PRO-file: Howard Schwartz
Interviewed by David Duddy
Name: Howard Schwartz
Job Title: Co-Owner
Business Name: Whitney Howard Designs
Location: Calabasas, CA
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Northern California – but I went to school in NY at the University of Syracuse. I started out in the arts – but I felt a real need to understand the business side of things and how the two worked together to create viable opportunities in the arts. I approached the heads of both schools – and was able to create my own dual degree, so that I would not just foster my love of the arts – but also understand accounting, human resources, economics, and the other facets of a successful business.
What does your company do? How long has your company been in existence?
Whitney Howard Designs was formed in 1999 with my wife Whitney. We are primarily pewter casters – creating sentimental jewelry and accessories that connect people to life’s journey. We have often partnered with many MSA members to create products that relate to their missions or exhibitions.
What is your role within your company? Have you changed positions within the company? Worked for another company?
Early on, we were both involved significantly on the creative side – but my role evolved to focus on the business aspect of our company. I still work with Whitney on the creative side at times, but I do spend much of my time in operations and management. Before committing to our own company, I had spent a number of years as an executive in tech firms but I got fed up with that being my only focus. I switched to working exclusively for our own business – and we were able to quadruple sales in 2002. I love the challenge of being able to monetize creativity – to move from artist to business person and back to creative. For me, it remains an endless flow.
Describe the life journey that brought you to this place and time.
Whitney and I have been together for 29 years – at the age of 24 we started making candles in our apartment to sell. I loved working with her in the creative space – it was truly a “Do what you love/Love what you do” notion for us. We both feel that it is important to serve others – that it is vital to do things that are meaningful and intentional.
Tell us about the first sale you ever made to a museum or nonprofit institution… what was it? Who did you sell it to?
We were thrilled that our first nonprofit client was the Holocaust Memorial Museum. As a Jew, I found it incredibly profound and humbling to do work for such an important institution. In 1999, we designed a blessing ring for them that had the Star of David and the affirmation “L’Chaim” – “To Life.” It was a truly great beginning for us – as a company and as partners with nonprofit institutions.
Did you feel like a partner in that process? Are you still?
We absolutely felt like partners – and we continued to work with them on other important messaging products and concepts – like “Never Forget.” Whitney and I both find that these relationships are a dream for a creative! We have worked with over 200 nonprofits and it still is very rewarding work. We feel that our business fits so nicely into the MSA community – and our recent trip to MSA FORWARD in Boston certainly confirmed that!
What is unique about your product or production technique or design or other aspect? What would the MSA Membership really want to know about you?
All of our pieces are made in the US – right here in California. Everything is made from upcycled lead-free pewter and recycled paper. These are really important issues for many of our nonprofit clients. We have also been in the retail sphere ourselves for over 20 years – so we have a very informed understanding of the life cycles of products in retail.
Describe how the pandemic affected your business and the steps you took to keep moving forward.
Such an incredibly dramatic moment for many business – frozen or shut down entirely. We had our retail business which helped sustain us during the worst. We felt we needed to make a real contribution to the community – which is where our “Do good, it feels good” campaign arose. We “adopted” a group of hospital workers and first responders – handing out food and thousands of our blessings tokens. Their gratitude for any off these gestures was tremendously rewarding. We have also been commissioned to create a piece of wall art to celebrate the lives saved by these remarkable professionals – a fact that is sometimes lost in the horrible numbers of people who did not survive the pandemic.
What are some concrete goals for your next three years working with members of the Museum Store Association? How do you see MSA helping you achieve that?
Our goal is to continue to establish partnerships that recognize the contribution of others to the sustainable futures of those nonprofits – to collaborate with them as they move forward. The MSA community is certainly an excellent source for that work.
Have you ever attended an MSA Chapter meeting? Tell us about that experience.
I have only attended via phone – so maybe in the future?
Do you have a hobby? A special talent? A collection?
I have turned my lifetime hobby into a new business – HOWTREK Adventure Company. My passion for the past 30 years has been getting out into nature and re-connecting myself and others to the life skills needed both on and off the trail. The pandemic particularly created a strong drive to sustain mental well-being by being in the natural world. I know it was vital for me – and so many others!