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Introducing Henriqueta Varela

Learn from a vibrant, thoughtful and experienced Black creative as she shares her history, present life, and hopes for the future of the design industry.
Kathy Varela Headshot for Spotlight

Introducing Henriqueta Varela, a Designer at CVS Health

Q: Can you share a little bit about yourself and your design career?

A: My name is Henriqueta, but most people call me Kathy. I was born in Praia, Cabo Verde, and moved to Boston when I was four. While living in Boston, I grew up embracing a blend of cultures that shaped who I am today.

While attending an art institute, I worked as a designer for a local print and design shop. Since then, I've worked as a designer in fashion, public relations, technology and direct selling. Now, I am working in retail advertising for CVS Health. Outside of my current job, I am balancing life as a mom of two toddlers and my freelance work.

Q: It sounds like you’ve gained a lot of experience as a designer in so many fields. Did you face any initial obstacles entering the field?

A: I encountered three main challenges trying to enter the design field in Boston. First, Boston isn’t a major hub for agencies. Second, corporate settings struggle with diversity. And third, mentorship is limited – especially for BIPOC individuals.

To navigate these challenges, recruiters became my primary tool. They served as the crucial link to facilitate my search for both contract and full-time positions. In the initial stages, breaking into the industry involved proving myself; and the assistance of a recruiter became instrumental in building those bridges.

Q: Despite the challenges and barriers to entry, you still pursued a career in design. Why is that? What drives you as a designer?

A: As a kid, I spent a great deal of time in front of a computer. So naturally, I am an introvert. I find that design is my first language and words are my second. Design serves as my primary means of communication. It allows me to foster connections with others in a visually compelling manner.

Kathy V Spotlight Spread 1 to accompany article.

Q: What is one thing you can share with aspiring designers that you wish you knew before starting your career?

A: Hold on to your unique talents and skills – regardless of others' perspectives. Creatives navigate feedback from clients, leaders, and audience members, which can cause us to lose sight of our own identity in the process. It's crucial not to forget ourselves because the most impactful work arises when we invest our authentic selves into the creative process.

Q: What, if anything, is needed within the design industry to support aspiring Black creatives?

A: It's critical for not only established Black creatives to pave the way for future talent but for the industry to fully embrace us as well. Throughout my journey, I've witnessed many Black creatives choosing independent paths or leaving the industry altogether because of a lack of belonging.

We're an integral part of the design industry’s target audiences. Black representation within the industry is not about tokenism. It's about incorporating unique voices to transform design into something even more impactful.

Kathy V Spotlight Spread 2 to accompany article.

Posted: DID Team 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Tags: #BlackHistoryMonth #profile

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