Women’s History Month – In Conversation With Amy Lipkin

Amy Lipkin © Fabian Palencia

In honor of Women’s History Month this March, we recently put out a call for nominations for AWESOME Greenpoint women. We’re kicking off the series with Amy Lipkin, who was nominated by her sister-in-law Jenne who shared:

Amy is an awesome Greenpoint treasure – one of the most fun, hard-working and interesting women I know! I think you should know her, too. For the past 3 years, she has lived in her Greenpoint apartment, out of which she co-founded North Sea Air, a creative agency that provides brand strategy and representation for artisans and business owners. Her first client was D.S. & Durga, Brooklyn perfume and cologne maker which Amy discovered around the corner from her apartment at local retailer In God We Trust. Amy’s company makes short brand films that simultaneously highlight the beauty and purpose of artists’ products as well as the passion and diligence of the artists themselves. Amy also provides representation for her clients, which focuses not only on promoting their brand but also providing advocacy and support to ensure they connect to the right opportunities and continue to benefit from them.

Needless to say, we were excited to meet Amy after such a warm introduction. We sat down with her in her apartment for a chat about her life, work, and the women who inspire her.

© Fabian Palencia

GP: Wow – the North Sea Air website showcases some really wonderful work you’ve done. Did you have a background in production before launching the company?
Amy: I didn’t. But my business partner did, and he’s taught me a lot, so now I feel fairly experienced. But in terms of production, one thing I do have experience in is making projects happen. I also still have a full time job that I’ve had for eight and a half years; I’m the Vice President of Retail for John Derian, so I run all three of his retail shops. So running three stores, if anything needs to get done – problem solving, troubleshooting, forward thinking, dealing with people – it’s those behind-the-scenes moments where I excel. In terms of video production, it’s all the same skills. Part of it is making sure everyone is happy, which is actually the hardest part!

GP: Tell us about your origin story with Greenpoint.
Amy: When I first moved to Greenpoint, this is so nerdy, but I literally went to every single store in the neighborhood and introduced myself to everybody, kind of like “I just moved here, and I’m so excited!” A lot of people here seem to be of a common mind, and that’s this feeling my husband and I had when we first looked at Greenpoint as a place to live. We loved it and I was just like, “We have to move here.” I think there’s something to be said about how it’s a neighborhood in flux, with remnants of the past that haven’t been destroyed. I love it. There’s still evidence of Greenpoint being a major docking area – like over in front of 67 West Street, there’s all these beautiful old cobblestones that are actually end-grain wood; it was a dock at some point. The fact that that hasn’t been paved over is amazing.
Another thing about Greenpoint is that I find it really easy to talk to strangers here. I remember going to Spina one time to get a coffee, and I ended up also buying a plant, and looking around and just feeling so comfortable to chat and strike up conversations with the other people in the store. That’s not a feeling that I’ve ever really had elsewhere.

GP: It’s cool that the neighborhood also influenced the start of your business; your sister-in-law shared an anecdote about your first client being the perfumer D.S. & Durga, which you first noticed for sale at In God We Trust. Take us back to that time – how did it all start?
Amy: Well the weird thing was, I saw the perfume at In God We Trust, and thought it seemed really cool – I love products, and I’ve been working with brands for so long that the good ones stand out. So I looked into D.S. & Durga, and I realized, “Wait a minute…I know this guy.” I knew the founder, David, ten years ago when I lived in Boston! We had both gone to Boston University, and didn’t know each other at school but met later through friends in the city. And at this point in the North Sea Air timeline, my partner and I had just started making videos, so I said, “I just remembered this guy; he has this perfume company, and I found them in a local store – maybe we should do a piece on him.” We were basically just scrambling! Like, who can we profile, who would be cool and different, that no one’s covered before. We were still building our reel. So I contacted David and asked if we could come see his studio, and let him know what I was up to, to see if he wanted to work with us. So that’s how that connection happened.

GP: Taking it back even a step further, what was the motivation to start doing your North Sea Air work in your free time, on top of your full time job?
Amy: I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I’ve spent my whole career working for others, and being the wizard behind the curtain. And I’m really good at being that wizard behind the curtain, but sometimes you want your own name on the door. I wanted more of a chance for my own personal creativity to come through in my work. So creating videos just seemed like a perfect storm of talent and interests. I love brands, and I love working with them to figure out how I can help them grow. That’s just been a huge focus of what I’ve been doing. There’s a storytelling aspect too – I was always a writer; I love to write poetry and I read all the time. So starting my business was such a great way to put all that together. It felt like getting all my friends together in a room and suddenly we’re having a party.

© Fabian Palencia

GP: A couple of your videos were shot in Scotland, and there’s a special section on your website highlighting Scotland as an ideal filming location. How did that geographical relationship come about?
Amy: My business partner is Scottish; he lives here now, and he has a film background. Scotland is a bit of a niche market, so when we were coming up with ways to differentiate ourselves from other companies that do similar types of work, that was sort of a no-brainer. We were able to establish a partnership with a company there, and as a location for not just video shoots but still shoots too, it’s under-utilized by bigger companies. It’s so dramatic, and it has such a wide variety of vistas and landscapes.

