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EmbraceKulture: Behind the Brand

Way back in 2012, Christa Prestion (brilliant shooting star of a human being), decided to do something incredibly brave. She took a sabbatical from her comfy, if unfulfilling, 9-5 job and moved to Africa. At that time, she couldn't have known that her decision would be the first step on a journey to literally change the world... and PERFECTLY illustrate the concept of the Brand Lifecycle!

Bear with me while I use this incredible heart-filling, world-shifting brand as an opportunity to talk about how brands grow and change over time.

It all started when Christa met Oliva. Oliva is a brilliant young woman who was about to age-out of the special needs school where Christa was volunteering. She had been kept safe by the boundaries of the school, surrounded by a country and a culture that believed special needs to be the result of a family curse, best stamped out with violence or brutal practices of witchcraft. It was amazing that the school even existed, but what would happen to Oliva after she was no longer allowed to be a part of that community? Christa saw this big, terrifying open and unprotected space ahead of all of the children in that school and was inspired to found "The Oliva Project".

I designed the logo for The Oliva Project to feel professional, but grassroots. Offering vocational training for special needs individuals who could then apply those skills to earning a livelihood, The Oliva Project was the first real step in the story of this brand.

After about a year, Christa saw an opportunity to partner with KultureCity, an organization with a much more solid foundation than she had been able to build on her own. Funding opportunities, training programs, access to the expertise and guidance of people who had lived in the non-profit sector for WAY longer was something she simply couldn't pass up.

But one caveat came with that partnership. She would have to change the name and visual brand of her organization so that it could fit apropriately into the KultureCity family of programs.

With Oliva, and her story, still firmly at the center of the brand's soul, we changed the name to EmbraceKulture and designed a logo that mimicked the layout and style elements in that of KultureCity. Take a look:

But the story doesn't end there! Because it never does. As EmbraceKulture continued to grow, building a significant fundraising base in the US, breaking ground on a physical center in Uganda, establishing world-reaching programs to improve and protect the lives of special needs individuals and their families... the connection with KultureCity became less and less necessary.

With bravery and an incredibly strong foundation under her feet, Christa applied for her own 501C3 status as Embrace Kulture and we underwent another rebrand. An empowering step toward independence and HUGE growth. Finally Christa could make her own choices and develop crystal clear messaging and operations.

But what to choose....? The last rebrand was clear. There were guidelines. There was a structure we had to fit into, with just the right amount of leeway to make some personal choices. But this? The reality was, there WERE guidelines. There IS a right way to make this kind of move. And it was really fun working through it.

I started by taking a step back to the very first days of The Oliva Project. We decided not to change the name back, as Embrace Kulture had become a recognized name. We even decided to keep the misspelling of Kulture, which was a whole conversation, because it meant being able to keep the domain name, the social tags, etc AND save the time and effort in re-educating donors on how to write the name on checks... which is important....

In stead, I looked back to the sketches I'd come up with for the original Oliva Project logo. One, on particular, had stuck with me. In the top right sketch, below, the circle around the logohad always felt like arms giving a great big hug. Wrapping the organization in warmth and care and protection. Even better, the shape is literally the "O" from Oliva in that sketch. If you look closely, you'll see it.

So I took that hugging O, a literal embrace, and wrapped it around the little black child that was at the heart of the previous logo. In the previous logo conversations, that child had been at the center of the rebrand, as IT was the thing that most directly tied the brand image to it's work in Africa, as opposed to KultureCity which was primarily US based.

And we kept the blue gradient color scheme because it meant that Christa wouldn't then have to go back and reprint all the tshirts and materials in Africa in order to make the old and new brands feel connected. Now, normally the first thing I say in a rebrand is to ditch all the old stuff because it just muddies the waters and cheapens the brand... but... asking a non-profit in Africa to reprint hundreds of things, when those funds could be going toward MUCH more important services, it felt more meaningful to build something new that could reasonably sit side-by-side with the old brand and still feel connected.

And here it is!

Strong. Professional. Clean. Purposeful.

It's an amazing experience to walk alongside an organization through the brand lifecycle. The growth, the stories, the reasons why. It's beautiful to experience all that change and reinvention and an absolute privileged to be a part of it all. I'm not in Africa, on the ground, holding hands and physically engaging in the work, but I feel emotionally connected to the whole life of Embrace Kulture.

Now, it's important to understand that these things don't happen overnight. It's easy to read a story like this and think "Well what am I supposed to do? Rebrand every year??". No. Absolutely not. That would be as confusing and stressful as it would be expensive and totally unnecessary. The truth is, when you're ready for a rebrand, you'll know it. These things happen organically.

When your business is going through a change, take a look at your visual brand and ask yourself: "Does this still fit?" If the answer is yes, no hesitation, no questions, then great. Keep it.

But if there's that little nagging voice at the back of your mind asking "Is this still right? Is this still taking me in the right direction?" we should talk. No stress, no pressure. Just a chat.

I promise it'll be fun.

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