Sister-Owned Visual Studio Captures the Art of Authentic Storytelling
We here at GOBankingRates want to help get our nation’s small businesses back on their feet after the COVID-19 pandemic. To do that, we’re highlighting readers’ favorite small businesses around the country, and shining a spotlight on what makes them special to their customers and their towns.
We’re kicking off our Small Business Spotlight series with Grey & Elle, a Los Angeles-based visual studio founded by two sisters, photographer Grace Yoon and designer Alice Yoon. Working under one brand, the sisters use their visuals to tell real stories, helping clients breathe life and authenticity into theirs. The name Grey & Elle comes from their parents’ Korean accent when saying their names: “guh-rey” and “el-lee.” Here, we discuss how they got their start, what effect the pandemic has had on their business and what advice they would give aspiring entrepreneurs.
Was there a particular moment or experience that inspired you to start your business?
Grace: I always had an interest in photography, but I only started to pursue it seriously after I went through a long battle with Hodgkin Lymphoma. That was a difficult period in my life and photography became my outlet. After I interned for photographer Lauren Greenfield, I was working as a freelance photographer and thinking about an MFA in photography when Alice left her corporate job in design. As sisters and best friends, she and I always wanted to work together, and that’s how Grey & Elle started.
Alice: I went to school for interior architectural design and after working for Gensler, an architectural company and other corporate companies, I was eager to start my own business with my sister and have the ability to be selective with the type of work we want and develop more personal relationships with our clients. We want to create to tell stories and evoke emotions, and we always aspire for every project to have a meaning, and incorporate our own voices and visions.
What did you take from past experiences or jobs that you knew you wanted to be a part of your new business?
Alice: Being part of a big organization comes with a lot of pride — the pride of being part of something that existed before you and helping with the legacy they are trying to leave behind. I want Grey & Elle to also have a lot of pride in the work we produce and what we offer to our clients. We want to build a legacy of our own by not just producing beautiful work, but the genuine experiences people have with us.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?
Grace: The most rewarding aspect of being an entrepreneur is definitely the freedom we have with our time. Of course, this gets a bit tricky when we have a lot of projects, but for the most part, it’s truly a blessing to have the freedom to manage our own schedule. We really enjoy working on projects with our clients, but we also value using our time to work on our personal projects and volunteer our skills to help other small businesses and friends.
Alice: The most rewarding aspect of owning a business is having the opportunity to hire other small businesses, whether it’s for a photoshoot or set design. Having the freedom to volunteer our skills to support other small business achieve their goals and dreams also feels pretty fantastic.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
G&A : Grey & Elle is a visual studio that takes on a wide variety of work from fashion, product, portrait and documentary. When the pandemic hit, many people were faced with the uncertainty of not knowing the future of their company and the economy, which in result brought a full stop to our work. It was a very daunting time for us, but remaining patient and having faith things will turn around got us through it. Eventually, we started to get inquires for product shoots since they don’t require in-person contact, and we’re very grateful for them. We had the ability to quarantine and work together in our small studio and continue to create work that helped our clients with their businesses.
How can people continue to support your business during this time?
G&A: We would truly appreciate it if people took the time to get to know our work and refer us to people they know. As a small business, we exist because of the people who support us and believe in our work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Grace: I think it’s very important to always strive to grow in your craft. You can never remain stagnant and get too comfortable with your skills or talent, but have to actively find ways to grow as an artist. This can help with your confidence as an artist and business owner. Patience is also very important. There will be trying moments when you don’t see any changes or growth in your company, but we firmly believe if you keep doing good and honest work, success will soon follow.
Alice: Besides getting all of your legal work done properly, I would say make a lot of friends with other small businesses or join an entrepreneur group. Owning your own business in the first years can be very lonely, and having others who are going through the same endeavor can be very supportive.
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This interview has been edited and condensed.
Last updated: April 2, 2021