You are listening to Behind the Design episode #7 the Studio Lessons. Which brings us to the end of season 2. It has been another inspiring season, and I thank all my guests for taking the time to chat and give us a behind the scenes look into their design journeys. I’ve loved discovering their motivations and the challenges and rewards that come from doing what they do.
My conversation with product designer Thabisa Mjo (episode 4) touched on something important; recognising your privilege. Make no mistake to be able to have your own business doing what you love and to earn a living from it is a privilege. And with that privilege comes responsibility, and you have to use it wisely. One of the biggest messages throughout this season was looking after the people who work for you. The artisans, interns, and communities whose skills form the backbone of the designer’s work. These talented individuals who often go nameless are vital to the development of Africa’s design industries, and taking care of them and respecting their skills matters. And that includes valuing their input and working in collaboration to develop ideas. This is not always a smooth process as introducing new ideas and changing the way it has always been done can give rise to resistance but as Dounia Tamri-Loeper (episode 5) points out take the time to first understand the processes, the artisans and communities you work with to help bridge the gap of understanding on both sides.
Privilege also brings with it the responsibility to open up doors that have long been closed to certain communities, and to nurture the next generation. Those coming up behind you, who are looking to you as a role model. This is legacy. The meaning of legacy means creating businesses that last through the generations. Audrey Forson (episode 3) talks about what taking the reigns of the family business means to her, and sees legacy as being tasked with looking after something for a while and doing what she can to take the business forward in preparation to hand it over to the next person who will do the same.
Another aspect of legacy is creating products that positively impact our world. Our environment and our communities. The future of our planet is currently dominating headlines, and we are all being urged to do our bit to protect it. As designers, we have a responsibility to ensure that the products we create not only look good and function well, but that they also respect our world from materials to the production processes employed. Achenyo Idachaba-Obaro (episode 6) talks us through the impact upcycling a destructive weed into interior and fashion accessories is having on the environment and communities her business works with. While Dounia Tamri-Loeper’s (episode 5) designs make use of metals that can be scrapped and reworked into something new extending the useful life of her products. Reuse and recycle is in Africa’s creative DNA. And the continent’s designers and creatives have been leading the way on this long before it even became a global-wide call to action. And may it continue to be so.
Legacy is a beautiful, precious thing. Let’s protect it.
In a conversation that resonated with me personally Lola Ukinamemen (episode 2) talks about giving up on your dream, making the decision to walk away from something that has been a part of you for so long. I can relate. I have walked away from a past business, and in the low moments of my entrepreneurial journey, I have sat with atelier 55 and thought about packing it all in. Entrepreneurship is not an easy road, and facing decisions like whether to stick or quit is disheartening. And as Lola says brings up a sense of shame in putting your all into something that doesn’t work out and feeling like you are letting not only yourself down but others who depend on you too. But sometimes walking away no matter how painful can lead us down a better path of new opportunities, and in the case of Lola back to the dream with a renewed sense of purpose in a revamped format. If you are facing a similar situation Lola advises going back to your ‘why’ the reason you do what you do and giving yourself time to discover or rediscover the passion that drives you. Your ‘why’ should be at the forefront of the decisions you make.
We can become complacent in life and in business. Doing the same things day in and day out can get boring and we start to lose interest. So don’t be afraid to shake things up every now and then. Be brave enough to step outside your comfort zone, to make a few tweaks here and there and see what happens. And as Dounia Tamri-Loeper (episode 5) says “step into business with boldness”. Sentiments echoed by Thabisa Mjo (episode 4) who highlights “the importance of just doing it and taking a leap of faith” and not letting what you don’t know hold you back.
This applies to starting that business or creating that product you have always been dreaming about. I come across one too many would-be entrepreneurs who tell themselves I’ll start when I have this, that or the other, and before you know it time has passed by. So often then the reasons for hesitation are self-doubt, fear of so many things, not knowing where to start, and a belief that you need lots of money or to have everything in the right place to start. These are lies we tell ourselves, Achenyo Idachaba-Obaro (episode 6) stresses not to use having no money as an excuse to follow your dream but to come up with creative solutions such as tapping into the family network, applying for grants, entering competitions and more. And I will add start with a product or service that requires little to no capital and as you grow reinvest from there. Trust me if you want it badly enough take the first step of setting things in motion and you will find a way.
However, you choose to start, grow and develop your creative business one thing is certain there are no short cuts to building a successful and sustainable business. Audrey Forson (episode 3) stresses the importance of knowing the business of design because you can have the ideas but if you cannot turn then into something successful you fall into the endless cycle of trying and not getting anywhere. And that is a frustrating place to be! Trust me I know.
One of the biggest reasons that hold you back from reaching your true potential is not doing your research. I remember when I started my first business designing and hand-making jewellery, I just dove straight in; bought supplies, made a few items, designed a website and waited for sales, but you know what happened nothing. I didn’t know who I was selling to. I was just hoping customers would find me. I learned the hard way that it doesn’t work like that. There is nothing wrong with just starting and taking a leap of faith, but it has to be a calculated leap. And that means doing your research and preparing yourself. You don’t set out on a journey without knowing where you are going or having the necessary supplies so why would you start monetising your creativity without preparation.
Heed the advice of Dounia Tamri-Loeper (episode 5) who says “I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your homework, research, research, research find out all you can about your market, your audience, trends.” Preparation increases your chances of success. And this is a step my brand strategy clients have to go through before we even think about what their brand will look like. Research helps you know who you are as a business, and more importantly to know who and where your audience is. The people vital to the success and longevity of your business. Research directs your steps and will help you know where to target your marketing efforts.
But I will say there is a danger in getting stuck in the research phase. So you need to be able to balance doing your groundwork with hitting the ground running and getting your idea to market in a timely manner, something Dounia Tamri-Loeper talks about (episode 5). Getting your product to market means visibility attracting attention and getting those all-important orders. For any business perseverance is key. You will face setbacks, but don’t be afraid to go out there and ask for the opportunities, and let people know who you are and what you do. And eventually, the doors will open.
And on that note that’s it for this season. I would love to hear some of your takeaways and favourite episodes – do share in the comments.
Thank you so much for listening and downloading the episodes. And I look forward to welcoming you to the next. If you haven’t already done so do get on to the atelier 55 mailing list to be notified when the next season launches.
Bye for now!
And before you go I have a favour to ask, if you could take a few minutes to do the three R’s that is: rate it, review it, and recommend it to anyone you feel would benefit. It will really make a difference and I would greatly appreciate it.