Art reflects life for Georgia Perry, whose creations have found their way onto the bags, jackets, ears, back pockets, necks and feet of the world’s most influential folk. From creating childhood DIY projects in a rural mining town, to designing products and art stocked in more than 150 boutiques across the globe, the Melbourne-based graphic artist and accessories designer is dialing up the colour in our everyday.
Fiona Killackey stepped into Georgia’s bright and bold world, to discuss being a #girlboss, the seduction of Excel, and breaking down multi-tasking myths.
Georgia Perry creates ‘postbox parties’. Gleaming silver packaging, kissed by a colourful arrangement of stickers, signals a Georgia Perry postal delivery. To her ever-expanding global fan base, the unexpected packaging is yet another reason to fall in love with Georgia’s eclectic accessories brand. Since launching in 2014 with conversation-starting pins and totes, graphic artist and accessories designer Georgia Perry has expanded to offer a variety of collectables including pins, stationery, bags, keyrings, socks, scarves, enamel jewellery and patches.
Way back, before the popularity of her pins took off, Georgia was winning fans as a graphic artist, a career that started during her childhood in Broken Hill, a rural mining town in NSW.
‘When you’re a kid in a small town, being able to make your own fun becomes pretty important – and for me that involved painting, drawing and making things.’
Among these creations were business cards – an early signal of Georgia’s ambition to be her own boss. ‘I was never really worried about leaving full-time work or whether I’d be able to support myself. Since I was just 9 or 10 years old, I’d always known I wanted my own business. I was literally making myself tiny business cards and hustling in the playground at primary school – selling friendship bands or drawing pictures for people.’
Building upon her schoolyard transactions, Georgia went on to study Visual Communications in Adelaide, before working in print shops and design studios in London and Sydney. In 2013, with a handful of clients, Georgia made the leap to work for herself as an artist, settling in Melbourne the following year. Creating accessories, which she says is something she has ‘fallen into’ has enabled Georgia to reach a wider audience, with her range now stocked globally including at Colette Paris, Shop Bop, Nordstrom and Le Bon Marche.
Tell us a little about your background. What did you study and what led you to what you are doing today?
When I was 17 I moved to Adelaide, where I got my Honours Degree in Visual Communication at The University of South Australia. I loved uni so much – I was still so young and coming from Broken Hill, Adelaide seemed so big and exciting and full of opportunity!
Also, after never really fitting in at high school, it was a nice feeling to be surrounded by people who were into the same things I was. After finishing my degree, I relocated to London for a working holiday, where I worked at a small central London print shop, basically designing junk mail for two years. I found London a really hard city to break into (especially as a broke 21-year-old) but I learned so much there, and ended up making friends for life.
The end goal was always to become my own boss, so after returning to Australia in 2008, I worked in some really great small design studios in Sydney. As well as being able to work on a wider variety of projects, and get a lot more experience in facing clients etc., working in smaller design studios really allowed me to see the ins and outs of running a business.
I began to get more and more freelance work on the side while I was still working full-time, and after a year or so of going home and working on my own projects every night, I realised that I was going to burn out pretty quickly.
So with just two or three regular clients under my belt, I bit the bullet and went out on my own in January of 2013. Even typing that seems crazy, as it feels so much longer than that. So much has changed, and I’ve learned so much in just three and a half years.
You’ve had quite varied roles, from graphic design, to producing one-off art pieces and internationally adored accessories. What originally drew you to making accessories?
Making products is something I’ve kind of fallen into – but it makes so much sense now. There are only so many people that need to commission a piece of design or an illustration, but literally anyone can buy a pin or a tote bag. I am able to share my work with a much bigger audience now, and that’s a really exciting thing.
I created my first range of products in November 2014. It started out as a bit of fun and a way to generate a bit more passive income. It was a series of graphic illustrated lapel pins, which unexpectedly just ended up selling like crazy. Since then, I have just slowly grown and expanded the product range – and now it includes tote bags, silk scarves, socks and enamel jewellery. The last two years have been such crazy / fun / stressful rollercoaster, and I’m really excited to see where it goes next.
I still take on commissioned work, but I am enjoying the product side of the business so much, and it takes up so much time (I wildly underestimated the amount of admin that would be involved) that it just means I have to be a lot more careful / strategic about the projects I take on, and make sure I don’t over commit myself.
How would you describe your work, and what influences your subject matter?
