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Agent and designer Zoula Zavacopoulos reveals how Drag and Dragons shape The London Studio
Soula, thank you for making time. First, I have to start with your extraordinary name! Does it have a meaning?
Ha! Well, I have Greek / Cypriot heritage and it’s actually my grandmother’s name, carried down to me. Many Greek names are shortened; the longer version of our name means ‘dew on blossom’.
Dew on blossom! That’s brilliant! I’m glad I asked. So… You’re the director of The London Studio. For those not in the know, what is that?
Thanks for asking! The London Studio is an art licensing and design studio. We specialise in designing top-selling products for retail, developing commercially successful brands and developing creative work for clients including celebrities, international retail chains, blue-chip corporations and charities.
“We represent some of the most exciting, up-and-coming indie artists…”
Strewth! There’s a lot to unpack there…
Well, we also have an artist agency side, where we represent some of the most exciting, up-and-coming indie artists worldwide, as well as established artists and designers. For the art-licensing side of the business, we develop successful ranges of cards, gifts, homeware and apparel which are sold through major high-street retailers via the licensing model. Some of our ranges are designed in-house, others by the incredible artists we proudly represent.
So how does it work? How do these things fit together?
We largely work in two ways… Our in-house team and our London Studio artists usually develop our own brands, properties and/or artworks that we license to companies. Alternatively, we work to brief or develop ‘own-brand’: we create bespoke designs for manufacturers, retailers, charities and celebrities.
You mentioned celebrities. Dare I ask you to drop a few names?
Our work’s attracted a number of celebrity fans and support over the years, including Boy George, Dannii Minogue, Peter Andre, TV stars from the ‘Real Housewives’ franchise, TOWIE and BBC Dragons’ Den stars, such as Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis, who is such an inspiration to me.
We also represent a number of talented artists who also have celebs asking after their designs. They range from Richard Branson to Sony Music for George Michael related art. The newest brand that we’re developing is called Art of Drag…
Right. Which is how you came to our attention at BLE…
Yes! We had great fun at the show! So while we only formally launched it last month, it’s already been getting good traction on the drag scene with social shares and interactions from some of the leading figures currently appearing in the latest season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK… Danny Beard and Black Peppa, for example, as well as other incredible drag stars such as Juno Birch.
For the uninitiated, how do you describe Art of Drag?
The amazing thing with Art of Drag is that as soon as you see it, you get it! Can you show some examples in the piece?
Perfect! So… People can see that each of our original artworks features a beautylicious Drag Queen. We serve unique, provocative, glamorous works of art. And like the queens themselves, every single one is a MASTERPIECE!
And why is now the right time for this?
Drag is exploding right now. Worldwide, Ru Paul’s Drag Race has obviously been a huge driver in this… But also the idea of gender and gender roles are being positively questioned right now. And I feel that Art of Drag fits perfectly into this cultural landscape. It’s fun and playful while representing values and ideas that are out there in society. Now is the time for Art of Drag!
What kind of projects are you doing and looking to do with this?
Ha! What kind of projects AREN’T we looking to do with this, more like?! We’ve already signed a fantastic deal for dated stationery and we’re busy having lots of discussions about licensing Art of Drag over multiple product verticals with companies we met at BLE. We’re talking about apparel, health and beauty, cosmetics – even jewellery. Watch this space…
Wow. Sounds great, keep us posted on that! Let me ask you this, Soula… Apart from being asked to do a Brands Untapped interview, what are your proudest moments? Or accolades?
Well, meeting you is the main one, naturally. That aside, the one that blew me away was The London Studio being ranked in the top 20 most creative and innovative businesses in the UK – as judged by retail magnates and entrepreneurs, including Theo Paphitis and Shaa Wasmund, MBE. At the time I was a one-woman business, working day and night, so this really meant the world to me encouraged me to keep going… It felt like the hard slog was paying off.
