You are listening to Behind the Design episode #7 the Studio Lessons. Which brings us to the end of season 3. I want to thank all of my guests for taking the time to chat especially during the circumstances we currently find ourselves in to give us a behind the scenes look into their design journeys. They like most of us have experienced the upheaval and uncertainty of navigating their way through a pandemic and having to continually adapt as the world finds its way towards some sense of stability. And while we can never be sure about what tomorrow will bring their hope, optimism and can-do attitude helps them cut through the challenges.
Being adaptable and resilient to change is a trait business owners need to have. Particularly in industries where creativity is subjective so as Clay Healer, Andile Dyalvane (episode 2) and Lighting and furniture designer, Lani Adeoye (episode 3) say not everyone will like what you do and that is ok. First, be true to you and your vision and let that guide how you move forward. During this period I have been sharing my thoughts in articles for various entrepreneur inspiration platforms. For many of my articles ‘standing firm in your values’, ‘getting back to your ‘why’, your ‘purpose’’, and ‘sharing your story’ have been my key messages. Partly reflecting what I have been going through, and how I have found myself responding to the shifting sands during this time. My focus has been brought back to what matters to me, in my life and in my business. In times of crisis, we are forced to focus on what matters. Getting back to what matters helps to ground you, direct your steps and guides you as you move forward.
As with past seasons, several themes have emerged uniting my guests’ experiences. It has been interesting to hear several of the designers express how they didn’t know that design was a career, something they could do, and that it was only by seizing opportunities that opened up to them that they were able to take the first step towards carving out their creative careers. There are many reasons for this lack of awareness, namely the need to do more to promote art and design education in schools (I am referring to the African continent here) and the acceptance of following a creative path as a viable career. Design-thinking helps to solve problems because it encourages us to question the design of the things we use and interact within our daily lives. Nurturing creativity in young children and exposing them to design-thinking is key. And as Andile (episode 2) points out that is why it is so important to have role models and doing your bit to help those who do not have opportunities to step into a creative career a chance to do so. By paving the way for others those who look up you can begin to see what is possible.
Design education is also about knowing and understanding the business side of design. If you want to start your own business to sell and earn a living from your creativity you will need to know how to run a business. To cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit. But of course, we are not born knowing how to run a business, you may have an aptitude for it, but the skill needs to be learned, and as Lani (episode 3) highlights asking for help can be a struggle and that sometimes you don’t know where you can go to ask for what you need. And having myself recognised this need this is the reason why I through atelier 55 offer a consultancy working with designers and creatives from start-up to established to provide guidance.
With money being the biggest obstacle bootstrapping is the norm for many entrepreneurs. Bootstrapping is the process of building your business and developing your creativity from your own pocket without any external input. While bootstrapping often means slower and more organic growth it can also allow for more meaningful and deeper connections with your audience. And as Chrissa Amuah (episode 4) highlights organic growth and seeking authentic connections can help you be transparent with people about what you are able to do. Getting your brand noticed takes time, effort, perseverance, and not being afraid to receive constructive criticism to help you get better at your craft. For Lani (episode 3) and Chrissa (episode 4) putting themselves out there meant by-passing the traditional friends and family route by going straight to the industry trade shows. Launching themselves in at the deep end. For both, this meant believing in themselves enough to know that they could do this. As Chrissa says it’s about not always dreaming big enough for ourselves, and the impact having people around you who push you to dream bigger can have. In Andile’s (episode 2) case, that push came from his family and community who saw him as being chosen to restore dignity to his community through his creative talent.
Unsurprisingly this expectation comes with responsibility, and in this time of uncertainty. it can be easy to start questioning your dream. Requiring you to take the time to gather, regroup and pick yourself up to keep going. For both Andile (episode 2), and fashion designer Mariatu Turay-Akar (episode 6) spirituality is a big part of their life and work helping them stay the course. Both speak passionately about seeing their creativity as a precious gift, connecting to it and using it to uplift, heal, nurture, and empower others. For Mariatu (episode 6) her gift extends to giving women a platform to share and shine the light on their achievements.
Amidst the restrictions of lockdown the wave of BLM protests brought the spotlight onto black designers in a way that has never been seen before. For some after years or decades even of struggling to get noticed the media suddenly couldn’t get enough. List after list of black-owned businesses to support sprouted up, stores and magazines that once said no are devoting space to black creatives and their products, and collaborations and partnerships have been offered on the back of promises to do and be better.
With over 20 years in the industry furniture designer, Jomo Tariku (episode 5) brings his insight and wisdom, sharing the lessons he has learned starting, closing and starting his business again. Jomo’s frustration with the under-representation and unwillingness by a global industry to see black designers is clear, he is unapologetically challenging the status quo, calling out the gatekeepers and demanding to be seen and valued.
Visibility for Africa’s designers inevitably leads to conversations about the diversity of African design. Several conversations touched on challenging the perceptions of African design, it’s not just about bright colours, and it’s not just about recycling. We discuss the importance of using design to show how Africa and therefore its design expression is diverse. And the diversity is highlighted in the stories design has to tell. As Mariatu (episode 6) says we need to tell our own stories, rather than have others tell them for us, to share our own perspectives because who can tell your story better than you? And through her brand, she, like many others, is sharing a positive narrative about Africa.
This beautifully echoes the philosophy of Behind the Design and atelier 55 of celebrating the soul and stories of African design, and I look forward to sharing more inspirational conversations with you in the future. And as the world slowly starts to return to some sort of normalcy It will be interesting to see the creative expressions that emerge.
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. Speaking of which…
Thank you so much for listening, downloading the episodes; and for commenting. Oh my goodness there have been some truly touching comments left on the blog posts and sent to my IG DM testifying about what the different episodes have meant to you. As a content curator and creator, I am always questioning whether what I do gives value. I mean you don’t know until you put it out there, right and I am warmed to see in the case of the podcast it appears it does. I look forward to welcoming you to the next season. 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!
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Thanks again, and stay safe and well.