The Making of a Brooklyn Design Star

Shanan Campanaro of Eskayel turned dreamy patterns into a small-batch success story, but it almost didn't happen

Campanaro launched her business just as the economy tanked, but the world of social media and appreciation for DIY crafts was exploding (Photo courtesy of Eskayel)

It started as something to brighten her space, ten years ago. Painter Shanan Campanaro and her boyfriend had broken up. After he moved out of their Williamsburg apartment, she got rid of their furniture. The place was empty.

Campanaro wanted to jazz up her living room. She used one of her watercolor paintings to make a wall covering by turning the image into a repeated pattern, digitally printing the new design onto large swaths of paper, then pasting it to the wall. She liked the result.

Wallpaper swatches from the Nocturne collection (Photo courtesy of Eskayel)

Today Campanaro’s micro-batch, made-to-order wallpaper and textile firm, Eskayel, is a darling of the design community. Her luxury bespoke textiles are covered in designs that, like the original piece, are hand-painted by Campanaro and digitally printed onto linen and other natural fabrics. Campanaro’s unique, dreamy designs evoke ink blots and watery blends of slate and pastel, with pops and washes of white, like sun-bleached fabric.

The big names have taken notice. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Elle Décor have written about her company, while such prestige retailers as ABC Carpet and Home and Barney’s New York carry her products. Eskayel’s primary customer base is interior designers, who select from her diverse line of patterns or commission custom-colored products. The firm is now expanding into bespoke rugs printed with Campanaro’s hand-painted designs. “Due to the handmade nature of the rugs, they are sort of all one-of-a-kind,” Campanaro said.

A Visit With the Designer

On a sunny but ice-cold March day, sitting in a bright coffee shop in south Williamsburg around the corner from her studio showroom, the 40-year-old painter told about the evolution of her business, a dream challenged by many stressful moments along the way. “I always, always knew I wanted to do my own thing,” she said. In fact, the business name Eskayel came from an early effort of Campanaro and two friends in art school in London to launch a T-shirt design company. The name is a mashup of letters from the friends’ names; Campanaro trademarked the brand name and used it to launch a variety of efforts, including her own clothing line.

But it was that first experiment with wallpaper that lit upon something, she said. Her friends loved it. Since she had a day job, creating fashion graphics at Express, the clothing-store chain, she started working nights and weekends to design a line of wallpaper.

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Eskayel is expanding into the rug business with patterns like Galileo Glass, which is 100% silk and made in Nepal (Photo courtesy of Eskayel)

In 2009, her line–six designs based on her paintings­­–was accepted into the Bklyn Designs show. Preparing for the show forced her to ramp up her game, Campanaro said. She registered Eskayel as a business and launched a website. “It forced me to become a company,” Campanaro said.

The show was a success. She sold some wallpaper, and garnered press. “I felt like carrying on,” Campanaro said. She launched two collections the following year and exhibited at Bklyn Designs again, as well as at Architectural Digest’s Design Show in Manhattan.

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Campanaro with her husband and business partner Nick Chacona at the Architectural Digest Design Show in March (Photo by Lesley Alderman)

She continued to work her day job, reserving spare time for Eskayel. In 2010, Campanaro expanded Eskayel’s product line to add textiles: fabrics for pillows, chairs and the like. But she was running on fumes. One weekend, Companaro recalls, she had so much work to do, and was so tired, that she started to cry and couldn’t stop. She knew something had to change.

In 2011, she quit her day job to focus on Eskayel. She took a $30,000 loan from her mom. “I did not have any money. But I had too much work to do,” Campanaro said. She had to start charging people for samples because she couldn’t afford to make them and give them out, she said. Now that’s more commonplace, but back then, it was unheard of, she said.

Campanaro and her husband and business partner Nick Chacona, who married in 2013, did odd jobs to make ends meet. He was DJ’ing and distributing pamphlets across the city for Vice magazine. “My credit cards were maxed,” she said. “It was the tipping point of failing or making it.”

Suddenly, the Business Takes Off

When all seemed bleak, things got better–and fast. Eskayel’s sales doubled two years in a row, Campanaro said. “I paid back my mom in two years.”

The timing was right, apparently, for small-batch textiles and designer wallpaper. Campanaro launched the firm just as the economy tanked in 2008, but the world of social media and appreciation for DIY crafts was exploding, she said. People were starting to get creative with home design and to seek out items that were not mass produced. “When I started, people were folding. I didn’t get big and have to scale back. As I was coming up, the economy was coming up,” Campanaro said.

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Eskayel produces a variety of pillows; this one is called the Presidio Canyon (Photo courtesy of Eskayel)

Last year, Campanaro opened a studio and showroom in Williamsburg, which she and Chacona designed and built.  While Eskayel isn’t doubling every year, the company has settled into a steady pace, with sales growing 9% last year, Campanaro said. She is now looking to rugs, designed and made to order, to fuel future growth. Rugs “have the potential to become one-third of the business. That’s where I see the greatest potential,” Campanaro said. Eskayel will have a pop-up shop at its showroom at 75 S. 6th St., Williamsburg, the weekend of May 6-7, to coincide with this year’s Bklyn Designs show.

In the meantime, having hired a small team to help run the business, Campanaro and Chacona have been catching up on much-needed recreation. Avid surfers, they’ve chased the waves from Nicaragua to Australia to Bali. (Back home, they hit Gilgo Beach and Long Beach.) Then it’s right back to work growing the business. “It’s really exciting, but also overwhelming. I’ll go on vacation and sleep all day. But it’s all good,” Campanaro said, as she put on her coat to hurry to a meeting at a boutique hotel. “I’m looking forward to seeing what this year will bring.”

Lisa M. Collins is a freelance writer who contributes to The Bridge, The New York Times, New York magazine and other news media. Previously, she was a political and environmental reporter for daily newspapers and the Associated Press