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Inspiring Stories, Inspiring People

Janna Lufkin, stylist and entrepreneur

Janna Lufkin, stylist and entrepreneur

Meet Janna Lufkin, a photo stylist for national magazines and catalogues who built her company, Raw Materials Design, around the notion that simple design is timeless, and “Made in America” is more than a nice idea. Follow her on Pinterest or check out her blog.

PPF: When you were little, what did you tell people you wanted to be when you grew up?

JL: A nurse


PPF: How long did that dream last?

JL: Until I was in my first—and only—college chemistry class.


PPF: You grew up on a ranch in Idaho. How did that shape you as a person?

JL: I grew up between Boise and Bruneau. Boise was the big city where my parents worked, had a beautiful home, and where I went to school. But the family home in Bruneau, a farming and ranching community 60 miles out of Boise, was where my grandparents lived, where my mother grew up. Bruneau probably shaped me the most.


PPF: How so?

JL: If you know anything about farming and ranching, you know there is always so much to do,  and family is expected to do it. Seriously, sun up to sun down if you were caught not doing something, you were quickly labeled as lazy. And let me tell you, you did not want to be considered lazy! My work ethic comes from that, as well as from both of my parents, who worked all week in town and then all weekend, usually in Bruneau.

But it was my grandmother who I spent a lot of time with. She probably had the most influence on me, in terms of the career I love and found later in life. Not only did she live and work on the ranches, she was also the home economics teacher at the school in town. I often say I think I became a stylist because of her.  She, like me, loved all things to do with making a house a home. Whatever she touched—whether she was cooking, gardening, or cleaning, she just had this way about her of making things beautiful. Simple, but beautiful.

Also Bruneau: the place. Raw, windy and wide open. Beautiful to those who live and work the land. Desolate and deserted to those who pass through. I see beauty in things that are often overlooked. I have Bruneau to thank for that.


PPF: What was your first real job?

JL: Filing punch cards in the state treasurer’s office at the capitol building in Boise. My other grandmother, whom I also adored, worked there. Each day after school I would work a few hours filing and doing other various odd jobs.


PPF: You eventually became a graphic designer. Was there a watershed moment in your life that caused you to change professional gears along the way?

JL: Yes. I hated sitting behind a computer, or sitting in general, actually. I was a graphic designer before I became a stylist. The computer took over graphic design when I was in my late 20’s. It bored me. It took all the art out for me. Besides that, I hate computers, and they seem to hate me. Honestly, my husband says, “Don’t come into my studio; your aura will screw up my Mac!”


PPF: But if you had loved computers, you would never have gotten into styling. Were you formally trained as a stylist?

JL: Well, I’m not sure any stylists are formally trained. Many have art and/or design backgrounds, which I do. But I’d say my formal training came from a love of taking something sort of mundane and turning it into something beautiful. It’s challenging. I love that.


PPF: Was there a particular mentor, or a person who believed in you and gave you a chance at the new gig?

JL: A photographer friend I worked with when I was at my last graphic design position said I should consider becoming a stylist. He gave me my first styling project, and I never looked back after that.


PPF: Tell me a little bit about the life of a stylist. You’ve worked as a magazine stylist for years and years—that’s how you and I met. I have loved watching you do your magic at photo shoot after photo shoot. But a lot of people who look at catalogues or magazines are blissfully unaware of the work that goes into making every shot beautiful.

JL: I once heard that behind every good photographer is a great stylist. I’m not sure that is so. To me, what makes a great shot is teamwork. However, what a stylist brings to the table is that knack for giving whatever is being shot—whether it’s for an ad, a catalog, or a magazine—that twist that makes it shine. That one unexpected something or other that grabs your attention. It’s not easy, but it’s that challenge that makes it creative. A good stylist comes with plenty of ideas—and props—and  knows how to edit, edit, edit until the shot sings.


PPF: Do you have a favorite memory of a photo shoot? A great trip or experience?

JL: Well, Paige, I remember a number of great shoots with you. That shoot in Natchez, Mississippi, for instance. The one where we got all the way there and you spent the entire shoot sick in bed! Well not the entire shoot – we did get a little antiquing (I mean propping) in.


PPF: Don’t remind me! That was the sickest I have ever been on the road. I was so devastated to miss out on shooting that porch party at Regina Charboneau’s house. But you did such a beautiful job, that it’s still one of my favorite stories ever. Any more favorites from you?

JL: About a month ago, I did one of the best shoots I’ve ever done. It was on a horse ranch outside of Sacramento. Funny how it all came about. The creative director saw an article in Country Living about my company, Raw Materials Design. She asked me if I still styled, and I said, “Yes!” And she hired me. We’d not actually met until we showed up on the set, but we had chatted via e-mail and contributed to our secret Pinterest board for a good six weeks. From our first “pin,” we were soul mates.

