Meet the designers who’ve made creativity pay
From home studios to eponymous brands, these creatives have turned their crafts into their careers.
Chrissa Alexion | Fortitude Valley, QLD
Located in the illustrious James St precinct, the Chrissa Alexion boutique is a haven of edgy jewellery, handmade from brushed brass, natural stones and glittering crystals. Chrissa has long been drawn to the craft of jewellery-making.
“If you gave six people the same jewellery components to work with, each person would design and create something different,” Chrissa says.
“That’s what is exciting about making jewellery: the possibilities are infinite.”
Having taken a brief detour to law school, Chrissa has now turned her passion for creating artisan jewellery into a thriving boutique store.
“After a short stint as a lawyer, my creative side felt quite neglected,” she says. “That’s when I decided to take the plunge and start making jewellery.”
Like many creative types entering the industry, Chrissa began by selling her wares at artisan markets. Her passion to create was fuelled by the desire to one day showcase her designs in her own space, and to break into the business avenue of the industry. Having found her home on James St, Chrissa now balances the business side of her passion with the creative side, embracing the shift in focus and the unique challenges this development brings.
“Change is inevitable and brings other opportunities as well … I like the idea of deciding my own destiny, come what may. Good or bad, it’s on me.”
When Chrissa is not creating in her studio, she works alongside assistants Brie and Merilyn. With the online store set to open in coming weeks, Chrissa is excited to embrace the next stage of her journey.
Tiff Manuell | Unley, SA
Tiff Manuell has an unexpected approach to business. The fashion accessories brand does not release products according to traditional seasonal drops, and it never repeats designs – even when they are hugely successful. While this might sound like a radical approach for a boutique craft-cum-fashion brand, it is the essence of what Tiff Manuell has done with her beautiful range of handpainted accessories. All of Tiff Manuell’s creations begin life as a clear canvas, which is then handpainted with bright, playful designs.
Working intuitively and with no expectations, Tiff and her team let the paints dictate their craft until a fresh design evolves. The canvas is then crafted into one-of-a-kind clutches, handbags and jewellery. But once items sell out, the design is never recreated. Tiff has always felt the pull to large-scale painting.
“It’s fast and energetic and I love the results and medium of acrylics on canvas,” she says.
“I feel at home using it and the never-ending combinations of colour and texture keep me very inspired.”
The simplicity and adaptability of the simple clutch has enabled Tiff to experiment constantly with new designs and combinations of texture and colour. Since showing at the Adelaide Fashion Festival in 2016, Tiff has collaborated with designer Megan Park and will soon release an exclusive collection with Rollie shoes.
Georgia Perry | Melbourne, VIC
The creative individual behind the Georgia Perry brand is every bit as charming and eccentric as you would imagine, creating one-off art pieces, striking graphic designs, and internationally adored accessories. From small-town beginnings and a desire to create unique and exciting art, Georgia Perry’s collectible accessories are an injection of sunlight and brightness that wouldn’t be out of place in any wardrobe. Having realised early on her desire to create and design, Georgia worked in boutique design studios in London and Sydney before settling in Melbourne to operate her own brand.
“It was a way to truly be my own boss – to set my own briefs, test the limits on what I could make, and open up my audience,” she says.
While her background as a graphic and visual artist initially grew her fan base, she soon expanded into designing lapel pins and other accessories as a way to access a wider audience. Not everyone will commission a design piece, but everyone enjoys owning bright accessories. Since stepping out on her own in January 2013, the Georgia Perry range is now stocked globally in more than 150 retailers, including Le Bon Marche, Shop Bop and Nordstrom.
This month will see the first brick-and-mortar Georgia Perry store open in Melbourne.
Read on to check out the full conversations we had with these incredible designers!
What does “being creative” mean to you?
CA: I guess it means the ability to bring to life the images of jewellery that I see in my mind’s eye.
TM: For me, it’s just losing myself in the creative processes that make me feel happy, and constantly pushing myself so I never become complacent or disinterested. I am inspired by innovation and new ways of seeing products evolve. I get agitated if I am not kept busy, so creativity for me is a way of keeping sane too. It’s not work – it’s life balance!
GP: A rollercoaster of possibilities, fear, no limits, excitement. Every day!
How would you describe your brand in three words?
CA: Edgy, sultry and symbolic
TM: Colourful, playful, functional. Or, creative, happy and unique. So hard, can’t do it.
GP: Playful, chic, eccentric.
Can you remember when you first realised you wanted to work in a creative field?
CA: I’d always worked in fashion but strangely enough I decided to go to university as a mature-age student and study law. After a short stint as a lawyer, my creative side felt quite neglected, and that’s when I decided to take the plunge and start making jewellery. I’ve maintained a keen interest in law, but I definitely made the right decision in leaving the profession.
TM: I have made things for as long as I can remember! I was fairly enterprising when I was young, so I think I was driven one way or another to be creative and in business. I love any creative field really, and think if I could have, I would have explored any one of the design industries. They are all incredibly inspiring.
GP: When I was a kid, I used to always watch my parents draw and make things, so I suppose it’s been in my blood since birth. I was always drawn to the more creative subjects at school like writing and visual arts (and I was terrible at maths) so decided to play to my strengths and try to make a career out of it.
Do you have any personal rituals or hobbies that help you get into the creative mindset?
CA: I’m always interested in trends, and there are some international designers I adore who inspire me. Exploring Pinterest while sipping on a cup of tea is hard to beat! Oh, and the peace and quiet of working in my studio is heavenly.
TM: I love being inspired by my own surroundings, my home, our view and garden landscape, so spending quality time and feeling grateful each day for that does help my creative mindset, I guess. I also love walking for headspace in our neighbouring national park, and gardening. I guess, for me, creative thinking is a way of life. It’s my everyday. I don’t know if I work any differently or have too much down time from it. I find life just a visual stimulant.
