Nailed It. Creative business success story
Here at Digital Fabrics we love finding a new and interesting success story on a brand or business that is inspiring to the creative community. We thought it would be useful and informative to find out how these creative businesses nailed it, lessons learned on the way and tips they might have. We have asked them to share important “How to’s” and growth hacking tips for start-ups and emerging designers. Read it, get motivated and nail it yourself!
First up in this new series is Megan Mckean from Mckean Studio, an inspiring design label based in Sydney who create colourful, fun travel keepsakes with a modern twist.
McKean Studio is a design label with a focus on contemporary souvenirs. We’ve been running our business for almost 4 years now, and it came about after working on some passion projects to soothe the post-travel blues! Inspired by our time spent holidaying around the world, our pieces are a modern take on travel keepsakes.
Do you work on Mckean Studio full time now?
I work full time in McKean Studio, and am coming up on my 1 year anniversary of full time self employment! It’s been a rocky road for retail in the past year, but an interesting challenge in diversifying my skill set and exploring other avenues that I might not have otherwise considered. It’s been really great to have the time to focus more on what I’m passionate about, and try out so many different projects.
If so, how long did it take you to get to that place and what advice do you have on career transitioning for creatives hoping to do the same.
I’ve been really fortunate with the timing of all my transitions, and each stage of change in the business has come about quite organically. I was working part time on McKean Studio and part time in a retail role for several years after studying, and this was perfect as it allowed me to create for McKean Studio without huge overheads or financial commitments (and still bringing in enough income to pay my rent each week). Having the flexibility of a casual position alongside the business also allowed for travel, which has been really vital for both my inspiration and product development. I think everyone finds the groove that works best for them, and there’s certainly no shame in having a ‘day job’ or part time role if it facilitates the creative work you want to be doing.
For me, making the decision to go full time in my business was mostly influenced by time; I was down to just one day per week in my previous role, and finding that I still wasn’t able to fit everything I needed to into my week. I had a couple of years of business data to look over and ensure that it was going to be sustainable, so eventually just had to bite the bullet and make the jump!
With your experience in mind, would you recommend to jump full steam ahead into a business giving it your full energy, with big intentions right away or would you suggest doing it slowly and giving the business time to grow before making the leap?
I think if the opportunity is there to grow the business slowly and steadily, then I tend to lean more towards ‘cautious optimism’ and continue on that path. But at the same time, you can’t leap a chasm in two jumps, so it comes to a point where you’ve just got to make a decision. I always told myself that if the worst happened and I wasn’t able to sustain the business, then I’m still totally employable and can go and work elsewhere!
There are no major disaster stories, but plenty of ‘face-palm’ moments and frustrations at not always being able to achieve the end result I had in mind. I’ve worked with such a wide range of materials and manufacturing processes, between handmaking myself, local production, and offshore production, and have learned that sometimes trial and error is the only way to figure out what’s best! I’ve had some annoying communication errors with international suppliers that have meant the quality of a product isn’t where it needs to be (even just simple things like a print resolution not being high enough for the product) and other projects locally that I’ve sunk a LOT of money into but haven’t been able to find an affordable solution for the final production. I’m still working on that one! 😉
What is your advice on working with manufacturers for those who are just at the beginning of their journey?
Local is best wherever possible, there’s nothing better than being able to problem solve in person, or communicate directly with a business who knows exactly what the problem you’re having is, and how to solve it. I would always say it’s better to start small and closer to home, until you’ve got a better understanding of the processes and the outcomes to scale up from there.
We don’t do any trade shows, only a couple of the big markets each year, and it’s such a great chance to get to spend time with our customers and chat directly with them. We get invaluable feedback from this face to face contact (even just on colour choices, or product suggestions) and it’s always lovely to chat with our audience and trade travel stories!
If you were to start your creative journey all over again, would you begin differently and what avenue you would take to accelerate your venture, if any?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had my creative journey run quite smoothly, so the only thing I would change if I could go back in time would be to tell myself to chill out a little bit! I’m a big worry wart when it comes to future planning, and wish I could have been a little more relaxed about trusting the timing. So many great projects I’ve been able to work on have popped up out of nowhere, and there’s no amount of planning I could have done to have made them happen. Even the books, which are such an important part of my career now, I had no plans to pursue at the time I was approached by my publisher. It was a wonderful, serendipitous meeting and something that I was able to find a new passion for and work into our range perfectly.
I’m so delighted to have long listed for an Australian Book Industry Award, and I’m still pinching myself! Working on the books the last 2 years has been such a different way of working and a great brain stretch… so keep an eye out for something new in that category later in the year!
You have travelled the globe soaking up souvenir inspiration, where is on your list for the future and could you ever see yourself living somewhere other than Australia?
I am always dreaming of living overseas, and we’ve been so fortunate to spend time in some beautiful cities all around the world. I’d love to live in New York one day, or retire early in Palm Springs (or live bi-coastally between the two!). We also often talk about moving to Sweden, so you just never know! We love Sydney for now though. We’ve got some other travel coming up this year to Japan, but after that we’ll see where the wind blows us!
I think something that people don’t always know about McKean Studio is that everything is made/designed by just the two of us! I do all of the illustration work, and handle all of the production down to packing and sending out every order. People often think we’re a much bigger operation than we are, and I always chuckle when we get work experience and internship requests (as flattering as they are!). Our Mini Cities are entirely handmade and hand painted here in Sydney, and all of the new pieces are connected and work-shopped for quite a long time before they’re produced.