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    Category Archives: conversations with creative women

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    Studio visit: Reny Kestel, Milliner


    By Kristen Marano

    Perth’s fashion scene continues to emerge, and Millinery Designer Reny Kestel is one of the city’s talented designers at the forefront of this movement.

    Reny is a young and inventive hatmaker in a competitive industry that got its start in the 1800s. She designs and produces hundreds of headpieces a year for weddings, horse races and fashion weeks that range from edgy wearable art to classic and elegant hats, leather headbands and hand-beaded combs.

    Reny, a Perth native, set up her studio and gallery two years ago in the city. Previously she was living in London, England, where she also discovered her interest in millinery.

    Some might expect that attracting customers outside of Australia’s most isolated state might be difficult, but Reny’s future-thinking designs and respect for tradition keep her top of mind among a diverse customer base. Women rely on Reny to make custom hats for big racing events of the year like the Melbourne Cup and ongoing regional events throughout the country. She currently designs headpieces for Alana McLean, the face of WA Country Cups.

    I visited Reny’s Perth studio to ask her about her designs and learn how she stays relevant.

    How did you get started in millinery?

    I was going to Royal Ascot, and I must have spent hours in this small pokey shop looking at all the trimmings and hat blocks available. This exploring led me to inquire about millinery classes, and from there I have never looked back. I’ve fulfilled my vision by returning to Perth and launching my own label.

    It’s kind of an ironic path as I’ve been fascinated with birds from a young age. In fact, I wanted to be an ornithologist when I was 12-years-old. So, it’s nice to be able to work with bird feathers.

    Reny Kestel works on a headpiece in her studio, one of hundreds she produces every year.

    I have also always had a keen interest in art and design from a young age, and I continued this interest by studying Fashion Design at Central Institute of Technology in Perth. I love the idea of wearable art, and fashion is a great form of self-expression. The 3D shape in art and sculpture, and designing with patterns from flat fabrics has always been exciting.

    How have you set up your space to help you be productive?

    Being organised is definitely key. I need to have materials that I use frequently, easily accessible and colour coordinated so I can grab them with minimal fuse.

    My other essential items are clearly positioned in the right workspace areas, such as millinery wire on hooks with tape measures and wire cutters hanging next to them. I have two large steel rulers fixed to the large central table, so when I need fabric straw materials or Petersham ribbon I can quickly measure the exact amount and be able to note the amount I use.

    I always go by the rule that everything has a home. My materials are arranged and labeled so I know with a quick glance what I am looking for. I try to clear the workshop table space every few days or weekly, and put things back in their place after an artistic explosion. I find I can’t get into a creative mode and think clearly without using a clean space.

    Reny and her father created this thread spool holder to make her material easily accessible and keep it organised.

    What’s your biggest creative fear and how are you overcoming it?

    Not really fearful, but I’d call it…creative pressure – that is balancing my creative time with the general operations of the business, which involves emails, calls, sales, bookwork, administration, public relations and social media.

    I also have to ensure that the time I spent creating each piece aligns with the price of the piece. This can create a bit of pressure to get things made within a certain time period.

    A leather headband in progress on Reny’s work table.

    How does living in an isolated state help and/or challenge your business?

    Since the whole Internet revolution, I don’t notice how isolated Perth is anymore. Connecting to people, finding inspiration, and material sourcing is not a problem now.

    Perth’s population is small, so it does help in terms of networking. We are lucky to have a strong supportive fashion industry in Western Australia, and I think this is because the state is so isolated.

    One last question…

    At the end of our visit I asked Kestel if she has attracted any North American clients yet, where I anticipate her designs could catch on. “Not yet,” she said, but one thing is certain, Australia is lucky to have a defining homegrown designer like Kestel.

    Reny Kestel millinery

    Follow Reny’s designs and shop online at www.renykestel.com.

    {Studio images by Kristen Marano}

    Kristen Marano is a writer living in Perth, Australia. Kristen helps companies build relationships with their audiences through compelling content programs. She also shares her fashion and lifestyle perspectives with Huffington Post Canada, and produces a weekly newsletter, Creative Women Weekly, featuring stories of creative women from around the world. Follow Kristen on Twitter @kmarano and Instagram @krismarano.

