Behind the Biz: Jess Downs
Slowly, slowly, we’re getting back into a routine with our fortnightly – and beloved – Behind the Biz posts.
This week we spoke to Jess Downs, the lovely designer and creative mind behind Sydney graphic design studio, Elka & Okery. Specialising in hand lettering, textile design and illustration, Jess has built a purposeful biz that celebrates the slow, living by the coast, and the beauty of simplicity.
Who’s That Girl?
Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Jess and I am the founder and head creative behind Elka & Okery; a creative studio based in Sydney, Australia. I studied a Bachelor of Branded Fashion Design at Billy Blue College, graduating in 2017. I then landed a position in digital marketing for two fashion boutiques in Freshwater. Ten months into the position I decided that I wanted to start up my own small, creative business and that’s when Elka & Okery was born. Only six months in and it has already been the most dreamy adventure! I love branding, hand lettering and typography, the sweet seaside, photography and my two pooches; Charlotte and Maple.
How has 2019 been for you so far?
This year has already been a beautiful narrative for Elka & Okery. We are creating some very exciting things for my small business; one of which is a new art print collection which will be dropping in the next few months! We have also been working with a variety of up-and-coming and established brands such as ‘Sunday Studios’ and ‘Miryam Design’; creating distinctive brand logos, unique branding suites or dreamy hand lettering designs. I am incredibly grateful for the beautiful clients that I get to work with; who trust in my design process and love the work that I create. It’s safe to say that I am still learning, still in ‘training’ as a small business owner; all of the setbacks are a learning experience and all of the hard work makes the rewards that much sweeter.
What was it like living in Sydney?
Sydney is a beautiful place to live. I’m currently living in Cammeray, which is only a fifteen minute drive into the city and ten minute drive to Balmoral Beach – an essential; as salty skin and an ocean swim is a weekly must. There are also a lot of lovely and lively cafes, restaurants and bars that are within walking distance – with good coffee and great food!
What is home to you?
To me, home is family – my Mum, brother and two dogs Charlotte and Maple. My brother works in finance and my beautiful mother is studying to be a florist. She has always had a very unique and creative flare, so it’s nice to see her doing something that she loves each day.
What was your professional background prior to launching Elka & Okery?
Prior to launching Elka & Okery I was working in digital marketing for two fashion boutiques in Freshwater.
I started out as an assistant to the head of marketing, creating weekly EDMs, promotional material, Insta stories, assisting on photo shoots, as well as editing and retouching visuals. The owner of both stores actually ended up selling one of them, so I had the opportunity to become the digital marketing manager for one of the boutiques. Having full responsibility of the businesses social media platforms, photo shoots, window displays etc. was a wonderful experience. I would say working as a manager gave me the confidence to venture off on my own and create Elka & Okery.
Did you complete any formal studies or are you self taught?
I hold a Bachelor in Branded Fashion Design from Billy Blue College of Design and am currently studying a Certificate in Marketing at UTS.
What inspired you to choose a path in design and art prints?
I have always had a love for art, textiles and design. Art and textiles were my two favourite subject in school. Both subjects allowed me to explore my creativity ability and define my own, personal style. I began to fall in love with branding, hand lettering and designing branding suites throughout my degree at Billy Blue. Whilst studying, I was also creating commissioned work for family and friends; designing brand logos and branding suites, creating hand lettering for weddings and invitations and designing textile prints for garments and lifestyle accessories.
Elka & Okery has allowed me to express my creativity, to connect with clients and create unique and distinctive logotypes, to offer branding advice and guidance to small businesses in need, to manage my own social media platforms, to photograph what I love and what inspires me and to design my own art print and textile print collections. I’m beyond blessed that I’m able to continue my childhood passion for art and design in my day-to-day personal and client projects for Elka & Okery.
Elka & Okery is such a pretty brand name – what was the inspiration behind it?
