This Is What Happens When You Give Women the Space to Create
We’ve all heard the saying, “behind every strong man, is a strong woman”. Well, behind every strong woman is a group of equally strong women and this woman proves exactly that. Cecilia Apelin and her all-female team set out to build a space where creatives of every kind could congregate and feel inspired to create their best work. Berkeley’s newest creative studio is more than just a studio, it’s a community where collaboration and expression intersect to cultivate ingenuity that is deeply rooted in authenticity. We have to admit, the East Bay just got a little bit cooler.
Q - We’ve done our research, so we know all about you now, and let’s just say it. You’re a badass. You own a successful creative agency, you’ve helped raise money for impactful local causes, and you’re now a Co-Founder of Ciel, this beautiful new creative space in Berkeley, CA. We can’t wait to discuss Ciel, but first, let’s rewind a bit. How did you get started with Indigo Sky Creative, your creative agency?
A - I’d been working in and out of corporate and agency worlds my entire career. I’ve teetered between fashion, music and tech, project management to graphic design, creative direction to production, as well as advertising to strategic marketing. It wasn’t until I dove deeply into Brand Management that I felt I had found my perfect balance of creative passions. After working on some very big re-brands, I kept seeing the need for companies to relate to their consumers on a human level and keep visuals authentic to their core values. I believe this is what people connect with the most. This became my mission within all the teams I was a part of. It wasn’t until my latest role in corporate that I decided to take the leap and make this happen on my own. Hence, the start of Indigo Sky Creative. Indigo Sky’s mission is to base all projects in love and truth. After all, it is named after my two daughters, Ava Indigo and Mila Sky. They are my reason for everything and they are constant reminders to keep it real for any project I take on.
Q - Women face so many challenges in the workplace as it is, and even more so when we are women of color. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced (and probably still face) being a business owner and a woman of color?
A - Oh hell ya, I can. I have been in many diverse environments throughout my career, but it wasn’t until I became an agency owner that I realized how racism, sexism and ageism were still very much alive in one of the biggest progressive states, California. I’ve had to overcome judgements that I am too young, too inexperienced, not capable or not in my element to take on major projects, but thankfully I have an amazing support system to pull me through these misconceptions and ultimately just make shit happen. There have been many times that I have been overlooked as the agency owner and clients would rather talk to my male producer or my female counterpart because of my looks, whether it be my race, sex or age. I definitely felt the need to “win people over” through simply showing them the quality of my work. I found that ultimately connecting with clients on a human level, by being direct and honest with the thought process behind the creative, has always helped the collaboration process go well.
Q - Conversely, can you tell us about some of the advantages of being a female business owner?
A - I don’t really look at being female and a business owner as an “advantage”, but rather more about being part of a movement for women in business. I do think it is a really important time for women around the world to make our presence more known and to share these accomplishments with our next generation. We are at a transitional point in breaking the mold in all aspects of life and it’s amazing to see our community grow from these shared experiences and become stronger together.
For me, sharing what I love to do with my two daughters is the biggest advantage of being a business owner. They get to see their mama work hard and make things happen on her own. It’s something my grandmother taught me as well. She pretty much raised her 8 children by herself while working as an English teacher in the Philippines, as my grandfather served in the military and was away most of the time. I was inspired by her perseverance and her never-ending love and patience towards her family and her community. I’ve brought a lot of what she taught me into my life. And I hope to do the same with my daughters.
Q - We know Ciel is run by a fully female squad. Can you tell us about the inception of Ciel, a bit about the space and your intentions with it, and how you recruited your team of fellow badass ladies?
A - I have always loved bringing people together to do good things. My biggest motto in life is to have fun and do what you love! For almost a decade, I have been wanting a space to house a community of creatives in the Bay Area, as I’ve often seen companies recruit creatives from outside of the Bay. I know we have amazing talent here and I want to support our locals! People may just not know where to look. So I figured, “if we build it, they will come”. Being someone who has worked out of studios in other cities like NYC and LA, I felt a strong need to make a creative space closer to home. A lot of creatives have been moving out of San Francisco and into the East Bay as the tech industry takes over. It was such an apparent need in my mind to focus on a space across the bridge.
