From growing up under a totalitarian dictatorship in Albania to building his American Dream in Philadelphia: Meet Niko of Kole Made

 

Niko Dyshniku is a Space & Product Designer, and the owner of kole made in Philadelphia, PA

 

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

I was born in Tirana, Albania just after the fall of Communism. There were so many things wrong with our society under a totalitarian dictatorship but for me two were highly grim, being incased in socialist Architecture and massive poverty. My family was considered upper class and fortunate to have the luxury of having 2–3 hours of running water and electricity a day. So in these grim times we always found a way to have fun with very little. Candle light dinners were not a romantic setting, but out of necessity. With food rationing, my parents had to work very hard to find food to keep the family nurtured. Regardless, with 3 generations living in a small house, we always found ways to laugh, and find positive outlooks in life. I remember my father making everything — gadgets, bringing in wood for the cold winters, fixing the house, makeshift antennas to listen to Western news in hopes of a democratic country like America liberating us. In his footsteps, I would find anything to make toys to play with, building little cities under my grandmother’s couch, buttons, yarn, wood scraps, and the rest was filling in with imagination. When the time came and we were presented with the opportunity to move to America, my parents immediately took the change in hope of providing me with the American dream.

Culturally for me it was such a large leap, coming from a small, politically isolated country to the vastness of America, with endless resources. Adaptability was instilled in us, and at every opportunity we worked very hard to excel. I remember when becoming an American citizen, my parents said “son, you now have the key to the world”. Ever since the age of twelve I have traveled the world observing all the countries we were isolated from, soaking in the beautiful architecture, nature, people, cultures.

 
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Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

I was born in Tirana, Albania just after the fall of Communism. There were so many things wrong with our society under a totalitarian dictatorship but for me two were highly grim, being incased in socialist Architecture and massive poverty. My family was considered upper class and fortunate to have the luxury of having 2–3 hours of running water and electricity a day. So in these grim times we always found a way to have fun with very little. Candle light dinners were not a romantic setting, but out of necessity. With food rationing, my parents had to work very hard to find food to keep the family nurtured. Regardless, with 3 generations living in a small house, we always found ways to laugh, and find positive outlooks in life. I remember my father making everything — gadgets, bringing in wood for the cold winters, fixing the house, makeshift antennas to listen to Western news in hopes of a democratic country like America liberating us. In his footsteps, I would find anything to make toys to play with, building little cities under my grandmother’s couch, buttons, yarn, wood scraps, and the rest was filling in with imagination. When the time came and we were presented with the opportunity to move to America, my parents immediately took the change in hope of providing me with the American dream.

 

Culturally for me it was such a large leap, coming from a small, politically isolated country to the vastness of America, with endless resources. Adaptability was instilled in us, and at every opportunity we worked very hard to excel. I remember when becoming an American citizen, my parents said “son, you now have the key to the world”. Ever since the age of twelve I have traveled the world observing all the countries we were isolated from, soaking in the beautiful architecture, nature, people, cultures.

How did you get started as a space and product designer?

I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that deep down I missed the small community setting I was use to in Albania, and generally in Europe, and felt many restaurants and stores had become very large corporate chains in America, with very little individual identity. So graduating in 2008, probably at the worst time with a graphic design degree in the advertising market, when most big corporations were cutting back jobs. It never dawned on me in college that starting a business was an option for creative people. I just had this notion that you go to college and find a job in a big company. Strangely this opened an opportunity for me to turn those little imaginary cities into reality. Philadelphia, my home for the last 20 years, is a city modeled after Europe and connecting with other like minded people whose passions of coffee, food, and co-work spaces, allowed for a unique brew to develop in our city. Fusing together my background of Swiss inspired design, where less is more with reclaimed local materials, things like decommissioned watertowers became stools, old barns into tables, old tin ceilings into wall treatments. Over time we have been aiding a variety of entrepreneurs, localized stores, small business who are rebuilding character in what were at times abandoned building, and filling them with purpose again. As a bi-product we have also developed into product designers, figuring out ways to make products for residential living.

 
 

What was a defining moment in your life?

Perhaps when I realized that what I have envisioned as a company did not exist in my city at the time and I had to find a way to let the creativity in me flourish, so learning how to be a business person was my next venture. Having no background in business and a mountain of passion, I took the plunge full throttle and hoped I had built a strong network around me in my 25 years.

What fears or resistance did you face in that process?

The main fear was financial, with little saved at the time of conception — just enough for a bit of marketing and purchasing small machines — I saw my savings dwindle down to $29.00. At that moment my monetary value was $29. When that hit me I was frozen with fear. So I thought, I could spend this time worrying or going forward. Luckily, my parents offered me their garage to build out of, and with my dad being incredible at lending a hand, he helped me set up the tools. With a few close friends who needed a handyman, word spread, and in a couple of months with my 18 year old apprentice Joey, we teamed up with other builders to create our first coffee shop as KOLE MADE. At that point I realized I have found my calling as a interactive designer, creating new spaces to share the joy for food, culture, and socializing. Over the next 3 years our team has grown, our process has evolved and at every fork in the road we now decide — do we spend our energy worrying or solving the problem facing us?

Is there a favorite quote or mantra that gives you inspiration?

I don’t know if this is an original but the words of wisdom that my father has instilled in me is “Always surround yourself with people better than you” — Vango

 
The Kole Made Team

The Kole Made Team

 

How do you define bravery?

Bravery to me means believing in your strengths and really isolating your weakness to work on making them your future strengths. Embracing constructive criticism, being open to opinions and using a combination of your feelings and logic to decide your path. One major thing I have learned from woodworking is embracing a tree’s growth rings, and in our society its important to build your network in the same manner. A circle is more visible that a dot.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone facing a challenge?

Face it head on, not with force but with wit. Learn from the challenge, really focus on why you are in that moment and find your definition of success. You will be surprised how helpful that time is to your future self. At this moment fear makes an appearance and can be our greatest challenger. It’s best to find a means to co-exist with fear, only as the passenger helping you navigate, never the driver.

Also in starting a new venture never be too proud to get your hands dirty, every start requires every bit of of us.

 

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To hire Kole Made check out their website or follow them on Instagram 

Raika SarkettComment