How’d You Get That Job?: Sheena Birt, Owner of Color Story Studio

Winterlights at Lilly House - crop

“How’d You Get That Job?” is an Indy Maven series where we chat with women who have some of the most unique and fascinating jobs you’ve ever heard of. 

Do you ever walk by a store window so inviting you wish you knew the story behind how it came to be? (Hint: It’s nothing like the great ‘80s movie, Mannequin.) Well, chances are there’s a person like Sheena Birt of Color Story Studio behind its creative concept. 

“We work with businesses, primarily retailers, to improve their in-person guest experience through visual displays, custom lighting, and installations,” Birt tells Indy Maven. “At any given moment, I could be collaborating with Anthropologie’s corporate visual team to develop a seasonal window display, brainstorming holiday decor ideas for Winterlights at Lilly House, merchandising product at a number of Indy-area boutiques, busy in my studio creating a custom moss panel, chandelier, retail display, or all of the above.”

Her work can serve as a powerful marketing tool for businesses and brands. “My installations can literally get a person out of their house to visit a place in person, which is so difficult in our Prime Now culture,” she says. 

Amen to that. Of course, we needed to know more about how Birt found her way to this super creative and interesting role.

Is this something you always knew you wanted to do or, if not, how did you find yourself on this particular professional path?

“I’ve always known I wanted to work in art and design, but to be honest, I didn’t think I’d end up in retail. Then I got a job working for the company of my dreams, Anthropologie. For eight years I worked as one of their in-store display artists designing and building large-scale window displays and installations. During that time I earned my 10,000 hours and then some, building my expertise in retail visuals. 

I started my business in 2016. Back then it was a side-hustle and a bit of an experiment. Over the years, it has steadily grown and now provides me with a full-time income.” 

What’s your educational background? 

“I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design with a major in fashion design and a minor in fiber arts. The college approaches design in a very practical way, and keeps the students focused on becoming working professionals in the industry. However, we were always encouraged to develop our own aesthetic and point of view because there is truly a market for everything.”

What’s the best thing about your job? The most challenging?

“The best thing about my job is that I get to create work that is not only inspiring, but serves in a number of ways—from helping grow local business, to creating one of a kind destination experiences, to participating in cutting edge retail trends.

The most challenging part is managing all aspects of running a business, and wearing so many hats. Right now, I’m really growing my sales and marketing skills.”

“I’m inspired by my clients, their spaces, and the work they do every day. I love to work with brands and people that have a strong point of view.”
What’s the biggest misconception people have about what you do?

“People often think I’m ‘crafting’ all day in my studio. During my busy production seasons, I’m spending a lot of hands-on time creating the work, but I don’t consider it “crafting”. Additionally, I find that people underestimate the time my projects take and the physicality of the work. Take my custom moss panels for example, every element is individually applied amounting to dozens of hours of work.”

You’re a creative, but also a person running a business and all the logistics that come with that. How do you blend the two successfully?

“Honestly? I’m not always blending the two so successfully! Just like everyone, I have my own set of strengths and weaknesses, and owning a business makes you hyper-aware of all of them. I’ve been very intentional about not growing too fast, because that’s a reason many businesses fail. I’ve also learned to stay in my niche and become the expert rather than trying to serve everyone.” 

How do you collaborate with clients to build their vision, but also bring your own creativity and ideas to the table?

“Some clients come to the table with a lot of ideas and I help them filter and distill, where others have vague ideas, and I help them clarify and define. Typically, I get to be the most creative in how I bring a client’s vision to life. They might have an abstract idea and I make it more specific, or they may know something isn’t working and together we develop a solution.” 

Where do you find inspiration?

“I’m inspired by my clients, their spaces, and the work they do every day. I love to work with brands and people that have a strong point of view. Of course, I’m also looking at all the normal media places you’d think of such as design and fashion magazines, Instagram, and Pinterest.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to go into your field?

“Work for people and brands you admire. Discover what you enjoy and don’t enjoy doing. Get your years of experience on someone’s dime and then consider venturing out on your own. 

If you’re interested in a high-level fashion or retail job, you cannot be afraid to work your way up. Be a joy to be around and work with urgency. Energy and positivity will take you far! 

If you’re still in college or have recently graduated, be bold and reach out about internship and job shadow opportunities. Also, keep your expectations in check. You will probably not be doing design work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn the design process from top to bottom.” 

What do you like to do in your spare time to decompress from work? 

“I love spending time with my husband, Ezra. I’m also a runner, an avid reader (both fiction and non-fiction) and someone who loves to cook. We are dedicated meal planners, even on vacation.”

Abby Gardner, Indy Maven’s executive editor, would love Sheena to improve the “in-person guest experience” of her downtown apartment.