If You Design It, They Will Come
● By Kylie Cooper
A designer – of any medium or field – is, in a sense, shaping our future. Whatever product, space, or idea they are creating is one that does not currently exist. Design is history – curating our paths and trends through clothing, logos, accessories, graphics, public spaces. It’s like the scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Meryl Streep delivers that epic monologue, explaining to Anne Hathaway’s character that even though she thinks she is above the fashion world and plays no part in trends, her lumpy blue sweater ended up in her closet through a trickle-down effect representing conscious decision-making by the people in that very room. It’s the same concept. As a designer, you’re taking into account the world around you and creating within the negative spaces. You are inventing for others and providing them with what they need, often before even knowing they needed it.
That is seen in the four local designers you’ll meet here; although they are each designing in different fields, they are providing the community with something it did not have before. Setting trends and breaking boundaries. They’ve all contributed to the community in some form or fashion with their designs, and when taking a deeper look into their process, inspiration, and creativity, we learned invaluable lessons we hope will only inspire others to continue creating for our city.
Graphic Designer • Creative Director • We Know Future
When I met Aaron Ybarra for coffee a month or so back, one of the first cold fronts of the season had finally hit. The barista knows his coffee order and begins making it once he walked in. He’s sporting one of his own hoodies, sneakers I admired, and a laptop in his hand. Something tells me he hardly goes anywhere without that trusty sidekick of his. For a graphic designer, your computer is just as important as your own two hands. I’m wary at first, as I begin our interview and he’s yet to close the laptop, but it very quickly becomes clear he has planned on using it as a visual aid throughout our conversation – pulling up various Adobe files and YouTube videos to give a pictorial representation of what he is talking about.
Ybarra has been creating brands and brand identities for as long as he can recall. “I remember being a kid and having notebooks, always drawing,” he says. “But I wasn’t ever drawing people’s hands or landscapes, or anything like that. I was just creating all these little companies in my notebook, and for what?” He laughs as he says that last bit. But it was for himself. It was for the little boy who would later go on to dream of designing clothing and helping others find their identity through branding.
With a mother working for a radio station and a news anchor father, Ybarra was surrounded by merchandise growing up. He remembers grabbing stacks of stickers from his parents’ offices and sticking them any and everywhere. However, it wasn’t until he realized he could make things like that for others, and get paid to do so, that it really clicked for him. “I was 18 years old, working at McDonald’s, and my homie came in with a t-shirt we had designed. As soon as I saw that, I was like, ‘Okay, this is it – this is what I want to do forever.’” And so, after a week on the job, he quit and never looked back.
The no-art-school, completely self-taught designer began working for various advertising agencies around town before finally deciding to take the leap and open up his own – We Know Future. “I was watching TV one day and the words ‘no future’ came up. I kind of took it as ‘know future’ and it really stuck with me,” he says. “When you’re a designer, that is kind of what you do: You predict the future, you’re designing the future. This is something that didn’t exist before, and now it does.” He ends this notion with the idea that designers are futurists, and he’s right. What was not there before, now is, and it had to be done in such a way that onlookers were taken into account beforehand. It’s like the great Diana Vreeland says: you’re not supposed to give people what they want, you’re supposed to give them what they don’t know they want yet. Which Ybarra is rather good at doing.
With his minimal, hand-drawn design style, We Know Future has had its hand on tons of local brands you know and love since its inception in 2005. Rebel Toad, 8TE, Fresco, Katz 21, and Sonny’s Barbacoa (to name a few), are all local spots where Ybarra has played a role in helping to create brand identity. He is particularly passionate about working with local businesses. “We should always be looking to our local creatives for things,” he says. “It changes the way things are done. These people get to sit down with me in person and learn what I am about. I then get to turn around and make something that is tailored to them, this city, their space. I learn about who they are and who they’re serving – and that makes a difference.”
If you take a walk around downtown, you’ll undoubtedly run across some of Ybarra’s work. Whether you know it right off the bat or not, he’s helped so many businesses come into their own. And if you’re walking downtown, particularly on Peoples Street, you’re sure to feel Ybarra’s creative presence and energy.
You see, Ybarra is a part of the collective group attributed to PRODUCE and the local producer El Dusty’s Americano Label; and I’d be remiss to write about this man and not mention the group of people to whom he is so closely related. A chosen family made up of various creatives in all mediums, the team of people behind these two creative endeavors motivate and inspire Ybarra on the daily. In fact, the design work he has done for Dusty with Americano throughout the years is some of what he’s the most proud of. “Every morning, I walk over here and see all my homies doing cool stuff and then I want to do cool stuff. I mean, that is the only way to work: being surrounded by your homies that are inspiring.”
