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The Next Generation: CJ Sierra
Whether it's a new grad just starting out, a dedicated mid-career-er changing paths or leaders looking to advance, we are committed to helping the next generation of talent reach their goals. Many of our team members have created unique career paths at Jonathan Louis, and in this series, we celebrate their stories and growth. Interested in a similar opportunity? We always have our door open for future talent—check out our Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor for availabilities.
This week, we talk to CJ Sierra, Product Design Specialist, who started working with us right after college in June 2021, after applying to an Otis College of Art and Design job posting. Get to know him a little bit better: his aspirations, his experience at Jonathan Louis, and the one thing he would eat for the rest of his life.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to design cars because I found exotic cars to be very beautiful, and I never saw any growing up or got to see them in person. I was a fan of the Fast and Furious movies—it was released when I was growing up, so I liked watching them. I also liked playing with Hot Wheels when I was about six or seven years old.
How did you come to work in JL?
Through a job posting I saw at Otis [College of Art and Design]. It was specifically for the Design Firm for students, it’s a program that’s housed within Otis (coincidentally called Design Lab). Javier [Sanchez, CEO] and Heidi [Gonzalez, Director of Product Development] collaborated with the Design Lab Program at Otis while I was participating. I was actually one of the quieter ones for most of the conversations, but I heavily participated in the furniture designing part which is what I excelled in.
What did you plan to do upon graduating?
I had planned to try to work at a furniture studio, something really small. No more than 20 people and wanted to build up a foundation there. The dream would be to have my own furniture studio. It’s still my dream.
What were you expecting in your first year?
I went into the job knowing that I wasn’t fully a professional in the field because I had just graduated. Javier and Heidi told me that they were hoping that in the first year I would absorb as much as I could and learn as much as I could about the industry, so there wasn’t an expectation that I would be pushing anything out or producing anything of actual value. I think they were expecting it to feel more like an internship rather than an actual job. But the first project that was assigned from an outside client is what made me realize that I wasn’t just learning my first year. Heidi assigned me a project that was to come up with a design for a full product and pitch it to one of our larger retail partners. That’s when I realized that I was being trusted with more, that decisions I made would affect the company. It wasn’t like I would create some sample that wouldn’t go anywhere or ever see the light of day. It was something that would actually go to market.
What does an average day look like for you?
Majority of time I’m coming up with new designs and sketching. Usually, I’ll work on one of two things, either I’ll be designing for market or there are times where I’m designing for a specific customer. I like designing for market because there is no outline, rubric, or really any rules…I just follow the trends. Customer-based sketches are a lot stricter because I have specific guidelines or need to keep their style in mind.
How has JL supported you in your role?
Because my role was newly created, I feel like the responsibilities I started with have grown and I’ve taken on new projects and tasks. Any support I need from IT is given to me which makes my job easier. They gave me a laptop instead of a standard desktop because I’m mobile a lot of the time and needed to be able to go from the design area to my desk. Javier has taught me to have trust in my craft and skills especially when it’s come into question. I don’t let people push me around because I’m new—I have confidence in my skill—and I don’t always assume that just because people have more experience, they must know what they’re talking about, which isn’t always the case.
What kinds of opportunities to grow/learn/develop have you gotten at JL?
I told Heidi before that school wasn’t good at teaching the business portion of merchandising that goes into product. Coming out of college, I was trained to just “do,” and here I get the opportunity to have creative freedom. Heidi mainly gives me advice based off her experience—an example would be a bench seat not doing as well as separate seats when designing a sofa/sectional. Her experience teaches me realistic boundaries within the industry. As far as the opportunities I’ve gotten to grow professionally, I’ve participated in the Excel courses that they offered to all employees who wished to improve their skills, and we didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket. I’ve done fabric workshops, and offsite inspiration trips. On those trips I get to learn about what’s trending in all aspects of design. We have a lot of conversations about development—Heidi is supportive in helping me achieve my goals.
What have you accomplished here that you’re most proud of?
I would say designing something that was going to be placed at stores for other people to buy. One of our major retail partners actually chose something that I designed (although it won’t be running in stores for a few more years—the Japandi). My next goal is to design something for our biggest customer.
What are your next steps—in one year? In 3 years?
I want to continue adding bigger collections to our stationary line. I want to have more designs be placed in major retailers. In three years, I see myself potentially leading a team of designers or maybe training a student—lead and mentor a student that was in my exact position.
What are you doing outside of JL to reach your goals?
I make my own case goods, like the table I’m building at home right now, a skill that I can directly apply to my position here.
CJ Sierra, 2022
If you had a time machine, which part of history would you revisit and why?
Ancient Greece—I think that the architecture was beautiful and I want to learn where the stories came from, and the reason behind everything.
What song can you listen to on repeat?
“You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” by Dead or Alive
What an essential item you’d want with you if you’re stuck on an island?
If you could be fluent in any other language what would it be?
If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?