    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: conversations with creative women, interview, studio visit | Comments Off
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    Regional Creative: Melanie Muddle of HoutenPlank

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle1

    By Christina Atherton

    With so many of us are searching for that illusive work/life balance it’s refreshing to see someone who has been able to achieve that while creating a thriving small business from her passions. Based in Redhead, south of Newcastle, Melanie Muddle of HoutenPlank has managed to create an inspiring business that combines her love of food styling, woodwork and Dutch heritage while allowing her to spend precious time with her family. Here she shares an insight into her fledgling creative business and how she got to where she is today.

    Tell us a bit about your background.

    I’m a small town, big family kind of girl. My dad, a scientist come oyster farmer, moved the family from Sydney back to my mum’s hometown on the Tillegery Pennisular when I was young. I spent a lot of time outside, building bush cubbies, riding repurposed bikes from the dump, eating wholesome food and hanging out at the oyster block.

    I’m a third generation ‘Dutchy’. My Oma and Opa came to Australia in 1952 and have been a big part of my life. It was my Opa who started the family oyster farming business and even in his nineties, he continues to demonstrate that working hard is in our genes. My family heritage is something I cherish and it was important for me to incorporate this into my business.

    Inspired by a 1980’s food styling video at school, I decided I wanted to be a food stylist. After chatting to my science-loving dad, I shifted my focus to becoming a dietitian and took myself very seriously at uni. Soon after graduating I was surprised to find that typical dietetics wasn’t for me. I spent the next decade working in corporate dietetics, I enjoyed a stint in private practice, I met my husband at ‘The Worlds Biggest Disco’ and eventually returned to a management position in the Health and Wellbeing division of Sanitarium. And then came our babies.

    What made you want to start your own business?

    I loved my corporate job but motherhood has a way of changing your perspective (often without your permission). I tried to balance everything when baby Eve arrived, but it was impossible. I found myself without work and I knew that I had an opportunity to rethink and reshape my career, a moment to pause and contemplate.

    Like many mums, I wanted to find the elusive balance between work, mothering and life in general. I wanted to do something was fulfilling and fun, that was aligned with my passions and that positioned me to continue to learn and grow.

    How did you come up with the idea of HoutenPlanks?

    I have always loved food. I think about it A LOT. I find food photography mesmerising and adore quiet time with food literature. I had watched that the ‘serving board’ trend become entrenched in food styling. I noted that recipe books, food magazines and cafes where using serving boards frequently. Food commentators were talking about the popularly of share-plates and the decline of entrée-main-dessert dining. Jamie Oliver centred his styling on painted serving boards and people couldn’t get enough of it. I knew that with time, the serving board trend would permeate households, generating demand for such products. I knew that ‘fashion for food’ was on the agenda and that HoutenPlank, which is Dutch for ‘wooden board’, could meet this growing market need.

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle3

    How did you get started?

    My husband Brad often scoffs at the depth of my research and detailed documentation. He’s a ‘get-in-there-and-get-stuff-done’ kind of guy. I’m the opposite and don’t mind generating a spreadsheet or trying to articular market insights. My second baby Esther arrived and I’d spend nights dreaming and working on my business plan. On weekends, in between breast-feeding, I’d slip down to the workshop to start prototyping. Brad was incredibly patient and supportive. He had a few doubts about my woodworking capabilities but nonetheless allowed me to use his tools. He always believed in what I was trying to achieve. He collected discarded workshop furniture from construction sites until we had built a functional little workshop. One sleep-deprived year later, I finally had a plan and the confidence to launch my business.


    What are the pros and cons of running your own small business?

    HoutenPlank provides me with a platform to do what I love. It seems that I’ve finally found my ‘groove’. After previously struggling with work-life balance, I’m happy to be able to control my workflow and how work impacts my family life (well, most of the time). More recently, I’ve relished the freedom to support my friends and family when they’ve needed it. I’ve enjoyed connecting, supporting and being inspired by local creatives. I’m also thrilled that spending hours on Pinterest and Instagram is now considered productive market research!

    Business administration is my foe! Lauren Hung from The Black Line penned my new motto “face it or face-plant in it”. Bookwork, quoting and filing are not my favourite things but I’m learning how to effectively manage these tasks. I also find it difficult to manage growth with limited capabilities. There’s a constant re-evaluation of how to increase production without stepping outside my brand values. Growth is exciting, but also anxiety provoking. Most of the time I am ‘one-girl-in-my-garage’, both a pro and a con on many levels.

    What has been your proudest achievement to date?

    I wish I could tell you about my proudest achievement, but it’s still under wraps. What I can say is that I have won an unearthed competition and have developed a collaborative product, which will be available Australia-wide later in the year. This is groundbreaking for my business and I am preparing for a crazy, busy, exciting few months. I can’t wait until I can share more about it.

