Photography You Can Wear: A Q&A with Jesse Genet of Lumi
When you think of a photographer at work, you probably imagine the dull red glow of a cramped, smelly darkroom. Don’t. Instead, move your imagination to sunny LA—where 24-year-old Jesse Genet is shedding new light on the photographic process.
Her company, Lumi, has come out with a series of fabric dyes that develop into to rich and permanent color in the sun, called Inkodye. The dyes allow people (yes, people like you) to expose pictures onto fabrics and other natural materials, creating gorgeous photo-imprinted clothing, home décor, and more. Because, as Lumi’s mission states, “photos shouldn’t be limited to a page or frame.”
Read on for our chat with Jesse—who is about as colorful as the product she created—and learn more about how Lumi came to be, how long the idea has been in the works, and her take on creativity in the business world.
How did you get the idea for Lumi?
In high school, I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and decided that I wanted to start a business of some kind. I was a normal high-school student without many resources, so I decided to do the only thing that seemed feasible—screen-print t-shirts in my basement. However, as a teenager I really liked to take things to the extreme, and so I decided that I needed to go to California for the summer to sell my t-shirts.
Somehow, I convinced my parents that this was a good idea, and the summer after my sophomore year I went store-to-store in California selling my shirts. While no one was really mean to me—it’s pretty hard to be mean to a cute 16-year-old trying to sell you her creations—they gave me really good critical feedback.
The feedback that stuck out the most, and that has informed my business since, was when someone told me my shirts looked the same as everyone else’s because I was using the same process. She told me that if I really wanted to do something different I should examine the tools I’m using rather than just the design.
That set me on track for the creation of Inkodye. Obviously, people can create widely different work with the same tools, but I was really excited by the idea that I could help make new tools, and I spent the rest of high school experimenting with just that.
Despite your entrepreneurial spirit, you went to design school rather than business school. What was behind that decision?
While I never took the importance of business skills for granted, I felt that I could teach myself those things more easily than how to think like a designer. I recognized that the study of design would inform my product more than studying business.
I have generally found this philosophy to work for me. While I don’t innately know how to handle business problems when they arise, I pick up new skills and figure things out. And having a mentor who has been through the things you’re dealing with is so valuable. For me, it’s been my stepdad, who works for himself in the field of research and development.
You were playing with the idea for Lumi long before you actually created the product and launched the company. What was your motivation through all that time?
I had the initial idea for Lumi about eight years before we actually launched. And there were certainly many times that my parents would suggest that it was a cute idea I’d had in high school but that I should move on. But I’ve found that to do something really interesting, you have to not give up on it during all those inconvenient times when other people would give up on it. You have to just stick with it. I would always keep in the back of my mind that I felt it was an interesting idea.
You obviously hold creativity very highly in your life and in your business. How do you think creativity can be incorporated into the non-creative industries?
We’ve been hiring a lot of new people lately—including people from non-creative backgrounds—and I’ve been noticing the fundamental differences between the two types. People who aren’t used to using creativity are sort of shy and uncertain about it. They expect they will be a cog that fits into a business and make it run like a machine. But, especially in small businesses, there’s no room for that.
But, even though we work in the arts, at the core we are a manufacturer and distributor. A lot of our day-to-day work is customer service and logistics—where there’s not much room for creativity. So, once a month we have a meeting where we give each employee a simple prompt that relates to the business and have them create a presentation responding to that prompt. It gives people a chance to throw out big ideas or share things they think the company should be doing. It’s a really relaxed environment with no judgment and where no idea is too big. It’s really a way to promote creativity for all.
You’ve also done a lot of partnerships with other small businesses—like Invisible Children and Cisco Home furniture. What has that been like?
Fundamentally we made this product—a piece of technology so to speak—that everyone can use and that we’re selling and developing. But we love showing people what can be done with it. Collaborations are one way for us to do that.
But collaborations are also kind of like our playground. They give us a place to try things and a creative outlet so that we aren’t just answering emails all day.
What advice would you offer fellow artistic entrepreneurs?
The first thing is that, as uncomfortable as it may be, you have to just get out there and start trying things. Don’t expect to start with a final polished pearl of a product. Once you start your business, the process of refinement will really start.
Second, and this might just be a personal philosophy, you should know what else is going on around you in the world and strive to do something different. Don’t just join in. If there is someone out there doing what you want to do, you need to find a new way of doing it.
Want to try Inkodye for yourself? We’re giving away one tri-color kit (value $35), along with a special negative and instructions on how to use the dye.
To enter, pin this article on Pinterest and tell us in the description what you would want to do with Inkodye if you won. Use hashtag #dailymuselumi to make sure your entry is counted.
We’ll pick the winner on Friday, May 18!
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