A forgotten Metrocard was the jumping-off point for a new New York City studio space aimed at editors, stylists and influencers.
Erin Swift, who earlier in her career worked for Elle Decor and Architectural Digest while moonlighting as a set and prop stylist, said she left her Metrocard at her other business, The Prop Workshop, one night last year. When she went back to get it, she got off on the wrong floor of her building.
“I pressed the wrong button and the doors opened to the 13th floor (we’re on the 14th) and my brain began to create all the possibilities,” Swift said. “I’ve been dreaming of something like this for a long time.”
Soon after, she met her friend Anna Livermore, founder of fashion consultancy V.Mora, for a “pandemic workout,” and what’s now Swift Studios began.
The space is 12,000 square feet, featuring six separate spaces for shooting different types of product, like fashion, lifestyle and bathroom. And it’s now being combined with access to Swift’s Prop Workshop in order for the studio to offer a full prop warehouse and be “a one-stop shop for brands and influencers.”
Livermore said that in her work as a consultant, mainly in fashion development and manufacturing, she’d already been working toward “more post-production aspects… to make it more convenient for my clients” when Swift came to her with the studio idea.
“I saw the need for designers not only to have great production but amazing branding and content,” she said. “Adding a photo studio to the aspects in ways I can help designers was a no-brainer, and makes a lot of sense in an especially content-heavy time.”
That it is. In the last five years, influencers have gone from an advertiser curiosity to a full-fledged business model with members ranging from micro to mega, in terms of followers. And typically, influencers hawking product (often many in a single post or video) need a place to shoot that is not their home or bedroom. As do other types of freelance creatives doing branding or editorial work.
“There is nothing like this in New York City,” Swift said of the new studio. “We have the architecture and design of a fabulous home while also considering all the possibilities and details for a shooting space.”
While rates for shooting vary depending on the space, Livermore said spaces started booking up weeks before the space officially opened, with COVID-19 protocols in place, at the beginning of March. There are also package deals and retainers available for the space. Swift called it “an inclusive SoHo House.”
As for the ongoing pandemic, and why the two women decided now was the time for a pretty ambitious venture, both agreed that such circumstances allowed them to take their time with opening and figuring out the business. It’s entirely self-funded, but Swift praised her landlord Adam Justin of Justin Management, who worked with her and Livermore on “an untraditional lease.”
“We had more leniency when it came to traditional ways of doing things,” Livermore added. “People were more open to thinking outside the box.”
For the brands and companies that have remained afloat during the pandemic, there has been an abundance of non-traditional leases to be had. Physical retail, restaurants and offices have closed in major U.S. cities and globally, leaving property owners and managers willing to lease spaces for a couple of weeks, or months, or even just a year with flexible extension options, and prices have been driven down. Commercial real estate transactions were still down 57 percent at the end of 2020, compared to the year before, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.
This seems to have left at least some previously inflexible New York commercial landlords with a new sense of interest in possibly riskier renters who see the “pandemic economy” as an opportunity to pursue that passion project.
“I know from experience when we create something with the mind of passion,” Livermore said, “the money follows.”
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