Spotlight on Carol Espinosa of Freedom Interiors
We are proud to spotlight our talented design partner Carol Espinosa, Principal and Founder of Freedom Interiors. Read on for how Carol navigated the challenges of starting her own small business, as well as her thoughts on how design for academia is evolving.
Tell us about your background, personal and professional.
I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and immigrated to the United States in 2000 on a full tuition scholarship to the University of Kansas. While writing and theater were my interests at the time, I became intrigued with the furniture industry when I took a part time job at a local Knoll dealership doing data entry. Working at the dealer taught me a lot about the industry and eventually, I was offered a full-time role. I worked my way up from accounting to project management, which I found a new passion for. When the recession hit in 2008, the Knoll dealership began working with minority- and women-owned businesses and I learned about government-funded programs that help such companies get started and grow. I decided to start my own business in 2011 from the ground up – this was a huge leap of faith, as I started Freedom Interiors from scratch without a team, clients or projects. In 2019 Freedom Interiors officially became a Herman Miller (now MillerKnoll) dealer.
What type of work does Freedom Interiors do? What is your partnership with Pivot?
We work in a variety of markets – education, including higher learning and K-12, corporate, and government clients,. We have partnered with Pivot on several large tech accounts and represent more than 150 product lines.
Herman Miller connected us with Pivot as a smaller, self-performing dealer. The projects we partner with Pivot on are wins for everyone. We benefit from the coaching, mentorship, product and process knowledge that Pivot provides, and our partnership allow our clients to support minority and women-owned business. Geographically, we have been able to mutually expand each other’s presence, as we are located in Kansas City, Missouri.
What challenges have you faced in your business?
As a minority, especially an immigrant, I came to this country without a community – or contacts with other business owners. The best way to grow your business is to have a network. Getting started was challenging, but the certification process allowed my team to grow relationships and network with other small, minority and female business owners. My advice to anyone starting out is to get certified and use the resources that are available to you. There is so much opportunity to grow your support tribe by utilizing business development programs and networking groups for small, woman-owned and minority-owned businesses– attend the workshops, go to meetings, and seek out educational and social gatherings. Now that I am through the certification process, I enjoy serving as a resource to help other companies.
The majority of your clients are in education. How do you see the market for education furniture changing, post-pandemic?
The market for clients and projects in education has taken an interesting shift after the pandemic. Taking a step back, education was already going through a shift before COVID hit –both K-12 and higher education. There has been a growing need for years to empower educators, and to engage students. This generation of children in K-12 and in college is so unique in that many of them grew up using a touch screen before they could speak. The way kids relate to technology is very different than previous generations. Therefore, we can’t expect to have success in the same environment that we had 10 or 20 years ago. Humans have evolved in how they process information, and we need to leverage this by creating environments that incorporate and embrace technology to engage kids and support our curriculum and learning goals. Using technology thoughtfully and taking into consideration evolving teaching and learning styles should inform how we use furniture and design our academic spaces. Rather than viewing technology as a distraction, this means using it instead as a resource for learning and designing spaces that have flexible furnishings that are built around technology. At the same time, we need to future-proof our spaces. The pandemic sped along what was already in motion by creating immediate needs for barriers or separated spaces. Now we are seeing designs that make use of collaborative spaces that can be moved or adapted to multiple uses. Furniture and design are investments, and we need to ensure that spaces have the ability to evolve to be both smart and long-term solutions.