Unlike many of the Founders to have featured on She can. She did. thus far, who reached out to introduce themselves initially via email or Instagram, I stumbled upon Iwona Witiw by way of a simple hashtag.
To set the scene if I may… It was the week before the second ever Midweek Mingle back in May 2018 and I was yet to secure a much-wanted videographer for the event. Frantically asking around for recommendations (at the time I had zero pennies to pay so was relying on amazing volunteers for pretty much everything), in sheer desperation I searched #londonvideographers or something along those lines and after coming across Iwona’s punchy film clips and edgy shots online, a few emails back and forth later, I’d found my girl!
After working together on The Midweek Jingle in December of last year too, the two of us sat down to discuss the story behind Veintive so far.
There’s a reason why I decided to make this chat the first She can. She did. interview to be published this year. I’m sure after reading this, you’ll realise why…
Iwona Witiw. So Veinitive is a creative photography, videography and graphic design business. I do it all under the same name. I’ve had to focus on graphic design more and more recently though so now it’d be hard for me to choose if I had to pick just one. I love them all equally!
She can. She did. You have such a distinct style across all three so let’s start with how you got into those industries in the first place because you’re what, twenty-four right now?
IW. Yeh, I’ll be twenty-five in January! I started filming when I was about fifteen years old. I used to love creating films for my friends at dancing events back in Poland. They weren’t anything like the ones I make now but I realised I liked being behind the camera. At the same time though, I started doing graphic design because there was a dancing meet-up and I just asked to design the poster. Because of that, after high school, I did a one-year, intensive graphic design course at The School of Visual Arts in my hometown, Wrocław, but once I finished that, I realised that as much as I enjoyed doing it, I’d go nuts if I did graphic design on its own 24/7! I needed other projects on the go.
Anyway, just before the final exam at that school, I applied to random jobs so that I could save some money while preparing my final school project and ended up on a construction site, working sixty hours a week for a year as a foreman – which obviously has nothing to do with film making or graphic design! I was doing small filming projects on the side but I was still learning with my camera so I wasn’t earning anything from them. During that year, I just saved as much money as I could because I decided to participate in a cultural exchange program which allowed me to move to the United States. Construction wasn’t for me (!) so I signed up with the cheapest agency and left.
I was a bit overweight at the time too. I didn’t really like myself, I didn’t have any confidence and there were a few other things going on at the time in my personal life too where I just realised I needed to do something for myself and make a big change in my life.
SC.SD. Would you say then that the move to the States was in part, to find yourself?
IW. Definitely! I took my camera with me of course and I used the money from the construction job in Poland to buy a Mac in the States so that I could develop my skills in various software and progress my work. Part of the program included taking classes – only a small percentage of the semester – but I was really lucky because my (ex) host family live just thirty minutes away from New York City and they were so supportive of my passion to pursue photography and film whilst I was out there so were really flexible about me going into New York for classes. I didn’t get a degree in Poland so I felt this extra pressure to do something in America to prove myself. I also felt pressure because this was my passion and if it didn’t work, I didn’t know what else to do…
SC.SD. I can imagine that being a big burden to carry on your shoulders out there?
IW. Exactly. I mean the cultural exchange program was ultimately about looking after kids so it added to the pressure. I felt like I had some family and friends that supported me but also ones who, I felt like, didn’t. Like didn’t take the program seriously or me seriously – “You’re going to the States to look after kids and have fun” kind of approach. I mean, I was only twenty so it’s only fair that they thought that but all I was seeing on Facebook at the time was ‘this person has just got a degree from here and this person has just got a degree from there’ so my plan was to take some really good classes whilst I was out there so that I could return and say I’ve achieved something. I went with the approach: ‘I have to do something big out here…’
SC.SD. As heavy as that burden can be at times, pressure like that can also spur you on…
IW. It was the best kind of push. If I didn’t have that…
SC.SD. You’d be on the construction site still?!
IW. The thing with the program was that you meet so many people but they leave eventually and so most of my friends that I met at the beginning left after a year. I still had this appetite to do more though. ‘I have to be successful out here.’ There was an option to extend my visit so I took that second year without visiting my family in two years because I needed to focus on me and what I had to do.
Because all of my friends had left, I had to keep my mind busy and focus on myself so I made the most of that second year. The family I was living with carried on supporting me and because of that, I ended up taking a film making class at The School of Visual Arts in New York with the writer and Director of Operations at SVA, who was also involved in directing a couple of episodes for some shows at HBO…
SC.SD. Wow… no biggie then!
