Isaac produces his minimalist range of refined IEFrancis leather goods and accessories at Thinkers and Makers Society workshop in inner Melbourne. We went behind the scenes to get to know a little more about this friendly fellow and what life's like as a creative sole-proprietor.
Photos by John Tan.
IEFrancis studio, Melbourne, Victoria.
What is the IEFrancis mission?
IEFrancis is about creating simple products from beautiful materials. I want my products to have soul, and be well made enough that people can get to know them over years and years of use.
What was the founding moment for IEFrancis brand?
I initially studied as a boot maker, which is where my love of leather came from. The current identity of IEFrancis has evolved slowly over about 6 years. The moment where it became a business from a hobby was at the start of my second year at uni, I realised that my other supportive job was getting in the way of what I really wanted to do, and I could support myself financially without it (although definitely below the poverty line). At the start I was running IEFrancis in a very short-sighted way, selling products to pay rent or to fund new products without much thought about the overall direction. This is my first year free from the shackles of university, so I’ve been able to spend all of my time on it and really develop some kind of plan for what I want IEFrancis to be.
What was your uni job?
I worked installing audio/visual equipment. I hated it, but it paid so much that I stuck with it for years. It became this threat to my business as it was so tantalising to have a guaranteed income every week, I ended up quitting just to push myself into getting IEFrancis off the ground.
I am still working towards the vision of the label that I have in my head.
In what way does design play a role in your work process?
New products come up in various ways for me. I do a lot of custom production runs of products for organisations and outside businesses, for which there is a much more structured process of design i.e. ideation-prototyping-production.
The products released under IEFrancis may arise through this process, or through months and months of prototyping and thought. I crudely draw every detail, and prototype endlessly, as before I get anywhere close to a finished product I need to have a pretty solid understanding on the form and function.
How long does it take to bring a new design to market? Could you describe the process?
In contrast to the above approach, the design of a product might be sparked from an idea of a detail. My new Tab Wallets (insert link to product) are an example of this. The tab closure was in my head for months before, and I was just translating it into many different product ideas before landing on that one. Once it started to take shape, I made 5 different functioning prototypes that just varied in minor ways, I handed some to a few close friends and used one myself. I actually realised the solution as soon as I started using one, so I remade it and that’s what I ended up putting into production. As IEFrancis is such a small operation, I can go from concept to production ready product in a week if all goes well. Generally I think about things for so long that it ends up being a few months.
Do you aim for, or are you conscious of, an overarching style or common aesthetic of the IEFrancis product range? Is it important each design is identifiable as an IEFrancis design?
Well this has been much more of an area of thought for me over the past year and a half, I am now putting more weight into the IEFrancis aesthetic and actively trying to develop it. I think I have always designed simple products which have a somewhat minimalist aesthetic, so the range has been quite cohesive, but I am still working towards the vision of the label that I have in my head.
What do you think it was that planted in you that 'vision' you're reaching for? Where did that clear iEFrancis style of combining craftsmanship with minimalism, that is certainly evident in your designs, come from do you think?
The development of my aesthetic has been a slow-burn over the last few years. It’s really taken time for my design skills to reach a point where the minimalism doesn’t look forced, and my manufacturing skills to be able to keep up. I am realising more and more that the strength of IEFrancis will not be in a traditional leather goods label, but instead in a less restrictive collection of products (some furniture, some homewares, some lighting, and some leather goods). I’m looking forward to reaching the point that I have in my head, but I know that the nature of this kind of development is that by the time I reach where I’m headed, things will have changed. It’s an endless project in that respect.
How important to you is environment in the creative process and business operations?
I operate from a small studio which is part of the Thinkers and Makers Society. It’s a great place filled with other creatives, which is a great environment to run a creative business from. I love working alone, but do really appreciate having people around to talk to when I want to venture from the quiet of my studio.
When you have a day off, do you feel like you’re constantly working? Are you actively, or subconsciously, scouring the environment for the next idea, or are you able to detach yourself from this?
I wish I could detach completely sometimes! I never stop thinking about new products and never stop reimagining old ones. I do really enjoy thinking about this stuff, and get so much enjoyment from designing a product in my head, so it rarely ever feels like a chore. I am making an effort this year to play more music, to meditate more, and really try and create moments where I can easily switch off from the IEFrancis hustle.
