Drawing on their shared passion for creating high-quality packaging solutions, three accomplished female designers reveal how their company BSB Grafica & Comunicazione made its mark in a male-dominated sector
In the late 1990s, designers Barbara Baralla, Stefania Santini and Bettina Voss joined forces to set up their own studio in Italy, BSB Grafica & Comunicazione (BSB Graphics & Communication), specializing in brand packaging and communication.
On paper, their collective experience is impressive: Baralla is an applied arts instructor who graduated from the Art Institute of Lucca; Santini a graduate of the High School for the Arts in Lucca and the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence; and Voss graduated from the High School for the Arts in Lucca before completing a course in advertising graphics at the Cappiello Academy and at the Fine Arts and Restoration Institute in Florence.
But, significantly, they shine as much in practice as on paper, with clients responding to their aspirations, determination and expertise. While setting up and establishing their business, they took on a variety of projects, including the first of many with the Sofidel Group, a partnership that’s still going strong. Here, they talk about the challenges they faced and how they found inspiration along the way.
Tell us about BSB’s history. How did the company get established and what gap in the market did you spot at the time?
Barbara Baralla: We come from similar backgrounds; each of us spent time working in graphic design studios and agencies where we were able to evolve and grow professionally. Our paths crossed while specializing in the study and design of packaging.
In 1997, after spotting a gap in the market, we had the idea of creating BSB Grafica & Comunicazione, our own communications and graphics studio. Drawing on our relevant experience, we continued with our research and growth to further our goal of offering niche packaging solutions, taking our initial steps into the local and international markets. Now, 25 years after its launch, BSB is still going strong, which feels like a real testament to our success.
In those early years, technology was very different from today, and internet connections were still in their infancy. That’s why we looked locally for future clients and identified the tissue paper sector as a possible path of professional development. By participating in and winning the tender put out by Sofidel Group for the restyling of the Regina Asciugoni paper towel packaging, we entered the world of Sofidel.Since then, we have collaborated on graphics projects for packaging and on their trade and consumer graphic support needs.
“25 years after its launch, BSB is still going strong, which feels like a real testament to our success”Barbara Baralla, BSB
What makes you a special company? What is your unique selling point?
Stefania Santini: We are three women working together to find solutions to a broad range of daily challenges. This has allowed us to highlight, develop and refine every aspect necessary for a goal of full-circle professional growth. Our greatest strength lies in being a small-sized local enterprise capable of solving customers’ problems in real time, providing timely and punctual answers.
What are some of the challenges you have continued to face as an all-female SME in your sector? How has that defined what you do differently?
Bettina Voss: The first steps we took were a veritable adventure, with no particular support to count on because we were an all-female team. And this is true for the exclusively technical part of creating the company, as well as for incentives of any kind. The beginning was a truly uphill but exciting climb. Despite the fact that we were a new, all-female company, our customers quickly perceived a highly motivated and professional team in a world that, up until then, was dominated by men.
Stefania Santini: We were able to make our way with determination, breaking moulds and carving out our own space, trusting in the positive outcome of our work. We feel we have succeeded in this: we have customers that are still with us after 25 years.
“We have customers that are still with us after 25 years”Stefania Santini, BSB
Barbara Baralla: We took our initial steps during the period of the first Apple PCs and with these, we immersed ourselves in the technological world that was different from colored paper, markers, and cutters. A path of mutual development towards a future that still belongs to us.
We like to think that our all-female vision is expressed in our work as a slightly different perspective towards the projects we undertake. Maybe our all-female stubbornness and pride, too, led us to always do things to the best of our ability, to demonstrate that we can keep pace with all aspects of the creative process, as well as the application of ideas.
Does sexism and lack of opportunity for female executives still exist in your sector? How much progress has there been? How have attitudes changed for the better?
Bettina Voss: Having to face this hindrance in our working life has made us more stubborn and resilient, incentivizing us to pursue our professional path with drive and determination. The need to demonstrate that we can live up to our role has made us more competitive, developing skills that have allowed us to stay in the market.
Stefania Santini: It is important to say that opportunities for female entrepreneurs have improved in the past 25 years. There is more talk of gender equality in the professional world, both on a legislative and social level. Small enterprises such as ours have grown in number and longevity, and the skepticism surrounding female entrepreneurship is less accentuated. However, there is still a long way to go to acknowledge professionalism and leadership based on merit rather than gender, so that they can become universal values in any field. We have demonstrated that we work well as a team, leaving any type of bias aside.
Tell us about the projects you work on with Sofidel. Why does the relationship work so well?
Barbara Baralla: In 1994 we started our collaboration with the Sofidel Group, who believed in our creativity and in our ideas. We have collaborated and are currently collaborating on important projects for the Regina brand, both for the Italian and European markets. It’s impossible to list all of them, starting from the first project for the restyling of Regina Asciugoni 28 years ago, to the newest packaging in paper and recycled plastic of the major Regina line products for an environmental sustainability increasingly attentive to reducing the use of conventional plastic.
Bettina Voss: Many projects have also been realized for the Away-from-Home (AFH) and Private Label sectors. In 2020 we were entrusted with Nicky, another important brand for the company, for which we handle the packaging for the Italian and foreign markets. Our collaboration with the Sofidel Group goes back a long way because we have succeeded in supporting the company every day with concrete answers comprised of commitment, attention and creativity, while respecting the schedules requested.
“Our collaboration with the Sofidel Group goes back a long way because we have succeeded in supporting the company every day with concrete answers comprised of commitment, attention and creativity, while respecting the schedules requested”Bettina Voss, BSB
How does the issue of sustainability and social responsibility permeate these projects?
Stefania Santini: The Sofidel Group has always been attentive to environmental issues. Respect for and protecting the climate, and, consequently, biodiversity, constitute a key challenge for everyone and for our company as well. In order to transmit this commitment to the end consumer, we have been involved in many projects, among which are the Regina WWF Collection handkerchiefs, in collaboration with the WWF in Italy. It was a very stimulating project that succeeded in transmitting the message of peril that our planet – and us, its inhabitants – are currently experiencing, featuring images of animals in danger of extinction as protagonists.
Further details: For more information on BSB Grafica & Comunicazione, please visit bsbgrafica.com.