IW. It was crazy! Anyone could attend the classes if they wanted to, but I knew that if that class was on my CV, it would open doors for me at some point. Experience like that makes such a difference. The one time he couldn’t attend to teach the class, he invited Martha Pinson to substitute for him. She’s a NYC based script supervisor who worked on movies like Hugo, Sex and The City and Michael Jackson’s ‘BAD’ music video and used to tell us stories about working on the set with Leonardo Di Caprio whilst shooting Shutter Island. I remember just thinking, ‘oh my gosh, how did I get here?!’
Whilst this was going on though, I was also doing everything that I could to better myself. I really wanted to lose weight out there and take care of myself because I didn’t like what I was seeing. I was so focused in my mind that I needed to change my lifestyle and there was a local gym in New Jersey where I was living at the time. The trainer had lost over 200lb himself and he was hosting an event to celebrate that and his success. I remember just thinking, ‘this is my chance’ so I reached out to him and said, “I’ll take photos and film your event and if you like it, can we exchange it for PT sessions?!”
SC.SD. The dream deal!
IW. Awesome right!? So I filmed his event, he liked it and we ended up training together. He’s still such a good friend; I can’t wait to pop up to his gym in September when I’m planning my 2019 holidays! Anyway, because I’d started filming videos for him, people started asking about them and I ended up getting work through them. I must have done about ten or so for free – just to build my portfolio – but because New York is just amazing for connections and opportunities, I ended up being approached by a fashion designer who wanted a movie filmed for her new collection. From that, I managed to save some money which I invested in a proper camera.
The second year out there just felt so productive for me. I lost about 10 kilos that year (in total, I lost around 15kg from when I was at ‘my chubbiest’) and even though it’s only weight, once I felt better in myself, I found so much more confidence and it gave me a completely different outlook and approach to life. I used to avoid photos because I hated looking at myself in them, I avoided social situations because I had zero confidence; it sounds stupid because it’s just weight but it’s helped me so much…
SC.SD. It doesn’t sound stupid at all. Exercising most days is what keeps me confident and motivated!
IW. Exactly. It changed my mindset, I felt good and it helped me so much in my journey with this business. Because of that, I really pushed in that second year and took another class on the weekends at the same school in New York. This time, it was ‘Studio/Advertising Photography’ led by Mario Calafatello, the photographer who had Nikon, Sports Illustrated, and a variety of fashion magazines among his clients in NYC, so again, another ‘out there’ opportunity that I needed to take. The closer I got to leaving, the pressure I felt at the beginning had lifted off my shoulders and I just felt like I was ready to go home now. Once I eventually returned to Poland, I felt so different and so ready to live my life. It was then that I knew I could finally take my passion to the next level – turn something I created back in 2013 into my profession.
SC.SD. Talk to me about your company’s name because it’s an unusual one!
IW. Basically, I didn’t want to use Iwona Witiw Photography because so many people use the same format that you can no longer recognise who’s good and who’s average in the industry. I also wanted a word that didn’t limit me to just photography. My last name is a bit different, you can spell it backwards and it reads the same so I thought I’d play with that. I switched the W’s to V so that it was easier to pronounce in English too (!) and just started looking at words that begin with V. So what, Vitamins? No! Haha! Then I thought about different words, eventually ending up on ‘vein’. I started brainstorming and finding words related to that – circulation, injection, etc… and finally settled on the general idea that I wanted my art to be dangerously contagious. I wanted people “getting infected” by it like drugs do; you get addicted and you keep coming back. I know it’s a bit controversial, but I liked it. Veinitive it is. I also liked that it sounds like ‘creative’…
SC.SD. So not much of a thought process then..!
IW. Haha! It took about six months in the end for me to finally decide on it!
SC.SD. You obviously changed a lot in the States and were trying to prove a point out there to everyone that you’d left behind in Poland, so when you did eventually return two years later, what reaction were you met with from family and friends?
IW. I had such amazing feedback. Everyone just said I’d done an amazing job and they recognised that I’d clearly worked really hard…I caught myself crying out of happiness so many times if I’m being honest. There were so many different things going on with my family at the time, so much was falling into pieces but I personally felt well received. There was no negative gossip, I just had a lot of “congratulations!”
