Partner & Founder of Stacey Leong Design
One of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center Certification Training Cohort 2 participants and is in the beginning stages of getting her business certified.
Opening new doors for women-owned small businesses is just one of the many opportunities the YWCA O`ahu has to offer. When the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center’s Certification Cohort 2 was offered from February to April 2021, Stacey Leong, partner and founder of Stacey Leong Design (SLD), jumped at the opportunity. Stacey holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa, where she met a friend and co-owner of SLD, Karyn Yasui Lau. Both Stacey and Karyn have over 25 years of experience in the Graphic Design industry—working together at various well-known design studios and advertising companies in Honolulu. Throughout their professional journey, they gained experience, an appreciation, and an understanding of what it takes to have a successful company while balancing family and created a stronger friendship along the way.
“Karyn and I met at UH Mānoa in the Graphic Design program’s portfolio class and we’ve been friends ever since. In the mid-to-late ’90s, the Graphic Design program was very robust and primarily male-dominated. When we graduated, the economy was in a recession, there were too many design students graduating and not enough jobs. As a solution, the program created a portfolio class so graduating students could create a resume, business card, streamline their portfolio and build connections with design professionals via studio tours. Fortunately, we were able to work for highly regarded design studios after graduating college. There were two instances where we were working at different firms and ended up working together. First, Karyn was working for PBR Hawai`i and I was working for Clarence Lee Design & Associates—the biggest design firm in Hawai`i at that time. I was the youngest designer in the firm and Clarence asked if I knew any friends willing to apply at our studio. It was such an honor because he trusted me with this referral, and of course, I called Karyn. From that point on, fellow employees were always acknowledging how much fun we would have while working together and I couldn’t help but think that’s just how work should be! The second opportunity we had to work together was at Team Vision Advertising & Marketing. I called Karyn to come work with me again, and together we literally were the entire creative department. Back then, we were both able to devote all of our time to design and production and we really grew as designers here.” –Stacey Leong, Co-Owner & Founder, Stacey Leong Design
This dynamic duo’s big dreams of opening up a studio and working together became reality. In 2002, Stacey left her full-time job to open SLD. She had one client, her Mac, and a lot of energy... and the rest is history! Then in 2006, Karyn left her full-time job and joined SLD. “I realized I wanted to work with someone with similar experiences and goals as me. Since college, we always knew that we wanted to work together and open up our own design studio. Keeping that conversation in mind, I called Karyn and asked her to take the leap with me” Stacey mentions. “That was the ultimate goal and I couldn’t help but think what would be better than making this dream a reality,” Karyn added.
“Growing up, my mom was an art teacher and I’ve always loved art and being creative because it was a way for me to feel good and be myself. This was something I knew I could have fun with and be financially stable.” –Karyn Yasui Lau
“I was very artistically inclined and often did it as a hobby growing up on Maui. I would do crafts, sew, paint, draw, and take photos in 4-H. I never knew I could make a career out of it. However, it was my mom who pointed out that my hobbies could become a dream job… It’s exactly what Karyn said, you have to be a fiscally responsible artist.” –Stacey Leong
SLD is a design studio that focuses on creating meaningful connections directly with its audience. Their approach, style, and communication techniques in graphic design are distinct from their competitors. The individual capabilities of the two partners converge in an outstanding team to produce creative, intuitive, and mindful graphic design programs for their clientele. Their niche lies in having a deep understanding, and respect for Native Hawaiian culture and storytelling through design. “A lot of our clients are companies and organizations that focus on Native Hawaiian culture. Through our design, we transform the culture in a contemporary way that is thought-provoking, authentic, and respectful…” Stacey says.
Their friendship is an important piece to the SLD story and the foundation of what they’ve built together. “Many clients tell us that we’re just like sisters and that it must be all fun and games at the office, but the reality is we work really hard while finding time for fun. We find that work-fun balance and enjoy working together. Despite the business name still being under me, everyone knows that SLD comes with both Karyn and me... there would be no SLD without Karyn.” Stacey mentions. Their vast differences seen between their personalities only create a stronger bond as business partners. Karyn compares her bond with Stacey to the Yin and Yang symbol.