That’s not the only award, though, is it? Your name’s popped up quite a bit, I think…
Yes, I’ve been very lucky. As I grew the company, a plethora of industry awards and accolades followed… Some for our design work, some for our art licensing and some for the successful properties we’ve developed. They include the Gift of the Year Award, the Stationery Awards and the Henries. as well as The London Studio being named one of the UK’s Top 100 Small Businesses and winning Most Talented Art Licensing Company 2022.
You’re making it look easy! Is it?
No! I love it, but it’s hard work being an independent creative business, so I’m proud of each and every one of these milestones. I’m also proud of the charity work we do, as I’m very passionate about giving back…
You have a design background yourself, do you not? Tell us about it!
I certainly do! I landed a job with a London design agency immediately after I finished university. I got to work for large clients ranging from the Disney Channel and Reuters, to the BBC. It enabled me to develop a lot of skills that would go on to serve me well when it came to striking out on my own!
And how did you transition from artist to studio, then?
Oh wow. Okay… After starting The London Studio, I spent several years freelancing for corporate design clients. That was great, but I felt like I wanted more of a creative outlet. I’d been really into photography and painting, and I’d exhibited at London galleries and decided to turn some of my artwork into greetings cards to sell alongside the art.
So the cards were more or less a side-hustle?
Right. And when they started to become popular, I saw I was on to something! But that was also the biggest challenge in many ways. I was self-publishing my work and getting it stocked by independents and multiples… But I was struggling to see a path for growth using that model, without investment to grow the business further. And that’s when I discovered that the licensing model might be the path for me and The London Studio.
As I started to get more experience and success in licensing, I began to increase my output by commissioning other artists and designers to work on some of my ideas. We expanded from cards into other categories, and I made the decision to employ some seriously exciting young talent, so we now have some unbelievably talented in-house artists and illustrators working.
It’s a very organic growth, then?
Yes. And, in fact, The London Studio is now also a hub for a wider network of some of the UK’s most exciting independent artists and designers. We represent them to help get them get more exposure – and sales of course – but it also means we have the ability to deliver almost any style or creative when we get asked for something specific!
What other work do you do at The London Studio?
Gosh, we’re so busy right now! We have a couple of other fabulous brands that we’ve been developing and also launched at BLE. These are getting a lot of interest… We can’t say too much yet, but we’re excited to make some announcements soon! We’re also very busy with the greeting-card side of our business, developing new ranges for 2023 and 2024. We’ve also taken on some new artists to represent whose work I’m obsessed with – I can’t wait to share it with you soon!
Personally, I’m also busy with the consultancy side of my work, helping publishers and retailers grow their businesses. This involves helping them develop products in line with the latest trends; developing strategies for customer acquisition and retention; leading effective strategies for brand growth; and developing successful marketing and PR strategies.
“Creativity is EVERYTHING in our work.”
The consultancy work sounds important to you…
It really is. It’s contributed to the growth of businesses ranging from start-ups to multi-million pound public companies. While it’s a buzz to help large retailers and publishers grow, the biggest satisfaction I get is actually from helping small creative businesses. I’ve mentored creatives throughout my career, helping them in any way I could. But in recent years I’ve found a way to support many more creatives through the agency side of The London Studio. Seeing them succeed and flourish gives me the best feeling!
How important is creativity in your work?
Creativity is EVERYTHING in our work. Whether it’s developing multi-layered brands for licensing, or creating exciting greetings card ranges, it’s creativity that sets us apart. And it’s also creativity that sells. Having such talent on-tap in the studio means there are always new ideas coming at us from every angle, and when you add our artist network into the mix. Wow! The level of originality is frankly staggering.
This has been great fun, Soula! To wrap things up, what’s the one question I should’ve asked you today but didn’t?
I can’t believe you didn’t ask me what my favourite dinosaur is? It’s like you don’t even CARE!
Well. Now that you mention it, I don’t think I do… I’m just going to let that hang!
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