Blake Nicolazzo is the spark that ignites a fire wherever she goes. You can see it when you sit in a restaurant with her and she knows and greets every single person who walks in the door.
It makes sense, then, that she named her socially-conscious branding company Bonfire Branding & Communications.
Blake left a career working for Patagonia to create Bonfire, where she helps conscientious companies create beautiful, meaningful brands.
Here’s Blake herself to tell you more about how she moves the world.
BB: Okay, first, tell me about Bonfire.
BN: Bonfire is a living vision. We focus on the full architecture of a brand, encompassing the foundation, the structure, the aesthetics, the light, sound and a brand’s place in the world.
We work on elements such as logo design, overall corporate branding, events, internal and external relations, and websites. We think through everything that has a brand’s stamp on it.
To do this well, we jet to the 10,000-foot level, then go back to the bedrock to captivate a brand’s current and potential audience, identify opportunities and create connections.
BB: What did you do before you started Bonfire?
BN: Before the days of Bonfire, I zig-zagged across the country for work opportunities, and to get to know the US outside the east coast. I moved to Missoula from Cape Cod in the 90s then landed in Portland, Oregon where I worked for Outward Bound. Next, I worked for Patagonia in New York City, then carried on with them out here in Montana.
BB: What is it like helping companies curate their stories and their identities?
BN: It is an honor. We have the unique privilege of working alongside brand creators, teams and dreamers. Oftentimes, creators and makers have mad skills and passion, but maybe don’t quite know how to frame their own stories, or are a little shy about selling themselves. We have developed a Brand Architecture and Design process to get to the root of these incredible ventures and develop ways to align brand values with action.
I’ll tell you what, we always discover something remarkable. We get to show companies and people their own stories through another lens.
It’s like pointing out something really fantastic about their story and having them see it for the first time. It’s pretty sweet to see these moments of pride when they wake to their own goodness, uniqueness, beauty, tenacity, originality, and passion. It often feels therapeutic for people and I love that.
BB: You told me Bonfire contracts have a “powder clause.” What is that?
BN: “Should more than 4” of fresh snowfall at The Bowl (our local ski area), we will be available after 2pm that day unless you want to meet us on the chair.”
We take all of our engagements seriously and we don’t bail on previously scheduled appointments or anything. We just want our clients to know why they might not always get a rapid response on a powder day.
Life is for living and one only gets so many powder days in a lifetime. The people we work with embrace that mentality. Being a slave to a job without any flexibility is part of the old paradigm. People can accomplish brilliance when they have balance.
They can when they don’t have balance too, but, let’s face it, life is both beautiful and hard, so hit the powder when it comes.
BB: You’re passionate about a lot of controversial issues, personally and professionally. Do you think there should be less of a separation between our personal ethos and our work?
BN: I do. And I will.
This is a very important time to take a stand and live your values in professional and personal settings. We need people and organizations to embrace transparency and amplify conversations that lead to deeper understanding and a jump toward caring about more than money. In order to do meaningful work professionally, I incorporate as many of those big issues into my work as possible. It’s a recipe for burnout, as a lot of what we work on is emotional: wildlife issues; single-use plastic; trophy hunting; and mental health.
Working on developing a logo or designing an event gives us this incredible creative outlet and nourishes us for the gut-wrenching days.
Taking a stance on these issues is so important and I encourage all brands to use their power for good. That often means bringing something you care about personally into your work life and making a difference. The old paradigm of business as usual or, it’s not personal, it’s just business are really old ways of thinking that push forth a profitable and unsustainable way of making money at the expense of all others. We are so over that and don’t play that way.
BB: I’m dying to ask you this question. What’s it like to work for Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia?
BN: YC is the man. He’s earned every bit of loyalty and trust that many of us have invested in him. In all ways, he’s a great leader and I honestly wish he could rule the world. #YCforworldruler
One person who often doesn’t get the spotlight is Malinda Chouinard.
She’s an incredible human, and I had the great pleasure of interacting with her as much as I did Yvon. She asks tough questions and finds solutions and truly cared about the people who made up the company. She is a visionary.
BB: Yvon seems like a great example of a leader who chooses to make business decisions that focus on social responsibility instead of the bottom line. Should we all be moving in that direction?
BN: If we don’t, we’re dead, so yes. The old economic model of profit above all must die. The sooner the better.
BB: Okay, so, how do we start?
BN: The simplest way I can say it is this: The first step is shifting decision making processes to include people, planet, profit, place, and partnerships. We consider all of these things of equal value when running a truly sustainable business.
For instance, one of our clients has a health and beauty brand. Traditionally, beauty products are sold in various sizes including sample and travel size, full size, bulk, etc. In partnership with Bonfire, this company woke up to the waste problem of traditional beauty packaging which often includes single-use throw-away items that can’t be repurposed or refilled. They end up in the landfill. This brand is at the forefront of changing the packaging model and creating a different supply and demand chain, which will make it easier for the next company to also reduce their dependence on unsustainable packaging models.
The work they had to do to get all their packaging to be refillable… oy, vey! But they did it, dammit.
We are here to lift each other, there is abundance for everyone. We all need to forge new paths and share what we learn.
BB: What great piece of advice can you give to early-stage entrepreneurs about creating a great brand?
BN: Start at the bedrock. Create your Brand Architecture.
Just like a house, you want to have plans for your brand, including your vision, mission, and values. We go through the Brand Architecture and Design process with lots of brands and often there are questions that have never been asked or answered. Get that out in the beginning, knowing that things change and nothing is permanent.
Also, make sure you have someone in your corner who is hard on you.
BB: What inspires you?
BN: I’m guided by nature, moved by the art of creation, in love with the miracle of life that I see in each detail of the breathing earth. Courage inspires me. Sometimes it’s a huge act of courage, but I’m often inspired by the seemingly little acts that humans make that may only make a difference for one single being. I just love to see people stretch towards courage and love and away from fear.
BB: What makes you feel like a badass?
BN: Being asked to be part of a Badasserie blog sure made me feel badass today!
Each day, I have another opportunity to step up and lead with love. I think that’s the most badass thing any of us can do.
BB: What’s your dream trivia category?
BN: Buffalo, bears or plastic. I’m pretty schooled in these areas and I like to win, so bring it on.
BB: Is there anything else you would like to add?
BN: “I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible; to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance, to live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”
— Dawna Markova
Thanks for including me, Micah! I’m so happy that you’re part of the Missoula community! You’re a gift!
Thanks, Blake. You’re a rockstar.
Learn more about Bonfire here.
Listen to Yvon Chouinard’s interview with Guy Raz on NPR’s podcast How I Built This.
Author Micah Larsen is a persuasion scientist and consultant. Her job is to teach people how to use subtle persuasion in their emails, conversations, and campaigns to get others to say “yes.”
Watch one of her short persuasion how-to videos of $9.97 value for free here using code: