Case study

Being
brave

It was a hold-your-breath moment. Photography graduates Rachel Powell and Dariusz Szwedo deciding to quit their cosy, full-time jobs to strike out on their own. Together. They knew it was time. And now they are putting all the skills they have learned into practice with their thriving company, Studio No 74. 

The day that changed everything

Rachel and Dariusz met at university. But that almost didn’t happen. Dariusz knew he was always uni bound. Rachel was adamant she didn’t want to go.

Rachel explains: “I never intended to go to university at all. And then my parents made me go and have a look around open days and see if there was anything I liked.

“And so we came to an Open Day at Derby and I just fell in love with this building at Markeaton Street and all the different studio spaces and stuff. It was like this little creative hub. This is where everyone doing what I wanted to do was.

“It was just like: ‘Oh, this is really cool. I can see myself here.’ So that was why I went through with only this interview, at Derby. I didn't have any backups or anything for any other universities. This was it or nothing.”

So, romance in Dark Room Three? Not exactly. It took Dariusz and Rachel a year to meet properly. At the end of their first year, the whole course went on a night out – just before they broke up for the summer. Dariusz says: “It was like that annoying situation because it was like, we've met, we started chatting, there was this little spark but then you had to go away for two months.”

Rachel headed home to her tiny village in Staffordshire and Dariusz went back to Rotherham. But they stayed in contact over the summer and the rest, as they say, is history.

More than a degree

Rachel and Dariusz agree very strongly that their time at university has been about so much more than simply achieving a degree certificate – or meeting each other.

For Rachel, it was about growing in confidence. She says: “I was like this tiny little thing when I came here. I literally wouldn't even talk to anyone. Coming to uni, even my parents, when I'd visit them, they were just like: you seem like a different person, you seem so much more relaxed. Growing as a person - 100%.”

Rachel Powell smiling

The confidence I got from uni is my greatest achievement. It was life changing. I wouldn't have achieved any of the other things without having got that from uni. It’s like a domino effect in my life.

Rachel Powell
Photography graduate

For Dariusz, it was about making contacts and learning how the world of commercial photography works. For example, he says: “I went to London in second year for a high-end production for a Ford campaign. One of the graduates from here was assisting and reached out to me because he saw my work. He could tell I had interest in lighting and studio work. He was like: hey, I've seen your work, I'd be happy to take you on as a second assistant. I was like: cha-ching, I’m going.”

And the way the University displays students’ work had impressed Dariusz even before he arrived here. He says: “A weird little thing, but seeing that the uni is displaying students’ work, to me, that was kind of new. Showcasing their work in a public space, like the Street at Markeaton Street, was like: wow, this is so cool. Like they're proud of it. It shows the uni stands behind you in terms of what you do here.”

Studio 74 Interview

View Studio 74 Interview video transcript

Video embed-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkNJITBG7_M

The big decisions

Fast forward to the end of their degree. The next big decision. Not just “what next?” but “where next?” Rachel explains: “We’d arrived in Derby with the expectation that we’d go home after uni had finished. But then we were like: we want to stay in Derby. We want to try to build something in Derby, in this new city.

“So we just took the leap and got a flat. That was a big deal for us. And two bedrooms because one was going to be the studio. That’s where it all started, in that tiny little bedroom. We signed a lease for six months and stayed in that flat for five years.”

In that time, Dariusz was building his portfolio and his reputation as a photographer. And Rachel was changing direction – she completed an apprenticeship in digital marketing. And, all the while, they were holding down day jobs.

And so we come to January 2022. They were both in full-time work, Dariusz as a photographer at a fashion company, Rachel as head of marketing – at the same firm. But they’d set up their own limited company the year before and it was time to make a decision.

Dariusz says: “I had a full-time job and then I was freelancing after work. I was staying in the studio until 10 at night and at weekends. I loved it but I knew I could only grow my business to a certain level.”

Rachel adds: “The goal's always been to work for yourself, to run a commercial photography studio. So we both left on the same day.”

And? “Everything's been absolutely fine,” she says. “It's better than we ever thought it was going to be, especially coming out of the pandemic. We said we're going to take it month by month, we're going to see where we go, going to see what happens and we're still doing that.”

Rachel Powell and Dariusz Szwedo taking pictures

What does the future hold?

Dariusz is very clear about what their future holds. “I know where I want to be,” he says. “I know where I want our business to be. Pretty much ever since I came to uni, I already had an idea of wanting to set up a creative house, so it's not just photography.

“I love the idea of a bunch of creatives coming together in one room and they brainstorm about a particular idea. And people from different backgrounds like graphic design or 3D design, they might have an idea that I would have never even thought of. For us to be able to cover all the bases for a brand, creating an entire campaign and them not worrying about outsourcing to someone else. You just come to us and we cover it. That's the end goal for us right now. We're very early on. But we're ambitious and we'll get there.”

Rachel adds: “Because of the rate we've managed to grow what we're doing from when we full-on decided we were going full-time to now, the rate we've managed to grow in the client base we have, there's no reason we couldn't do it in three years maybe.”

And Studio No 74 is based in our own Banks Mill Studios, an innovation space for creative and digital industries. Dariusz says: “Banks Mill Studios was and still is super helpful. I mean, without them, we wouldn't be where we are now. We are now in our second year being there and this year we have also taken on an additional studio space, as we are expanding quite quickly, therefore it was just necessary to take that step.”

Dariusz Szwedo smiling

Being surrounded by other creatives in the building is so amazing, seeing how they all get on with their businesses and their wins, it just inspires us, even more, to carry on pushing.

Dariusz Szwedo
Photography graduate
Kedleston Road, Derby Campus entrance

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