So I wrote him this hand written letter where I said it is amazing how you have changed the design of Pret and I really love this wallpaper that you have put up on the wall and this is what I do and that was it and I sent it out to him. The next day I got this call from his PA, at the studio I described to you earlier and said ‘hi I am the PA of Julian Metcalf and he would like to meet you tomorrow, would you be available?’ And I thought yes I will make myself immediately available so I turn up the next day at the Pret A Manger office, waited for him for about an hour, he was slightly late and he turned up and he said ‘so can you design a mug like this for me?’ I said ‘yes of course that’s what I do’; ‘can you design a desk for me?’ ‘can you design a chair for me?’ ‘can you design…’ So he was pointing out all these things that were around his office and he would say ‘can you design this and that’ and I said yeah that’s what I do, that is my business. He said ‘great, I am setting up a new chain and I want you to come on board and design it for me’ and I thought this guy is either completely crazy or really, really clever. I couldn’t work it out and I said ‘look I will be honest with you, I’ve never done anything like that’. He said ‘I’ve got to site, you can meet me at the site next week, I’ll give you eight weeks and come back and prove yourself and see what you can do for me’.

Elliot Moss
So why did he do that? Because at that point you’d just written a letter, you hadn’t shown him any of your work, nothing.

Afroditi Krassa
No.

Elliot Moss
So what do you think happened?

Afroditi Krassa
I think there was a click. I think great people work with instinct. He is a brilliant entrepreneur. He probably saw something. He probably felt that it was the right match and I don’t know what it was that made him make that snap decision but he was true to his word. He met with me the next week at the site which was the ground floor of Vogue House in Hanover Square. A tiny little store and he said ‘these are the builders’ and I said ‘okay what do I need to do?’ and he said ‘you are the boss, you tell them what you want, you tell them what you want to build here’ and I said ‘I really have no idea what I am doing’ and he said ‘fine, find out and come back to me next week with a plan’ and I said to him ‘well if we are going to build this brand we need to design the logo type’; he said ‘yep, design one and show me next week’ and literally we would meet every Tuesday at this place and he would say ‘great show me the next part’ and every week I would have to present more and more work. In approximately eight weeks the shop was built and launched. It was a massive success, literally massive. We didn’t expect the success that you that he had, it was outselling McDonalds which was around the corner in a tiny little store and we all knew that we have got something going and then he invited me to become the creative director of it so I need the whole expansion from the next five years and that was the first project I ever worked on really.

Elliot Moss
Afroditi thank you. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Just before I let you go to go off and build those people and build the team and your clients and so on, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Afroditi Krassa
I have chosen Chet Baker Deep In A Dream. I will tell you why, I was a punk rocker when I was sixteen and I had about four hundred vinyl records of hard core punk rock that were very rare vinyl’s and in between all of that I had some Chet Baker and the only reason I had that in between was because I thought he was a bit of a rock ‘n roller at heart, he was a bit of a… you know someone in the world of jazz and that’s why I picked him.

Elliot Moss
Thank you very much and here he is just for you.

Afroditi Krassa
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was Deep In A Dream from Chet Baker, the song choice of my Business Shaper today Afroditi Krassa. She didn’t call it creativity, she called it problem solving and she was doing it from the age of ten. The handwritten letter that she sent that enabled her to get her first gig is kind of indicative of the kind of person that she is, just out there, confident and will do the things that other people don’t think to do. All fantastic stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday 9.00am here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers but stay with us right now because coming up next, you know who it is, it’s Mr Nigel Williams.

Afroditi Krassa was born in Greece and moved to the UK as a student where she studied product design at Central Saint Martins, followed by an MA in Design Products at the Royal College of Art. Afroditi worked at design consultancy firm PriestmanGoode as junior designer and was the first female designer to be employed by design duo Seymourpowell, before funding her own studio.

Her work has appeared in art and design publications worldwide and has been televised by the BBC, Channel 4 and CNN. She has designed over 75 hospitality brands and interiors, including Dishoom and Heson Blumenthal.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

I was about sixteen and I thought I know in my heart that I will always be an employer rather than employee.

The way we were raised in our family, we weren’t very good at listening to other people, and still I am not good at listening to other people.

I remember taking the school bus on my way home every day from school and I would constantly think…if I was to redesign it, it would be much more efficient.

I always saw design as a way to solve problems or make things better…

I would cook and draw and build things and generally be very, very enamoured with the idea of spending time on my own thinking things and making things and drawing things.

At the time design was completely unknown, I didn’t even know it existed as a profession so my only option in my head was to be either an architect or a graphic designer.

I bought a Vespa, I bought a laptop and I thought ‘I am in business’.

I would literally pack all my work in a suitcase and go to Japan, to New York, to Paris, to Germany and display my stuff and try to meet people…

Disorganisation might not be the most accurate way of explaining because I am generally organised, it’s just that I don’t make extremely long-term plans.

If in five years I don’t have great people around me, great clients, great collaborators, great colleagues then I wouldn’t count that as a success in my book.