To wrap, I present the scenario of him being able to design anything in the world and ask what that would be. His answer? “A flag for a new planet or something,” he says as he goes on to pull up the Earth’s flag on his computer, something I didn’t even know existed. “Something grand like this, that’s my dream.” That’s the thing about Ybarra; his imagination is as infinite as his ambition and I truly wouldn’t be surprised if his name is attached to NASA someday.
Handbag Designer • Stanfield
Janice Stanfield is soft-spoken and reserved, a self-described introvert who very rarely likes to leave the house. She’s detail-oriented, and can basically design a bag with her eyes closed. When I step into her home studio, I begin to get a sense that her bags and the process by which she creates them are very similar to her as a being: refined, meticulous, a little sporty, and a little chic. “My designs are a part of my personality,” she says as she lays out the pattern for one of her backpacks – a best seller. “You are taking a part of my workmanship with you when you have one of my bags; these designs are an extension of myself.”
Although Stanfield hasn’t always designed bags for a living, she’s always had a creative touch. A crafty gal growing up, she learned how to sew from her mother around the age of 10. The first garment she ever put together was a “dreadful tank top.” She didn’t understand the concept of patterns quite yet, but realized she could take an already existing article of clothing and replicate it; and so, her fascination began.
Turning her talent for sewing into a career was something she didn’t think possible. So, she put that aspect of her life on the backburner and went to school for architecture at Southern California Institute of Architecture. She continued to indulge herself in sewing projects on the side, constructing bags to fit her specific needs. In fact, that’s truly how the idea of Stanfield, the brand, was born – even if it took a couple more years for the idea to actually be implemented into reality.
She was living in Phoenix, working with Landscape Architecture, and needed a bag for a visit to a job site. She knew it needed to work as a carry-on, lightweight, super durable, and easy to clean. And thus, her discovery of a fabric called marine canvas was made, and would later go on to be the main fabric she creates each of her designs from today.
“My process usually starts with one of my own personal needs,” she says of her creative method when coming up with a new design. “That’s truly how it all started in the first place. I needed a bag, so I made myself a bag.”
After meeting her husband and moving back to California, she realized marrying into the military would cause her to essentially re-start every so often, which she wasn’t completely comfortable with. So in 2012, she decided to work for herself and create her sought-out bags for a living.
Fast forward to 2015, when Stanfield and her husband moved to the Coastal Bend. Like anyone (especially a business owner), moving to a new city where they knew no one was frightening. After some Instagram stalking and a few markets, Stanfield’s bags were officially on the map in the realm of local makers. Almost five years later, she now has six permanent designs in her collection, and it's only growing.
Tote bags, crossbodies, travel kits, accessories, and backpacks are all found in her assembly. The craftsmanship is extraordinary, and for good reason. Each bag takes anywhere between two to five hours to create – putting her at about two to three bags in a 10-hour work day. Every single detail of these designs is touched and made by her own two hands. “It’s such a personal thing for me,” she says of the handcrafted element. “You are investing in a piece of someone when you buy products that are made this way – an extension of oneself – and I think that is so intimate.”
That idea of intimacy is what draws Stanfield to events like pop-up markets, and to the eventual goal of opening her own brick-and-mortar. Allowing the customer to touch the bags and try them on brings an element to the consumer experience she feels is vital. Opening a spot of her own would also allow her to hold classes, provide her customers with a behind-the-scenes look at her process, and bring a safe space to the community where she would hope people could come and feel known and comfortable.
When I ask Stanfield what she’s most proud of, it isn’t easy for her to answer. She isn’t the type to boast or brag on herself – quite the opposite, actually. “For me to own my own business is kind of ridiculous,” she says with an ironic laugh, and I realize what she means. “You have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable to do this kind of stuff, and that really isn’t me, so that is something that I am constantly pushing myself to do – and definitely something I am proud of.”
She is also persistently working on and proud of herself for combating negative thoughts. When you’re a maker of any form, wrestling with the thought of giving up and turning off the lights on your creative dreams occurs from time to time. “I feel like I have always been this way, second-guessing myself, never feeling important or heard,” she says. “And I think that in some form or fashion, starting this brand was almost a response to that, of being like, ‘Okay, here I am and I have something to say.’”
Sure, there are days where that is harder to remember than others, but for Stanfield, designing her bags and sharing them with the world will always bring a sense of joy to her life – one that is impossible to replicate in any other way.
