Last night we had a virtual brand launch for my new studio. The real doors-open-and-cut-the-ribbon launch has been postponed for obvious reasons but around 50 friends, family and customers joined me online for our virtual brand launch.
We got our gladrags on, counted down and I cut the ribbon to reveal my new logo. It was lovely to see everyone looking so glam and and to see people joining in from Florida, London, Devon, Manchester, all over scotland and of course from Lewis and Harris. We played games, did the Twist (and the Macarena, the time warp and Riverdance). We even enjoyed a bit of Black Lace which I haven't done in a very long time. It felt like a real night out (and I've got a real fuzzy head today to go with it).
We had come together to raise a glass and toast the new studio and it's brand new name. I gave everyone last night a bit of background to the name change but for those of you who couldn't make it along, here is a bit of the backstory.
I've operated under Hebrides Dance & Wellbeing Studio since 2013, and I love the name but i'd noticed that no-one, I mean no-one at all, ever used it. It just didn't fall off the tongue. Too many words probably (something I'm often guilty of!). The new studio build was a perfect time to consider re-branding the business.
So I started by looking at what people were doing elsewhere. In terms of dance studios, agreat place to start my research was Pineapple Studios in London. This led me on a (unfruitful!) journey through the contents of my fridge, but I just couldn't see my current clients dropping their kids off for dance lessons at Melon Studios, or trying out yoga at Hot Sauce.
I went through some more dance options but most have been taken... Dancemoves, Dancebase, Dancehouse... I vaguely considered Dance Shed, as the building is affectionately known (by my Dad anyway) as the big shed at the bottom of the drive.
The reason these names all felt wrong to me was because they didn't encompass the wide range of activities we provide or seem relevant to the wide range of people I teach. This has been an overarching struggle not just in terms of the brand but throughout the whole process. I have customers who are coming to get fit, lose weight, feel calm, feel energised as well as children coming to learn dance. Many of these overlap but many are very separate groups and I wanted the name to be relevant to all of these groups and to new customers and teachers who may want to use the space.
I listened to what people referred to when they talked about my studio. Until recently I operated mainly from my own studio which I leased from Stornoway Golf Club. I also hired Sandwick Hall once a week for cheerleading as we needed the bigger space. I'd hear parents ask "Are we at the golf club or Sandwick". In Stornoway, "the dance studio" automatically refers to the studio at the sports centre. I wanted to come up with a name that would actually be used by my customers.
Brainstorming names at the beginning of this journey, Cheggs had suggested Sandwick Studios. But like many of his ideas I initially rejected this (in this instance for being too boring). Over time, however, it kept coming back to me.
I used to talk about wanting to create something "equal" to what you'd find on the mainland, or in the city, as if that was always going to be better than something I could build on an island. I can't remember why, or at what point this changed, but I think it was as I extensively researched studios wherever I went. Taking classes and checking out their bathrooms on the sly. I saw so many amazing places but there were none quite like our own. It occurred to me that what we were creating was indeed unique. The scale, the design, the ethos were all very different to what I saw elsewhere.
It was at this point I realised that instead of emulating what was happening elsewhere I wanted my studio to be a shining example, unique to place it is rooted, and the community in which it is embedded.
The studio is located in Sandwick, but more specifically in Sandwickhill. It's not a name I hear used very often since the school has shut. We tend to just say "round the back of East St". But I liked the idea of bringing it more into circulation. This place is where my husband grew up and where we are bringing up our own boys. This community is our community and the studio, I hope, will come to be an important part of the local community.
When it came to branding I had known i was going to work with Al Johnston at Encompass for a while, ever since my modelling days with by Rosie (to clarify myself and others helped Rosie by modelling some of her beautiful Harris tweed clothes and accessories). Al was the photographer on the shoot, and also responsible for Rosie's branding and much of the marketing. I'd love the design of the logo but more than that I'd loved watching Al and Rosie work together. There was a real understanding, respect and honesty - I liked the way they both stood their ground but also listened to each other, the focussed way they worked and got things done, and the absolute attention to detail.
The decisions we've made throughout the process have all been down to Cheggs and I, and it is exhausting having the weight of some of them. Working with Al took some of that pressure off - I trust her judgement, and I know that she cares about the end result. Our planning meetings would be help at my kitchen table, usually with tea and a little something sweet, and over the 5 or so months we worked together Al became more than my logo designer - amongst other titles I would call her therapist, marriage counsellor, spiritual advisor, cheerleader and of course, interior decorator. I think this ability to listen and empathise is what makes Al so great as a designer - she hears what you're asking for but reads between the lines and identifies whats important before you even recognise it yourself. She also gave me the confidence to trust my own ideas.
My vision for the studio brand was originally scattered. One day I'd have flowers in my hair and incense burning and want the whole place boho chic and the next I'd be doing burpees, bringing out my inner badass trainer and coach thinking about neon lighting and geometric designs. I'd look inside someone's campervan and decide the whole place should be surfer style with white washed pallet furniture, or I'd watch an old film and go down a retro route. Al and I found inspiration everywhere... one day we even got excited about the design on my oven gloves.
The final design goes back to place. Al broke down the name I'd chosen - Sand - Wick (meaning bay) - Hill. The sand, the sea, the land. You can see this in the colours of the full logo. Again coming back to the idea of place, of what's special to the Hebrides, surrounded by sea and sand. The leaves in the pattern are all from Al's excursions to our local Castle Grounds. Inspired by a joint love of ferns she drew plants and leaves found locally and made her own version of a 1970s wallpaper pattern that we both loved.
I also wanted the logo to fit in with Cheggs' business, SurfLewis & Harris, and there is a definite surf vibe from the wave crests on the letters to the wave shape of the entire logo.
I loved being able to share all this at our party last night so I thought I'd include it here. It's amazing that one small shape and a place name can mean so much to me but it does, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Al for helping me put a name and a style on this once chaotic dream. The brand flows through the whole studio space and you'll see elements of it everywhere from murals to wallpaper to surfer style cladding and a wealth of lush plants when we finally open.
You'll also (very soon) see the new branding and logo on my updated website which will now feature a full library of online classes to do in your own time alongside our 4 live classes every day. These strange times that we are living through offer opportunities to connect with customers in a different way, and I'm working hard on improving and developing my online offering.
Thank you also to everyone who humoured me last night with my "black tie" event and to everyone who has offered support and encouragement at this time. I couldn't be more grateful to my family, friends and customers.