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Home | South Texas | Spotlight | Spotlight – John and Biby Dykema, Owners, Dykema Architects, Corpus Christi (Interview with Biby Dykema)

Spotlight – John and Biby Dykema, Owners, Dykema Architects, Corpus Christi (Interview with Biby Dykema)

image Biby and John Dykema. Biby is wearing a tunic and some examples of the jewelry items one can find at curristyle.com and in local stores.

SOUTH TEXAS – Bibiana “Biby” Dykema was one of six siblings born in a family with parents who had strong convictions and progressive attitudes.

    As a girl growing up, Biby was drawn to the arts and realized in high school that that attraction and her father’s chosen field of architecture actually went hand in hand.
    In a day when she and only a few other females were freshmen in the incoming class of architecture students at the University of Texas in Austin, Biby has seen many changes in the construction field – and has recently been able to release some of her creative energy in a new way, as one of the founders and the main designer of Curri – a line of tunics and jewelry made in India.

Your childhood sounds very interesting. Tell me about it.
    I grew up in Corpus Christi, the middle child of six children. My father, James M. Bright, was an architect.
    My father and mother leaned strongly towards helping the underdog. They were very philanthropic.
    Mom took a bus to Washington D.C. when I was in middle school to protest the Vietnam War - she got tear-gassed!
    My parents were liberal and lived their convictions. If someone was in need, they could be called on.
    My younger brother was adopted and he is Afro American. It was illegal in Texas at the time.
    It was very unusual in the late 60s. They wanted to adopt a baby. They already had five kids, but they wanted one more. The agency said all they had are Hispanic and Afro American children and my parents said, “We don’t care.”
    When we got to adoption court, the judge looked it up and said, “You know this is illegal,” but they overrode it.
    We had a great childhood because of that very principled, very artistic atmosphere. They had a lot of artist friends.
    Early on, mom was a receptionist at Richard Colley Architects in Corpus Christi and dad was with O’Neil Ford in San Antonio. The two firms had a joint project and dad came to Corpus Christi and met my mom.

How did you decide you wanted to pursue architecture?
    I don’t know that I knew early on, but I was very creative. I think I figured it out in junior high school. By high school, I knew and started taking drafting classes.

Did any other siblings follow your dad into architecture?
    No. My older sister is a ballet dancer, she is the head of a dance academy in Winston-Salem, N.C. My younger sister is a Realtor in Austin. One brother is a lawyer in Corpus Christi and my youngest brother works for Don Strange Catering in Austin. One brother passed away.

Tell me about Arcosanti.
    I finished high school early and applied to work in Arcosanti in Arizona. It was started by Italian architect Paolo Soleri and his wife, Colly. Arcosanti is an educational organization devoted to the support of Soleri's noted architectural and urban planning research.
    I worked in construction there for three months. I was the youngest person to have attended the program. It was amazing.
    They are still building it. The idea was you build on unusable land and you save the fertile land for farming and production.

That’s really incredibe. What did you do next?
    From there, I went to UT Architecture School. My entering class at school was 80-90 students and only a few females.
    I was the only female that graduated with my class. Now at UT it’s 51% female.
    Many females don’t go into architecture because they are not good at math, but it is so little of what you do. It’s a shame that people have that perception. Now, you take a math for architects.
    You are better off being creative and open minded than having math skills.
    Now I’m on the advisory council to the school. Twice a year, I meet with students and fundraise and brainstorm about the architecture department at the school. I’ve been doing that since 1995.

Tell me about meeting John.
    Because there were so many men and so few females at school, it was awkward. I just kind of ignored the men.
    The summer I met him, we had a couple of classes together. I would sit at the front and never turn around to look at the back. One day I left class and I was walking back to the architecture department and he kept yelling, “Hey you!.” I didn’t turn around and finally he yelled, “Hey you in the pink pants!” I was wearing painter pants that I had died bright pink, so I turned around! We dated a couple of years and got married.

How did John end up at UT?
    John got his undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania and was getting his graduate degree at UT. He’s from Michigan originally.
    He may have stayed in Austin because Austin was booming at that time, but the opportunity to work for my dad was too great for either of us to pass up. In architecture, you intern for three years and then take the exam. I had already decided I was going to intern with my dad.
    After our internship, we had developed clients and decided to stay in Corpus Christi.
    We’ve done great here – lots of clients, lots of friends.

