RALUFINEART – INTERVIEW + SPECIAL FEATURE

Historically, fashion has rarely been elevated to the same stature as art, photography, music, sculpture or architecture. But fashion is one of the purest expressions of art because it is art lived on a daily basis. … Fashion only exists as long as there is an actor to incarnate it. In that way, it is performance art.

The convergence of art and fashion is symbiotic. Everything that exists and surrounds us is a product of the society we live in. Who we are, what we see, and what we experience is interconnected and interrelated. There is no place we can point to and say that this or that object does not belong to the sphere of art.

Malina Catoiu, originally from Romania, now living in Luxembourg, can tell us much about a photography culture as ethical lifestyle through her dresses and clothing articles as individual and collective expression. By combining different mediums to make art, she is able to transcend our lives and in the process connect to the essence and universality of who we are.

The name of RaluFineArt comes from her first name, Raluca, as her parents used to call her ‘Ralu’ and since childhood she had a passion for music and art.

”To see NATURE AND WORLD’S BEAUTY AROUND US WE NEED TO SLOW DOWN, LOOK AROUND, STOP FOR A WHILE AND ENJOY LIFE. RALUFINEART WAS BORN FROM THE DESIRE TO BRING OUR PLANET BEAUTY HOME AND MAKE OUR INNER WORLD INSPIRING.”

RALUFINEART

RaluFineArt is about photography combined with fine art + design products for accessories, lifestyle, home decor, wall art and more. The brand is committed to raise awareness about the endangered species and deforestation. A percentage of the sales will go as donations to different organizations to contribute to planting trees, save endangered species and other actions trying to make a better world. For more, visit + shop RaluFineArt here: https://www.ralufineart.com

We were more than excited to have an exclusive interview with Ralu x 33 Magazine:

#33TALKS WITH RALUFINEART

Describe yourself as a creative and how RALUFINEART was born? 

Well I think I will start first by defining what it means for me to be creative and I would start by saying that I consider myself being creative because I have the ability to use my imagination and skills to create and play with ideas in different ways and produce something new and unique. You don’t need to be a genius to be creative. 

I’ve always loved to think outside the box and have no limits and I’ve been attracted to areas of activity that involved creativity. Rigid structures suffocate me as I need to feel the freedom to create and play conceptually with ideas and then to have the freedom to implement them. Even if I worked in banking system for 27 years I tried to find those jobs that gave me the element of creativity. I changed often the area of activity as I wanted to know more and try things and have that feeling of newness and excitement in my life. 

The best time in banking was during the years I was in a huge program to create online banks from scratch. Years of creative process, creating my part from A to Z and that required a huge part of me to be creative and think for new solutions, new business models. So yes I’ve been all my live a creative but I realized my call in life only late in my career. 

Since childhood I had a passion for music and the field of art.Since I was 24 y.o. I wanted to have my own company. Other offers came from banking system and I decided at that time to pursue with my banking career. In 2018 I felt is the time for me to take seriously my ideas and make my dreams become a reality. I’ve always admired my grandma who almost all her life loved to create clothes and designed new models. I looked at her many years how many beautiful things came out of her creative mind and hands: exquisite wedding dresses, luxury costumes, classy dresses, purses, blouses and so on. I wanted to bring the history and present together and inspired by my grandma work to continue with my own story in my own style. 

It took me several months to brainstorm together with my husband and launch my shop in June 2019. However only from October 2019 I started to be fully engaged and take it in my hands as full time activity. 

How do you manage the creativity process exactly as it’s really challenging to create fine art?

I believe that the creative process is an outside expression of who we really are inside. All my creations at this moment in time start from my own photographs. Are my photos fine art? I think my photos can be anything I want them to be. Fine art photography in my view can be a multitude of things; it can create feelings of joy, nostalgia, sadness, happiness, surrealism. How I manage the creativity process exactly? 

Allow me to take as an example my last collection of scarves. I replicate my scarves designs from my original photos by translating the essence of nature and urban impressions into the delightful fashion accessory gifts. Each pattern starts its life as a copy of the original photo that I refine and transform it through the magic of the digital tools to produce a first mock up. First steps in this process are for the design. I select the themes and the range of colors. I put a lot of thought and consideration when creating the drafts and the topics are set on seasons, artistic nature inspired, urban and street style. I use my own photos to create patterns and it takes up to several weeks to work on an initial draft; selecting the perfect one is not always easy. 

Fine art photos do not have to be realistic. I am looking at the lighting, patterns, playing with colors, correcting and editing the photos. Beauty stays in the details and once in a while I turn a gray sky into a surprising yellow gold experimenting with unnatural tones. Imagination and freedom of creation are the designer’s best friends right? 

