My story starts in Toledo, Ohio where I was an ambitious, shy, young art student ready to tackle a life in the arts. At age 18 in 1990, I discovered the Art Academy nestled in Mt. Adams through a friend. I fell in love with the charm of the art buildings, the professors and the European-style neighborhood. I applied and was accepted.My time at the Art Academy opened my eyes in ways that still hold a lasting impression on me and my around the world, full circle journey.
Community was one. To this day, I treasure the friendships I formed in those first years of being on my own. My classmates brought me inspiration, laughter, tears, adventures and always guidence. The quality of the professors was another, from April Foster to Gary Gaffney, to Tony Bachelor, Jay Zumeta, Jay Bolotin, Kal Kowal and others, I was always in good hands as they pushed me outside of my comfort zone.
Under April Foster’s careful eye, printmaking was my area of focus. For the next three years, she guided us quietly yet boldly through the processes of rollers, inks, printing methods, baths of etching acids, the magic of lithography and gorgeous papers that felt like velvet. More importantly, she pushed us to make work that mattered to us as individuals and to make sure the quality of our work was always flawless and first-class.
As an introverted student, this personal and welcoming environment, helped me ease any fears in creating quality work. Work made with meaning and integrity, work that mattered to me, work formed with care and craftsmanship. The AAC experience gave me the confidence and the foundation to take on bigger parts of the world and bigger creative projects which brings me to today.
Quiet yet filled with wanderlust, I left the cozy AAC nest for NYC where I met my husband Moulay Essakalli, joined him in Boston, where we became parents. This led us to going further and jumping the ocean to Morocco where Moulay is from. “We’ll be back in 6 months!” we told everyone. Immersed in beauty, culture,amazing food, three languages, a second child, and our new business, before we knew it, fifteen awesome years flew by.
It’s here, in Marrakech, where we created our first company, Zid Zid Kids. A children’s lifestyle brand inspired by how kids play, we designed and manufactured toys, accessories, furnishings ( full story here ) with passion. Our products were found in 20 countries, received international awards and press, even recognition from President Obama in 2010 at the 1st Global Entrepreneurship Summit. We were proud to build inspiring products and spaces for kids.
But, as things go, it was time for a pivot once again. Even though we loved manufacturing, we became intrigued with the intersection of languages, design and how kids play. We were surrounded with three languages on a daily basis as a family and in the Moroccan culture, where I learned French and Arabic outside of any formal instruction. During teaching creative art classes for French families in Marrakech, parents asked, “please teach our children English during art class!”. With that, Moulay and I tried this crazy approach of blending art and languages through multiple classes and workshops in different countries (Morocco, Bahrain,UAE, Belgium) and it worked. Kids soaked it up, parents were thrilled.
It became learning a language through doing, learning through the arts, learning through creativity, learning through being present, not learning a language through flashcards, memorization or a digital app. This discovery gave us pause. We asked ourselves if this approach had any worth and if it could have a larger reach?
And with that, the new Zid Zid was born. We are an unusual tech company focused on empowering kids to discover world languages with their parents, all through creative play.
We built an alpha in Morocco which tested so well with parents, we were excited. At the same time, my father’s failing health pulled heavily on my Ohio heart-strings. We also then discovered dynamic Wendy Lea and The Brandery. We applied to The Brandery upon Wendy’s recommendation and held our breath, as they are one of the top 10 accelerators in the USA! We hoped, we wished, and were ready to make the leap over the ocean a second time, this time back to the Queen City, if they would have us.
In June, The Brandery welcomed us with open arms. We came ready to build something amazing, all over again.
OTR is not the same as it was in the 90’s when I lived on Main Street during my last year at AAC. The AAC solidly sits now in it’s new (to me!) home right outside my new OTR apartment window. One of my favorite professors Gary Gaffney, took the time to warmly welcome me back with an extensive tour paired with his bright, infectious smile. The amazing Joan Kaup brought us into her community with her contagious energy and willingness to help us feel settled. Beautiful architecture, delightful craft beers, vibrant #StartupCincy energy, Gomez, Union Hall, our Brandery mentors, old best friends, Washington Park has replaced fresh clementines at the market, swaying palm trees, cooing mourning doves, luxurious palaces, our Atelier, Friday couscous, dear friends, an intoxicating Medina, views of two oceans, the magnificent Atlas Mountains and the magic of the Sahara Desert.
Forever filled with wanderlust, I still know where the Heartland is. I am happy to be again in it’s warm embrace of community, drive, excellence in the arts and in always doing your best. Recent Zid Zid highlights include The Big Idea Award from the Cincinnati’s World Class Innovation Tech Summit, an event featuring over 40 of Cincinnati’s best and brightest Startup companies, 50+ vendor and exhibitor booths, with robust speaker/panels focused on technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Zid Zid has two upcoming pilots with the YMCA and the CAC. Join us to continue the story!