Every day, businesses live amazing stories through their life’s work. Elated customers and thriving local and global communities are the proof. Carl Cleanthes believes that those authentic stories deserve to be shared with the world around us in the most amazing way. That is the primary focus of his design studio, Epic Made.
Started in 2006, under the name Creative Art and Design Studios, Cleanthes’ business has since been transformed into Epic Made: a design studio with a focus on adventure storytelling for outdoor and fantasy brands. Located on the edge of Norfolk’s Art District (NEON), Epic Made is a team of artisans, makers and storytellers of all types who hand-craft art and sustainable design to tell visual stories in any form: Animation, Illustration, Digital Art, Photo Manipulation, Storytelling, Brand Design and Special Projects.
Ironically, the business started as a college project. Eventually, it became much more, turning into his creative outlet. “I wanted to create art in all directions. Now it’s become the way I connect with and contribute to the world”, says Cleanthes, smiling from ear to ear.
Coming from a strong bloodline of entrepreneurs, running a business came naturally, even as a college kid. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t see challenges, in fact, he saw them very vividly. “My biggest challenge in starting my business was staying true to what I wanted to accomplish, not turning my dream into a job by doing whatever someone would pay me to do.”
As the business grew, the second largest challenge became facing the fact that he could either be “Carl, the leader or Carl the artist” and couldn’t do both simultaneously. “I loved to create and pushing myself to become Creative Director of my company was my biggest personal struggle. Now I see the beauty of taking pride in the work of my team. They are excellent artisans and together we produce epic things for our clients and community.”
If he could turn back time, Cleanthes has a few things he wishes he knew then that he knows now:
- It’s ok that some people aren’t a good fit for your business. You don’t have to service everyone.
- Getting a niche doesn’t mean you’re excluding everyone else or that you aren’t capable of working with others.
- There is more to success than how much profit you make. “For me it’s a sense of fulfillment. That’s a more accurate metric.”
- It’s not a crime to be inspired by other people’s ideas, then make them your own without feeling like you’re stealing.
To date, his greatest success yet has been the transformation of his former business (CA&D Studios) into Epic Made. “Finding my way to the right identity, the right people and the right tools. Building a more authentic brand and finding my way back to the reason I went into business in the first place. It’s all revived me and my business. What a great way to celebrate 10 years.” Looking into the future, Cleanthes hopes to find success in becoming the “go-to” for fantasy and outdoor brands for effective storytelling assets and partnering with like-minded creative agencies. “We’re different because we aren’t about creating “stuff that’s pretty”. We support objective-based creativity, where we apply our creative abilities to real business problems to look EPIC, while accomplishing results. Cleanthes final words of advice to budding businesses is simple: “Stay true to who you are. Tell your story. Connect with your people.”