The inspiration of my urban patterns comes from my travels from the Cycladic layout, the medieval era, Venetian mansions, Neoclassical and modern architecture. While my inspiration of her summer models comes from the seaside showcasing deep blue sea waters, beach features and sea shells.

Once I have the digital patterns done I think of the type of material that best fits to the pattern and model. I prefer to work with natural silk however you may find some items in modal textile too.

For each scarf there is a lot of care and attention given from the start of the design to the finish in production, quality checks are performed along all the process. Creative imagination and designs, skillful hands and craft-work, all these complex processes have to be in harmony to create these wonderful products. 

What makes photography art is in my view the imagination, commitment and time that I put into the patterns and designs. I use my camera as a tool to create art work and it always reflects my vision in respect to the world beauty. For me photography is a visual form of art, is a language that uses visual elements instead of words and it must express feelings and my own vision. The goal is to express an idea, a message or an emotion. 

What was the most challenging issue in launching your own fine art label? 

I’d say finding my niche to start with in order to build up my audience. The journey took longer to match my products with different segments of the market, seasons and geographical regions. Marketing is the heart for generating the leads for my business and I am still adjusting the way I run my marketing campaigns, I learn everyday new things. 

The biggest mistake at the beginning was to hit everyone with my posts and emails. One of the things I learnt the hard way was that is not important the number of followers on the social media but the quality of the audience and their engagement for my posts and products. Having the right audience is one of the keys for success. I am not a market expert but I had to learn what it works and what not in the hard way. 

Having patience! It takes time to spin the wheel and figure out what it works. I had and still have many projects running in parallel and it takes time until they take off and reach maturity. 

As a solopreneur everything ends up on your shoulders and it takes longer to build a business and scale it up. The key is to find something that works for your business and your products and your audience and then to stick with it. Each day to remember what is important to do: things that push forward your business or things that keep you busy. 

What’s the main impact of social media in art industry in both ways, fashion buying and brand marketing?

Social media changed a lot the game when we talk about the fashion industry and brand marketing and not only. Through the social media channels is more and more possible for the art creators and designers to interact with possible future clients, put forward their ideas and products and build an online presence. 

For decades fashion industry was dominated by the big brands in a very top down way and it was much more difficult for unknown designers to be remarked and their work to be pushed forward. Someone had to see you and believe in you to promote you into the market and the process was a heavy one you needed to have strong connections, build your portfolio; have catwalks, have auditions and so on. I remember even now the big brands putting their collections into the physical shops and then people going and see, get inspired and eventually buy them. I remember the models walking in fashions shows for which there were only limited invitations issued and not all the people had access; all the rest hoping to see the new collections after these were released. Big brands used to set up the trends and people did not have much to say in respect to models, fabrics choices, colors….  

Now with the social media all this is shifting allowing small brands and unknown designers and art creators to be discovered directly by the public in a much easier way, in a faster way and with lower costs. 

Moreover social media allows the people to be part of the fashion making process; we see creators and designers sharing more and more from behind the scenes asking directly their audiences about their preferences for models, colors, and patterns before launching a new collection or new products. I do this as well, trying to engage as much as possible with the audience running polls asking questions on their preferences and only if there is appetite for my ideas I go with them in production. This interaction in between creators, designers and audiences is pure gold. 

Social media has become an effective marketing tool. I find it to be the most transparent and engaging way to promote your own brand because you do not need to wait for someone to discover you but you put yourself out there for millions of users to discover you and believe in what you do. It’s a kind of exposure that before did not exist and this is a huge window of opportunity for small brands and unknown creators and designers. With Instagram you can easily find influencers, fashion models, send direct messages to them and get them engaged into your own brand marketing plan. As new start up or brand designer you have the opportunity these days to be endorsed by celebrities and big influencers. What I like is that the buyers became contributors to your own success in this industry. New ideas are put forward faster and everything changes faster. Plus what we see nowadays is so much diversity and I think this trend is not going anywhere anytime soon.

What is your favorite and NON-favorite part about being part of this industry?

I love to be part of this industry because it is an extension of my personality and requires all my creativity. I can go with the mood and express what I feel contrary to the work in big corporations where you are required to be cerebral and rational as much as possible. I love to bring that feminine energy into my work. I am free to express what I feel and do what I feel and show to the people the softer part of me. In corporations there is more and more emphasized the need for empathy but you are still judged or misinterpreted if you show the softer part of you, because soft is still considered to be weak, the mentality is still that tough is smart. 

I truly believe that things can be done differently by us women and not jump into masculine energy shoes to do what we love to do. Fashion and Interior Design gives a certain amount of freedom and allows me to be who I am. 