It wasn’t until my friend, Ericka McConnell, connected me to my brilliant business partner, Alexis Laurent, that I felt so much closer to making this vision happen. We instantly aligned on this vision of building a home for the creative community in the East Bay, and embarked on a mad search to find the perfect space. After months of searching in Oakland, it wasn’t until I visited him at his Berkeley art studio that we found the perfect place just a few blocks away. We walked into our current space and there was this gorgeous glowing golden light pouring in from the windows. So much light that it gave us goosebumps. It was right then in that moment that no words were spoken and we just looked and each other and nodded “yes”! Within a week, we signed the papers and started creating Ciel. If it wasn’t for Alexis, Ciel would not exist. He is the genius behind Ciel’s design and my angel investor. He has an amazing way of magically envisioning a space at its highest potential and executing it.
My intention for this space is for people to create art from their truest form. Whether they are a photographer or an artist or a chef, I think people are drawn to creation when it comes from a pure, loving place. I often say that we should ground everything from “love and light”. Each element of the design had to resonate from this. I’m also hoping to create an awesome community of collaborators. I want people to be able to form strong bonds and work with each other on projects or bounce ideas off one another. I’d also love for people to get inspired by all the art, food and music we highlight in the space. There should be a constant flow of creative inspiration in every corner.
Having my vision and intention set early on, I felt the need to find the perfect team to help me execute this. They say you should surround yourself with people whom you admire. Jim Rohn said it best: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” It’s with this in mind that I felt a need to find some badass individuals who shared my vision and were experts in what they do. After meeting with potential candidates for each position, it turned out that the best fit for the team were all women.
Meet the rest of the squad.
Photos by Luke Atwood Abiol
Q - What have you learned from having a team of all women supporting you?
A - It isn’t easy having strong energies all in one team, but what I’ve learned the most is that we all care about each other deeply and want what’s best for Ciel. We are able to come from a place of truth and love with each other. Each person is so unique and brings a different knowledge and expertise to the table. It’s a true collaboration and we are all growing from it!
Q - We had so much fun at the Grand Opening last Saturday, thanks for having us! We couldn’t help but notice how diverse the crowd was, it was amazing! Is this the type of crowd you’re hoping Ciel will draw going forward? Did you pick the East Bay to build Ciel because of its inherent diversity?
A - I’m so glad you all came! It was definitely a fun time. The crowd was a culmination of my team’s networks all coming together. It was important for me to ensure that my team is a diverse group of souls. And it definitely came through in all the folks that attended the event. We had artists to executives, kids to kids-at-heart, all ages, professions, genders and races. It was beautiful! This is absolutely the type of crowd I want Ciel to draw. Good attracts good!
There are lots of reasons I chose the East Bay for Ciel. I grew up in the East Bay (Union City represent!) and still live in the East Bay, so it was important for me to find a place here. I also felt the need to build a space in the East Bay because a lot of creatives were getting pushed out of San Francisco due to the encroaching tech scene. I knew so many stylists, photographers, and artists moving to Oakland, Emeryville, Alameda, so it was an obvious choice for me to make a space for creatives here, so that our commutes would be so much shorter and quality of life would be better. Plus, I just can’t travel as much as I used to because I want to be here for my kids. They are getting sassier and sassier every day and I don’t want to miss out. It’s such a fun age and I want to treasure every moment.
Q - What type of individual did you have in mind when dreaming up what Ciel would become? Creative, big dreamer, etc.?
A - I didn’t have an individual in mind, but more so a creative, collaborative community. I feel that we as the Bay Area are just as talented as other metro cities like LA and NYC. We just need a space to help cultivate this local talent under one roof.
Q - Do you have any advice for other women looking to build a business of their own?
A - Know what you want, be extremely clear on your vision, and be truthful to who you are as a soul.
Q - Who are the 5 people (dead or alive) that you would invite to your dinner party?
A - They have to be able to drink, let loose, and totally be able to just be themselves in any environment. So I would pick...
Ellen DeGeneres for some laughs and shots of tequila
Oprah for some soulful conversations
Jonathan from Queer Eye so he can keep the vibe 100
Amy Winehouse so I can convince her to do a spontaneous jam sesh for the crowd
Alexander Wang so he can invite me to the next Fashion Week
Photos by Nino Panes