Co-Founder of Triboro Design I February 16, 2018
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Born in Düsseldorf designer Stefanie Weigler now resides in Brooklyn, New York, where she makes up half of the creative force behind the Triboro design studio. Together with her husband and business partner David Heasty, Weigler has managed to make her mark on the American world of design with a host of projects—from the critically acclaimed Wrong Color Subway maps (now part of the MoMA collection) to branding work for Justin Timberlake’s fashion line William Rast.
We spoke with Weigler to find out how she found her way across the Atlantic, and how her experience as an immigrant in the U.S. has shaped her.
The Importance of Knowing What You Don’t Want
Weigler begins her story back in Germany, noting that a major factor contributing to her success in the field of design can be attributed to the encouragement of her parents.
“As a child I was really into drawing, painting, and building things. I guess this was a way of expressing myself as I was a pretty quiet kid. Thankfully my parents have always been supportive and fostered my passion."
In an effort to spur her creative inclinations further, Weigler’s parents enrolled her in a number of painting classes at a young age. Not only that, but Weigler recalls being encouraged to participate in a number of extracurricular activities from a vast array of disciplines as a means of honing in on her personal passion. By the time she was in high school, she had a confident sense of what direction she wanted to go.
“Maybe I wasn’t always sure what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want, and that was working at a larger ad agency. I much more preferred the smaller design studios. After a few internships it was clear to me that studying graphic design would make the most sense."
At the urging of her art teacher, Weigler applied to Bergische Universität Wuppertal, a school with one of the most prestigious design programs in Germany at the time. With a highly competitive admissions program that only let in about 50 of every 600 applicants, Weigler was delighted to find that she had been accepted.
In the New York Groove
Life in New York brought on a series of changes for Weigler, both professionally and personally. She was one of a team of four at Design Machine, which gave her ample opportunity to get to know her colleagues on a more personal level. The friendship Weigler made that proved to be especially fateful was that with the head of the studio, Alexander Gelman, who ended up introducing Weigler to a very important person.
“I met my husband early on. He dropped by the studio a few times since he used to work there. I remember David being the first person in the office with a smile on his face—I definitely wanted to get to know him more. Later I found out that Gelman had spoken to him about me and suggested that we would make a great couple.”
Though Weigler had only agreed to a 6-month internship in the U.S. at first, she began to find more and more reasons to stay as time went on. In addition to meeting the man who would go on to become her husband, Weigler also felt that New York offered the perfect environment for her future as a designer.
“The energy in the city is really uplifting and keeps me from getting too comfortable. There are tons of opportunities and inspirations to draw from. When I got to NY I was surprised how supportive the local design community was. Famous and established designers would give me valuable advice and recommendations."
In spite of her growing fondness for U.S. life, finding an employer willing to sponsor visa fees proved to be too challenging, as Weigler was predominantly interested in small creative studios. After her 6 months were up, she was forced to return to Germany.
Save the Date!
Though Weigler has no doubts that she would have found just as much success and happiness in Germany, it seemed that her return to the U.S. was inevitable. She had maintained her connection with David despite the distance, and in the end the two decided to get married, opening up a world of freedom for the two of them.
“I came over on a K1 visa, which is a fiancée visa. We had a small window of time to get married so the clock was ticking. I always laugh at people who think they need to plan their wedding a year in advance, because I had to do mine in two weeks.”
The decision to get married wasn’t so much an impulse as it was a moving up of an already scheduled event. After attaining her green card, Weigler was able to set up the studio Triboro with her new husband, and the two have been running it together ever since.
The Perks of Being an Outsider
To round out her story, Weigler offered some perspective on the highlights of her immigrant experience. Though the journey is not always an easy one, she is thankful that New York has opened its arms up to her and welcomed her as one of its own. She explains that newcomers should do everything they can to soak in every little experience, no matter how daunting it might seem at first.
“When you just moved to another country, you are forced to be outside of your comfort zone, which will make you feel energized and on your toes. There is no routine. Every day you experience something new and you will constantly meet new people. It will be a crazy ride that will change your life.”
Jumping Into Cold Water
Weigler came into university with an industrious mindset; within the first year, she had already begun taking on internships and freelancing in addition to her studies and plans about her future after school were already beginning to formulate. Having enjoyed a healthy exposure to the world outside of Germany through her family’s vacations, Weigler was already toying with the idea of trying her hand at international living.
“Our family spent many vacations in the US. Then at age 18, I attended a language school in California for a few months. Later on, during my studies, I looked into ways to temporarily work abroad. I just didn't know yet when and where.”
Weigler did not have to wait long for her chance. After finishing her studies, she was soon invited to do an internship with Design Machine, a small studio operating out of SoHo, New York. With that, Weigler set off for her American adventure.
“I was excited but I was also a bit scared since I didn’t know anyone in New York. It was like jumping into cold water.”
Her initial transition into life in the U.S. was not as smooth as Weigler would have hoped. She was able to find a roommate through an old connection, but the living situation proved to be less than glamorous.
“One of my professors recommended this woman who lived on the Upper West Side who let me stay for the first few weeks. Her place was cluttered and infested with cockroaches. At one point a drug addict broke in while I was out. The cops came and where shocked when they heard how much rent I was paying. It was so weird. Somebody else might have given up.”
But rather than running from the challenges, Weigler met them all head on. Now she reflects on her early time in New York as a sort of right of passage—the kind of make or break moment that, if passed, ultimately cements you as one of the brave few able to make it in a new country.
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