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Courtney Rowson and Amy Pastre celebrate 15 years of elevating brands with SDCO

Courtney Rowson and Amy Pastre celebrate 15 years of elevating brands with SDCO
July 2024

Learn how they’ve grown the studio to a full-service firm with a national presence

Courtney Rowson (far left) and Amy Pastre, cofounders of SDCO Partners, have grown the studio from mostly local clients, such as Post House, Smithey Ironware, and Sullivan’s Fish Camp to a full-service firm with a national profile.

Upstairs at the Aiken-Rhett House, arrangements of dried grasses meadowed a dressing room nook. Old books and a quirky candlestick sat atop an elegant chest; a cane bench straddled the room as ancient wallpaper peeled above an antiqued mirror. The handsome, dreamlike installation, part of Historic 

Charleston Foundation’s The Charleston Festival this spring, set an earthy, mysterious tone—a dressing room dressed in whimsy and nostalgia, where concepts of beauty, wildness, decay, and identity whispered amid patinaed allure. It was also an anomaly, the only designer vignette not created by an interior decorator. Instead, it was the handiwork of Amy Pastre and Courtney Rowson, cofounders and creative directors of SDCO Partners, a creative studio known for smart, sophisticated branding and multidisciplinary storytelling. Though a detour from their usual lane, the vignette was also vintage SDCO—thoughtful, nuanced, layered, beguiling. These women have an eye.

If you’ve been around Charleston for a bit, you’ve seen their work: the classy come-hither branding for the Post House; the astro-spunky retro vibe at The Starlight Motor Inn’s Lounge; the reel-you-in Sullivan’s Fish Camp campiness; the iron-clad marketing for Smithey Ironware; and classic, colorful Le Creuset. Beyond Charleston, SDCO Partners has given a refresh to Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James label and worked with clients like American Spoon, Auberge Resorts Collection, Faherty, and Margaux.

From playful packaging and design for sustainable diapers (Kudos) to breezy, minimalist bottles for an olive oil company (Brightland), to adding new shine to Rewined candles, SDCO Partners’ portfolio has expanded as the business itself has evolved from a two-person studio creating brands for mostly local clients to an award-winning, 18-person, full-service firm with a national profile. 

This year marks SDCO’s 15th anniversary, and Pastre and Rowson have clearly hit their stride. After arriving in Charleston in the early 2000s—Rowson and her husband had moved from California for a quality-of-life shift, and Pastre landed here with her husband who is the director of the Clemson Design Center—the two graphic designers quickly discovered their simpatico sensibilities. “The Charleston creative community was much smaller then; there weren’t many people doing what we did,” says Pastre, who had worked with local firms, while Rowson was an independent graphic designer. After collaborating on a few projects, the two joined forces to create what was then called Stitch Design in 2009. 

“We knew we needed to establish our own creative environment,” says Pastre. “It was always about our desire to do something bigger.” “We were early adopters of integrating digital and print identity as a comprehensive solution for our clients,” adds Rowson. But their growth into a collective of designers, strategists, writers, and visual storytellers has been deliberate and organic over the last decade and a half, a matter of listening to their clients and attracting the right talent. Today, their studio in a former residence on Wentworth Street is an airy, sleek, buzzing space. 

Their growing roster of hospitality/hotel clients, including Georgetown’s The George; Gardiner House in Newport, Rhode Island; and Arizona’s High Country Motor Lodge, as well as retail spaces like T.D. McMurry in Mount Pleasant and Austin’s First Light bookstore, showcases SDCO’s holistic approach, extending beyond logo creation and websites to custom typography, merchandising, story, strategy, social media, signage and branded physical spaces.

“We offer brand-family integration, balancing the digital experience with the tactile and personal,” says Pastre. “It’s activating the brand experience, including placemaking. All these details impact the customer experience,” Rowson adds. 

“All our projects look wildly different, but there’s a consistency, too,” Pastre says, “always a moment of surprise, an element that doesn’t take itself too seriously.” Like the waves of wheat grass at the Aiken-Rhett, perhaps—unexpected, delightful, in a field of its own.