Women can root their career in any aspect of the marine industry and make an impact. The, so called, female touch is especially important in design. Marlena Dapčić, a young Croatian designer, founded her own design studio and company A.D. Group which is taking part in super yacht and super yacht tender design. Find more in the interview below.
1. Can you tell us more about your academic background and how it helped you reach your current position?
My high school, School for Applied Arts in Rijeka prepared me very well for my working positions, from drawing to design and project approach and management.
Afterwards I studied Industrial design in Treviso, a course which was part of I.U.A.V. Architecture in Venice. The opportunity and education provided by the university was a complete success. I am still using some software I did back then and the university provided me with great work opportunities.
I am not sure what the practice is today, but back then on the 3rd year of university you had to do an internship. Product design internships are usually not placed on the coast. My only wish was to return to the sea, so the solution was easy. The university analyzed my wishes and opportunities and the final answer for my internship was, boats.
They took care of almost everything and I only had to take a few exams. Now my first internship studio, Starkel, is not existing anymore. However, my colleagues back then are still working in their core business. When we have an opportunity we work together.My second internship was in SimcoDesign at Sergio Mersi's.
2. What attracted you in the nautical industry?
At the beginning, before I started at Starkel's, I didn't know much past my grandfather's old boat. When I arrived at my first internship company, I got introduced to sailboat design. When I first used to look at 15 variants of sailboats, I felt like I was in the game "Find the difference", although I always had an eye for detail. There were small differences, so I had to train my eye. Now these differences look huge to me. Anyhow, it is not hard to fall in love with that job. Boats have everything I ever liked. The best part is it is never boring.
3. What was the main enabler of your business?
That is a difficult question. I think destiny played its part here too. I opened my company in 2009, after Studio Starkel shut down. Of course, in the beginning I had a colleague and everything was easier. Unfortunately, soon after I got sick and had to stop everything for almost three years. If I didn't get sick then, I wouldn't know what I know now. After having surgery on my right wrist I thought engineering and technical drawing were my only last options.
In those situations you think everything is over, but luckily I have great parents and an even better boyfriend who supported me throughout the years.
When I started doing interior engineering for cruisers, I entered a new world. That is a job for architects, designers, any technical course. In that industry segment you can always find a job and you learn a lot.
It is very important to love boats and have affinity for that. The first profession related to boats are boatbuilding engineers, but every branch is nowadays way more diversified.
After doing engineering for 4, 5 years, I met Andrea Agrusto at Navalheadu, who is my colleagues from koji studio Starkel. At that point I returned to yachts and design. One day I got a call from Vicko Ivančević who suggested interior design for a mini cruiser in Dalmatia.
Everything started from the beginning there. Interior and exterior design. In a few years I got the opportunity to develop something big, like the ICY Endurance 55x project.
4. What advice would you give to young women who struggle entering the boating industry?
It is not difficult to work in marine, even in Fincantieri in the installation department they employ a big percentage of young women. In the company Manta Project, where I worked for a long time, they have currently all women employed.
Interior and deck engineering for cruisers is a beautiful job, which is not prone to discrimination and you can learn a lot about boats, drawing and materials. Women are more precise, so I see colleagues in Italy more often. Maybe it is not currently the same in Croatia, but that will change.
It was different as a designer back then, but now you have a lot of opportunities and solely by applying at an university you have the chance to prove yourself. It is true that having good design and opportunities for the press, it is not enough. When I was at studio Starkel, in 2005 I had the opportunity to be featured in YD magazine and have my Own design for Maxi Dolphin '51 and present my work for the investor.
For doing something on your own, you need to work more. Now all of my previous colleagues are competition. You need to find investors, make quotations and develop jobs where we can guarantee everything from design to execution. Sometimes you need to sacrifice, for instance on a project where you will be in the shipyard from sunrise to sunset. It is all part of this beautiful job. After 20 years of working I can say it payed up.
5. What would you say is the main benefit of working in the marine industry?
There are very few knowledgeable people, which is a pity for the industry, but an advantage because there is always a job.
If the market is saturated and you can't do yacht design, you can still do cruiser engineering. Boat building engineering is a very interesting profession which I would like to implement, but I am an industrial designer. You learn and work as you go. For me it is important that I am home, at sea and that I can draw what I like.