By Natasha Schuyler
Michele Palotta worked at Harrods, a department store in London, while abroad last year. The upscale classy store required women to work in high heels and cover up exposed tattoos. Palotta worked in the rug department, which required her to lift all day. Refusing to conform to company policy, Palotta said she wore flats so she could perform her job. The problem: She also has a visible tattoo on her foot..
This experience sparked the idea for her design company’s name, Flat Shoes Tattoos. “I don’t want to call it creative rebellion against the company’s standards, but more so going with our own grain as opposed to theirs,” Palotta said
Palotta works with Katie Malatesta, also a senior interior design major, and the two plan to stay in Syracuse for the Entrepreneurship Engagement Fellowship. The fellowship allows them to take a few classes and have a mentor to help with their company.
“We were always bouncing ideas off each other about starting a business where we were doing all kinds of nontraditional design work in different outlets,” Malatesta said.
Their first project started out as a T-shirt design for the Near Westside Initiative, which then morphed into a branding and marketing strategy for the initiative, ending in a coloring book for the kids. “They do so many fantastic things for that neighborhood and promoting the small business within the neighborhood, so we get to affect multiple people at once,” Malatesta said.
When they come back in the summer for the fellowship, they will begin serious talks with a restaurant on Montgomery Street. Palotta and Malatesta said the project will start with rebranding, but because they have interior design skills the relationship can continue beyond traditional graphics work. “It is really about making those relationships with our clients,” Palotta said.
However, despite various design skills, the girls say they lack the business knowledge that is required for a successful company. Figuring out pricing has become one of the biggest humps they’ve had to deal with.
“It is really hard to put a number amount on something that you’re so passionate about because we do it because we love it, not because we want to make money off of it,” Palotta said. “Which is why we are staying another year, too, to have a lot of help with that and take more business classes.”
“We want our work to be assessable. We like to compare it to the big design firm that might not feel you can afford as a small business,” Malatesta said.