What I don’t like is snobbery that goes in this industry. That cliché ‘judging a book by its cover’ that we find it in abundance everywhere not only in this industry; also a continuous accumulation of cheap clothes and garments at very low costs using the work labor in a non-ethic way and with serious consequences on our health and our planet. What I don’t like as well is the fast fashion and the mass production of cheap clothes that after 5 washing cycles you can put them in the bin. I am in for quality rather than quantity. Each time I launch new collections or new products I choose to produce in limited editions and with high quality.  

Can you tell us how RALUFINEART makes a difference in fashion industry?

RaluFineArt as a brand is known for creating unique products for home décor, lifestyle and fashion accessories; all in limited editions. All my products are inspired from the nature and urban patterns and inject charm and uniqueness in any person’s life. 

I bring a personal style that belongs to me as individual and it’s my self-expression to how I see the beauty in this world. I prefer a mix of classic and modern and I prefer to keep my artistic independence to create timeless feminine fashion accessories. The designs are original, unique, colorful, and romantic. I don’t necessarily go with the fashion trends; I rather let each season to bring me an opportunity for inspiration. 

What I want to bring with my products and my designs is that connection in between nature, our world and people. And creating stylish and timeless fashion accessories allows me to connect on a different level with the people. Style is timeless and is more about our identity and the perception of who we are. Style is something that is unique and limited to each one of us and is the person’s own choice in how matches the accessories with the rest of the outfit. 

Style is impacted by the environment around, our beliefs, culture, education, profession and other aspects of the individual in the society and through my brand I want to link the dots in between our values and the beauty of this world that deserves to be preserved. Through my products you will enjoy beautiful landscapes and seascapes, incredible sunsets, and fabulous architecture as well details from the nature and its micro universe. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge regarding your work?

My biggest challenge right now is the digital marketing strategy for scaling up and what I mean by that is targeting the right people and the right niche, finding the most attractive ways to let them know about my business, my products to bring them to my shop to eventually become loyal customers. 

Digital marketing is purely data driven and it helps a lot to scale up the business. There are free and paid ways to do it. Both ways are equally challenging and what I see is that is more and more difficult to bring organically people to you and convert them into customers. Instagram and Facebook shifted their strategy and without paying ads is difficult to have a high reachability and visibility. With the growing competition, digital marketing is getting more and more expensive. If you don’t have enough traffic with the right people for your website is not possible to have sales either. The conversion rates are usually in between 1% and 3% if you do it properly and a lot of effort goes in generating quality leads. 

So targeting the right channel, have enough and good quality leads and the right amount of traffic; customer acquisition totally depends on having the right niche. 

Define sustainable in art concept nowadays in few words 

Well we see everywhere that sustainable is the new green in many fields and many areas of activity. Organic food and farming adjusted to the local ecosystem, green architecture, green banking with more and more socially responsible projects. 

People around the world became more and more aware of the climate change, the global consciousness, the need to protect our planet and be interested in the concept of their individual impact on the environment. It’s through sustainable art that artists through their work want to inspire for social and cultural changes. 

So sustainable in art I’d say is the way we ensure we take care of the environment and social wellbeing and how we optimize the use of natural resources in order to reduce our environmental footprint. 

My shop idea was born from the desire to bring our planet beauty home and make our home inspiring in my own way and style. My goal is to inspire those who see my work, make them to wish to see new places, discover the beauty of this world but more than anything to want to preserve it. My whole collection of scarves is made of natural materials (silk, modal) and the manufacturer uses environmental and harmless ink during the printing process. Most of my business model is based as much as possible with the social consciousness in mind and how I deliver the products to the clients. Whenever an order is placed, the order is routed to the nearest manufacturing center where the client is located to minimize the pollution and the impact on the environment and in the same time to minimize the shipping costs and speed up delivery times. And my marketing campaigns go in this way too. 

I decided that through my brand to commit to raising awareness about the endangered species and deforestation. A percentage of the sales go as donations to different organizations to contribute to planting trees, save endangered species and other actions trying to make our world better. All my projects are shared on my blog: https://www.ralufineart.com .

How do you think your label can play an important role for your client’s life?

When I created this brand I had in mind to create the connection in between nature beauty, our environment and the people lives, make them feel inspired and share with them the same values. RaluFineArt are not simple products but a chosen lifestyle and the best part about my products is their vibration and their effect on people. 