    Has social media played an important part in growing your business? If so, how?

    Social media has been an essential tool to create buzz about HoutenPlank. It’s been a cost effective way for me to increase brand awareness, encourage word of mouth, expand my reach, share my story, show my products, develop my style, engage in conversations and build relationships. I’m constantly amazed at the connections, opportunities and friendships that social media can forge. It’s a daily thing for me and I’m now at the stage of developing a social media strategy and calendar to help ensure it’s easy for me to reap the benefits of this medium.

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle4

    What advice would you give someone thinking about starting their own creative business?

    I’ve mentioned that I’m partial to research and planning. I believe that a well thought out business plan is an excellent launch pad for a creative business. I’ve recently looked back at my initial plan and while much of it now seems irrelevant, it was critical in the beginning. Don’t make the mistake of planning yourself in circles. There’s a time to plan and a time for action. A good business plan forces you to think differently, to stretch your ideas, to anticipate the challenges, to understand the market place, to be realistic in your financial forecast, but most of all it gives you confidence to take a chance to be successful at doing something that you love.

    Now that I’ve rabbited on about planning, I’ll sum up a few other thoughts…be open-minded, invest in building relationships with stakeholders and customers, embrace collaborations, have a ‘roll-with-it’ attitude, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and never forget your raison d’être (reason for being).

    On a quest to live a more creative life, Christina loves any type of crafty project and has tried everything from watercolours and flower arranging to paper craft and calligraphy. She has an unhealthy obsession with Instagram and when not working in freelance travel and lifestyle PR, spends her time as a mama, wannabe photographer and magazine junkie. She currently coordinates CWC events in Newcastle.

    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: conversations with creative women, interview, regional | Comments Off
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    Title page designer: Carla Hackett

    We talked to Carla Hackett a little while ago about her graphic design background and blossoming lettering and illustrative career. Today, we’re happy to welcome Carla back to the blog, chatting about putting chalk to board for her title page design for Alischa Herrmann in Conversations with Creative Women: Volume Two.


    What is your art/design/career background?
    I grew up in Wagga Wagga NSW, a regional town that as it turns out has a thriving creative community! I went to a very creatively nurturing school and was heavily involved in performing and the arts. (Fun fact: I moonlighted as Crystal Chandelier in a 60’s girl band called The Fabulous Chandeliers for 7 years!). As a kid I would draw everything and had one of those Letraset typeface books and I would draw letters all over my notebooks and do bubble writing for my friends assignments.

    I studied Graphic Design at university and then moved to Sydney and worked at some great design agencies for 6 years as an Art Director and Designer. But after a while, I felt a little creatively unfulfilled, so in 2011 I quit my job and moved to Berlin. It was a great time to hit the reset button and to soak up the inspiration of Europe! I like to call them my ‘Bowie years’.

    To give myself that time to think really changed everything and it allowed me to start playing again! That’s when I discovered lettering. I went along to a hand lettering workshop with Ken Barber from House Industries and really enjoyed the simplicity of picking up a pencil again.

    It was the perfect mix of my design skills, typography and using my hands to illustrate letters. I love that each piece of lettering is unique. It was then a natural progression to start lettering in chalk. I love the ephemeral nature of chalk but also how tactile each piece is. You can see the human hand has been involved.

    I returned to Melbourne and found the lovely Little Gold Studios to set up shop and focus on hand lettering.

    What drew you to the work of your interviewee?
    I have a deep appreciation for letterpress, and recently had the chance to print one of my own designs on a press that belongs to Saint Gertrude Lettering in Little Gold Studios. The labour of love that goes into printing is all worth it when you see the first impression come off the press. There’s something about the feel of the cotton paper and the impression is really quite special. Being someone who painstakingly hand crafts lettering, I was drawn to illustrating Alischa’s name. There’s also something about the nostalgic quality of chalk that resonates with the tangible nature of the letterpress machines. There is no electronic function involved, it was all done with a human touch by these indestructable and timeless machines.


    Tell us about the development of your title page design and how you arrived at your concept.
    I knew that I definately wanted to create the piece in chalk for that hand made touch. I wanted there to be some elegance in the lettering and also some beautiful detail just like Bespoke’s signature look. I looked closely at Bespoke’s website to get a feel for the kind of design they produce. I also looked at some of my vintage lettering books to get some inspiration for the lettering and floral detail. To include a letterpress element, I googled for images of the Chandler and Price machine and realised how beautiful this piece of machinery is. They certainly don’t make them like that anymore!