GP: That was really apparent in the video I watched about D.S. & Durga’s partnership with The Glenlivet whiskey distillery; it’s beautiful when David arrives in Scotland and talks about the scent of the heather and the other “aromatic cues” of the land. It was also fascinating to hear what he thought about scent and liquor and their complementary qualities.
Amy: That was a real eye-opener for us too. My business partner and I both really enjoy whiskey, and it helped flesh out why it’s a special drink, and how we can keep enjoying it and learning more. So we actually are actively working with some other whiskey companies now too. And we’re trying to do more projects in Scotland since my partner loves the chance to get home. But in terms of that particular D.S. & Durga/Glenlivet client partnership, what’s so cool is that it actually resulted in a product; an original scent called HYLNDS inspired by The Glenlivet’s whiskey, which is sold exclusively at Barney’s. So we learned from that process that it’s another thing we can offer as a creative agency: partnerships that result in additional ways for the clients to continue to prosper and make money themselves because of the collaborations we can help them start.

GP: What has it been like developing new client relationships since that first one? Do you seek clients out, or have they started coming to you?
Amy: People definitely do come to us through word-of-mouth. One of my favorite videos is the one with Coral & Tusk; it was so much fun to work on, and I continue to work with her now on product development, branding, press and PR. In that video, she needed a way to tell her story that wasn’t her just repeating the same thing over and over again to every outlet that asked her, so she sought us out to collaborate on a short film. But I do spend pretty much all my free time courting new clients, responding to inquiries, and working on North Sea Air projects. Right now we’re finishing up post-production on some things that require a lot of my attention. One is a documentary on Astier de Villatte, a French ceramics company. We’ve put a short trailer on the website so far, and this is a longer 12-minute piece we’re working to wrap up. It’s going to premiere in Japan in April, so that’s very very exciting. We’re also working on a short piece on Hugo Guinness, who’s a British artist based in Brooklyn who does lino-cut prints and paintings. It’ll be a short film about him and his daughter, and her obsession with rabbits. He co-wrote Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. They’re best friends, and Hugo is a really interesting character.

GP: To tie all this back to our Women’s History Month theme: as a woman who’s out there hustling and burning the candle at both ends to make such rewarding work, could you share with us about some of the women who inspire you?
Amy: My mom. I grew up in Queens with her as the breadwinner; my dad was an artist and he was the one who stayed home with us, and my mom was a special education teacher. She still is! She has been one for forty years. The things that she’s been through as a teacher, dealing with the difficulties that present themselves with special education and special needs students, she has given above and beyond what a typical teacher does. She gets involved personally in her students’ lives, and home-tutors them if she can. I’ve seen her lose some kids who have severe disabilities. So to witness her in that career for my whole life has given me so much perspective on the value of different kinds of people. She is definitely my role model. I think that to be a successful teacher, you have to have an innate sense of compassion for the person that you’re working with, or the group, or whatever the sect that you’re dealing with. I learned from my mom how to apply that in my own work; in the creative professions, if you’re going to be successful, you have to embody that compassion too. To tell a brand’s story, you have to feel for that person, and the struggle they’re going through to get their message across. And our job at North Sea Air is to tell those stories. That compassion that my Mom has taught me is something that I actively put into my work.
Jenne, my sister-in-law who nominated me, is another inspiration. She has one of the most solid senses of self of anyone I’ve met. She’s so grounded. Stephanie, my Coral & Tusk client, is probably my biggest inspiration right now at this moment. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as her, and be so creative and ego-less in her approach to work. And I’ve never seen anybody be as thankful as she is for the things she has.

GP: Are there any women in the neighborhood who stand out to you as proprietors of your favorite haunts?
Amy: The women at Ovenly! I met one of them; she also has curly hair like me and we talked about how horrible it can be. I was at the bar Red Star with a mutual friend who introduced us, and I was just like, “Ohhhh, that salted chocolate chip cookie…” It’s my favorite; my husband and I get it all the time, and we’re in there all the time. So that’s definitely a place that I love to go. Also, Pip-Squeak Chapeau on Franklin. It’s owned by a woman named Sveta; she’s amazing! She makes all of her clothes. It’s these beautiful neutral colors and reminds me of something that a fairy gnome might wear, if that makes any sense.
My favorite, favorite place in Greenpoint isn’t actually something anyone could own. It’s the end of the dock off of Transmitter Park. Just going to the very end and standing there. It’s very soothing. I go there a lot after my regular workday. I need a moment of decompression before coming home; it’s a time of day when I know that I’m done with one job, but I need to start working again on the other. Just a moment there on the water is a ritual I’ve made for myself. I’m so happy it’s right there and close to where I live.

© Fabian Palencia

Thank you so much to Amy for sitting down to talk with us. Stay tuned for our continuing Women’s History Month profiles!

HYLNDS Spirit of The Glen Pt 2 | D.S. & DURGA x THE GLENLIVET from NØRTH SEA AIR on Vimeo.

About Liz F

Liz became a contributor to Greenpointers when Propeller Coffee opened on her block, making an instant regular out of her; the urge to tell the neighborhood was irresistible. She works in a cross-section of film, TV, and music and writes for Greenpointers to feed her fascination with small businesses.

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