“We’ve chosen a different path.” Orchidea Agency on their dedication to making a positive impact
At Orchidea Agency, new ideas are always brewing. With a reputation for crafting thoughtful brands in the beauty, fashion and wellness sectors, the Europe-based team have made the decision to hone in on what they do best – repositioning to exclusively focus on clients in these industries. Founder Valeria Shaposhnikova chats with us to share the motivations, challenges, and aspirations behind this move, and what this act of sharpening their direction means for the Ukrainian studio as it hits its fourth-year milestone. We delve into their approach to client work, their unwavering commitment to sustainability, and how they consistently stay ahead of market and consumer trends. Shaposhnikova also highlights some impactful, self-initiated projects they have undertaken, notably their non-commercial initiative to support their country's plight.
PT Hi Valeria, what an exciting time for the studio! We’re approaching your fourth anniversary and you’re relaunching under a new direction. How is everyone feeling?
VS Hi Poppy! I feel that our entire team is experiencing a new found excitement. We have so many in-house ideas and initiatives that we want to launch next year. Can’t wait :)
PT Sounds great! What motivated your decision to reposition and relaunch your website in order to focus solely on clients within the beauty, fashion, and wellness industries?
VS Even in our early years, we already knew that our clients were people who demanded high aesthetics. Our very first website focused on our work for a range of businesses, and this was a good start, as it helped us gain an understanding of the kind of people and teams we truly wanted to work with. And then we thought – as a branding agency, we work at a strategic level with our clients, so why not write a strategy for ourselves?
First of all, we defined what we want to do in the future. Secondly, we analysed what experiences we could offer. The intersection of these two things led us to a direction that is equally interesting for our clients and our team. If you work with a community with the same passions as you, it’s much easier to do the job that you love.
If you work with a community with the same passions as you, it’s much easier to do the job that you love.
PT What’s the most interesting aspect about working within these industries?
VS Being an all-women team, we find ourselves deeply invested in all of these industries. We are into testing new makeup products, doing yoga with wellness apps, and styling clothes in everyday life. It’s all already inside of us.
We believe in the brands we’re working with, and the products they’re making. For example, we use briefs and bras from one of our lingerie clients U-R-SO, the clean skincare brand Moral has found a place on our shelves, and the Etalon health fit bra improves our posture. These are all products we have personally dreamt of having, and they are all our clients.
PT What’s the most crucial challenge about working within these fields?
VS You see, especially in the fashion world, there’s a significant environmental concern about the amount of waste generated by the industry. It’s connected to mass-market companies promoting the idea of buying cheap clothes every season. Consumers’ shared desire for something new is causing serious environmental problems.
Through our work, we've chosen a different path. We team up with smaller brands that are all about creating long-lasting, top-quality, and thoughtful products. It's not just about looking good; it's about being mindful and practical.
In the beauty sector, we work with clients committed to being less harmful by using ingredients without aggressive elements, and choosing packaging that's entirely recyclable. We’re on a mission to find even better packaging solutions and help brands in reducing their waste.
We believe in the brands we’re working with, and the products they’re making.
PT How do you tailor your own design strategies and processes to meet the unique needs of either young or established beauty, fashion and lifestyle brands?
VS Young brands typically come with ideas and a clear vision that can be swiftly implemented, tested, and refined in the unpredictable market. At the same time, young labels sometimes lack some of the tools and experience needed to launch a brand, and our task is to guide them into the new world.
On the contrary, grown-up brands require deep research, interviews, and multiple hypotheses to validate an idea before introducing something new. With a big brand – especially when we are helping transform their image and messaging – we are creating multi-layer design guides, how-to-do kits and templates for social media, e-commerce websites, email marketing, and advertisement; everything for an omnichannel strategy.
This process of making the shift from the vibrant, startup buzz of smaller brands to the wide world of possibilities that can be tested for established brands inspires us a lot. It’s like we are continuously swinging between ideas and different approaches, it is energising.
Good design must be attractive, there are no two ways about it.
PT Likewise, can you tell us more about your ‘aesthetic approach’ to client work?
VS I'm not a huge fan of the word ‘aesthetic’ because it doesn't quite reflect how we approach projects. However, to us it is a word that encompasses the beauty of form and functionality.
We play around with the term ‘sexy’ internally. If a design doesn't catch your eye or fails to fire that spark of visual excitement, why would one pick it up? Good design must be attractive, there are no two ways about it.
If the feeling of ‘sexiness’ is not enough to understand if we’re heading in the right direction, we ask ourselves five questions –
Does this design convey the main idea of the company?
