Christina Bryant has carved out quite the enviable path for herself — from living in Rwanda to studying art history at UVA and receiving her MBA from Stanford to working at the MoMa to now owning the booming bohemian-luxury brand St.Frank. Phew!
It’s safe to say she might just be poised to take over the interior industry with her offerings of global, ethically produced goods that blend elegance and panache. A visit to the site is a like a trip to a far-flung locale — no passport required.
Give us the short story on how you got your big break in the design space.
"I’m not sure we’ve had a big break? Haha. I guess it might be about six months after launching when Saks Fifth Avenue bought some of our work as visual merchandise and Oprah and Nate Berkus bought a bunch of pieces for a home makeover. Neither sale really changed our business meaningfully, but they were 100% inbound inquiries and the first time I really felt like our work was being validated by industry giants, which was so exciting."
What do you offer that other brands or sites don’t?
"We built the brand on framed handmade textiles in Lucite shadowboxes. We’re still the only retailer of framed textiles at scale and that differentiated product is a customer favorite."
What’s been the most rewarding project you’ve worked on to date?
"I would have to say opening our San Francisco flagship store. This first store was such a turning point for us from a growth standpoint and it allowed us to create a holistic environment for customers to come in and take part in the full St. Frank lifestyle. It was just a very powerful moment and changed the way we reach and interact with our customers and community."
How do you define success?
"At work, success means creating a unique product that people love, delivered with exceptional customer service from a company where my colleagues enjoy coming to work, bring their best selves, and are supported to grow. That, and creating value for my investors and employees and our artisan partners. Personally, success means treating other people well, enjoying every day I’m given, using my strengths, and not beating myself up over my weaknesses and imperfections. Personal success is more important."
Tell us about a recent challenge and how you worked through it.
"One challenge we faced is how to tell our brand story in the store experience. We started doing this through our great sales teams, who all know not only our brand story, but the story behind each piece in our collection. But we want other ways for customers to access and explore this without a sales associate. Right now we’re working on subtle signage additions. When you purchase a St. Frank piece it comes with a written history, we’re working on ways to tell some of these stories along with images of our artisan partners. Let me know if you have ideas!"
Do you have any pre-work rituals and if so, what are they?
"Every day when I wake up I make my bed, hold a plank for 1 minute — not sure if this does anything, but my friend Lydia told me it would make me a stronger surfer — shower, make and drink an espresso, and call my mom from the car on the drive to my office!"
How would you describe what you do to someone who you’ve never met or has never heard of your brand?
"We sell home accents made by artisans around the world working in traditional crafts — each piece has a story. The majority of our collection we design and produce with contemporary artisan workshops. About a quarter of our collection are vintage pieces that we buy and finish, working with multi-generation vintage textile vendors. And we’ve recently gotten into print applications of our textiles – on paper, wallpaper, and fabric by the yard — that still benefit the artists through royalties. Each pieces supports quality jobs for artisans and the preservation of traditional crafts."
Where do you go for inspiration?
"Most of my inspiration comes from travel and looking at art. So I go to far-flung destinations, off the beaten path, and also to museums."
In a space that’s so saturated and driven by trends, how do you make your work feel timeless and unique?
"I think this is related to having your own clearly defined aesthetic and point of view that grounds your other seasonal choices. For us, that is a modern bohemian home with a travel-infused aesthetic and global citizen values."
What other professions did you consider and why?
"Right out of school I worked for MoMA in New York. I was interested in a career in museums because I love providing art access to everyone. Then I worked in international development with Partners in Health in Rwanda because I’m passionate about supporting folks living in under-resourced settings. Luckily, St. Frank allowed me to combine both of these interests."
What advice do you have for people trying to enter the design space?
"Clearly define your own point of view and stick to it. Not everyone has to like it – in fact, they shouldn’t. But know what you’re about in a way that folks can point to it anywhere and say 'that’s your work.'"
See the full list of Lonny’s design disruptors here.