Lightning Interviews on Sustainability: Alfalfa Studio

**Interviews have been slightly edited for flow and brevity**

  1. Tell us your name, and what you do? 

Rafael Esquer. I’m the founder and creative director of Alfalfa Studio, a branding and communication design firm.

  1. What corner of NYC is most conducive to your creativity? Why?

Sugar Hill in Harlem, the birthplace of the 1920s Harlem renaissance movement. Faithful to our multicultural heritage, we are thrilled that Alfalfa Studio is based here, in one of New York City’s most iconic cultural hubs.

  1. Your most interesting recent GRAPHICS & BRANDING design project? 

The branding for Up & Go, a sophisticated new platform cooperative to help minimize exploitative working conditions in the gig economy. The app allows consumers to easily book professional house cleaning services from businesses with fair work practices.

  1. In this moment — climate, pandemic, other factors — one key way you see sustainability shaping your field?

A silver lining of the pandemic is that, for most of us, it has brought to the forefront our systems thinking—professionally and personally. Working in isolation has raised new questions. Do we still need the big, printed client presentations? Can we be more thoughtful when it comes to design considerations including materials, ink, paper — and the design itself?  To make a real long-term impact, all graphic design programs need to incorporate sustainability education into the curriculum.

  1. In your practice, one concrete change you’ve made to further sustainability? 

One sustainable mindset is concerned with social issues like race and gender equality and taking care of our local communities. As such, we prioritize opportunities for local talent in our hiring. Our senior designer, for instance,  grew up in the neighborhood and our intern is from the Bronx. Additionally, by hiring local businesses — movers, printers, restaurants,  — we help our community flourish and, in a small way, reduce  carbon emissions. 

We also demonstrate our local/community commitment through projects in our portfolio. We created the ‘Made in NY’ mark for NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which promotes the City’s evolving media & entertainment industry. Most recently, we completed a large-scale mural (80’ x 13’) for the Kingsbridge Heights Apartments in the Bronx. It provides affordable housing to low- and  moderate-income households. Our goal with the mural was to reinforce the residents’ sense of ownership in their space, to visually celebrate the rich history of their borough, and to enhance a sense of community.

  1. From what/who are you finding inspiration at this time? 

My inspiration these days comes from reading, from fiction to poetry and from autobiographies to graphic novels. The pandemic helped me rediscover my library.

  1. NYC has spent some time on pause, but we never stopped celebrating it as a vibrant breeding ground for creativity and innovation. Who is an emerging talent in GRAPHICS & BRANDING design in NYC that we should be watching? 

Chandni Poddar, a young Indian designer who interned at my studio a couple of years back. I love her unapologetic use of color and the humor and playfulness in her work.

  1. Tell us something funny. 

Real life client in the health category: “We want something organic, personal, no medicine tropes” and then … “Can you add a stethoscope? It doesn’t say ‘medicine’ enough…”

Learn more about Alfalfa Studio.

Lighting Interviews produced in partnership with mebl | Transforming Furniture