This week’s Latina Spotlight is on Alicia Freile, founder of the boutique graphic design company, Tango Media. After working in the book publishing industry for 10 years, Alicia decided to put her industry knowledge, keen sense of style and well-honed graphic design skills to use as she built her own graphic design company in 2008. Alicia’s Tango Media specializes in book design and layout, and serves clients all over the world. Alicia has also written an E-Reader digest introducing non-techie types to the large–and still growing–world of E-Readers and digital publishing. Alica has accomplished so much in her life and career, so far, but she isn’t done yet! Her next goal: “I would love to get a UK branch of Tango Media up and running. Then I could have a trio of clocks on the wall of my office with labels under each one saying: Sydney, New York, London!”
Provide us with a brief bio regarding your culture/heritage, upbringing and education. Please be as detailed as possible.
My background is mixed, with an Ecuadorian father and an American mother. My father originally came to the United States for university at age 20 and ended up staying and building his career as a geographer. I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and was pretty much the token Latina throughout my school years. My extended family remained in South America, so I never really had the sense of community that so many Latinos enjoy. Because of this, I definitely felt like an outsider as a child, and was always aware that my family was different because of our ethnicity.
I always loved art, so after high school I did a bachelor’s degree in Communication Design at a small university in Pennsylvania. It was a very challenging program that gave me an excellent foundation for my career as a graphic designer. The other students in the program were wonderful; they were supportive and encouraging to one another.
In my junior year, I chose to do a study abroad program in England. I was hoping to broaden my horizons by experiencing life in another country and learning about graphic design from a British viewpoint. I loved the experience so much that I promised myself I would live overseas again, whenever possible.
In addition to my undergraduate degree, I have a master’s degree in Design Management from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
You started your own small business, Tango Media. Tell us a bit about Tango Media and how it came about.
After working in the book publishing industry for 10 years, I started Tango Media in 2008 as a boutique graphic design company. At the beginning, Tango Media mainly handled book design for a handful of American and Australian book publishing clients. Interestingly, I had never really thought about being a business owner until I was in Australia. But as a foreigner trying to work in the Australian publishing industry, I quickly learned that I was overqualified for most jobs available to me. I just didn’t have the connections, network and reputation in the Australian industry to get the same level of position that I’d have in the US. And I didn’t want to settle for less than I had felt I earned.
So I chose to start my own business, offering a variety of design services that book publishing clients in the US and Australia required. I had a terrific network of designers, photo retouchers, typesetters, and illustrators from my career in America, so I was able to offer a targeted variety of services that book publishers required.
Since 2008, Tango Media has added myriad clients from the US, UK and Australia, including new clients outside the realm of book publishing, which allows us to expand our design services even further than before.
We also offer e-book design, formatting and distribution services and we were one of the first companies in Australia to do so. Digital publishing is the fastest-growing area of book publishing and I’m happy that we gained an early foothold in this sector. Tango Media continues to handle print and digital design work as the company evolves. And we are very happy to now have a US branch of Tango Media in addition to the Australian branch.
Tango Media is based in Australia. What took you to Australia?
I originally came to Australia to do a master’s degree in Design Management, which I completed in 2008. When searching for master’s programs that were right for me, I applied to universities in the United States, England, and Australia. However, I was hoping that I would be able to do a masters overseas so that I could get another opportunity to live in a foreign country, as I did during my undergraduate days. When the acceptance letter arrived from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, my instinct told me that Sydney was the place for me!
What do you miss the most about “home”? What do you like the most about being an American Latina in Australia?
I miss so many things from home; of course my friends and family are at the top of that list. But I also miss little things like American coffee, celebrating Christmas when it’s cold outside, and watching Sunday Morning on TV each week. The little things add up and can cause homesickness when you least expect it, and sometimes that can be tough to deal with.