Here some examples: 

During the time I was designing some of my new scarves I’ve checked with my clients and especially with the repeating clients to understand what makes them come to my shop again. I tried to find out if they would like for me to offer them more abstract models and the answer I got was a big NO. The answer was so striking: we want what you do and that is your photos on beautiful objects. We want your unique style because you transform the beauty found in our world through your lenses and with your own charm you make it wearable art and plus it tells us about you. 

I receive feedbacks how my collection of scarves is unique, feminine and chic. The feedback that I get repeatedly is that the images are so beautiful that put a smile on the face of everyone who sees them. 

Another lady bought an art print with a photo I took from the Blue Forest (in Belgium) and when she got it she wrote me how much they love it and they can’t wait to get it hung, that is perfect almost as beautiful as being there in person.  

Another client of mine who bought a shower curtain told me that he was moving from the countryside into the town and he was searching those home décor accessories to bring the nature into his home to remind him of his previous place. He was happy to find my shower curtain that pulls greenery and water and rocks into a single print and he was exactly looking for such a thing. They have added ivy garland around the top, woven around the shower hooks and river bathmats to make a perfect fit into their bathroom décor. 

By the way lately I got the question from a gentleman: why I don’t create also for the other half of the planet meaning for men, telling me that he would love to be my brand ambassador. So I am considering looking to create nice things also for the other half of the planet. 

I know that my brand fans are there around me because they are passionate about the same things I am, because they feel that connection with me, because they identify themselves with my core values. I have my own style and vision which makes me in a way unique. A designer is an artist and every artist has its own touch and style, his own signature that gives a special feel to the people seeing or wearing the designs. 

What do you think about the opportunity of selling your pieces online nowadays?

My business is completely an online business with an online shop. And I have chosen to start my business online only because of many advantages that online can give to the new startups. When you consider starting up your own business you think of costs vs benefit and how fast you will be able to touch the break-even point and scale it up. 

Selling online gave me the opportunity to have very low operational costs. I built up my own website and I did almost everything from A-Z by myself. When necessary I hired resources/ freelancers to help for specific tasks and for short time. I reduced a lot the order processing costs; from the moment the client orders his product the order comes straight into my platform from the website and it goes automatically to different manufacturers once the order is paid in full by the client.  

For 95% of the products the manufacturers receive the order in real time and start to process the orders immediately as per our contractual agreements usually it takes in between 1-3 business days for the product to be produced and sent out directly to the client. As I said the system records where the client wants the product to be shipped thus the closest manufacturer receives the order, starting creating it and ship it directly to the end beneficiary. I keep only a selective number of products in my stock to ship them myself to the clients. 

I wanted to automatize everything and integrate with the manufacturers’ platforms to deal in a rapid way and reducing tremendously the costs on my side. 

When I started with my business I tested different segments of the market, different countries to see which products appeal to each collection. I was able to run my pilot e-commerce shop with low investments. 

I also prefer to sell online because I reach a global audience and increase the sales opportunities depending on the country appetite. My products in the first year of existence have been sold to 10 countries such as: United Stated, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and Singapore. I would not like to be restricted to one single country or one economy to develop my business hence my chosen hybrid business model.

And let’s admit, it was never a better time to have an online e-commerce business than now when people change their shopping behaviors getting more online. E-commence is booming, omnichannel shopping becomes the new normal. My clients are able to shop through different channels directly via Facebook shopping channel, Instagram shopping channel, my website or other platforms I am present with my products. Definitely I have multiple channels during the customer shopping journey. I am considering in future using as well visual commerce not only product pages; you know quality images on homepage with shortcuts to purchase the product directly and dynamic pricing. 

Imagine that you must write a letter to your FUTURE SELF. What would you write?

Love your question writing a letter to my future me. There is nothing more rewarding than to look at oneself and compare to oneself only and see your life journey. Well I’d say…

Hello Future Me! 

How’s life? I hope you haven’t lost your drive. 

When you read this I want you to be the person full of positive energy, the person that still believes that there is good in this world, to still have lots of creative projects to continue to believe in your heart and your voice because your voice and your dreams are always important. 

Keep pushing through ok? And stop to rest when you need to. I hope along the way you stopped from time to time to pat yourself on the shoulder and said to yourself: well done! Remember from where you came and where you head to and don’t forget that faster is not always better. 

When you read this I want you to tell me that you did not listen to anyone else definition of your worth but you discovered and saw your real worth. I want you to tell me that you earned the respect of the only one important person in this world for you and that person is you. Look back and tell me that what you see in that mirror is what you love to see. I want you to tell me full of joy and with a big smile that you did not question your integrity not even once, you fulfilled your full potential and you are happy with who you truly are. And by the time you read this if you still not fulfilled your full potential I am sure you know how to get there. 

By the way are you happy?

Your past.