SC.SD. Let’s move on to how you came about moving to the UK and officially launching Veinitive over here. You’ve gained the experience and the confidence in the US, you’ve thought of the company name in Poland… now it’s game on. How did you do it and why the UK?
IW. Well because I’d lived in the States for two years, when I returned home, I couldn’t find myself in Poland anymore. It’s so different – the mindset, the people, the industry. I’d visited my brother in London a couple of times before I left to the States and once I came back I realised and knew that I will feel good there too. There’s a lot of similarities between New York and London. I like English-speaking countries, I find that London has similar vibes but it’s also less crowded and cleaner than NYC, which is good! But to be honest, I have so many amazing friends spread all over the world now, I feel like I will never feel truly home again in any place; it’s almost like I’ve left a piece of my heart everywhere! I miss my family, certain places, different cultures… but then if I went back to Poland or America it would be the same. I will always be missing something wherever I go!
SC.SD. I can imagine. As a creative though, you can’t get bored in London can you?
IW. Not at all! New York is a bit too far from me to live there permanently too. Anyway, I spent a few weeks enjoying time with family as I knew I was going to move to the UK to live with my brother and I eventually moved here in October 2017. My parents actually drove me here!
SC.SD. From Poland?!
IW. Yeh! It’s a sixteen-hour drive so it wasn’t so bad! Anyway, even though I’d taken on a few projects in Poland that I was still finishing, I wasn’t ready to go full-time with the business yet. I liked the direction it was going in, it just needed time and because of my trips to the States, back to Poland etc… I just needed to feel like I was settled. I craved a 9 ‘til 5 to calm down but even though I had a portfolio that I was proud of, in London it’s so competitive…
IW. I felt so much pressure again and feared that it’d take so much time for a company to hire me because I didn’t have any experience working for a digital agency. I only had experience as a freelancer, but I put my CV out there – when you work in design as a videographer or photographer or graphic designer, your CV needs to be different to be noticed – and about a month later, the guys from Northreach Recruitment in Billericay called me (cheers guys!). I said, “I was actually hoping to join a creative agency in London… a recruitment agency in Billericay, seriously!?” but I felt so much pressure to get a job, I went for it. At the start, I just thought, ‘for now’ but it turns out it was the best decision. I love my job! I was worried that if I went to a creative agency, I’d have to focus on one thing. They’re usually quite strict in the sense that, “you just do editing or you just draw” but with the guys, they wanted someone to help with their rebranding, their videos, their photos, their graphic design… they got me a little studio too! They give me so much freedom and they trust my taste…
SC.SD. I was watching the backstage bloopers that you’ve created for them before this interview and you can tell that you all have a laugh…
IW. Yeh, we’ve got to the point now where I started as a Marketing Executive, but I’ve been promoted now. It’s such an even split between photography, videography and graphic design and I’ve even started doing hand lettering on old fashioned letters! Every day I go to work, I love it. It’s got so busy now that we’re looking for an assistant to help me out too!
SC.SD. That’s amazing! So you’ve got the stability of a 9 to 5 supporting you, you’re gaining experience there on a daily basis… how did you start promoting Veinitive in the UK alongside that job?
IW. Ok so firstly, my Instagram is obviously quite focused on street fashion so I started actively looking for people who might want to collaborate. At the same time, a friend from France who found me on Instagram while I was in the States – we did a project together back in NYC – reached out to me again and said, “I’d like to do another video with you” so I said, “I’m now in the UK so if you want, you can come here”; and we actually organised a shoot here for his fashion brand in France. I was reaching out to different people on Instagram asking if they’d like to be part of this project too and that’s how I met Greta (@tracksuitbae), an Instagram influencer. We met up again after that project and did a couple of photo sessions for fun and realised we really understand each other’s taste; we didn’t need to explain it to each other. Now, whenever she needs to shoot a product for a brand, we always team up! She gets approached by brands like Sports Direct, Umbro and Eastpak. Eastpak, for example, sent her a backpack to shoot and they actually liked the photo we did together so much that they ended up using that picture as an ad. I saw it sponsored on Instagram, on their website, Facebook… It felt amazing!
SC.SD. It doesn’t surprise me though. Your style is so distinct and you’re so ridiculously good. What inspired your style do you think?
IW. Thank you so much! New York impacted me so much. The street fashion over there, the States in general, adventure and travelling and just reaching out to people and getting a sense of their style… I take it all in.
SC.SD. Does reaching out to people come naturally to you?
