By Andrea McArthur
CWC Member Amanda Henderson is the Founder and Creative Director of Gloss Creative (Melbourne), one of Australia’s leading visual houses specialising in three-dimensional design and custom made brand environments. Everyday Gloss Creative forges the path for the cross over of Visual Merchandising and Design.
Gloss Creative’s client list is impressive and spans many of Australia’s most style conscious companies in the fashion, luxury and travel industries. Their portfolio includes designs commissioned for brand marquees at the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, runways, set and event designs for Myer, Penfolds and Omega as well as fashion window concepts and installations for Kookai, Sportsgirl and Emporium.
Simply put, Amanda and the Gloss Creative Team create environments that dreams are made of, and worlds that envelope you in total sensory experiences.
Thank you Amanda for your time and sharing your story with the Creative Womens Circle. There are so many pieces of wisdom in your writing.
Tell us about your background.
I think my story might be typical of many creative people of my generation. I got through my schooling by connecting with all the ‘extra curricular’ activities our school had to offer – I hung out in the drama group and the art room at a time when they were not considered to be ‘real subjects’ or at least not the beginnings of any kind of sustainable career path. I was lucky enough to have forward thinking parents and teachers that validated and encouraged my interests and was I was free to explore the possibilities that might lie ahead.
After a very short year doing drama and economics subjects at uni, I realized that the working world would provide me with a better structure for learning and experimentation than a university.
I had been working at Sportsgirl while I was at school giving out fitting room discs on the weekends, and it was there tht I had wide exposure to complete retail marketing wizardry and creative growth. It wasn’t long before I had entrenched myself in the creativity that visual merchandising provided.
The process of team-based ideas generation and concept development was a critical learning for me at that time and still is the basis on which my team and I design today.
After the birth our two children I returned to work and held National Visual Merchandising Manager positions and Creative Development roles at Sportsgirl and Country Road.
In 2001 I started my best role to date – Founder and Creative Director of Gloss Creative.
Have you always wanted to be a creative business owner?
Not initially. I could say I was looking for a platform where experimentation and collaboration was the everyday. I also was looking for individual recognition for my work – large companies are amazing to be apart of, but sometimes it’s hard to get credit for what you’ve achieved.
As Gloss Creative grew I realized I enjoyed both the creative and business challenges of a small business. We are proof that high quality small design business can successfully work with large organisations.
My business allows me to immerse myself in all aspects of our projects, designing and working with our team. The freedom in the way we work has meant we have been able to work across many different disciplines.
How do you balance your creative projects with the administration / organisation / planning aspect of creative work?
Luckily, Visual Merchandisers have combined skill sets of creativity and practicality - I think this is because we have to deliver dreams into reality. Planning and organisation come naturally as a part of our process.
I’d like to debunk the often misguided theory that “creative types” can not also have business skill sets. Some of the most visionary professionals I know are brilliant business people!
Our team are highly diverse creative people - no one person can have all the attributes to complete a business. It’s the combined headset that makes the magic.
What have been some of the challenges or blessings of keeping Gloss Creative running since 2001? And how has your business focus changed since the beginning?
Honestly, I can only think of blessings. I’ve been able to run a high quality small business together with an amazing team of people and suppliers who have loved creating installations for all some incredible brands. We have had so much fun while we have worked over the last 14 years.
I guess the only continuing challenge is that you’re only ever as good as your last project. Despite our significant body of work we need to prove ourselves for every project, maybe this is why we put so much into each project, so we keep on our toes, we constantly try to bring newness into our work, we love trying new things on every project, its not always comfortable but it can be rewarding!
Our business focus has always been constant: we create ‘Grand Simplicity'. We create emotion with sophisticated visual impact.
How has your employee base grown or have you chosen to keep creative control of your business?
When I started it was only myself and my niece Kimberley Moore. On any Thursday now you’ll find seven people working in our studio. We are still small enough to act like a tribe, so creative control is no problem within our team.
Creative control beyond you team depends on the brands you are working for and the skill level and stakeholder interest for a particular project. You will have radar for this as you grow in experience. Always trust your gut instinct.
You need enough creative control to ensure that your idea remains strong, some times collaborators influence can make things even better! You don’t have to be a control freak but you do need to stick with your creative intent.
What has been you main form of business marketing to date?
Early on I decided that taking high quality photographs of our work by architectural photographers was useful as a record of our work.
I began by sending these images to the design press and they published them. We have always just ‘put our work out there’. Dianna Snape, Marcel Aucar and Rocket Mattler have been constantly photographing our work over the last decade.
We’ve had a website since 2006 and blog since 2010. We are really enjoying the community that Instagram has created!
Gloss Creative is diverse in its scope of work. Has there been a major project that you are particularly proud to share with us?
Mostly I’m proud that each project our team works on is considered with intelligence that each brand deserves. Diversity has provided us with long term inspiration and has meant we haven’t been type cast - every day is interesting.
There are some projects that stay with you as ‘milestone’ projects, the ones that take you to another level of believing in yourself.
Winning a 2013 Australian Interior Design Award for Installation Design for Myer's ‘Shadowlands' was pretty special. I loved that design for its visual emotion and simplicity, and for visual merchandisers to be considered a part of the design industry was a milestone for us. We are proud that maybe in some way we have widened the scope of Visual Merchandising over the last decade, pushing into design markets normally handled by interior designers or architects.
What advice do you have for others who might be considering a jump into a creative business?
You will know when the time is right - a wave of confidence and momentum will over take you and the fear of not following your dream will become bigger than the doubts you may have.
On a more practical level: get a bookkeeper, and hone your craft. Make relationships with people you trust and have fun with.
Always be close to your client. The further away from your client you are the more risk you take on.
What passions keep you creative?
I’m inspired by originality. I’m inspired by anyone who’s creating beauty. Both locally and globally I love theatre, ballet, set design, art, craft, fashion, accessories, store design, illustration, music, should I go on?
What is a typical day for you at Gloss Creative?
Our day starts with coffee and post Offspring analysis usually – no seriously we talk a lot in our studio! Then we get down to it. We talk about designs, we draw and plan, we come up with some bad ideas then work on them until we love them. Steff Dalberto and I might meet with suppliers, present to clients or install our projects. We spend quite a bit of time going up and back to Sydney.
I’m always on the phone talking about our ideas. It’s my role to manage expectations, which is time consuming and often challenging in an environment where creativity and financial management are both important. We love clients that are strategic thinkers, the results are magic if your clients are collaborators !
Andrea McArthur (www.andyjane.com) has a passion for all things visual and works as a Senior Graphic Designer in Dubai. Type is her true love and goes weak at the knees over beautiful design. You’ll find her sharing design related musings on Instagram @andyjanemc.