Finding a Niche
Having a design background has its perks. Among them are the ability to do hundreds of different things and the flexibility to reinvent your career when an interest, opportunity or idea arises. That is how Design Institute of San Diego graduate Vanessa Bartko Huynh became the owner/designer of Honeyami, a children's organic cotton bedding company.
Born in New York and raised in London, Vanessa spent her childhood immersed in the arts. "I did primarily ballet and photography but have taken courses in ceramics, jewelry making...and sculpture." She came back to the States and moved to New Orleans, where she earned a degree in philosophy and studio art. It was there that she met her husband, and eventually the two moved to San Diego. Vanessa then decided to go back to school for a degree in interior design, a life-long interest of hers. "My sister and I used to play interior design with my mom's Laura Ashley catalogs and paint swatches. [We would] make pretend rooms and pick out wallpaper, colors and fabrics...it was just in me, I guess. Environment and aesthetics have always been important to me."
While attending DISD, Vanessa worked for architect Jennifer Luce at Luce et Studio. This experience tied together everything she was learning in school. "Working there, with real clients and budgets, really rounded out my education," she explained. She really enjoyed being able to work out the functional aspects of the design along with the beauty and the story.
After graduating, Vanessa and her husband decided to move back to New York to be closer to family. Armed with her portfolio from DISD, she started applying for as many jobs as possible. She ended up accepting a position in the handbag industry. Even though her portfolio was filled with interiors, she was told, "You're a designer. You can design anything." Sure enough, she found that the technical skills she learned at DISD, along with sketching, concept development and design history, really translated well to her new profession. She spent years as a successful designer for Banana Republic and then Michael Kors. In 2009, after becoming a mother, she decided to leave Michael Kors and start her own company. "Motherhood inspired a search for stylish, youthful baby bedding and a passion for organic cotton fabrics. I found a lack of sweet, modern, non-character prints for boys in particular." Her education and experience in interior design, the runway and parenthood culminated in the launch of Honeyami.
Though there was "eco" bedding available, Vanessa found they all were beige and boring. "Pesticide-free bedding doesn't have to be bland. I didn't want to sacrifice aesthetics to have a healthy sleep environment for my children." While doing her research, she found that a large percentage of the world's insecticide and pesticide use is on cotton. Babies, who generally sleep 16 hours a day, have thinner and more porous skin than adults and are thus especially vulnerable to these chemicals. Vanessa combined her education in color theory and fabric/textile construction with her experience in product development, sourcing, manufacturing, and creative direction to create new options for parents.
Honeyami is currently sold online at Bloomingdales.com, Honeyami.com and in select children's boutiques around the U.S. There is also product collaboration and potential co-branding discussions in the works with a California-based company that will launch in November. And don't be surprised to see Honeyami expand even further in the future. As Vanessa explained, "I would love to return to true interior design and add nursery design and styling to Honeyami's services." Given her track record, it's only a matter of time.