Welcome to My First Year as a Creator, a series where we ask creators how they got started, and how they have gone full-time doing what they love the most.
A year ago, Victoria Adesanmi was working the dream job of many sports and fashion lovers. She was a color and materials designer at adidas, where she helped develop footwear products for athletes and artists like Beyoncé and Kanye West. And while she had a successful career at the sportswear giant, when the pandemic hit and the future became uncertain, Adesanmi realized that she wasn’t living up to her fullest potential.
Born in Silver Spring, Maryland and raised in a traditional Nigerian household, Adesanmi has always known that she wanted to defy conventions and to pursue a creative career. She got her bachelor’s degree in industrial design with a minor in textile technology at North Carolina State University. Within two years after graduation, she landed a job at adidas as a technical color designer, and continued to build her career at the company for the next six years. It was a role that looked “sexy on paper,” as Adesanmi would describe it, but that also came with a lot of stress and responsibility.
Rethinking her purpose in life during lockdown, Adesanmi ultimately chose to leave her nine-to-five, and to explore other creative pursuits such as interior design and creative direction full-time. She’s redefined what work means to her and created her own dream job. Today, she is the founder and principal of her multidisciplinary design studio, Aesthetics Studios, helping inject personality into her clients’ homes and office spaces.
Here, we talk to Adesanmi about how she nurtured a side hustle while working a day job, what’s helped her make the leap to full-time entrepreneurship, and navigating the highs and lows along the way.
What was your journey to becoming an independent interior designer?
I was working as a design intern at a New York-based company, and it was miserable. I wasn’t even designing and couldn’t quite tell you what I was doing, to be honest. During this time, I realized I didn’t want to forget how to use my tangible skill set, like sketching and drawing, so I took a sketching and accessory course at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology).
A classmate at the time asked me if I had heard about Pensole Design Academy in Oregon. I applied there and quit my job for this five-week, life-changing opportunity in Portland, Oregon. From there, I got a job at adidas and moved across country for about six years. I started in Portland, went to New York, and then moved to LA to work on YEEZY and IVY PARK.
I’ve always had a passion for interior design. I didn’t know if it was an actual career that I could pursue, but I started to wonder how I could tap into this passion. I ended up taking a class at UCLA Extension, and although I did not finish it, I thought it was a good idea to get the fundamentals down.
The pandemic was a harsh reality check for me. I wasn’t happy. Nothing is a guarantee, and I started to ask myself if I was living in my purpose. That’s when I decided to make the leap. In the background, I started setting up the business side of Aesthetic Studios, [which would be] my future company.
I didn’t wait to quit my job to set up an LLC and [business] bank account. I started saving aggressively and started to articulate what I wanted to do. I was also applying for jobs at the time and wasn’t hearing back, so I thought, “What do I have to lose? Life is all about taking a chance on yourself and I never wanted to wonder, ‘what if?’”
Not everyone has the natural inclination to take a chance on themselves or to take career risks. Was this mindset modeled for you growing up, or where did you learn this from?
I’ve been told I’m very persistent, even as a child. My mom would say things like, “You should be an entrepreneur,” but it was never something I was inclined to do. Growing up, I was always encouraged to have a corporate job, but to also think about what I really wanted to do and to be smart about it. If I want something, I’m going to figure it out.
Listening to other people’s stories on NPR’s How I Built This has always been the biggest inspiration for me, and encouraged me to try it out for myself.
Quitting your 9-5 and figuring out how to make a living with a creative career can feel daunting. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs to ease this transition?
A lot of people don’t talk about this. I had to make a lot of sacrifices, like not going out to eat with my friends and saying no to different experiences. I wanted to have enough money saved as a guarantee when I quit.
I also had a health scare due to the stress of my job at adidas and took a leave of absence. I’ve always been smart with money — I have my 401(k) and I have stocks, but I hadn’t started saving aggressively, so it wasn’t until the health scare that I started to prioritize this. I also knew at this point, I wanted to be a legitimate business and had to learn to file an LLC. I would recommend asking friends and doing research on what type of business setup you will need, whether that’s a sole proprietorship or LLC.
It can be a bit overwhelming, but I also felt this conviction in my spirit that I wasn’t walking in my purpose, and I needed to get my act together. For me, I took these business steps in faith, trusting that it would all work out. I then opened a business account with the minimum amount, which I think at the time was around $1,500. I also had friends telling me I needed to start articulating what I was doing, so that they would know how to support me in the best way.