Craftsman • Among Other Things
Categorizing Justin Gainan’s work is difficult for the simple reason that it takes on a multitude of mediums. The man simply does not fit into one box – a jack of all trades, if you will. Some days, you’ll find him in his workshop, fixing antique couches or building various fixtures for one of his or someone else’s businesses. Other days, you’ll find him at your local estate sales or perfectly arranging the array of antique items (he has a real knack for picking) that come together to form the rather wabi-sabi type market shelf at Lucy’s Snackbar, which he co-owns with his sister, Jessica Gignac. Regardless of where you see him, Gainan will more than likely be walking fast, with a notebook and pen in hand, and a multitude of ideas swirling inside his brain. He doesn’t stop designing, even if just in his head.
To understand what it is Gainan does, it helps to look back at his vast resume – one that has taken him all over the world and back again. With a BFA from Kansas City Art Institute and a MFA from Goldsmiths, he’s had countless exhibitions for various artworks, worked for a custom framing shop and gallery (where he once framed a $20 million Monet painting), has done contract design work for various hospitality spaces for years, continuously does custom freelance work for Anthropologie to build out store fronts and displays, and accidentally moved back to Corpus Christi in 2017. Although he’s designed a multitude of different works, the one thing they all have in common is the thought Gainan puts into anything he does. He thinks about everything, every detail. All of it.
When thinking about Gainan, most Coastal Bend residents will think of the spaces he has designed that have become prominent pieces of our local cultural fabric. Eleanor’s Coffee Bar + Market, The Gold Fish, and Lucy’s Snackbar are just three of those spots. Designing spaces and being in them are probably the aspects of his life that bring him the most joy. “Imagining something and then realizing it in a space is an incredible translation,” he says – he lights up when he speaks of this. The man who so often looks stoic, is beaming.
“The translation from a person who has an idea, but has no idea how to make it come to life, and then that going onto a sheet of paper, and then being made into a real thing. It’s like a magic trick.” This bit of our conversation ends with him allegorically relating the scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Wonka calls himself and the Oompa Loompas music makers, dreamers of dreams. And yes, he has actually quoted that to clients.
When designing a new space, Gainan’s first step is to strip it bare – bringing the building back to its original state; letting it breathe and figuring out where to go from there. With Eleanor’s, the space was small, so the design of it had to be to the point and specific to its intended purpose. The Gold Fish used to be a service station, and he was adamant on bringing the building back to that original state: ordering your drink where you would have paid for gas, a communal open space where you would have pulled your car through – same layout, just with a different purpose. And then with Lucy’s, Gainan was able to truly dive into his own aesthetic of things and really put a lot of himself into the space. Ironically enough, this spot taught him how to loosen up the grip on his reins a bit.
“Lucy’s is really just me kind of trying to be a little looser with my work,” he says, no pun intended. “There are things I would naturally want to putty over or put a different kind of joint in, but I wanted to just kind of chill out on stuff like that, and I think it is representational of where I am at in my life right now.”
Regardless of the space he is designing, the atmosphere is one of the most important aspects to Gainan. The way an environment feels when you walk into it is crucial and he is very well aware of that. “I am always trying to improve my spaces, always trying to make a comfortable environment for people to hang out in,” he says – which isn’t always an easy thing to do. “It’d be great if I could say that was the effortless part, but is isn’t. You have to curate everything in there, the intangibles too. The sounds, the lighting, it all comes together to create the atmosphere you’re trying to create.”
When Gainan walks into any space for the first time, he’s observing everything, taking it all in. Where are their extension cords hiding? What kind of lighting are they using? What does the back of the house look like? His eyes are bouncing around, both critically and analytically. It’s in his nature. This is one of the aspects of his work that excites him the most: how someone made a finished product look effortless. “When I am in a space and it just works, I get inspired by that,” he says. A finished product has an entire process behind it that is masked, that thrills Gainan.
I ask him how it feels to be playing a significant role in the progression of our city – which he undoubtedly has, whether he admits it or not. He doesn’t view it that way, however. Sure, he loves providing others with a place to come and feel comfortable in, and seeing the businesses he has helped design flooded with people warms his heart, but that isn’t why he does it. In my opinion? He’s just a creator. One who quite literally can’t sit still and feels the most invigorated when designing something new. His attitude about basically any project is simple: “Let’s do it.” No matter the feat, he wants to design and continue to do so until the end of time.
“I’ll be learning and creating and evolving forever. To me, designing spaces and being in them, and constantly rediscovering what that feeling is of a comfortable environment in a natural space, that is endless. Like – you’ll achieve it, sure, but I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of it.”