    The fly wheel is what keeps the momentum of the rollers spinning, you get it going with a foot treadle. The fly wheel is such a beautiful and recognisable part of the letterpress I wanted to include that element surrounded by beautiful flower details.

    What materials or computer programs did you use to create the title page, and how did you then prepare it to be submitted for the book?
    I started with paper and a pencil, sketching out my idea very roughly to get some ideas of composition. I knew I wanted to get a lot of detail into the piece, but knew a lot of that would happen as I drew it on the board.

    I drew the piece on my chalkboard at 200% in good ol’ dusty chalk and photographed it so that it would retain the detail when scaled down. I didn’t want to do too much in Photoshop, as I wanted it to look like it was done on the chalkboard. I upped the contrast slightly so that the blacks were black and the whites were white.

    The final chalkboard design was photographed and then tweaked in Photoshop before submitting for the book.

    What other fun projects are your working on now?
    I’m currently working on my first range of hand lettered greeting cards. I’m currently learning how to use a letterpress that is in my studio, so that I can print them with my very own hands!

    I’m working on few custom hand lettering pieces for stationery and prints. And recently did some chalk lettering I did was the focus of the Westfield Christmas campaign.

    I have a few wedding commissions for wedding season, creating chalk signage and hand lettered wedding stationery suites.

    I’m also working with a coffee brand on some lettering for their packaging. Coffee and lettering are my favourite things!

    You can find ‘Conversations… Volume Two’ in our online shop or at select stockists nationally. And be sure to check out Carla’s new website at www.carlahackett.com

    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: conversations with creative women, interview, the CWC book | Comments Off
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    Title page designer: Laura Blythman

    You may remember our interview with Laura Blythman recently. But did you know she also designed the title page for the interview with Ubabub founder and designer Natasha Dumais in our new book Conversations with Creative Women: Volume Two? Today we chat to Laura about her design.


    What is your art/design/career background?
    After completing a BA in Graphic Design, I cut my teeth working in-house at Hallmark Cards Australia, Cristina Re and Typo (Cotton On) before branching out into the freelance world.

    Over the years I feel like I’ve designed pretty much everything under the sun: greeting cards, gift packaging, stationery, home office, home decor, textiles, apparel, custom illustration, hand-lettering, wedding and event stationery, brand identity, blogs, advertising, print collateral and website interface.

    I’ve been lucky to work with many brands over my years as a freelance designer including: T2 teas, Clickon Furniture, Typo, Cotton Kids, A Skulk of Foxes, Lark, Peachy Gift, La De Dah Kids, Mr.Wolf Kids, Stuck On You, Zoo York, Kiitos – Living By Design and Swan Emporium. Not to mention some exciting new projects to be released in the coming months with some more dream clients!

    What drew you to the work of your interviewee, Natasha Dumais of Ubabub?
    I’ve loved the clean and modern aesthetic of Ubabub products for a while now. Ubabub and Natasha have popped up on my radar quite a bit with features on TDF, Pinterest, Instagram and the like. Natasha is a super clever and inspiring local creative.

    Tell us about the development of your title page design and how you arrived at your concept.
    My inspiration is drawn from the geometric shapes that form Ubabub’s branding elements as well as the delicious colour palette of Natasha’s now super famous jumbo ‘Sundae’ print. Concept development began with lots of scribbles, sketching layouts and a heap of ideas – some good and some bad!


    What materials or computer programs did you use to create the title page, and how did you then prepare it to be submitted for the book?
    I scanned my hand drawn shapes and then coloured and created the lettering and composition in illustrator. That’s it. Nice and simple.

    What other fun projects are your working on now?
    So many! To name just a few, I am:
    - dreaming up and planning Stage 2 of my A Skulk Of Foxes collaborative range (the team at ASOF are so much fun to work with!)
    - branding and illustrating a cool kids’ web store
    - illustrating for a linen range collaboration with an artisan bakery
    - rebranding a vintage market
    - designing and illustrating a candle box collaboration
    - branding a cute kids look-book and other printed goods
    - compiling a range of my illustrations for totes, tees, etc for a super cool new artist collective
    - doing the brand and web illustrations for an ace jewellery/homewares label
    - designing a charity T-shirt
    - trying my hand at a tattoo design
    - creating a few commissioned artworks, inc paper feather hangings
    - working on some yardage and print designs for my own dream projects.


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    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: conversations with creative women, interview, the CWC book | Comments Off