Name: Heather Strycharz
Title: Independent designer
Organization: Love Local Designs, New Haven
Born: 1984, Springfield, Mass.
Education: MA media studies, New School for General Studies (anticipated 2013); BFA Media Arts/Art History, Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford (2006)
Accomplishments: When Heather Strycharz isn’t teaching, she’s learning — and vice-versa. One year ago, feeling like she had more to offer small businesses in New Haven than she was able to provide from her job as a web designer, she launched a new design company that would target a small niche. While many have dreams of corporate clients with a global presence, Strycharz’s love for local got the best of her.
The idea for Love Local Designs came about last summer when Strycharz was considering leaving her job as an e-commerce web designer and striking out on her own. She knew she wanted to work with local small companies, but also knew she had to pay the bills.
She named her company Love Local Designs after realizing how strongly she feels about supporting local businesses.
“I think about what local means to me,” she says. “As a business, I don’t want to cut myself off completely from opportunities outside of the New England area, but my focus is on the area I live in. At the end of the day, focus is on small business and ‘local’ was a nice way to phrase it.”
“Buying local is really starting to catch as a movement, especially with big box stores taking over,” she says. “I wanted to make buying local palatable. You catch more bees with agave nectar.” She does have a sweet yet capable manner about her.
Once her web design and video editing business was up and running, she introduced a line of printed T-shirts that are intended to bring attention to local farmers. A portion of the profit from Love Local Farmers shirts goes to City Seed, an organization that brings fresh produce to urban communities.
“Instead of taking 100-percent profit from the design, I’ll give back to the organizations that I think are doing the most good in our local area,” she says. City Seed is one of her favorite organizations.
Strycharz seldom takes without giving. She teaches web design at Northwestern Connecticut Community College in Winsted and she does contract work part-time in addition to running her web design company. She’s working on her last semester in graduate school at the New School for General Studies in New York City. Her career focus is to teach media studies, video and web design.
“People are struggling everywhere and it’s hard when you’re one of a million [web designers],” she says. That said, she knows she has to appeal to the local firms with good old-fashioned service, keeping her clients involved with the design process.
“Since many don’t know what is involved with web design, it can be very overwhelming,” Strycharz notes. “I’m into helping people learn a little more and empower them to not be so afraid or overwhelmed by the process.”
When asked what she was most proud, the modest young lady said it is her master’s degree in media studies, which she anticipates completing this winter.
Most significant obstacle encountered and how surmounted: Strycharz believes that there will be obstacles on the way to every accomplishment and her greatest obstacle has physically slowed her down, while at the same time strengthening her spirit. Two years ago, after suffering an injury in a sprint triathlon, she underwent hip surgery.
“It was a long recovery and it impaired my ability to sit for long hours and do my work,” she recalls. “Healing, working and going to school has been a challenge.”
The race was both one of her biggest accomplishments and biggest obstacles. “I placed second in my age group, but I tore the cartilage around my femur.”
Advice for other professional people: “Never stop learning. Always keep yourself open and keep your ego down. There’s always going to be someone who’s better than you and there’s always going to be someone who knows more than you, but the best thing you can do is learn from it.”
Person who most influenced her life: “I don’t really have one person who’s been the biggest influence; I have a lot of people. The biggest influences on me have been my teachers and professors,” she says. “I don’t like to elevate one person to that degree of influence. The fact that I have had so many amazing teachers and professors has led me down the path I’m on.”
Guiding philosophy: “Local is the guiding philosophy of my business, but as a person and artist, it’s really cheesy and general, but my guiding philosophy is making a difference. I’ve lost many family members and friends through my life and that has influenced my philosophy in that you only get a short amount of time and I don’t want to look back and see that I didn’t make some sort of difference. I have a lot of gifts and skills and I want to do the most good with those skills as I can. There are enough people in this world who are doing good for themselves, that might be great for them, but I can’t live my life that way.”
— Melissa Nicefaro
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