Architect • Dykema Architects • Jewelry Designer
• Modern Moghul
On her 63rd birthday, sitting in a Blimpie’s sandwich shop, Bibiana Dykema realized she was fearless. Dykema, who is sitting across the table from me, stacked to her neck in her own jewelry designs, is filled to the brim with energy, creativity, and passion. Listening to her talk is like sitting in on a TED talk about going after your dreams and manifesting your reality.
Said moment of epiphanic realization came after recalling her move back to Corpus Christi once graduating from architecture school at the University of Texas. Her father owned a practice here and she came to work for him, and at the time, was the first and only female licensed architect in the city. “I would go to job sites and no one believed I was the architect,” she says. “I really felt this resistance and I knew I had to prove myself.” I ask if that was discouraging, to be the only woman and have so many look at her with doubt before even learning of her skills. “You know what? No. I never stopped for one second and thought maybe this wasn’t what I wanted to do. So, I guess that does make me a little bit fearless, doesn’t it?” she laughs. “That’ll go in the story, huh?”
That part of our conversation is a testament to who Dykema is at her core. She knows what she is capable of and stops at nothing to achieve her vision. This, and a whole lot of hard work, have brought her to where she is today: owning her own architecture firm, which is responsible for countless buildings you know and pass every single day. It’s also what has allowed her to feel confident in branching out into a totally different field and start a career in jewelry designing, in the form of her brand Modern Moghul.
Almost nine years ago, she took a meeting to design the Grandview Lounge. It was in that meeting that she met Ashvin Patel and his son Shital, and a long-term, life-changing relationship was formed. They traveled to India together to gather materials for the project, and Dykema was set on finding strands of a gold wax bead she had. They went to Jaipur and found someone to make the beads, and after returning home and gifting them to others, an idea was sparked. Dykema will tell you it was Ashvin’s idea, Ashvin will tell you it was Dykema’s idea; but regardless, the decision was made and the business was born.
Being the not-able-to-sit-still type she is, Dykema had no fears in starting the jewelry brand and still continuing to practice architecture full time. “I just decided to do it. I think that is the hardest part for anyone in life, the decision to actually do something,” she says. “But I knew I never wanted to stop practicing architecture, but that I didn’t want to limit myself – why would I?”
After two years of vetting vendors and manufacturers, they had found a family who perfectly fit the bill and would go on to produce each of her pieces. A family for which she is about to travel to India in January, to be the guest of honor at the son’s wedding (needless to say, when you work with Dykema, you’re family).
As for the name, in a branding meeting with their marketing person, Modern Moghul came about and it struck a chord with everyone. The Moghul period in India consisted of large, beautiful stones filled with color and awe; and the pieces she is creating are extremely modern. It was a perfect fit.
In a sense, the name encapsulates Dykema herself – a strong, modern woman with a boss-like attitude who never strays from a challenge. So, she designs for herself, and the modern moguls of the world flock to it. “Most of my clients are women buying jewelry for themselves. It seems to speak to independent women who want a unique piece of jewelry that isn’t mass produced. They are worldly, hip, educated.” She says this after I ask if she views herself as a modern mogul (which she does). She so fiercely relates to her brand identity because it is an extension of herself and therefore, like-minded women find a connection to her designs.
Dykema is very much aware of how each of her fields influences the other. She has to collaborate and work with a team every day in both industries – she has a talented team behind her in both fields who help her to achieve the vision. On the opposite end, her 40 years of architecture experience and knowledge has played to her advantage when it comes to designing jewelry. A developed eye for proportions, color, and geometry influence the way she creates new pieces – most often in a subconscious way she doesn’t even realize.
Her architectural design style is majorly influenced by context. Where is the building? How will it be used? Who is the client themselves? These are all important questions that come into play when designing a new space. Her whimsical side (which is very present in her own personality, especially her wardrobe; one I both admire and envy) is seen throughout her architecture projects, but is able to come out to play a little more when she designs new pieces for Modern Moghul.
The brand is broken up into various collections, each categorized by a different theme, all consisting of gorgeous one-of-a-kind and handmade pieces that tell a story. And, whether it is a building or a necklace, she is well aware of how her designs will affect and influence others. “I take everything I do very personally. So when we are creating things for people that will go on to change someone’s life, I take that really seriously and it is so meaningful to me. I don’t take that lightly.”
One of the things I find most admirable about Dykema, as we near the end of our iced green tea date, is that she has become this fountain of knowledge, willing to overflow unto others. “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal,” she says. “And when you have someone established in their field give you advice and tell you to go for your dream, it means a lot. There were moments like that for me. So, why not be that for other people?” If only we all had a Bibi Dykema in our lives. Maybe there’d be a few more dreamers out there, unashamed and fearless, designing their way through the world.