When I think about the most inspiring women in design, Shea McGee tops the list. It’s been four years since we interviewed Shea here on the blog, and it’s hard to wrap my head around everything she’s accomplished in the time since.
Despite all her incredible success, there’s something about Shea’s graceful and cheerful demeanor that feels inherently down-to-earth. Whenever I get the chance to DM with her on Instagram, I always know I’m talking directly with Shea, which is pretty impressive considering her massive IG following at 2.2 M, to be exact. I’m so grateful that Shea took the time to catch up, and there’s no question this interview will leave you loving her EVEN more.
Shea, we last interviewed you almost four years ago, and your life has changed so much since then! What has it been like to release your first book, launch three Target collections and a Netflix series in such a short timespan, all while taking on full-service design projects around the globe and running a massive e-commerce brand?
Our business has evolved and grown in many exciting ways over the last few years, but much of my day-to-day looks the same (just with more responsibility)! My creative reviews with our design and styling teams are similar but with larger scale projects. What used to be mood-boarding and product design for McGee & Co. now encompasses seasonal collections for Target. Our team has grown significantly and my time has been further divided. I am still creating and doing what I love, but the time and attention I can give to each endeavor has become increasingly more efficient and the trust in our team to run with projects has increased. And at the end of the day, I’m still picking up my kids’ backpacks and muddy boots off the floor! Experiencing these huge milestones in 2020 was interesting because it was very different than we imagined – from media interviews to celebrations, what we thought would be a loud year felt very quiet in a way as we experienced it all from our home.
I personally have a problem with taking time to enjoy the moment after a big accomplishment and am always thinking “what’s next?” Do you ever feel that way? How do you and Syd work to enjoy each phase of your growth, while still pushing forward?
Syd and I are very “what’s next” kind of people. We have to remind ourselves to slow down and celebrate, even if in a small way. In past years, our favorite way to celebrate was with a trip. It could be a three-day weekend to NYC for a pizza crawl or a relaxing beach vacation, but whatever the location, we’ve found a getaway forces us to unplug and enjoy the moment. This past year, it has been harder to celebrate, so we’ve looked forward to simple things like making a special dinner on the patio or a break to hike in the mountains.
Image via McGee & Co.
Obviously, you’ve had a loyal following over the last 5+ years, but since the release of Dream Home Makeover, you and Syd have become household names! How has that heightened recognition changed your day-to-day in both a professional and personal sense?
Since the launch of our Netflix show, the recognition has definitely increased! I’ve definitely learned my lesson about going to the grocery store sans makeup and dirty hair, haha! One of the biggest differences we’ve noticed is that our name has reached beyond the design world. Prior to the launch of the show, we were recognized primarily by design enthusiasts. Now it has reached beyond, which still feels pretty surreal.
Design: Studio McGee
That sudden level of recognition brings a lot of new eyes to your business, specifically to social media. How do you manage the increase of new followers, along with the occasional internet “trolling”?
We have tried our best from the beginning of our time on social media to respond to as many people as possible. With the increase in followers, our team has grown to help keep up with all the messages (there are a lot)! Our following is generally very positive and upbeat. It has been incredible to see fans from all over the world join us. That said, internet trolls will, unfortunately, always be a part of social media. With the dramatic increase in eyes on our brand, I have had my down moments for sure where I let the one cruel message out of thousands of nice ones get to me. But not getting sucked into or engaging with the negativity (because that’s what the trolls want) is the best solution for our team.
We’d love to hear more about the experience of filming with Netflix. Does designing on television shift how you approach your work?
Our experience filming with Netflix was very eye opening to the world of non-scripted television, and we have learned so much. There are lots of people involved behind-the-scenes to make the magic happen, and it takes coordination from both our team and production. We learned the hard way that we couldn’t just install a home like we typically would, which is already stressful. I had to hit certain talking points while trying to solve problems and do my other job of making the projects look good. Things that would normally take a few hours, like installing a countertop, would take more time because the cameras needed to be there. Plus, we were on a tighter time frame with filming deadlines than our typical projects, so we didn’t have the time to wait for the long lead times on furniture which narrowed our options (and I’m a woman who likes options). As someone who thrives on efficiency, it was a lesson in patience. This was our first go, and I’m so proud of what we accomplished. But just like anything, there are a few things I would do differently if we decide to do more TV in the future.
Design: Studio McGee
What did 2020 look like for you and your team during the pandemic, and have you found a new normal?
We are so grateful that the majority of our team was able to easily transition to working from home and practically living on zoom calls! We have settled into a new normal, but at the same time, I think we’re all looking forward to a time when we can all meet back at the office. I do think that seeing how well our team has managed remotely has opened our eyes to more of a hybrid model of work in the future.
We work with a lot of designers who feel like opening e-commerce is the “next step” in their career, especially after a pandemic year when brick-and-mortars really suffered. There are so many logistical challenges to consider and work through in order to make e-commerce happen in the shelter space. Do you have any advice about e-commerce you wish you’d known starting out?
E-commerce can be a next step for designers, but I also see it as a huge undertaking with operations and logistics. Like most businesses that seem very simple from the outside, once you dive in, you realize there is so much more to creating a brand than selecting beautiful products and selling them. My advice would be to ask yourself if your design business is prepared for your attention to be pulled in two directions before launching? If the answer is not quite yet, I believe that partnering with sponsors and building additional revenue through affiliate linking is a very low overhead/high return business to complement a designer’s career.
I struggle so much with family planning as I’ve grown our business and trying to decide on the “right time” to become a mother. The way you’ve spearheaded your career while being a mom has always inspired me on a very personal level. You’ve had your girls along for the whole SM ride – how did you find your mom/mogul balance?
First of all, thank you! Second, it can be hard at times (especially at the beginning when you’re a new mom and everything is so overwhelming), but everyone gets into a rhythm! My family and career are my greatest joys and I feel very lucky to juggle both. I have found that waiting for the perfect timing in life or business rarely happens, and that often I need to listen to my gut. When I follow my instincts things tend to fall into place – not always how I intended, but for the best. Everyone has their own way of balancing work/motherhood, but having help I can trust both at home and at work has been key.
Watching your growth, overcoming of challenges, diversity in your business, and your incredible success has been a true pleasure over the years. Somehow I think of you as a personal friend, yet, we’ve only chatted casually on Instagram over the years. How do you maintain that incredible level of personal connection with your followers when there are literally millions?
The feeling is mutual! It has been incredible to watch the growth and evolution of your business! I have made so many connections over the years through social media that I never would have been able to make without it. Without our followers, I wouldn’t have a business and I do not take that lightly. I love being able to share a mutual love for design and business, and will always make time for it.
Image via McGee & Co.
When working with our clients, the comparison game comes up frequently. Feelings of inadequacy or imposter syndrome. Any final advice you have for designers looking up to you, thinking they’ll never get there?
I think we all have to remind ourselves that “there” looks different for everyone and to be open to our entrepreneurial journey evolving as different opportunities arise. It’s very easy to see pretty pictures from the outside and assume everything is smooth-sailing behind them. But more often than not, it’s not! My best advice is to keep going, pushing, pivoting, and taking a moment to appreciate what you have accomplished thus far.
You’ve had so many exciting projects as of late, and Dream Home Makeover Season 2 was just announced for January 1st!!! Any other upcoming surprises you can share with us?
I can’t believe season 2 has been released! One of my biggest focuses this year will be on our design book!
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