January’s Career Day guest speaker is Rachel T Robertson. I’ve known Rachel for a few years now and she’s definitely one of my favorite SF peeps. Whether she’s designing window displays for Anthropologie or working on her own creative endeavors, she’s always got her hands in something crafty.
Hello, all you Drifter & the Gypsy readers. My name is Rachel T Robertson. I am a retail display artist as well as an artist/crafts-person and I live in San Francisco, CA.
Currently I am a display coordinator for Anthropologie, but I also make art and fiber jewelry in my free time. In my full time job I get to design and create all the window and interior displays for the San Francisco Anthropologie store. I have been doing this for five years but, in total, I have been designing and crafting retail displays for over 20 years.
I have lived in the city since 1995 and have a hard time imagining myself living anywhere else. I just moved into a small studio work space not far from my home in the Mission district where I can focus on larger projects, but I am keeping a tiny corner in my sunny home for sewing and knitting.
I am an avid Instagrammer, but I still have lots of photos over on Flickr. I love to document my work and adventures. You can see my art, jewelry, craft and some of my photos on my website. You can shop for some of my creations in my Etsy shop.
I am so glad that Micaela asked me to be here today to answer your questions. I hope that I can inform and inspire you. So let’s get started…
1. I’ve always thought designing window displays was a neat career, but how exactly does one get into a career like that? What would you need to study in college? How did YOU get in the business?
Well, I didn’t really imagine myself doing this as a career back when I was in school. I started out like a lot of art students, not sure how I was going to apply my talents once I had graduated. I earned a degree in art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a large university, which meant I took more than just art classes. My first real job out of school was as a display artist for Urban Outfitters, back when there were only just 11 stores in the U.S.! I learned so much on the job and found I had an affinity for it. I eventually ended up working for Anthropologie (see the answer to question 4 below). If I was guiding students to a career in this field I would say they need to: know how to make things with their hands (versus a computer), know how to work with various materials or be willing to learn fast, be able to work and problem solve quickly, understand a little bit about the business of retail and enjoy the environment, and be extremely flexible and imaginative.
2. In addition to working for Anthropologie, I understand you’re also an artist. How do you deal with balancing your day job with your own creative endeavors? Do you find that they sometimes conflict?
I always try to make time in my week for personal projects, whether it is crafting necklaces, sketching some jewelry designs or working on some new collages. It’s not always easy to find the time but sometimes it helps to have looming deadlines, even if they are my own made up deadlines. I try to approach my personal projects like my full-time job projects, with a calendar, a timeline and goals. I don’t feel the two conflict, rather, they compliment each other. Creating is creating, whether you are working for yourself or others. I get some of my best ideas for large scale displays when I am working on a small personal project and vice-versa.
3. I’ve heard Anthropologie hand makes all the props in their window displays. Is that true? And what do you do with the props after you’re done with them?
At Anthropologie we do create all the displays you see in the store by hand. When we change out a window or an interior display we have various options for the displays, depending on the project. Generally, we try to either reuse the materials or the display in another way or in another space, auction off the display with proceeds going directly to a charity, or donate displays to a school or charity.
4. Have you worked at any other Anthropologie besides San Francisco? Have you always worked at Anthropologie?
I periodically work in other Anthropologie stores for workshops or store openings but my primary position is at the San Francisco store location, where I have been working for the past five years. Previously, I spent six years as Display Director for Urban Outfitters. Before that I was District Display Artist for the Northwest and held various store display artist positions.
5. Where do you see yourself going with your personal business? Would you eventually like to make it your main focus and source of income? Or would you prefer to keep it more as a hobby?
Right now I am happy focusing my energy on my full-time position at Anthropologie while making art and fiber jewelry in my spare time.
6. Aside from your job and your art, do you have a favorite past time?
I do have a passion for fibers and I love to knit. I also adore plants and dream of having a garden one day.
Thanks for being a pal, Rachel, and answering all these great questions! It’s always interesting to take a peek into a creative’s life. I hope this interview inspired you to create in some way.
Sit tight and stay tuned for next month’s Career Day!