Hey Friends! I am so excited to share that I was recently featured in Voyage San Antonio's Rising Stars column. I am so honored to have been chosen. It was a pleasure working with them and if you have a minute please go check it out! I’m so thankful for this opportunity and to be involved in San Antonio’s design community.
I will also be reposting this article below!
Today we’d like to introduce you to Natalie Alves.
Hi Natalie, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Originally from Ohio, I grew up with a lot of creativity and what my dad coined as “big ideas.” As a kid, I was very observant of what was around me and loved to see clever, thoughtful ideas come to life in unique forms.
I went to college at the University of Cincinnati not really knowing what graphic design was but giving it a shot. I immediately fell in love. My program (DAAP) allowed me to take semesters off classes and work as a full-time intern, giving me a lot of real-world experience.
Upon graduation, I moved to San Antonio and worked for a small advertising agency. Although I am grateful for the learning experience, I realized how badly I wanted to break out of the typical design job and start my own business. I still work full time and am on a pursuit to 100% working for myself. My best work is the work I do for Nat Marie Design. I am so thankful for the friendships I have built both in person and on my social (@natmariedesign). I am able to experiment and push boundaries. There are so many avenues I want to explore. I would love to write a book someday and mentor college design students. I want to build something different with Nat Marie Design. Ultimately I want to help people and use my skills to create their vision.
I go into a lot more detail about my brand mission on my blog if you’re interested: https://www.natmariedesign.com/post/nat-marie-brand
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Nothing in life that is worth it comes easy. My largest obstacle is working full time and trying to grow my business. I have so many projects I want to pursue that it can be hard to pick and choose. I give my clients my best and feel my work for them deserves a lot of time and effort. I have learned not to rush and to keep organized. My wish is to give more time to my personal brand. I have such large dreams for Nat Marie Design. I really want to build a community around it. I want to see my social (@natmariedesign) turn into a place where we can all learn together. I would love to network more with other designers and even mentor younger designers by offering my time to local universities. I also want to create a market where I can share and sell some of my illustration and branding kits. I am a list person and I try my best to plan everything out. I always make sure to maintain my full-time job, and client work, and to always have a passion project. I think this is key for any creative. Instead of overwhelming ourselves with a million ideas, I like to take them one at a time. It can even be a simple passion project. For example, in college, I would get burnt out on some of my school work so in my spare time, I created a family cookbook for my grandma. It made me a better designer in school because it fueled my passion. Since then, I have always kept a passion project going.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
My true love is brand building. This can mean many things but overall I want to be a part of what gives a business a unique edge, its own voice. To me, that’s what it means to create a brand. I absolutely love designing brand kits, this is more than just a logo but any other visual that goes alongside the logo (although logos are my favorite). This can be patterns, icons, styles, typography, color palette, etc. Creating a brand where all of these elements work together with the logo is how you get to something magical. I think brand building can happen in more than just logo creation too. Creating a strong social presence, purposeful websites, and holiday/specialty campaigns, can all be part of building a brand.
I think what sets me apart is that I think very strategically. I am a bit of a dreamer and while working with clients, I strive to create something different. How can we collaborate together to do something eye-catching and thoughtful? I combine strategic marketing and graphic design skills to think outside the box. I want their work to stand out and to give them more than they asked for. I am also a people person. Building these relationships is so special to me. I am so thankful for all the people and businesses I have had the opportunity to work with.
Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
My pride and joy is a project called Uhambo 8286 (uhambo8286.com). It started as a college class. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to be a part of a study abroad program/mission trip. As a class, marketing and design students were paired up in small groups and assigned an entrepreneur in an impoverished (former apartheid) community in South Africa. Through phone calls, we were able to build them a marketing plan, logo and brand kit, signage, uniforms, business cards, menus, and anything they needed for their small business. At the end of the semester, we visited them and presented our work. It was the most touching experience of my life.
And then Covid-19 nearly destroyed this beautiful mission. The program was temporarily canceled. I reached out to my professor to see what I could do to help. We decided that we needed to make this its own independent nonprofit apart from the university to ensure it will always be able to continue. And thus Uhambo 8286 was born. Uhambo in Xhosa (SA language) means journey and 8286 represents the mileage between the community we work with, Khayelitsha, and the University of Cincinnati.
We still have the class and I am the mentor assigned to the design students. Now that Uhambo 8286 lives on its own, it has continued to grow. We have started a program where we raise money and donate it to fund education for those who want to start their own business in South Africa. It only takes $20 to sponsor an entrepreneur’s education. We have created a brand, website, and social media to spread the word and gather support. I personally take on branding projects for our entrepreneurs every quarter. I hope to return to South Africa soon and see my friend’s businesses in person again.
Learn more about Uhambo at uhambo8286.com.
Note from Nat: Thank you so much for reading my story. I strive to make community a core goal of Nat Marie Design. If you’d like to continue this conversation, don’t be a stranger. I would love to hear your thoughts through my social (@natmariedesign) or you can find my contact info on my website (natmariedesign.com).