IW. I guess so. It’s definitely easier now I’m more confident in myself. I love collaborating with people. There are benefits that we both bring to a job so I always think it’s worth it. When I get paid to collaborate it’s always amazing for obvious reason but when I don’t get paid and there are other benefits on offer, I still do it. There’s always value to be found somewhere and it feels amazing.
SC.SD. Let’s talk challenges… what has been the hardest challenge you’ve had to face since launching your business so far?
IW. Hmmm… Because I’ve only been in the UK for a year, at the beginning I didn’t have a network at all, I had no friends here and I had to make a completely new set of friends which was hard. Also, it’s only now that I’m getting to a point where I understand that I’m a sole trader and how to pay UK taxes. It’s a completely different system to Poland and it’s been so challenging figuring out how it all works. When it came to knowing what rates to charge clients over here, the business management… it was all so new here.
SC.SD. It’s hard enough when your born and raised in the UK so I can only imagine how tough it must be when English isn’t your first language! How did you manage that situation then in terms of setting rates, working out the legalities etc…
IW. Well at the beginning I didn’t charge much for a project at all. I wasn’t too worried about my salary as I had money from my full-time job coming in each month but because my portfolio is much bigger now, I no longer feel like I have to say, “yes” to every job. I charge more than I did at the beginning because I don’t want to waste my energy for something that doesn’t offer much back. I don’t feel that pressure now. Because I charge more now though, I break the price down for my clients so they can see why I charge that. “This is how much it costs me to travel to you, this is my equipment usage, this is how many hours it will take me to edit” etc… When you break it down, people understand not only why you’re charging that fee, but they also appreciate how much goes into the final product.
The other big worries that have always been a challenge and make me stressed when I’m filming, are the things out of my control. If it’s raining, if the location isn’t suitable, if the models have been organised properly etc…
SC.SD. They’re obviously factors that like you said, you can’t control and are likely to present themselves throughout the entirety of your career going forward, so talk to me about how you manage that reality…
IW. I think the way I cheer myself up in those situations is to just remind myself of how many times I’ve been stressed over a shoot before that has turned out well! If something went wrong, at the end of the day, I can always reshoot if needs be. I know now that there are worse things in the world to be worried about! I also trust myself that if something goes wrong, I’ll fix it.
SC.SD. Given that your style is so distinct and you’re clearly in high demand, what’s your take on the competition from within your industry?
IW. To be honest, the only thing that bothers me is when my photos are shared so many times and I don’t get credited for taking the photo. I worked for an influencer and the photo went viral but no one cares about who took the photo, they just care about who’s in the photo and that bothers me. Someone took that picture so please appreciate the picture! It’s someone’s work. That really annoys me… there’s no credit.
SC.SD. That would piss me off too! I’d be like, ‘oi, appreciate me too!’
IW. Exactly! At least I can take comfort in the fact that it’s unlikely anyone will steal my business name!
SC.SD. What has this business taught you about yourself?
IW. I guess I believe in myself now. It took me a long time to realise that I’m actually good.
SC.SD. Keep telling yourself that because you’re so good!
IW. Thank you but it took a big journey to get here. I had to learn to love the body I was in first and I needed to believe that I could do it.
SC.SD. Had you not lost the weight and put all of that effort into working on yourself and your mindset first, do you Veinitive would be as established as it is?
IW. Probably not, no. I had to be healthy in both ways. If I hadn’t have started putting myself first and looking after myself, I wouldn’t have had the right attitude to approach people and put myself out there.
SC.SD. I’m a huge advocate for fitness for that exact reason. If you’re not comfortable in your own skin, I feel as though you’d take the guaranteed knocks along the way so much more personally… It sets you up so well for this crazy business journey.
IW. I agree. It’s major.
SC.SD. How would you describe yourself as a business woman?
IW. Aghhh, I don’t know!
SC.SD. Everyone says that! Go on…
IW. That’s a tough one. I don’t know what to say!
SC.SD. You can come back to me on that one!
She has since informed me that she’s a ‘go-getter’ – a fitting description if you ask me.
SC.SD. Where do you see this business going?
IW.I have so many ideas about where this business can go! Ultimately, I want Veinitive to be my full-time job someday. At the moment though, I’m so happy with my 9 ‘til 5 that I’m quite content developing this on the side for now, letting myself be picky and choosing the best projects to work on in between my full time job! I’d also like to do some samples of clothing with my logo. I did that some time ago and I actually sold a couple of shirts to my friends cause they liked it so I’ll definitely look into that too!