“Stacey is the face of the company; everyone knows her and her creative work. Her bright, fast-paced, energetic energy never fails to uplift the conversation. She’s like a ray of sunshine, a fast thinker and creates solid bonds with our clients by having great people and project management skills…” –Karyn Yasui Lau, Co-Owner, Stacey Leong Design
“Karyn provides the steadiness of the company. She is the workhorse of SLD and takes care of many accounts that require a high level of servicing and consistency. Karyn strives for open communication, being detail-oriented, and finding the missing pieces to our designs…” –Stacey Leong
Similarly, to other businesses, SLD faces challenges when working with clients. When we are hired for a project, we educate clients on our design process, roles, expectations, and goals. We become partners in their company or organization.
“Companies often come to us and hire SLD for our expertise, but sometimes challenges arise that prevent us from moving forth with designs or performing to the best of our abilities. We like to let our clients know that we are more than just their ‘hands’... we are also an outside resource for them to gain another perspective. We come from a place where we want to provide the best for our clients to ensure that they can attain their goals. Remaining respectful to our clients is our number one concern because they are the experts in what they do and vice versa. Some clients have good intentions and sketch out their design ideas, but it just may not be the right direction for the target audience and goals. What we ultimately strive for with our clients, is to openly talk things through and reach a mutual solution together. The level of understanding and partnership that we create with our clients requires a lot of humbleness and putting all egos aside to continue moving forward. Convincing companies to trust us is a good portion of the challenge…” –Stacey Leong & Karyn Yasui Lau
Client success stories are something both Stacey and Karyn find the most rewarding because they witness their hard work being paid off just by observing their client’s happiness. “Seeing our clients succeed and be proud of our work makes us ecstatic. Some of these clients take big risks for their businesses by taking out second mortgages or loans—it’s a heavy load on our shoulders when they hire us and trust us to help them grow their company. That’s something we are very mindful of, which leads to building a stronger rapport and creating deeper connections with our clients.” Stacey and Karyn mention.
Stacey and Karyn expressed how they’ve always wanted to get SLD certified but finding the time and resources on how to do it was time-consuming. They were thrilled to learn about this opportunity from Marla Musick through her social media post. “We’ve always wanted to get certified but had such a difficult time weeding out useful information. As soon as we saw Marla’s mention about the certification cohort, we knew we had to sign up right then and there… we are so grateful to have the business center there to hold our hand through this process. It’s something we couldn’t imagine doing ourselves, but with the help of the MBDA team, we know we can accomplish this.” SLD is in the beginning stages of getting its certification journey started. Stacey extends her gratitude towards the MBDA EWOC Business Center and the Villa Business Consulting Inc. (VBC Inc.) as they have been very helpful and understanding during this tedious certification process.
“We are gathering the information needed to get our certification process on the road. Marí and her team have been very kind, patient, and understanding when it comes to the certification process because of how much time we’ve taken to get started. They have been extremely helpful especially when it comes to understanding how many personal matters and life can intertwine with work life.” –Stacey Leong
Looking forward, both Stacey and Karyn hope to continue assisting companies and organizations despite the ever-evolving design industry.
“Technology is something that will continue to change over time. To be around in the future and provide our services to our clients, we just need to continue to evolve with technology. That is what we’ve been doing all these years. I may not see exactly where we will be in the future, but I know Stacey Leong Design will be around somehow…” –Stacey Leong
Stacey and Karyn’s piece of advice to aspiring women business owners:
“Believe in yourself. If you’re passionate about something, don’t let anything get in your way. Be confident in who you are, your skills, and what you’re doing. Have a solid foundation and team you trust, provide the best service, create successful design systems, and always remember to have fun!”