Alexandra "Al" Swanson is the creative director of Archive Rentals, an event rental company serving California, Texas and the Riviera Maya coastline of Mexico. Al talks through her career path – starting with her hospitality-centered high school jobs to majoring in Visual Design in college to landing her #dreamjob at Archive – and some valuable pieces of advice she's learned along the way.
Chances are you’ve been to an insanely awesome party or wedding at least one time in your life. Can you pinpoint what it was that made that party a banger? Most would say it was the people, the food, the drink, or the music. Now what if you put that same party in a closed dark room with no windows, nothing on the walls, no tables or chairs, not a single candle or touch of florals, no bar for the drinks or food stations serving the food, and the music playing out of some hidden speaker? a.k.a No ambiance.
Parties need bones. They need tables, glasses, bars – they need all the pretty things that bring them together into an aesthetic space that people WANT to hang out in! Enter Archive Rentals, a specialty rental and design house.
At Archive Rentals, we have a wide variety of inventory ranging from dinner plates to lanterns, bars to lounge areas, dining tables to umbrellas, pillows to poufs, and much more. Our inventory spans the styles of bohemian, retro, vintage and modern. We work one on one with each of our clients, building the vision/concept/feel of their event and then turn dreams into reality with our stock of rental beauties!
I am the Creative Director and Lead Designer at Archive Rentals… my dream job. But of course, that didn’t happen overnight. In fact, I didn’t even know what event rentals were in my early job hunting days. I have always been a party lover, but it took quite a few different jobs, internships, and classes for me to put two and two together and find exactly what my “dream job” was. Here are a few tips to help you along the journey of finding your place in the events industry.
During high school, I worked for a bed and breakfast, a catering company, and an event center – all heavily hospitality driven workplaces – because I always have loved people and parties. This leads me to my first piece of advice:
1. Hands on experience is crucial in discovering what your skill set is and what drives you. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your dream job or if you are uncertain of what you even like in a job. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher between what is just a hobby or what you actually want to do for a living, but you’ll never know until you test the waters. Ask yourself in your day to day life what you love or look forward to most. Is it getting together with friends? Work a restaurant! Is it cleaning your house? Enquire with a bed and breakfast. Is it scrolling Instagram? Look for a position in Marketing! Even if those jobs sound “basic” and far from your dreams, change your perspective to look at them as “classes” to build not just your vision, but also your resume.
For me, I didn’t hate these high school gigs and knew I was gaining both work ethic and an understanding of all the hospitality industry had to offer. Yet, I felt a lack in the creativity department. So come college I decided to go after an Apparel Merchandising degree, seeking specifically to learn about Visual Merchandising and Design. I still was unsure of what I wanted to do in life, but this is where my dream started to slowly form through involvement in various clubs, internships, and organizations. My second piece of advice:
2. Get involved! Signing up for clubs or internships that spark your interest gives you all the benefits of a job and hands on experience with low risk. You often aren’t signing a contract nor going through employee training for long term commitment. At the same time you are making connections, putting your skills to the test, and learning first hand in an area that attracts you to a potential future career.
Through these clubs and internships I got involved in, I was able to plan fashion shows, learn the inner workings of building an event theme, experience the realm of marketing, and study human behavior related to the retail/event space. This is when for me, I started to realize that the hospitality industry was filled with visual merchandising in terms of the design of a space where people gather. I started to think back on my jobs in high school – catering events or working at the bed and breakfast – and realized design had everything to do with their success. Suddenly, I started to find my passions of parties and design colliding.
After college, I landed my first job in Marketing at a skateboarding company and lifestyle apparel brand. At the start, I loved every little bit of it. It was shiny, new, and had all the perks I would hope for in a job (traveling, free clothes, health insurance...) But as the years went by, things started to get dull and my plate was not getting any bigger but the pile on top kept growing. My stress started to rise and I began to check my passion at the door. The second that happened, my attitude shifted negatively, and along with my passion dropped my productivity. Here is where I learned one of my biggest life lessons: If you’re still growing, it’s not time to leave.
3. Patience is a virtue. Negativity only breeds negativity. When you find yourself allowing these negative thoughts in, take a deep breath and shift your thinking to look for the opportunity. Remember that everything has purpose and every moment offers personal growth. I highly recommend the book “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. As I started to shift my perspective and look at the obstacles I was facing as moments for growth, I realized the opportunity to learn new skills was being handed to be on a silver platter and all I had to do was reach out and grab it. At the time in that job, when I opened my eyes to look for the opportunity, I saw the need to help grow our marketing in the arena of visual merchandising. I threw up my hand to take on this project and it was during this time that I gained skill set in how to digitally present a pitch for the design of a space… exactly what I now do on a daily basis as Archive's Creative Director!
It wasn’t long after that I came across Archive Rentals and saw all of my passions colliding into the perfect dream job recipe. One of the open positions at the time was a commission-only Design Sales Team position. Daunting from a financial standpoint, but I knew it was exactly where I wanted to be. I took on the only other position they had available which was Front Desk Customer Service. I answered the phones, got lunch for the team, and requested to sit in on any design and sales meetings, so I could listen in, gain experience, and begin to dip my toes in before full cannon-balling the second I had an opportunity. Sure enough, it was only after several months in that I was taking on small rental pick-up orders, to soon thereafter designing for small parties, and before I knew it, designing and staging full themed-out corporate events.
Every single day of my job is never like the last! We get clients coming in wanting a unicorn themed birthday for their four year old, then a bride going after an Old World wedding concept at a private villa in wine country, or a corporate party going for a Mad Men theme at an air museum. My mind is always being stretched to bring these themes to life and think outside the box each time. But it definitely takes an army and the vision is never just mine – which is the best part really! The events industry is blooming with creative minds and artistic perspectives. I see myself as just a tiny piece of the puzzle. You could walk into a dinner party and see a beautiful wood table with nice chairs and dinnerware, but then you add floral arrangements and mood lighting. Then the music kicks on and you pick up smell of food while bartenders are pouring up cocktails. The space is buzzing with good conversation while a photographer captures memories so the moments live on. And that, my friend, is the puzzle come to life!