Q+A: Tinsel & Twine
Liz Castelli, Adette Contreras, and Erica Taylor comprise the powerhouse trio behind DUMBO-based event planning and design firm Tinsel & Twine. Close friends since meeting in a capella choir at George Washington University, they all moved to New York City individually to pursue separate careers. One wedding and several happy hours later, an idea was born to bring their talents back together. Here, DUMBO BID intern Caroline Reichert chats with these incredible ladies one morning to discuss everything that is Tinsel & Twine.
Tell me the story behind Tinsel & Twine.
Adette: Tinsel started three and a half years ago. It was Liz’s idea; she loved planning her wedding. We all had previous careers but we wanted a much more creative outlet. So with our powers combined, we started Tinsel! Erica’s background is in advertising, my background is also in advertising but on the arts’ side, and Liz is a former teacher and florist. With the three of us, it seemed like the perfect storm for event planning.
Liz: We all moved to New York City at different points. I came up for grad school while they were in D.C. for a little bit longer but careers brought everybody up. Then, during Taco Tuesday one night in the East Village, we said, “Let’s do this!”
What sets you apart from other event design firms?
Liz: Stylistically, we like to think that our style is edgier and bolder than a lot of other event designers. Because we are not florists or planners by trade, we make up our own rules and do things that we know look good. We infuse a lot of our personal style, influences, and sensibilities into our events. In terms of running the business, we really like to reach out to other types of clients and audiences and work outside the box. I think that’s a big part of our growth and why we’ve expanded so rapidly and collected really cool people along the way to be a part of our crew. In that vein, we feel very strongly about being really great business people. A lot of what we talk about isn’t how to run a good event or a good wedding but how to run a good business, how to be a strong business person, how to grow, scale and-ultimately-have an empire.
Adette: We were out one night for a networking event for folks in event planning. The three of us were having a blast but no one has having as much fun as we were. So Erica goes, “We just love life.” We have fun with life and that’s what we’re doing with Tinsel. We’re putting together all of these events that are celebrating life, whether it be a business launch, a book signing or a wedding. It’s all these milestones that people celebrate in New York City and we have fun with it. A lot of people lose sight of that because in the end, it’s a business and it is work, but it doesn’t feel like it. The friendship base that we have, by being friends first then business partners, is really unique because a lot of folks don’t have that luxury.
You all mentioned that this has been a second career for you. What major challenges have you dealt with by starting a business in a new industry?
Liz: My husband and I just went on a roadtrip to the Outer Banks and he said, “It’s one thing to climb the corporate ladder. It’s another one to build your own.” I knew how to run a really tight classroom but not this. I bought a bunch of books because you have to be willing to learn and teach yourself. You have to be willing to learn from the school of hard-knocks and be able to get back up. There’s a lot of exciting moments but the day-to-day is what makes or breaks the success a business has. You have to have the fortitude to do it and believe in it.
Erica: When we started, we were all doing our full-time jobs, in addition to working on Tinsel when we could during the day. There were a lot of evenings and a lot of weekends. We were working twenty-five hours a day and not sleeping. But now that we’re at this point when we’ve transitioned, we’re working on the business full-time and focusing all of our energy. Tinsel is ramping up and growing exponentially and we’re very proud of all that we have accomplished but it’s knowing that we have to accept that this will take a lot of time and effort.
What brought you to DUMBO?
Adette: When we first started, we thought we should stay in Manhattan; our first studio was in Tribeca. After a year there, it became clear that we needed a larger space. DUMBO was really interesting because of its growth, and there’s a lot of really creative people. A creative startup that isn’t in tech is rare. A lot of entrepreneurs are in tech, which is quicker to scale. At Tinsel, what we are doing is more on the artistic side, and our work lives beyond computers. DUMBO allows us to have all of it: an office to work and design digitally as well as a studio space to build with our hands. It’s a really interesting space and community of creative people.
Erica: It’s funny because you’ll be out in the neighborhood getting drinks or getting coffee and talking to people and you’ll meet people who work at Etsy or work at Tattly. We’ve really loved going to the Creative Mornings sessions that happen at Galapagos and meeting people there. It’s like finding your tribe and people who do cool stuff and make things. We love that environment. Because of our culture and the types of people we work with, we’re pretty casual, we’re laid back, and we like to have fun. It didn’t feel right to be in Midtown or in the Financial District where people would say, “Who are those girls with tattoos?”
Adette: We feel like this is where people go to start things. This tiny little neighborhood has such a pull.
What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Adette: Buckle up!
Liz: My biggest advice is to truly understand who you’re going in with, if you’re going in with other people, to be able to hustle and have patience. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s more than a marathon. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a problem that doesn’t have a solution. Starting a business is like looking at a word problem that is constantly changing on you and there’s no final answer. So how do you solve that? You have to have the right problem solving skills. You have to be patient. You have to be constantly working through things and constantly evolving.
Adette: It’s a Rubik's cube that is constantly moving while you’re trying to solve it. You have to be okay with the fact that you’ll never resolve this cube. It’ll never be perfectly one color on one side, ever. My advice would be to get partners. I have seen a lot of people do this alone and it is lonely.
Erica: Without partners, you stay in the “doing” phase.
Adette: With the three of us, we never felt like someone wasn’t pulling their own weight. Part of our logo is a triangle and that was very purposeful. Partners are very important because we’re all human. We’re all in this boat together.
Erica: Something that we talk a lot about is asking for what you want and we’ve all taken that to heart. It’s something we instill in our staff and people that we work with. This is what I want and I’m not going to wait for things to happen to us.
Adette: We make our own waves.
We also love that they're a dog-friendly office. Meet Erica's adorable French Bulldog, May!