Haik Kavookjian

American Studies

Self-Employed Director and Cinematographer

“As an American Studies major, I was able to explore a fascination with audience perception.”

Tell us about what you do.

I am currently the Creative Director for Sword & Plough, a fashion company that repurposes surplus military material into bags and accessories. We work with American manufacturers that employ and are owned and/or operated by veterans, and we donate 10% of our profits back to veteran organizations. I design all of our new products, source raw materials, handle photography, videography, graphic design, web design, customer service, and wholesale partnerships. 

What have been your key milestones since graduating from Middlebury?

I spent the last five years working in the entertainment industry, bouncing from distribution (marketing and publicity) to talent management, and finally settling on production. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do, but as I progressed through each position, I began to develop a clearer understanding of my interests, and what made me happy and excited about work—the opportunity to express my creativity. While working at my last job, developing reality TV concepts, I helped launch Sword & Plough. What started as a favor to a friend quickly morphed into long nights and weekends and has now transitioned into a full time job.

How has the American Studies major influenced your life after graduation? 

I focused my major around popular culture studies, and I believe this has largely shaped my interest in the creative industries. As an American Studies major, I was able to explore a fascination with audience perception. I’ve always been intrigued by the way people react to the culture they consume. The work I did on my senior thesis led me to the entertainment industry, and I believe it has also followed me to the fashion industry, a world that is consumed by appearances and perceptions. I try to avoid that side, but I am very aware of people’s style, reactions and impressions. The design process, for me, is as much an exercise in what I find visually appealing, as it is an exercise in what I believe others will want to see. 

How have the skills, knowledge or dispositions you learned as an American Studies major translated into your career?

Middlebury, and specifically my American Studies major, left me with two invaluable skills: resourcefulness and critical thinking. These skills go hand-in-hand when it comes to problem solving, something I do on a daily basis at Sword  & Plough. Thinking critically and maintaining an open mind are crucial in the startup arena. The rolls I’ve taken on at Sword & Plough, and the skills required to succeed in those rolls, were all born out of necessity. Most of what I am doing now was self-taught through a series of observations and trial and error.

Finally, what advice or suggestions do you have for current American Studies majors as they consider their post-Middlebury futures?

One of the things I find so appealing about American Studies is that it is an interdisciplinary field that allows you to study American culture from multiple perspectives, and like many of the other humanities majors offered at Middlebury, it provides quite a bit of flexibility with regards to choosing a career path. I think it’s very easy to get sucked into the consulting or finance track, and if that’s what you’re interested in, great, but don’t feel compelled to stick with something you aren’t happy with. It’s never too late to make a change, and sometimes all you need to do is step outside your comfort zone and take a risk. If you told me two years ago that I would be designing bags, I would have said you were crazy.

Connect with Haik in Midd2Midd.

Learn More About the American Studies Department at Middlebury

>>Go back to the Alumni Profiles page.