The name ‘Elka & Okery’ was chosen to represent femininity and naturality. ‘Elka’ constitutes the idea of womanhood, the fluidity of the female form – with soft edges and a heart of love. ‘Okery’; pronounced ‘Oak-ery’, takes on a more masculine form, alluding to one’s grounded nature, to be your most natural self. This is something that is always prevalent in the collections and throughout my social platforms. A balance of sweet poetry and dreamy sunsets opposed to structural interiors and hand lettering forms.
Do you have a favourite/most memorable project?
So far, my favourite project has been creating ‘Amor’ my first art collection – a series of ten signature art prints. Although, we are currently working on a few very exciting personal projects, and by the end – we may have a new favourite!
What was it like launching your own business?
Launching any business is challenging. It is a very emotional and vulnerable experience. There was a lot of uncertainty and self doubt when I was creating my first art collection. I think what also put me on edge was having no other source of income to start off with. Now that Elka & Okery has been up and running for six months, I’m starting to relax and enjoy the work that I do, the content that I create and the clients that I chose to work with. I have also had a lot of love and support from my family and friends and of course the wonderful customers who have made a piece of the ‘Amor’ collection theirs.
What is your point of difference from other designers in the biz?
I would say that my prints have a uniqueness about them. The collections are very authentic and driven by personal inspiration; the seaside, poetry, sweet romance, peachy sights and travel. I try to create prints that would sit pretty in certain spaces and/or be adored by a particular market instead of a mass produced design. Paper and ink quality is also something that I trial and test numerous times before the final print run. For me, Elka & Okery must be the highest of quality in print, design, execution etc. If I’m working with a client on their logotype, branding or hand lettering design, each element must be sustainable, distinctive and truly reflect the company’s personality and positioning in the marketplace.
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Do you have any advice for those wanting to launch an online store?
Go for it! It’s a dreamy adventure. Just make sure you have created a business plan with your essence, target market, competitors, objectives etc. so that you have a focus, structure and purpose when designing your brand identity and website. You can download business plan templates online! I also think that it’s a great idea to write down all of your branding elements; note your logotype font, pantone and weight, your primary and secondary fonts, your colour palette and your overall business feel – Is it modern, beachy, tropical, minimalistic etc. Once you have a business structure or ‘backbone’, you’ll be able to build your brand and create an identity that is cohesive, distinctive and targets your chosen market. PS. Relax and take it slow – there’s no rush.
What’s the best thing about running your own biz?
I love having full control of what I can create, post, edit and shoot. I love meeting new clients and being able to assist them with their business, logo and branding suites. I also love that I have the freedom to create my own business hours and plan my own to-do’s – which usually consists of shooting, buying fresh flowers, painting, creating new lettering work, creating new art and textile prints and/or working on client projects.
And the worst/most challenging?
I would say tracking and managing my finances (expenses, taxes, invoices, incomings etc) and also resisting the temptation to constantly buy new material to shoot with – minus flowers as they are a necessity!
And of course: what inspires you?
Poetry, the seaside, flowers, fashion magazines, travel, music, contemporary art and my family.
How do you take your tea (or coffee)?
Fave coffee shops/cafes at home
Burnt Orange, Wild Pear and Ritual Coffee, Oh and Maggios!
Go to outfit
Dusty pink silk cami paired with a cropped denim jean, white Superga’s, Ray Ban’s and gypsy hoops from Cleopatra’s Bling.
Graduating from my degree and creating Elka & Okery.
I love a sweet, slow Sunday starting with a sleep in, maybe a little brunch at The Boathouse and an afternoon swim in the salty sea.
The Sun & Her Flowers’ by Rupi Kaur and I’m also loving the ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno’ podcast on Spotify at the moment – a little cheeky but a great laugh.
Ultimate travel destination
We hope you’re loving this interview series as much as we are! We are curious in nature, and very much enjoy learning the ins and outs of business and start up stories from other female entrepreneurs.
If you have another wonderful lady in mind that you’d like us to interview, drop a comment below or straight to firstname.lastname@example.org
Until the next brew,
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