Tell me about your dad.
    Well, he is retired now, but he started with Christian, Bright and Pennington in the 1950s, then became Bright Associates, then Bright and Dykema and now it is Dykema.
    John and I practiced with him for years. I joined the firm in 1980 and John in 1981 when we got married.
    We are celebrating 36 years of marriage this year.

What is the main focus of Dykema Architects?
    We have a very diversified portfolio. We have a big range from commercial to residential. John and I are the principal designers and our partner is Josh Seahorn.

You have two sons, right?
    Yes. My oldest son is John “Russel” Dykema III. He is 30 and will graduate from medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas as a doctor June 1. His fiancee will also be a doctor. He will be a psychiatrist and she will be a pediatric cardiologist.
    My younger son is James Bright Dykema, 27. He runs my import company, Curri. He runs all the importing, shipping, inventory, website (curristyle.com) and more. It’s getting to be a bigger and bigger job.
    Neither one was interested in architecture, although they are both really creative.
    James writes beautifully and speaks Japanese. Russel speaks Spanish fluently. James graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio with a degree in International Studies and a minor in Japanese. He was working there when I mentioned to him that this new business was really taking off and I was going to need someone to help. He said he might be interested.

What is Curri?
    It is an import business and it’s two things. I design tunics and have them made out of Indian silks and block prints and we have a group that sews them for us. We have them made in India and then shipped here.
    We have a jewelry line that I design and we have those made in Jaipur, India.

Tell me about how Curri got started.
    Curri started four years ago. It all started with a pair of shoes! I was interviewing, along with four other firms, to renovate the Best Western Marina Grand on Shoreline Blvd. The owners are Ashvin and Shital Patel, father and son.
    I had these shoes on, they are really fun, they have little skulls on them. Shital saw my shoes and said, even though they liked what I had presented to them for the renovation and would have hired Dykema anyway, the shoes really sealed the deal!
    While working with them on the renovation, I mentioned how difficult it is sometimes to find the textiles I need for my designs in the U.S.
    They invited me to their home in Ahmedabad, India and said I could find that kind of material and items I was looking for there.
And from there, you started designing tunics and jewelry?
    Yes! I started researching India and realized they have very good tailors. On the first visit, I had 10 tunics made.
    We went to Jaipur to find stones and jewelry items.
    When I got home, I sold everything in a week – just by word of mouth.

And now the business is really taking off, right?
    Yes. We first started doing trunk shows in homes in Austin and Washington D.C.
    We started having Christmas shows, then we got into stores in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas. We are in Julian Gold, Sloan Hall and we are looking for a company to help us with marketing.
    Our inventory comes into a warehouse here in Corpus Christi where my son is in charge.

The Patels are your business partners?
    Yes. We go to India twice a year. No-one speaks English, the Patels translate. Being a female and not speaking the language, I couldn’t get in the door without them. It’s not tourist stuff.
    None of us have business degrees. We all work fulltime at other jobs where we are business people. We just did this and we became successful.
    We have an unusual business model because there is no middle man. It was very serendipitous for us all.
    I was at a point in my career where I could take a chance and Ashvin was at a point where he thought it would be fun to do something different.
    It was just the perfect time. People who know me are not surprised. It’s not that different from what I’ve been doing all along.

How has Curri changed the lives of the people you work with in India?
    Our tailor’s whole business has changed because of our business. Our jewelry manufacturer wanted to break into the American market so they did that through Curri.
    The people are so warm and embracing. We are not there to beat them down in price and they know that.
    My construction background comes in very handy – I’ve worked with subs and vendors all my life and I know that they have families to support just like I do. I respect that and honor that. I believe that is why I have such good relationships in business.
    Empathy really carries you a long way.

Where is your favorite place you have traveled to?
    I love Rome. I love Italy. The people are fantastic. You walk down the streets of Rome and you are surrounded by ancient architecture. The people who live there walk past those buildings every day.

Who would you buy a beer for?
    My mom, even though she didn’t drink beer. My mother was the greatest and anyone that knew her would tell you that. –cw

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