interview with jihan zencirli owner of geronimo balloons in L.A. / sfgirlbybay

this is one of those posts i get really extra excited to share. not just because her space is charming, inviting, and ultra inspiring but because the person behind it is one of my friends and personal heroes — jihan zencirli, founder and chief balloon trooper — the mad visual genius behind geronimo balloons. you may have seen our house tour with jihan, and you’ve probably seen jihan’s insanely cool balloon installations floating about the world — and i literally mean the world — but if you haven’t you might like to tune in on instagram to keep up to date with her latest inflations. jihan’s been making the world a more beautiful and better place with her geronimo balloons since 2011, each year expanding on her visions and pushing creative bounds — literally blowing up her business and in turn, our happiness with everything she creates. sfgirlbybay contributing photographer lily glass dropped into jihan’s echo park studio for a sneak peek and some words of wisdom about creating and motivating from the balloon trooper. thanks, jihan — i couldn’t be more thrilled to have you here with us today!

decor inside the geronimo balloons studio. / sfgirlbybay

were you working elsewhere before leaving to start your business?
You. will. never. guess. I designed yo-yo’s!

I worked as the creative director for a children’s character education company where we used tools like yo-yo’s to encourage and inspire kids to never give up, help others, try their best, etc. It was such an important time for me because I was also living with my great grandmother and taking care of her. Trying not to give up, help others and do my best. My work became my support in many ways. My boss would let me work half the day at home, so I could be with my great grandmother in what would be the last year of her life.

As a side distraction and creative outlet, I began giving balloons as gifts to friends. It was a bit of a theatrical, performance art as it was really enjoyable for me to arrive at a restaurant with a three-foot balloon and watch people deal with this orb floating above them, causing attention to be thrust onto them. I like being in strongly emotional situations — and I sometimes have no preference which way it’s leaning — trepidation or delight, etc.

studio decor and furnishings at geronimo balloons in L.A. / sfgirlbybay

geronimo balloons studio in L.A. / sfgirlbybay

was your new path motivated by a particular creative need or personal goal?
It’s taken me the entire six years of owning Geronimo Balloons, to realize some of the most basic motivations that fuel what I do. I create because it reminds me that I’m living. I create because I care. I’ve been studying internet and Instagram memes for the past 18 months, and I think the same reason they speak to me, emotionally and intellectually, is that they expose very real and mundane emotions that generally aren’t recalled, since they’re the little feelings that are right before or after or in-between the memorable details of moments that we hold onto. There’s this feeling of awakening to this, that allows me to feel connected to others as well as legitimizes and proves that I am also here, in this world, experiencing these things. Memory is such a strong power to evoke, and balloons exploit this immediately in others. Everyone has a moment they remember with balloons, whether they remember the actual balloons, or not. It’s the time that my cousin was leaning into her birthday cake, and her hair caught on fire on candles– the balloons floating behind her, that I think of our childhood fights and breathing into a paper bag because I would get so mad at her, I think her life now and the funny misspelled tattoo on her neck. All of this thought is inspired, and memories revisited when I see balloons. This gateway to memory is what I think I am most proud of, most humbled to offer. Remembrance for me is like being on the best drug– and I feel like I’m chasing the study of it in my work– both the work you see in my balloons and the work I haven’t shown you yet.

There’s the actual physical representation of what I’m building as my art– which you get to see as a bunch of balloons on the side of a building. The draw to which, I imagine, is for some people the remembrance that I was describing, as well as an aesthetic. But pretty things happen all around me, so I feel like my work has a draw that’s deeper than an aesthetic. It’s the energy, it’s the spirit, it’s the intention. It’s the reason why I am successful: it’s genuine.

jihan zencirli at her geronimo balloons studio in L.A. / sfgirlbybay

jihan zencirli owner of geronimo balloons. / sfgirlbybay

geronimo balloons studio in los angeles. / sfgirlbybay

did you receive any particular advice that stood out when starting your own business?
Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day!, who actually sold me my first balloons from her etsy store, was living in Paris with her family when I was just beginning to play around with selling the balloons. I remember vividly, the Sunday that we were talking over the internet in different time zones and our connection was going in and out and I couldn’t hear really anything she was saying, but right before we were disconnected I heard her say loudly, “YOU JUST HAVE TO TRIPLE YOUR PRICES IF YOU WANT ANYONE TO TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY AND IF YOU HAVE ANY HOPE TO MAKE MONEY”. It’s so hard to value your time with “hand crafts” since people don’t view them as fine art much of the time. But the fact is, I spent all my money innovating, designing, refining what would be become my livelihood. Had I valued it too low, I wouldn’t have been introducing it with the pride or honor it deserved.

geronimo balloons decor and fashion. / sfgirlbybay

white decor and fashion at geronimo balloons. / sfgirlbybay

office decor at geronimo balloons studio. / sfgirlbybay

where do you gain fuel that inspires your creative endeavors?
l am my happiest when i’m exploring things with people. i’m obsessed with people, and with relationships. i get to work this puzzle out with my collaborations, with my team who works with me, and its critical to each project.

gold pendant lamps in geronimo balloons studio. / sfgirlbybay

jihan zencirli of geronimo balloons. / sfgirlbybay

what kind of vibe did you have in mind while designing your studio space?
have you been to one of those float centers? you are shown to a private water vault, and you float in shallow water the same temperature as your body for an hour in darkness and silence. it’s the sort of place i thought that you’re supposed to meet hookers in the 80s, but there’s this feeling when you’re in this floating capsule, which is the expanse of space. it’s an illusion, but it makes me feel limitless. working in a white box is the same feeling, without getting wet or naked.

geronimo balloons studio tour. / sfgirlbybay

what are some of your work tools that you can’t live without?
celeb gossip sites, VERY loud music, background internet tv playing just to hear voices, a velvet office chair, bright natural lighting, forwarding IG memes to my best friend Alessandro Rumie. I can’t stay focused for very long on one thing, so I have lots of meetings throughout the day, that help to break things up for me and keep me stimulated. I always try to have a 3:00 pm plan, because that’s when I lose motivation and energy and feel bummed out. Today I’m meeting with Steph Rager, just to chat and talk about our personal and creative projects, and who knows what inspiration might come from it, but there will certainly be something!

studio kitchen at geronimo balloons in L.A. / sfgirlbybay

interview with jihan zencirli of geronimo balloons. / sfgirlbybay

what are the top three things someone should consider before changing careers or starting their own business?
i feel reluctant giving anyone advice. you know how when people get married and they say, “i just knew”. well, i don’t know about that for me, since i was married and divorced by 23 (forehead slap) in a previous life, but i think when i was about to start my business, everything fell into place. i just knew what to do, not because i had this business acumen or skill, but because it was an intuition that i couldn’t be taught or offered by any other person or handbook. for me, listening to what feels right even when it might be different from other people’s trajectory or style or path, is the only thing i know how to do.

jihan zencirli interview and tour of geronimo balloons studio. / sfgirlbybay

white geronimo balloons. / sfgirlbybay

what do you currently have playing on the studio’s turntable?

right now, i’m listening to mozart in the jungle, an amazon series that is musical and beautiful as background noise. i played the violin for many years, and the show inspired me to buy a violin at a pawn shop in north hollywood and play in secret.

jihan zencirli of geronimo balloons. / sfgirlbybay

• photography by lily glass for sfgirlbybay.