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Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
Natalie Ebel is the co-founder and creative director of Backdrop: a premium paint and home design brand. Currently based in Los Angeles, she started this company back in 2018 with her husband, Caleb, to make paint an accessible design purchase. More recently, it's also expanded into premium home products, such as wall coverings and rugs.
When did you become interested in fields like paint, interior design and home decor?
NE: “My dad was a painter and I grew up painting homes with him. I painted my bedroom a handful of times. From an early age, I saw the transformational effect that paint and color can have on a space, even more than buying a new piece of furniture.
When Caleb and I lived in New York, we would paint every apartment we lived in. I would joke that we would almost break each time, because it was the one purchase you would have to go to the store for four different times. But we knew a gallon of paint can totally change a room. We lived right next to a paint store and we'd see people going in there for five hours, staring at a color wall, because there's 3,000 colors and 300 whites with no description. I then got pregnant and wanted to paint my daughter's nursery white. It took me over a month to paint the nursery and I just kept thinking: why is it like this? Paint should be a design purchase and you should be able to know exactly what you want and get it, so we started to look at the category more and waited until we had our first daughter before we really dove in.
What we realized is that the paint market is catered to contractors and not DIY consumers. So we thought: if we could strip this down and start from scratch, what would this look like? We started with a tighter palette and wanted to explain the colors on the swatches, but really the overall goal was to make paint an easy and impactful design purchase in order to create a brand around it. I'm an emotional person. I'm an Aries. I wanted everyone to feel something. But when I would ask people what color their wall paint is, no one would know because it was just a long number.”
Where did your inspiration come from in terms of brand development?
NE: “I actually took a lot of cues from beauty. The beauty industry is an interesting parallel. I'm half Filipino and half white and I'm pretty ethnically ambiguous. So anytime I would buy makeup online, I would always want to see the real swatches. I really appreciated seeing it on real skin and on different skin tones. And I wanted to apply that same approach to beauty – just show paint in all its different forms, from a wet swatch to a dry corner. I wanted to create something real that built confidence for consumers to go online, click and buy. What's been so exciting about Backdrop is we were able to really achieve that: 50% of our customers buy paint online without ever trying it because they trust the digital experience. How do we remind people that paint doesn’t have to be precious? It can be this beautiful thing you can do on your own as frequently as you want, because Backdrop makes it that easy.”
Tell me more about the paint naming process. Did you consciously cut down on the amount of colors offered so the consumer isn’t overwhelmed?
NE: “The naming process took me just as long as developing the colors because I felt like the names needed to be heroic, memorable, a bit irreverent, but something that you can hold on to. We named one after Caleb, called Silverlake Dad, and people love it. We created names that make you want to buy the paint. How do you create personalities for each of these colors? Especially because color is a form of self expression. Color helps you express a feeling that’s indescribable. It was so fun to give each one their own identity. It’s been one of my favorite parts about building this business.
Cutting down on colors was really important because there's so many colors that exist in the world. Whites were the most important to me because people paint white the most. White is also our best selling color. But how do we create a go-to white that people feel comfortable with, where you can actually tell the difference of what you're looking at? We only have five whites in our palette, and all have a lunar reference, which helps indicate that you're in the white family: Supermoon, Harvest Moon, Cool Moon, Moonstone, and Moonlight. But it's all very obvious when you line the swatches up together, that they're very different because you can see the undertones. It's so important that you tell consumers what they're looking at as a color, versus just expecting them to come to their own conclusions.”
Tell me more about this idea that paint is the most impactful way to transform a space.
NE: “I always knew that paint could be as affordable as a $70 throw pillow, but as impactful as a $4,000 sofa. If you buy one new accessory, it will enhance your room but it won't change it. But if you paint floor to ceiling, you’ll walk into a whole new space and people will notice it. My goal with Backdrop is literally to become peoples’ backdrop. Paint should be something that you choose, a reflection of yourself. I believe that, in terms of accessibility and price point, it’s the most impactful thing you can do in the interior world.”
What would you say differentiates your company from others in the field?
NE: “We've always had an authentic and distinct brand point of view since we launched and it really celebrates the process of painting. Before Backdrop, you could look around in the paint industry, and there was nothing that existed except for photoshopped, perfect rooms, where you really couldn't tell what color the walls were. That never resonated with me as a consumer because it didn't feel real. There’s something so beautiful about the sensorial process of painting that was important for me to show.
We also redesigned the paint can because we wanted it to be something that was easy to store, easy to open and close, easy to pour, and something that you didn't have to hide away in your basement. Our online web experience is something I’m also so proud of. We have a gallery of thousands of images of real paint and real spaces that aren't photoshopped, which give consumers an adequate preview of what each color would look like in all different types of spaces.
Our irreverence and our sense of playfulness, is also something else we really value. Sometimes in the interior category, things can be taken really seriously and we don't shy away from having fun. And at the same time, Caleb and I very much care about building a company responsibly and sustainably, so we’ve become the first climate neutral paint brand in our industry. What that means is that we work with a climate neutral nonprofit that audits and certifies us as a business that’s carbon neutral, all the way through our suppliers. We also have fully compostable packaging, metal paint cans, and our drop cloth is canvas not plastic.”
What do you hope people will take away from engaging with your paint & products?
NE: “I hope that people who walk away after using Backdrop have an understanding of how easy it is to transform your space with paint. Most people are terrified and will never do it again, and many have never tried it, so I just want them to feel like we’ve thought of everything to make this the most effortless but fun experience.
I hope Backdrop becomes the go-to brand that people think of when they're thinking of home design, especially as we're starting to move into a broader range of categories. Backdrop’s signature sense of playfulness and use of colors is what makes us so unique. I dream of a future where people immediately associate our brand with adding more color to their home, and reimagining what a space can truly look like.”