Tina Frey started her company, Tina Frey Designs, from her home twelve years ago with no formal training after transitioning from a career in corporate finance. Today her hand-sculpted resin designs are made in her San Francisco Bayview studio. We chatted with Tina in her studio about how she turned her hobby into a career and why it’s never too late to start doing what you love.
WW: Can you share more about your background and what has been most impactful in contributing to who you are today?
TF: Of course I’d be happy to! My background is kind of interesting and atypical for most people who’ve started a creative design company. To start back with my childhood, I was born in Hong Kong and was a super creative child -- always drawing, cutting up paper, knitting, sewing; creating anything! There wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t making something. But to me I always just thought of it as ‘fun’ and not a career necessarily. You don't really know what’s out there when you’re growing up.
I went to university in Canada and graduated with a major in Biology and minor in Chemistry. I worked in a lab the following summer and hated it! I couldn’t imagine doing that full-time, so I decided to go back to school to get a business degree in finance and ultimately became a CPA. While I was in school I took a lot of art and art history classes and loved them, but it seemed more of a hobby than a career path. Finance was the safe route even though I knew it my gut that I loved designing and creating.
WW: How did you ultimately transition into design?
TF: After graduating, I worked as an accountant for Ernst and Young, then LVMH, Christian Dior, Gap, Levis, to Timbuk2 -- progressively smaller companies. During my last full-time finance job I had already been thinking of starting my company quite a bit so I slowly started doing that part-time until it became something I did full-time. And here I am twelve years later working on Tina Frey Designs. A bit unexpected and a bit roundabout, but I think it was really about finding what I really loved to do and what truly excited me.
WW: What inspired you to start experimenting with resin?
TF: I knew I wanted to specialize in a certain material. One day I was looking at my bookshelf and was like “Wait a minute, I have all of these books on resin. Not many people work in resin, but that might be a good thing.” I had coincidentally dabbled in resin before and thought I could make a lot of interesting pieces -- there was no shortage of ideas! So it was the combination of base knowledge and the eureka moment of looking at my bookshelf and also just really being at the right time. That’s how it came to be.
WW: How does living in San Francisco and your travels inspire your work? You were just in Chile!
TF: Well gosh, we’re really fortunate to live in San Francisco. You can look in any direction and it’s a picturesque site, from the colors of the sunset to the ocean. This area really has a lot to offer. You can drive an hour in any direction and find something new. I love nature, particularly the ocean and I find the sea so inspiring. And you also know I travel a lot and am so inspired by new places. I love people watching, eating new foods, absorbing different cultures -- all of that comes together in my work. I have a travel bug I can’t stop. I get bored if I don’t.
WW: You’re constantly expanding your line to include new products and additional colors, how do you decide what to make next?
TF: A lot of things in the collection really come out of need or request or I’m inspired by something. I enjoy creating things that I would like to use in my own home. It’s a very organic process. Part of the beauty of a small company is you can make something because you want to make it and are excited about it not because you have to. I’m really glad that that’s how it’s grown. You have to stay true to your vision and what you like and also what’s a good fit for your aesthetic. This season I really wanted to get back to the very sculpted look because that’s really what I enjoy. Generally people can still see the DNA throughout all of the collections.
WW: What is an item in your home that is particularly meaningful to you and why?
TF: I love sheep and I don’t know what it is about sheep but I love them. So in our living room we have these large furry sheep sculptures. I just think they’re cute and there is something cuddly about them. I identify with them (they’re my spirit animal) so they’re definitely very special to me. I also have some of my early resin pieces, a few jewelry items that I love.
WW: What advice would you give to someone who works in a corporate job now who wants to do something more creative or a budding designer?
TF: It’s never too late to start so just go for it! Don’t wait. If you feel very passionate or excited about something don’t be scared to take the first leap. I know it’s scary, but if you do things right, always respect your customers and be conscious of quality, you’ll persevere. If you really want to make it work then you’ll put in the time and effort.
WW: Do you have a personal philosophy or mantra you live by?
TF: I guess in a way it’s really just be true to yourself and I think that applies to whatever job you do. If you’re true to yourself you won’t compromise on your vision. So I guess my mantra would be to follow the light within and let that guide you.