SC.SD. That sounds amazing! Do you have a timeframe in mind for when you think you’ll go full time?
IW. I used to but it’d be so hard for me to quit because I really enjoy my work as it is now.
SC.SD. That’s such a fortunate position to be in. Loving the job that pays you the steady income as well as being able to find time to commit to the side hustle.
IW. Absolutely. The more you love what you do, the more you appreciate life in general. So many people complain about their jobs and how they can’t find themselves so I do feel lucky. I think the best thing for me to do right now is to just see what happens. My every day approach is to keep pushing my thing but to be easy on myself too. Some days I get home from my 9 ‘til 5 and I’m so tired that I just want to chill and it would be counterproductive for me to work on my business. It’s learning when to push it and when to go easy on myself.
SC.SD. When you do go easy on yourself, what’s your go to switch off?
IW. I like to run, exercise helps me a lot. I recently started my adventure with CrossFit as well but equally, I love lazy days just as much! Literally doing nothing and resting always helps! Travelling helps too though. I’m the kind of person that is happy to book a ticket last minute and be there the next day. It wakes me up and always inspires me. My goal is to do way more travelling in 2019. I mentioned it earlier but I’m going back to NYC in the fall and I’d love to go to Iceland and Amsterdam in 2019 too.
SC.SD. Who’s your dream person to shoot?
IW. Can I say a company instead? I’d love to work and shoot for Adidas…
SC.SD. I swear I’ve watched a video you’ve shot that has already featured Adidas?!
IW. Haha! That only came about because one of the guys I was shooting with was an influencer and JD Sports invited him to that launch party. He said, “you’ve done so many photos for me so I want to invite you to this as my plus one because I know you’ll get the most out of it!” I used that as my big chance. It was my first week working for Northreach over here so I didn’t have a clue where I was going but I was determined to go and take an amazing video with the hope that it’d go viral and I could reach Adidas! I had some sharing here and there, nothing special though but I was happy enough. I used the footage on my portfolio and sent it to clubs in case they wanted promotional videos for their launch parties etc… and actually, it’s funny you asked because about four days ago, the agency that produced that event asked me for the raw footage of it because they loved it and had only just seen it!
SC.SD. That’s amazing!
IW. Well unfortunately I’d got rid of the raw footage once I’d put the video together, but they got back to me anyway and said, “well we love the video and would love to use it on our website if we can add our logo at the beginning and end,” so we came up with an agreement that satisfied us both and I kind of ‘sold’ the video to them. It was amazing because when I woke up that day, I had no idea that I’d be paid
for a project I did for fun months ago but there you go! It’s amazing! Freelancing in this industry is so strange because sometimes things go so quiet but this week has been so crazy busy and just incredible. I really feel like I’m progressing over here. I’m so happy with how everything is playing out right now and I can’t wait for the future.
So many people talk about moving to a new country/ launching the business that they’ve dreamed of running since they were little/ signing up to random classes to gain new skills/ shifting the excess weight that’s been affecting their confidence… the list goes on, at this time of year.
Far fewer, however, actually commit to those plans, let alone do all four at once and emerge two years down the line victorious.
But Iwona Witiw, not being one to settle for the circumstances she found herself in after school, found the courage to do just that; upending pessimistic expectations people held toward her at the time, enhancing her and her company’s future drastically as a result.
From honing her distinct style behind the lens in the streets of New York, learning from the world’s biggest names in the industry during classes she took in her spare time; reaching out to influencers to collaborate and working unpaid whilst she honed her technique, before launching her business with a portfolio that she was proud of and speaks for itself; all the while radically overhauling her diet and fitness regime in the States in order to improve her self-confidence, mindset and attitude towards life in general too; in the space of two years Iwona pushed herself out of her comfort zone more times than many do in a lifetime and is living proof that drastic change is possible if you’re willing to commit to your goals.
Her story is also a great example of how to juggle a 9 to 5 with the demands of your own business, proving that it is possible to do both (and still love your full-time job) if you don’t want to rush the transition.
At twenty-five, she’s only just getting started. With an applaudable work ethic, willingness to reach out to brands and names that she admires to collaborate and a new-found confidence in herself and her skills that has opened previously closed doors, Veinitive is a brand to watch over the next few years, with colossal projects coming its way in due course, I’m sure.