The Story before Papel & co.

Hiii! So, it’s been for ever since I wanted to write this- The story before Papel & co.

It is necessary to give you a very brief summary of where I have been in the years before Papel & co. to understand the journey and show you how tons of work and resilience will get you somewhere even if you don’t know where you are going yet. Because to be honest I still don’t know what the hell Im doing and where I’m going, but Im having a good time while Im in the process.

In 2014 I was working as a Creative Director of a small Toy Company. This was my first job after I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Product Design. In 2007, I was 16 years old and came to the US with a student visa - having a student visa meant that I couldn’t work legally while I was going to school unless I worked on campus. I went to the Art Institute, the campus was a 3 story small building ; my chances of finding a job were very limited. As usual I went around, asked people questions, asked about opportunities, showed interest and finally a friend on mine (Hey Deb) told me about an opening job as a waiter in the student’s restaurant (culinary school had their own restaurant that opened to the public for lunch and dinner. Culinary students were required to work at the restaurant, this was not supposed to be for people in other fields).

Before I continue with the story, you must know that I was incredibly lucky that my family supported me financially and paid for school and living situation. I had a one of a kind opportunity and I knew this was by no means financially smooth for my parents.

So, I got the job as a waitress, hardest job ever. I graduated as a Product Designer in 2011, I was ready to continue my life here although my visa situation was not easy. When you get a Bachelors Degree with a student visa (and this may have change by now) you are given the opportunity to work legally for one year in the US. However, you have 90 days to find a job in YOUR field otherwise you miss this opportunity. At the time I was interested in Toy Design and Furniture but Furniture opportunities didn’t seem to be available anywhere around my area (south florida). I was about 20 days away from that 90 day cap we had to find a job. I flew to New York and went around design studios leaving my resume and showing my portfolio that mainly focused on packaging and furniture. I didn’t hear back from any of those studios. Finally, one day my career advisor called me and said there was an opportunity available for a Jr Toy Designer.

I was afraid of the fact that I was limited to work for only one year. I didn’t know it this was a deal breaker for the employer. Turns out the president of the company was married to a Colombian and he knew exactly what this process looked like. He was willing to give me a Sponsorship -which meant that the employer would request a work visa that would last me 3 years. This was obviously amazing news except I would have to cover all the fees of this process (thousands of dollars). Fast forward 3 years later and I was tired of making very little money, not learning anything new and in a very unhappy relationship. I needed to find something new or my only other chance was going back to Colombia. Don’t get me wrong-I don’t have anything against my country, but I loved living here, I wanted to stay here.

I learned that one of my friends from school was living really close to my house so I got in contact with her. After catching up with her she told me she was working as a freelancer and needed help with one of her clients which was a very well known and stablished Hamburger chain in Colombia. They were opening a franchise in Miami and were in need of social media managers and graphic designers. She thought since I was Colombian I was probably familiar with their brand and we started working together with this brand. We quickly realized we needed more help and along came 2 more friends that helped with web development, client communication etc. We rented a 500sqft place and we all met there after our full time jobs every day. It was fun, it was challenging and it was exhausting- ha! During this time I also ended the relationship with my boyfriend back then. Everything seemed to be falling into place, I was happier than ever.. except I was not able to quit my full time job because they were sponsoring my visa.

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Our First Meeting in the Studio - From left to right: Tomas (Product Designer), Kim (client), Euge (friend that brought me along in her journey, also a product designer)

Our First Meeting in the Studio - From left to right: Tomas (Product Designer), Kim (client), Euge (friend that brought me along in her journey, also a product designer)

A hammock was a most in the studio with those long hours

A hammock was a most in the studio with those long hours

Having fun with typography

Having fun with typography

Towards the end of that year in business I started dating my now husband (my best friend and love of my life) We didn’t have much time to see each other except when we ran into each other at Crossfit and when he stopped by the studio to bring coffee for me since we had long work nights. We had also increased the number of clients and that’s when I decided to take a lettering class online. I took on almost all our branding projects and typography was definitely my favorite. A full year went by and it was time to renew our lease. Even though we had good clients and we were making decent money to compensate for the shitty pay most employed designers have to live with (we need to do something about this! designers are sooo undervalued in this world) we decided to end our lease. We were exhausted, we were craving some personal life.

In August 2014 I moved in with my now husband and he noticed how unhappy I was with my job. It was the end of those 3 years of a sponsored visa and it was time to decide wether I wanted to renew the sponsorship - which meant I had to work for that company for 3 more years and pay for all the documents again (meaning, I had to spend all the money I had been able to save during that year working what was pretty much 2 full time jobs).

I had been dating my now husband for about 5 months and had been living together for about 1 month. It was the first time I lived with a boyfriend. It was my first boyfriend that didn’t speak Spanish. It was the first time I was challenged with a language barrier and I actually loved it. I was always known to be very impulsive and say what crossed my mind. The language barrier taught me so much patience, tolerance and to be honest it just taught me emotional intelligence. I no longer blurbed what I thought, wether it was good or bad. I was forced to think about my emotions and choose the right words. I have to give it to him too! He is the most patient and loving person. It always seemed like we had known each other for years.

One day after work he asked if I wanted to go get a beer with him. A beer after a crappy day at work? um yes. So he started asking about my job and how the whole sponsorship thing worked. I explained the whole process and also made him aware of the amount of money I would have to spend to renew the work visa. Then, I remember him saying something like.. “and what if we get married? would you still need the sponsorship” (he was born in Texas, raised in New York, he had no idea what a sponsorship for a visa meant) My heart dropped to my stomach, I loved him but I didn’t want to marry him because he thought that was the only way out. But then he said, “ I know I want to marry you, I know I wan to live with you for the rest of my life. do you want that?” We consider this our engagement even though there was no ring that day. We were 2 adults that loved each other and knew our love was the solution to this situation. (He proposed with a ring a few months later.)

Having fun after the calligraphy class

Having fun after the calligraphy class

My favorite picture

My favorite picture

Love him so much!

Love him so much!

We got married on February 14th, 2015. I can’t remember if it was before or after we got married when we sat down and talked about me actually quitting my job. I remember he asked, “do you have a plan?” and I said “no. Im going to do freelance and if I need to, I’ll work at McDonals. I’ll do anything but I don’t want to work there anymore.” He said he could support us for a few months if needed but he knew he wouldn’t need to. He supported me from the very beginning and he allowed me to be where I am today. I will for ever be grateful for all the opportunities and people that have helped me get to where I am today and I can’t wait to tell you the story of how Papel & co. started to take shape!

Natalia Otalora13 Comments