Do you ever feel any restraints being a designer/maker located in Australia?
I don’t necessarily feel those restraints, because I have never experienced what it would be like to be connected to a larger population and design industry. I do spend a ridiculous amount of money on international shipping, mostly from the USA.
How important is it to you to have your products presented in a brick and mortar store and not solely online?
Hugely important. People are more and more trusting of online shopping, but there are still tangible qualities to a product which will never be translated effectively through an image alone. I put a lot of work and effort into making sure my products feel like something that is valuable, which can be frustrating to have that not be visible in the online representation of that product. I also think it’s great to be out in the world alongside the work of other amazing makers/labels, seeing how stockists present your work is interesting, and there is a type of feedback that comes from store owners and the people that have to sell your product every day that is incredibly valuable.
What would be a tip you'd give to someone that's wanting to start out their own one-person product design and manufacturing business?
Take care of yourself. Understand that everything happens in waves. Sometimes it all works, sometimes it doesn’t, so it’s important to kind of steady yourself somehow from that turbulence. I go through months of everything working perfectly, and then when an inevitable quiet week arrives I have the immediate thought that nothing is working and I start rethinking everything. I now know to expect this reaction in my mind, and now try to use those quiet weeks to have an extra day off or start experimenting with something that is totally unrelated to making money.
At C·D·S we see a "re-emergence" of the maker occurring, and of the value by many of traditional craft and manufacturing skills. You obviously embrace modern production techniques as well as traditional craftsmanship. Do you see this change occurring, and if so why do you think it is?
I still manufacture all of my products in a totally traditional way - it’s really in the design and business operation that IEFrancis is a modern venture. I don’t really see an inherent difference between traditional and modern production techniques in terms of quality, I intend to use whichever processes will give me the best results in the finished product.
I totally agree that there is a re-emergence of the maker, and I’m so happy to see it.
I would suggest that it’s part of an awakening that is happening where people are not as comfortable with mindlessly consuming as we are becoming more aware of the consequences for the environment and society as well as the creatively limiting nature of mass production/consumption.
What’s the hardest part about what you do?
I find the reality of being able to design and make literally ANYTHING I want quite daunting. It’s really about weighing up the pros and cons of each direction and going with what I think will work the best for me. I only have so many hours, and only so many resources with which to do what I do, so it’s hard to make those decisions sometimes.
Music in the studio, podcasts, silence, other?
Rarely ever silence, unless I’m writing something. I listen to endless podcasts, as it’s a great way of occupying my mind on an intellectual level while I do somewhat repetitive tasks. I love a story that takes me to places that I didn’t expect to go. I listen to so many now that the list is getting ridiculous. My list of favourites would be; This American Life, Savage Lovecast, Science Vs, Blabbermouth, Invisibilia, S-Town, and Serial of course. Any podcast that allows me to hear thought provoking stories from or about interesting people with different perspectives I find really great to listen to while I work. I get hooked into these stories really easily - I listened to both seasons of Serial in one day each as I just couldn’t stop! (I think the first season is roughly 12 hours…)
I am slowly working towards not being an exclusively leather based label, as I think that it makes sense to move away from these materials that have an animal cost. I released a pendant lamp as a way to bridge into some homewares and furniture, and I plan to go further in that direction. I am taking a furniture project that I designed over to Dubai Design Week soon, which will be a nice change of scene. This year is really about pushing as hard as I can, really trying to strengthen the IEFrancis aesthetic, and working out a plan of attack for next year, so ultimately I have no idea yet!
Behind the scenes with Sonja of Sole Ceramics. Sonja produces her minimalist range of ceramics in her back garden. We went behind the scenes to get to know a little more about Sonja and her brand.
Photos by John Tan.
Sole Ceramics studio, Bassendean, Western Australia.
How would you describe Sole as a brand?
I think it’s pretty personal, the name is pronounced ‘Solé’, which was my nickname when I was young, my Serbian family still call me that.
You own a branding agency, an espresso bar, as well as run Sole Ceramics (!!), how would you elaborate on juggling three very different, albeit creative (and beautifully branded), endeavours? Does one feed the other? How is your time split?
