When EAT design studio celebrated identity and diversity it flourished

As part of our IWD 2021 coverage, EAT founder Renata Amaral Morris discusses embracing difference and what stopped her and her business partner Gabriel Seibel from it doing it sooner.

“We’re not ‘from here’, and for a long time we tried to hide that,” says Renata Amaral Morris, founder and CEO of EAT design studio. The “here” she refers to in this case is the two cities that EAT has offices in: Paris and Los Angeles.

Morris and her business partner Gabriel Seibel were both born and raised in the south of Brazil. They have been working together at EAT for the last 12 years, with Morris heading up the LA side of the studio and Seibel in Paris. The small but international studio has a client list including the likes of The New York Times, Netflix, Red Bull, EA, Warner Brothers and Disney.

Earlier this year, the studio went through a radical rebrand, which sought to put their status as a woman-, LGBTQ- and immigrant-led business front and centre – something that for a long time, the co-founders were keen to hide away. Here, they explain why they made that decision, and what was keeping them from it in the first place.

Renata Amaral Morris

“Add to the diversity of talent that already existed here”

EAT has been in business since 2009, Morris says. It was born out of her desire to show talent could come from anywhere, not just within the US.

“I worked with so many talented designers and visual artists in Brazil and I wanted to share this talent beyond our borders – the point wasn’t to just bring Brazil to the US, but to add to the diversity of talent that already existed here,” she says.

At the same time Morris was establishing EAT in the US, Seibel was embarking on an exchange programme in Paris. Young and broke, he says he got by doing freelance work for anyone who needed it. Several jobs in, he was connected with “this amazing Brazilian lady who was opening a design business in California”.

“One project became two, which became three and four, and eventually we became business partners and I moved to LA,” he says. A few years later, Seibel returned to Paris to head up operations there and the pair have worked on different continents ever since.

Previous work by EAT for Adidas Sport Club

“I don’t think we realised at the time the kind of pain we were causing ourselves”

The value of experience that such a diverse leadership team has might be clear to us now, but as both Morris and Seibel explain, this wasn’t the case in the early days of EAT. The pair say they would go to great lengths to hide their differences.

“We would try to hide our accents, and the fact we were working together from two different time zones,” says Morris. “And I’d hide behind the work to distract from me being a woman at the head of the studio.”

Meanwhile Seibel says he often tried “speak in a thicker voice” because he didn’t want to be thought of as “too feminine”.

“I don’t think we realised at the time the kind of pain we were causing ourselves,” says Seibel.

Gabriel Seibel

“I thought women were too dramatic for me to work with”

The pressure to fit into the confines of an industry lacking diversity also had an effect on how the pair saw their peers.

“I used to actually say out loud that I preferred to work with men and that women came with too much drama,” says Morris, explaining that a bad experience during her early career had clouded her judgement. “I thought that women were too dramatic for me to work with.”

Now 17 years into her design career, Morris says she knows this isn’t the case. Indeed, she says part of the problem is that women are made to compete against other women for the scarce opportunities that are available to them in the design world. This makes it easy to think other women are the problem.

“I am humbled and grateful to say I no longer think or act that way,” she says, pointing to the fact EAT’s workforce is predominantly made up of women, and women occupy all the management roles.

Previous work by EAT for Red Bull

“A manifesto of our beliefs”

It’s been a journey toward this point, Morris and Seibel say. This year’s rebrand sought to top off what has been years of learning.

“We kept asking ourselves how we as a studio could represent all the things we had learned along the way – I kept thinking: ‘If this is a representation of who we really are, then we’re missing so much,” Morris says.

The repositioning for the studio then is intended to show “a more mature version of ourselves,” Morris says.

“It’s a manifesto of our beliefs, and celebrates things we’ve never said about ourselves before,” she adds.

Previous work by EAT for Lyft

“We’re not trying to take advantage of our diversity”

But while the pair now realise the value in their diversity and differences, they’re keen to point out that’s not all they are. On top of being run by women, immigrants and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Seibel says EAT is also home to talented designers.

“We’re not trying to ‘take advantage’ of our diversity now, because we know that even throughout the years when we were hiding it away, we were producing amazing work and impressing clients,” says Seibel.

Morris adds: “We’re not just good female designers, good immigrant designers or good gay designers – we’re just good designers.”

With this in mind however, why does the EAT’s rebrand put their differences front and centre? Seibel says it’s about living truthfully.

“Maybe our honesty with ourselves could help inspire others to be comfortable existing outside of what’s ‘normal’ too,” he says.

Banner image designed by EAT. 

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