Does it create something new in the industry?
Does it stand apart from its competitors?
Is it scalable and flexible?
Will it still seem relevant in five years time?
PT When it comes to market and consumer trends, how do you stay up-to-date?
VS For creatives, it is not enough to stay up-to-date, you should know what will happen next and what will be the new turn in the global economy.
First of all, we follow big strategic companies that create trend reports. We need to understand not just what colour will be trendy next year (for branding, it harms more than helps) but also need to be aware of macro social trends.
Secondly, you should engage with things outside of the industry too. Don’t just absorb art-house movies, artsy exhibitions, or speculative design books. It is important for designers to ‘zoom out,’ so to speak and engage in things beyond your immediate world. We live in such a vulnerable world; we should better understand how global economic crises influence our client’s businesses and design as an industry.
Thirdly, be aware of big tech changes. You need to be the first to understand and implement it into your everyday tools. For example, we started working with Midjourney and thinking about how to reshape beauty packaging. We created a set of visuals with brushes, lipsticks, and nail polishes, testing out the tool, to create imagery which we perhaps wouldn’t use in a commercial project, but the trick is to keep learning new things and adapting to new tools quickly.
We hold these in-house sessions – which we’ve named /imagine(if) – on Fridays, and everyone is so inspired and motivated as we generate pictures so quickly. It is always fascinating to see something that you have just imagined pop up on your screen in such a polished form.
We love the way we grow together with our clients.
PT Which of your projects would you say have had a significant impact for your clients?
VS I would say that our work for Perla Helsa, after we rebranded it, had a great boost in sales and became a leader in the market of dietary supplements.
The client came to us with concerns about inconsistent brand packaging and a lack of clarity in the brand's messaging. We dedicated a lot of time to in-depth research and interviews where we spoke to the client’s customers and sales team. The greatest thing that we determined was that the client wanted to target both men and women; however, our research revealed that 90% of Perla Helsa's customers are women, and this was a tipping point. We then changed the look from ‘bodybuilder packaging’ with bold typography to an elegant, feminine and gradient-forward design system.
The rebranding of Perla Helsa changed the brand both from the inside and the outside. They started to spend their marketing budgets with a strong understanding of whom they targeted and that helped in minimising spendings, as the branding resonated with the audience in seconds.
We continue to work with Perla Helsa on a monthly basis, bringing their global ideas to life. We love the way we grow together with our clients.
PT Which projects are you most proud of, and why?
VS You know, for creatives, it’s hard to be absolutely proud of something you’ve made. Your inner strict art-director, who is never satisfied, doesn't ever write off a project as ‘perfect’. This is our hot take – to move ever forward, you should be a bit unsatisfied with your work.
However, I could tell you about our non-commercial initiative which we launched right after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. We realised that the most impactful way to contribute to our country's fight was to use our expertise in design. We developed prints and made 250 T-shirts, and people love them! We collected nearly $4,000 from the sale. All the revenue (minus material costs) went to big and small funds to support our people – soldiers, volunteers and rescuers – who are working on ground.
Still, we feel that this is not enough, and are thinking about other creative initiatives that could contribute to help end this war.
One of our perpetual dreams is to turn packaging into a piece of art.
PT How do you envision your agency’s role evolving within the beauty industry in the coming years?
VS We're set to shake things up in the beauty industry by giving custom packaging a fresh and innovative twist. We're all about making packaging not just visually striking, but also delightfully unique in shape, thoughtful in construction, and recyclable in materials. One of our perpetual dreams is to turn packaging into a piece of art. To make this happen, we've been diving deep into the world of industrial design, to bring fresh design ideas into our custom packaging solutions.
One project that really reflects our creative edge is SuperFungi – our fictitious line of mushroom supplements, imagined in-house. We came up with everything for the project, from the name, the concept, to the design and how it looks. Initially, it was a project we took on to test and refine our skills, kind of an experiment. Surprisingly, this concept has caught the eye of some new clients, proving its potential. We've made it a regular practice to have creative brainstorming sessions within our team to keep the inspiration flowing, and we're already prepping for our next exciting project.
PT And to wrap things up, how are you planning on celebrating?
VS Our entire team is scattered around Europe and this time, everyone will gather together to celebrate in Kyiv, in our lovely office. Some of the team will meet for the very first time, and I’m sure there will be long conversations about our collective problems, and ideas that excite us.
We always buy our favourite Kyiv cake, crunchy inside and colourful outside, with a symbol on top – a blossoming chestnut tree. It’s yummy, and a beauty at the same time; waiting for that part the most.