Being an American Latina in Australia has been a really positive experience! The Australians I’ve met are well-traveled, open-minded and genuinely interested in other cultures. Subsequently, I’ve found that Australia is a very good atmosphere for Americans of color. Many Australians have traveled to Latin American countries and loved the culture, so they are eager to discuss their travels with people having a Latin American background–who are few and far between down under.
I didn’t realize this before moving here, but Australia is an incredibly diverse country with a large immigrant community. Different cultures are valued and respected here, so I guess the thing I love most as an American Latina in Australia is that I fit right into the mix!
As someone who has moved half-way around the world and started her own business, what has been your biggest personal challenge, and what has been your biggest professional challenge?
My biggest personal challenge has been trying to navigate a new country, immigration, meeting new people and starting a new life, all by myself. I came to Australia knowing absolutely no one and it was pretty scary and overwhelming at times. Most people I’ve met who have migrated to Australia have done so by following friends and family who have already made the journey before them. Having a friend who has ‘done it all before’ is the best possible resource when moving abroad.
And my biggest professional challenge has been starting over in a new country without any sort of network here. The professional anonymity was quite a shock! I’ve been in Australia for six years now, and I’m happy to say that I’ve built a good network for myself in that time. But it took a lot of work and effort (and some luck!) and it’s still much smaller than my American network.
How has being Latina contributed to your success?
I think that being Latina–being a minority–has made me incredibly determined to succeed. I’ll tell you a story: In my senior year of high school, I heard about an Industrial Arts scholarship which included my upcoming area of study, Graphic Design. I read through the requirements and I was eligible to apply, so I approached the teacher in charge of the application process. When I asked him for an application, he refused to give me one, but wouldn’t offer a reason. Then he quickly tried and force other students in the classroom to take applications so there wouldn’t be one left for me. I persisted and he did, grudgingly, give me an application. To this day, I don’t know if that teacher’s issue was that I was Latina or female, either way, he certainly didn’t want to give me a chance. But I knew if the ethnicity factor was absent from that scenario, I’d have a pretty definite answer to what his issue was, wouldn’t I?
I didn’t get the scholarship. But I did take away a huge sense of determination to do my absolute best despite what others may think.
You’ve recently published a book, the “E-Reader Digest”, available December 10th, worldwide. Tell us about the book and why you decided to write it.
E-Reader Digest is a non-techie’s consumer guide to the world of e-books and e-readers. It features reviews of the various e-readers available, discusses how to purchase e-books, compares e-bookstores and devices, and answers all those e-book/e-readers questions that people are embarrassed to ask.
I wrote the book for a couple reasons: First and foremost, I wanted to help the non-tech-savvy book lovers of the world better understand how e-books and e-readers work. The technology may seem scary, but actually has a pretty easy learning curve.
Secondly, I wanted to ‘get my name out there’ in the Australian book publishing industry, which isn’t easy as a foreigner. The industry here is much smaller than in the United States and can feel closed off at times. I felt that authoring a book about this technology would be an excellent way to boost my profile down under.
If you were to design the book cover of your own autobiography, what would it look like? Explain why.
That would be the toughest design job ever! It’s way easier to design for others than for myself. I suppose I’d aim for a cover design that features plenty of vibrant color, stylish type, and a textile-influenced pattern. The reason why? I love seeing lots of bright colors together, I’m pretty picky about my fonts, and I’ve got a big passion for textiles–specifically for beautiful embroidery.
What is your next big dream?
I would love to get a UK branch of Tango Media up and running. Then I could have a trio of clocks on the wall of my office with labels under each one saying: Sydney, New York, London!
What is your advice to Latina students and professionals?
Do what YOU want to do, not what others tell you to do or what people expect of you, but what you truly want. Follow your instincts. Be independent. Be brave, but know that it is alright to acknowledge it when you are facing a challenge that is terrifying. And finally, a well-known saying that continues to ring true for me: “Find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life!”
For more information about Tango Media visit the Tango Media website here!
To buy Alicia’s E-Reader Digest Book click here!
E-Reader Digest is also available at Barnes & Noble in the US and WH Smith in the UK.