Beyond that, everything just fell into place. The location, the crew, the family, the client, which was Burt’s Bees Baby and Kids. All of it contributed to the best week of work I’ve had in years. But honestly the best part was that she didn’t show up with layouts! There was no, “We can’t do this, and we have to do that.” She knew what she wanted, was a fantastic communicator, and we just did it. It was spontaneous, it was creative, it was fast-paced. It was great. And fun to boot. One of those shoots where you go, “I actually get paid to do this stuff?”


PPF: At some point, you cut back a little bit on photo shoots and built a company. Tell me about Raw Materials Design.

JL: Well I’d like to tell you it was a leap of faith. Truth be told, at its inception, it was a leap of necessity. It was 2008/2009, the recession hit, my daughter started her first year of college, the bank account was emptying fast to help pay for that, and clients and projects were dropping like flies.  If I didn’t do something quickly, I’d soon be out of a job. It was time to consider doing something completely different.


PPF: So did a light bulb go off in your head—about what that might be? Or was it something you’d been pondering for awhile?

JL: Years ago, on a shoot in Vermont, it occurred to me that I seldom, if ever, styled anything made in the USA. I’m talking catalog work here. I mentioned it over dinner to a fellow stylist and her husband. He’s a money guy, and he told me it would never change,  that we’re in this too deep.

Move the clock ahead six or seven years, and the notion of, “It will never change” needed to change. I began to kick around the idea for a textile company that was produced in the USA.


PPF: And so began your wonderful company—which has been welcomed with adoration by fans and press alike. You make beautiful home goods products–from place mats and coasters to aprons and totes–out of simple, durable, raw materials. I know it was hard, hard work, building it from the ground up—literally out of your garage. But now you’ve been picked up by the likes of Whole Foods and Sur La Table. For so many career highs, I’m curious, what’s been your lowest point?

JL: Well, probably that recession. I remember one day in particular where three booked shoots fell off the books!


PPF: And what has been the highest point so far?

JL: That recession. It forced me to re-think. In the past, every time I’ve been challenged to re-think, change, or re-invent, I’ve done some of my best work. I’m not afraid of change. I really sort of like it. It’s challenging, and that drives me.


PPF: What is essential to help you do your best work?

JL: You know what I’m going to say…being organized.


PPF: What is the best thing about owning your own business?

JL: I call the shots. I answer only to me. If I succeed or I fail, it’s up to me. No excuses, no finger pointing. Plus, I can go to work in my PJ’s. I’m often up by 3 AM,  get my coffee, and head to the studio. Hours go by, and I’m still in my PJ’s!


PPF: What’s the most challenging thing about owning your own business?

JL: I can try new things, and if they succeed – well then, yay! But sometimes they don’t. You have to quickly learn from that, make changes, and keep going. You can’t be afraid to fail. It took me awhile to realize that. If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll never do what you really love.

And I get really sick of myself. I like to bounce things off of other people. I really like teamwork, which is one of the reasons I continue to take on styling projects.


PPF: What skill do you find most valuable in terms of entrepreneurship?

JL: It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true: Think outside the box. When I start a new design for RMD, I sit and draw, just like the old days. I get what’s typical down on paper first, then I toss it and really start to think.


PPF: Describe your version of the perfect day.

JL: I’d get up early, head to the barn, go for a horseback ride. Then I’d find something constructive to do. I don’t sit well. I need to be busy and productive. I’m happiest when I’m doing something.


PPF: Who most inspires you and why?

JL: I’m inspired by humble, unpretentious, everyday people. On Friday nights, the ABC Evening News does this segment called, “Person of the Week.” It often features just an everyday person trying to make a difference. I love that.


PPF: What job could you never ever do, no matter how broke you were?

JL: Sell health insurance.


PPF: When have you been most brave in your life?

JL: Hmmm, maybe when I was about 21.  I drove my VW BUG from Sun Valley, Idaho, to Girdwood, Alaska. No job, no place to live. It all turned out great. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


PPF: When have you been most afraid?

JL: When I became a parent.


PPF: What is the best advice you ever got?

JL: From a magazine field editor and stylist: “Do something everyday that gets you toward your goal. Just one little step,  a phone call, whatever. Take a step a day and you’ll be there before you know it.” I think about that just about every day.

Also from a photographer friend: “Change or die.” So true.


PPF: Here are your six fun questions:



PPF:  What’s on your bedside table right now?

JL: Dust!


PPF: What’s the trip you keep talking about taking one day?

JL: I’d love to go to Europe. I’ve never been.


PPF: First concert you ever went to?

JL: America at the fairgrounds (in the livestock building!) in Boise.


PPF: Best concert you ever went to?

JL: Harry Connick at Marymoor Park. A few years ago, we packed a picnic and walked from our house.  He and his band were so on that night. The drummer was incredible.


PPF: Best meal you ever had?

JL: Absolutely anything my mother makes. Simple, good, fresh food.  Plus I just love being in the kitchen with her.


PPF: If you could interview someone and ask him or her these questions, who would it be?

JL: My daughter.

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