Beyond the business and financial side, I realized I had to start putting myself out there. At first, I felt uncomfortable talking about what I was doing, because at the time it wasn’t popular to be “multidisciplinary.” I really had to step into the idea of expressing all the things I was doing, and once I started vocalizing them, the opportunities started to flow. It was really the power of speaking things into existence.
What gave you the confidence to take the actual step of quitting your job?
My faith is important to me. I was so fed up with my job that I went into 30 days of fasting and praying, and ended up getting a prophetic word from someone that had confirmed everything I had been feeling about these next steps for Aesthetic Studios. It finally hit me, like, “Oh my God, I need to quit.” Mentally, I was terrified because I’m also human, and I started thinking, “What about rent? What about bills?”
Soon after, I got a call from my doctor and she told me it looked like I had an autoimmune disorder. She asked if it was stress or what was going on. So that was it. I decided to stagger out my departure from adidas and take a leave of absence while utilizing my benefits for six months. I needed to rest and take care of myself, but I also needed to take that step for me. It was a strong conviction. Spiritually, it felt like I got the go ahead to make the leap and for me, that was important.
What advice would you give to those who are on the verge of going into entrepreneurship?
Have some type of plan in place. In this day and age of recession conversations and inflation, it’s important to have a financial cushion. One way to do this is learning how to diversify and monetize your skill sets. If you’re a graphic designer, what else do you do? For anyone who wants to pursue entrepreneurship, having financial literacy is so important. That’s something I personally invested in during my six months [of leave], and I learned how to day trade. Had I not quit my job and learned financial literacy, I wouldn’t be in this situation. Understanding how I can have revenue and income outside of my business has been super helpful for me.
Another pointer would be to make sure your friends and family are aware of how they can support you. Oftentimes, it’s as simple as learning how to communicate to your circle of trust what your needs are. And from there, they can decide how they can show up and advocate for you.
How do you approach growth and prospect for new business?
A lot of word of mouth and social. It’s also about having a great network and investing in that. I have great friends who put my name forward for different opportunities, and people do really advocate for me without me even being aware of it. You never know who’s looking or watching, so having a good social presence is important. I make sure that I’m putting myself out there as much as possible.
I always tell people it’s never about the amount of work I’m receiving. Rather, it’s about the quality. Before taking on a job, I pray about what is for me and what’s not, because not everything is the right fit. Since I’m still starting out, I can’t be too picky, but I also have to trust enough in my talents and abilities that a project has to make sense for me to take it.
My first questions during a consultation are: “Are they a client fit and am I a designer fit? What’s my ROI on this?” A consultation does not always guarantee that we’ll work together, because it’s important that you actually like me! It’s an intimate experience where I’m all up in your space and you’re in mine, and it has to be comfortable. If it costs me my peace, then it’s too expensive.
What are you most excited about for the future of Aesthetic Studios?
I really launched it in 2020, but I didn’t start advertising until 2021, so I feel like I’m still in my first year. Shortly after quitting my job, I ended up getting my first big brand partnership, and I was like, “Okay, great. I made the right decision. I’m on the right path.” But then it got really quiet. There are a lot of highs and lows in entrepreneurship, and I’m learning how to be patient. But now it’s starting to pick up. Timing is everything.
I’m excited to be working on new projects and working with different clients, but when my business isn’t moving at 5,000 miles per hour, I’m always looking for ways to grow my skill set. I want to constantly be prepared for greater opportunities. It’s going well and it’s a rollercoaster at times, but talking to other entrepreneurs help.
For anyone wanting to go into entrepreneurship, find a community. Friends in corporate jobs don’t totally understand what I’m dealing with in this type of business. It’s helpful to have people who can tell you that your experience is normal and that it’s okay. Trust the journey and learn to embrace it for what it is. I know all my dreams will come true, it’s just a matter of time.
There are things that I’m looking forward to, like designing a hotel, restaurant, or brand an entire new build. There are so many things that I desire to do, and the list goes on and on. But more than anything, I just want to make an impact that lives beyond my lifetime. What’s the purpose beyond me? That’s the legacy I want to leave behind.
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Esho