Someone once said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. These DC entrepreneurs have taken that old saw on innovation and adopted it as their personal mantra. Here are the creators, business owners and innovators on the cusp of becoming the next big thing by enthusiastically embracing unbridled progress—they’ve upped the ante on luxury-related businesses and services.
Designer Pamela Shadid has created custom paints to make your favorite walls sparkle.
It started with the crystal-and-bronze chandelier DC designer Pamela Shadid purchased for her Dupont Circle row house in 2012—a crowning element for her dining and living areas. But the chandelier cast a glow on a larger problem: a decade-old paint job that was downright depressing and didn’t add to the luxe look Shadid was trying to create for her living spaces. She wanted a new color with some sparkle that would interact with the light dancing through the crystal. “I wanted my walls to glisten like the streets when you’re driving at night and it’s raining, and you turn your headlights on,” Shadid says. But nothing off the shelf seemed to achieve the aesthetic she wanted. So, she started experimenting and came up with Luminous Finish Coats (from $1,500), a paint technique that goes from subtle to supercharged with the flick of a light switch. Shadid won’t reveal her recipes but says she works with more than 1,000 colors to create her custom finishes, which can emphasize any shade in a room’s given palette. She’s also teamed with DC-based Spectrum Limited to give its luxe acrylic furnishings a translucent glow. “It gives me such joy,” Shadid says—as well it should, with an innovation that truly defines the light fantastic.
A Luminous surface reveals itself “only when the light is on, or the sun shines through,” Shadid says. And like a clever chameleon, each finish sparkles with different hues, depending on the degree of light and how it reflects other colors in the room. “It becomes whatever surrounds you,” she says.
Riide co-founders Jeff Stefanis and Amber Wason are revolutionizing the way we commute—one custom e-bike at a time.
When New England natives Jeff Stefanis and Amber Wason first moved from their respective small towns to the District for college, they both “fell in love with living in the city,” says Stefanis. “But one thing we could never accept was the traffic. It took as long to go 1 mile in DC as it did to go 10 miles back home.” The entrepreneurs quickly became business partners when introduced by a mutual friend three years ago, and Riide—a DC-based startup that manufactures and sells electric bikes—was born. Stefanis, who previously worked for a solar company, was inspired while on a business trip in China, where there are 200 million electronic bikes on the road. “In the United States, e-bikes have been marketed toward recreation for baby boomers,” explains Wason, a former marketing director at the car-sharing startup Flexcar. “Where we saw the potential was transportation for people under 35 in an urban market. We’re daring people to try their commute in a different way.” A Riide bike ($1,999) looks like a traditional two-wheeler, but a rechargeable silent motor allows cyclists to travel up to 20 miles per hour without peddling. Thanks to a successful launch on Kickstarter last year, the company sold out its first manufacturing run of 150 bikes and is taking orders for the 2016. No doubt car commuters will notice the Riide logo whizzing by them soon.
Riide’s recently opened showroom in The Shay gives would-be cyclists a chance to take the bikes for a test-drive and sign up for RiidePass, a two-year lease-to-own program that gives commuters access to their own bike, insurance and unlimited maintenance.
Leave your camera at home. El Camino Travel allows exotic getaways to be real escapes again.
Traveling with a selfie stick isn’t exactly glamorous. That’s why Katalina Mayorga launched El Camino Travel last year. She takes small groups (12 to 24 adventurers) to exotic destinations (Colombia, Nicaragua) with a professional photographer in tow, meaning participants are freed up from trying to take snaps and can dive into El Camino’s curated experiences (dinner on a private island, Afro-Colombian dance lessons). The photographer emails travelers social media-ready snaps early every morning. “I really wanted to give people an experience where they can go back into just indulging in what they’re doing,” says Mayorga. Inspired in part by her own background in community organizing and international development, Mayorga makes sure each journey touches on local entrepreneurs or social causes like cigar-rollers in Nicaragua or a flower farm in Santa Elena, Colombia. “We try to be very design-focused,” she says. “We stay at high-style, boutique-y hotels, and we look for dynamic moments in our activities.” Currently, trips ($2,050 to $2,900 per person for a week) jet off for Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico City, Trinidad and Tobago. “We’re for anyone who is seeking travel that doesn’t seem forced and experiences that feel authentic,” she says.
Deeds Done Well
Part of the profits from each El Camino trip go to a local entrepreneur who’s promoting positive changes in the country El Camino clients visit. For instance, on a recent trip to Nicaragua, a share of the journey’s profits went to a hammock-making cooperative and cafe staffed by at-risk and deaf youth.
Falls Church furniture designer Cristian Wicha creates new reasons to get atop a board this winter.
Follow Cristian Wicha through his Falls Church home, and there’s no doubt the furniture-maker designs with movement on his mind. His Cassini TV cabinet was inspired by the spacecraft mission to Saturn; the Sine console is named for the wave-like trigonometric graph; and his Fin coffee table is shaped like a surfboard’s fin. It’s only natural, then, that this lifelong surfer, skier and skateboarder also applies his woodworking skills to the movement that propels his passions. Since he left the Chantilly-based BDI Furniture to go on his own in 2009, Wicha has developed a side business called Flying Fish (flyingfishskateboards.com), a line of meticulously sculpted skate-, surf- and snowboards (from $250, $750 and $650, respectively). “There’s definitely a feeling you get when you’re happy with your equipment, [and when] you’re happy with your board, and it’s just a flowing sensation,” he says, which is heightened in the knowledge that he made it himself—and each is ready for testing at area parks, Aspen or, in the case of his surfboards, a trek to catch one glorious set after another at a new surf playground in Costa Rica. He compares his mission to art nouveau: “It’s the act of deliberately making something complicated so it can’t be done by machines. I go through each layer of wood. It’s me doing every step of this process. That’s what contributes to a quality board.”
Wicha built four molds to vary the shape of his Flying Fish skateboards and created templates for the walnut veneer that tops seven layers of maple. The result can just as easily hang on the wall as ride the rails. But make no mistake, he says, “They’re manufactured to perform.”