In this next installment of our ongoing Women Working in the Arts series, we meet chief creative officer and co-founder of creative agency Design Army, Pum Lefebure. Pum grew up in Thailand and came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student.
Starting as an intern in the design world, she worked her way up to Senior Art Director before eventually branching out to open up her own shop. Her clients have included the Hong Kong Ballet, Ritz Carlton, Pepsi, and Karl Lagerfeld, among others.
We caught up with the D.C.-based CCO for an exclusive interview about the ins and out of running a creative business.
Tell us about your early career path. How did you break into the field of advertising and design?
Growing up in Bangkok, I was always drawing and painting. I knew that someday I was going to be an artist. I came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student. I didn’t speak the language so learning took me twice as long as my classmates. Yet, I made it a point to work harder than everyone else. But it wasn’t until I discovered creative director Tibor Kalman and his provocative United Colors of Benetton ad that I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer. In my first post-college design job in D.C., I started as an intern and quickly worked my way up to Senior Art Director—eventually managing a 50-plus creative team.
When did you realize you were ready to run your own agency?
That D.C. creative agency was where I met my (now) husband Jake. During our 6+ years in the design trenches, we learned so much with the .COM era taking us on a crazy journey of company mergers and acquisitions…before the “.BOMB” hit. That’s when we decided to go for our dreams, do things differently and launch Design Army.
What were some of the first steps you took to launch your business?
Starting out we had rethink and restart—everything! We didn’t use any portfolio pieces from our previous job. We wanted to do something completely radical with new clients in arts, entertainment, and fashion. In fact, we didn’t have Design Army’s website for over a year until we knew our creative was top-notch. When we launched, it was a fresh, new design POV in D.C.
The projects you create today set the foundation for what you create tomorrow. Pick clients that are creatively rewarding to work with. Time is not something to be wasted.
Tell us about a few of the most exciting projects you've worked on.
Our wildly creative design team has conceived so many exciting projects—it’s challenging to narrow down! The Georgetown Optician campaigns were super rewarding creatively (and with accolades). Our long-standing relationship with Neenah Paper led us to create unprecedented paper solutions for the digital era. And most recently, we created Netflix’s Tudum logo and visual identity for the first-ever Global Nextflix Brand Event.
But our Hong Kong Ballet campaign is one of my all-time favorites—taking the viewer on a crazy creative trip with arresting visuals that’s authentically Hong Kong (with a totally new twist). It’s like art direction on steroids. The campaign completely changed the perception of ballet from traditional/boring to insanely interesting, memorable, and sharable—the behind-the-scenes production has over 6 million views on our @DesignArmyOfficial Tiktok account.
Who or what company/brand would be your dream client to work with?
The Olympic games in Washington D.C.! Someday…
What is one piece of creative or business advice for your younger self?
Creative: Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourself. Taking risks is the only way to be at the forefront.
Business: How you sell the work is as important as what you sell! Presentation skills for creative work is essential to be successful. You need to be able to articulate ideas, create excitement for concepts, and convince the client to take a leap!