They are all kind of connected, John and I started Nude 2008/09 with the intention of doing really nice design, and we always thought it would be nice to have a café. Have friends pop in, you know European style - maybe more like Eastern European style - sit around, drink some coffee… have a chat… do some work… all kind of connected and part of everyday life. Our friend Helen (who now runs the cafe) was a barista, and together we thought, what the hell, lets just do it!
Together we thought — what the hell, lets just do it!
So now we have a little coffee shop. When I was designing the space for the café, (named after Franz Kafka) I really really wanted some handmade cups, so I popped into a little craft shop in Galleria, and bought some clay, and stared making some little espresso cups by hand, and that’s pretty much how Sole started.
At what point did you know Sole was a business and how did you know? When did it go from dabbling or experimenting to full business mode?
I still treat it as 'dabbling or experimenting'. I like the idea of keeping it as a side thing. A thing that I do for the love of it, or for fun, more than trying to grow it as a business or have any pressure to make money from it.
How would you describe the state of your workspace at the moment? How important to you is environment in the creative process?
I haven’t really thought about it much, but I do like to surround myself with things that make me happy, plants, artwork, so in that sense I really like being in both the studio and home, and the cafe too.
Tell me more about the productive process of an item, let’s say the cup?
It’s pretty full on, I’m still surprised I’m doing it, I’m not really a patient person :) With the cups, I start off with white clay, then wedge some black speckles into it, throw the basic shape on the wheel and make some handles while the clay is drying. It’s a lot of waiting for things to dry, once the cup is bone dry I sand it with steel wool, let it dry even more, bisc fire it for the first time at 1000C, wait for a day, then another for the kiln to cool, then glaze the little fucker, then wait for it to dry then fire again, then wait another day. So it takes ages, but is pretty exciting opening the kin. When I first started I was like “how hard can it be, you just put in the the kin and turn it on”. Yeah my first few loads were explosions, it was kind of funny.
I like the idea of keeping it as a side thing. A thing that I do for the love of it, or for fun, more than trying to grow it as a business.
What is your standard working day like? Are you institutional with your time, or do you wait for moments of inspiration? Is there such a thing as a standard day?
I have two little boys, so when they are in daycare/school I work at the design studio, with the clay, I sometimes make things at night, sometimes while the kids are playing outside or having a nap. Its definitely not structured. Whats great about is that you don’t have to go thought that emotional creative process like you do with design, its more like woodwork. You make something with your hand, and if you don’t like it, you just squish it down and that’s that, its really refreshing and liberating. I don’t feel stuck for ideas or inspiration and I put no pressure on myself creatively either so its really great.
When you do have a day off, do you feel like you’re constantly working? Are you actively, or subconsciously, scouring the environment for the next idea? Or are you able to detach yourself from this?
Yeah I would be straight onto the wheel, or making things, or gardening. I think I’m great at ditching now from design, but I still have a long way to go with pottery or other renovations/making things. I’m trying to consciously tell myself to stop, and chill the f. out Haha! There are too many ideas all the time, and I’m trying let go a little and be ok with not doing everything.
Do you aim for, or are you conscious of, an overarching style or common aesthetic of the Sole product range? Is it important each design is identifiable as a Sole design?
No I think its really relaxed, but over the years I have developed a certain style both in design and branding and now ceramics that just comes naturally, so I think people will probably be able to tell if the work is mine. I don’t know if its really important but I do like it when you look at an artist’s work over their lifetime and see the style and directions change over the years, I think it gives you more opportunity to come up with something new.
Do you ever feel any restraints being a creative business located in Perth?
I think generally being a designer in Perth can be hard. Particularly in the branding world, it’s devastating seeing really great creative studios not being able to survive. It’s soo sad. It probably comes down to education, and just trust in the designers and appreciation for art.
How important is it to you to have your products presented in a brick and mortar store and not solely online?
It’s really nice to be able to pick up and hold the object, so in that way its pretty important, and also to reach a different audience and show support to the shop owners too.
What would be a tip you'd give to someone that's wanting to start out their own product design and manufacturing business?
Don’t do it. Haha! I don’t know, it’s a tough industry to break through, design in general, maybe try and collaborate with people who have networks already set up, instead of going the grass roots/bootstrap method, which are good but take ages to get anywhere. I wouldn’t really do anything different in regards to ceramics, I’m pretty happy plotting along and experimenting in my own time without any real pressure.