GP: My studio operates much more like a small business these days (and there’s always tonnes of admin and emails to attend to), which makes it a little hard to just switch off and tap into the creative “flow” at times. It sounds boring, but I find that just getting up early and going for a jog in the park helps me start the day with a clear mind and at least allows me to get through the boring stuff more quickly!
Is there a textile, medium, or discipline that you would love to work with more?
CA: I love working with brass and natural stones. They fit my aesthetic perfectly and I get pretty excited when I come across crystals or stones that have unusual shapes to them because they offer the possibility of new and interesting designs.
TM: I guess the freedom of large-scale painting suits me. It’s fast and energetic and I love the results and the medium of acrylics on canvas. I feel at home using it and the neverending combinations of colour and texture keep me very inspired.
GP: I am always dreaming up new products and ideas, and the next thing I want to move into is some GP for the home. I’m thinking graphic blankets! Cushions! Little doses of sunshine for your living spaces! So stay tuned …
What originally drew you to making accessories?
CA: It’s something anyone who has no formal training, but with a passion for creating, can turn their hand to. If you gave six people the same jewellery components to work with, each person would design and create something different. To me, that’s what’s exciting about making jewellery. The possibilities are infinite.
TM: There was never a deliberate plan to create a business from accessories, but I guess I was very attracted to the simplicity but functional aspect of the clutch. I also loved how such a simple product could adapt to such a variety of designs, shapes and artworks with so little variation to the product itself.
GP: I’d worked in design studios, and freelanced as a commercial illustrator for many years before I decided to start making my own products. It was a way to truly be my own boss – to set my own briefs, test the limits on what I could make and open up my audience.
What is your favourite part of the process?
CA: Seeing a piece that I have made find a new home with a customer is always the most rewarding part of the process for me. It’s like getting a hug from a stranger.
TM: I am passionate about painting these days. I just love the freedom and creativity of the process. I feel as though I have no boundaries and I treat it all as experimental so it keeps it fresh and challenging.
GP: Running outside to meet the courier when we get new samples back from production never gets old.
What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges you have had to overcome in order to create a business out of your art? What advice would you give to others in a similar position, or looking to break into the industry?
CA: Biggest obstacles throughout my career have been finding a space to showcase my designs, hence my decision to open my own space in James Street. Now the biggest challenge I have is balancing the business side with the creative side and there has been a shift in focus. But change is inevitable and brings other opportunities as well. I’m thrilled to be in Brisbane’s premier shopping precinct and have been warmly welcomed there. My advice to others who have their own passion and drive is to think about who you want to drive your bus. I like the idea of deciding my own destiny come what may, good or bad, it’s on me.
TM: I can’t say there have been any obstacles really. I guess we do have a lot of copycats to contend with, but I try to ignore those and just get on with creating a quality product that has great substance and a story. This, I feel, sets us apart. We get caught a little bit between being a fashion brand and a craft product, but I guess I prefer not to be put in any one box and make our own rules. We don’t run to traditional seasonal drops and don’t repeat any designs, even if they are successful. My husband and I simply create the business around our own needs and desires for what we want out of it. I guess a fundamental piece of advice is to be inventive, find the hole in the market and give the market something original, be it a product or service. Always be confident in your original idea and listen to how the market is guiding you. Baby steps are perfect.
GP: Every day I remind myself how lucky I am, as I’ve now been supporting myself from my art for nearly five years. I suppose I’ve only been a “business” for around 2½ though, so I’m still pretty fresh! That said, there has already been many challenges and they don’t really ever stop. Through it all, though, you just have to keep a really clear picture in your mind of how you want your life to look, and never let anything get in the way of that. It probably sounds pretty obvious, but the truth is you also just have to work really, very, extremely hard! Oh, and be nice to people. Always. Your peers, your suppliers, your accountant! If you want to succeed in business, you need a lot of people to have your back.
Do you have any specific tricks for overcoming a creative block?
CA: No, but if someone does, please have them contact me! All I know is that it always comes back, and it’s the best feeling in the world!
TM: I guess I am fairly lucky – I don’t have too many – but if I am working on something new, I just need space and time alone and perhaps a change of environment to break my daily routine. Still, late nights in the studio playing tragic, sad music really loud can bring on a world of creativity!
GP: Get off the damn internet and into some real conversations! See your friends, watch a movie, go to the pub.
Is there a specific place in your locality that inspires you?
CA: The Great Barrier Reef, without a doubt. Bearing witness to what nature has created at the Reef is simply unforgettable! It’s a magnificent thing.
TM: I have to say living in the hills for the past eight years or so has given me such a sense of space and appreciation for nature and the incredible scenery that is right at our doorstep. I also love to get away to our family beach shack that is sitting on an isolated landscape of bush and sand dunes. It’s raw and beautiful with amazing sunsets.
GP: I live and work at Fitzroy, and my favourite spot is Fitzroy Gardens. I walk or jog there almost every day and it’s a little inner-city oasis.
What is your favourite project that you’ve worked on to date?
CA: I’m currently working on opening my online store, and working with my assistants Brie and Merilyn has been such a pleasure. I’m constantly amazed at how many talented people there are in Brisbane.
TM: It’s hard to name any one, but I guess the first Adelaide Fashion Festival took me right outside my comfort zone. Creating unique wearable garments and making a gallery show from these really inspired me but equally scared the life out of me. I am doing the same but bigger this year. I am terrified but I figure this is when we create our best work. I have loved my collaboration with Megan Park and have a new one coming also with Rollie Shoes.
GP: We’re opening a physical shop in July, and although the doors aren’t open yet, it’s definitely the most exciting (and challenging) project so far.