No matter what the final outcome, whether it’s an accessory, or a mural or a commissioned illustration – I think the commonalities in my work are usually colour, humour and a sense of fun.
I like to work hard but I don’t take life too seriously. I’m lucky to be able to make a living doing what I love, and I have a lot of fun coming up with new designs. I am influenced by so many things – pop culture, travelling, art, books, films – I tend to soak up experiences and the things I see like a sponge – you never know how they might be repurposed later, even subconsciously.
What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges you have had to overcome in order to create a business out of this? What advice would you give to others?
There are unexpected challenges and obstacles that come up on pretty much a daily basis. Adjusting to the fact that my job isn’t just to draw nice pictures anymore has been kind of hard sometimes! I went from sitting by myself in my spare room drawing all day, to now managing people, learning about logistics / exporting products, researching and endless prototyping with suppliers, managing stockists in multiple time zones, and putting systems in place to make sure we have the right products at the right time.
My number one piece of advice would be to realise that multi-tasking is a myth! I don’t think you can ever truly do two (or more) things well at the same time. I always thought I was fantastic at this, but now I’ve realised that working like that just generates stress, and focusing on one thing at a time (and doing it well) is the only way to get stuff done.
Also take breaks! I am a workaholic, but I just can’t work how I did when I was 20. I’m only 31 now but there are so many other things I have to consider / have in place to be able to stay productive now. Things like regularly exercising, getting a good night’s sleep and taking breaks from screens. No more all-nighters in front of the computer!
How would you describe your creative process?
Everything I make starts as a sketch on paper. I find a blank computer screen very overwhelming, so I prefer to avoid starting there as much as possible. I look through books, magazines and images I’ve collected in my travels for inspiration. I also really love making mood boards from images I’ve collected – and definitely believe more is more when it comes to inspiration, especially when designing new patterns or products. My desk is a sea of magazine clippings, colour swatches and open books festooned with post-it notes. I like to be over-stimulated when it comes to the creative process.
What does a typical day at work for Georgia Perry involve?
I’ve always been an early riser, so my day usually starts with some Instagram scrolling in bed (am I right?) and then some form of exercise and meditation. Then it’s onto the emails. We have a lot of international stockists, so there is usually a lot of communication that comes in overnight.
I’m lucky enough to have one of my best friends in the world, Zoe, working with me full-time now and she gets in at 10am, so we go through all of the wholesale and online orders and get them packed up and off to the post office. I find that I’m way more sharp in the mornings, so prefer to get all of the admin / brain-strain stuff done as early as possible in the day.
I’m a big fan of hand-written to do lists, so I keep a (often overly optimistic!) list of the tasks I want to complete each day written in a book on my desk. This can include finishing an illustration project, talking with my suppliers, checking on production, and then sketching / researching new products.
It’s really rare now that I get to spend a whole day just focussing on design / creative, but I’ve come to terms with that, and realised it’s just part of running a small business. When I can wrangle one though, it’s wonderful!
Who are three other Australian creatives that you love at the moment?
Gloss Creative – I’ve been lucky enough to work on a few projects with Amanda Henderson from Gloss Creative. The work that Gloss put out is unrivaled – no one can transform a space like Amanda and her team. She is a visionary – and a truly lovely person to boot.
Alpha60 – I’ve seen Georgie and Alex from Alpha60 speak at a couple of events, and they both seem so sweet and passionate about what they do. Their clothes are unreal, and I love that it’s a family business.
Marc Martin – I love Marc’s work. His use of colour and texture is so beautiful; his Instagram posts always stop me in my tracks.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
I am very proud that I’ve been able to make my dream of becoming my own boss a reality. Being able to live on my own terms, and support myself (and now someone else) by doing what I love is an amazing feeling. Also – getting stocked with Nordstrom in the US recently is really rad too.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned about yourself in the last 12 – 18 months?
Probably how much I get off on spreadsheets / data! I’m traditionally a very right-brained person, and guided a lot by intuition / gut-feelings, so I can’t believe I’m even saying that, but since introducing products to the business, sales information and other data has become really important and actually super interesting.
I first thought that I’d never be able to manage it all / stay on top of things, but I’ve implemented a bunch of great software (as well as having the super resourceful and clever Zoe by my side) and now I love analysing data / reports and working out ways we can grow and improve things.
What are you looking forward to?
Summer! This is only my second winter in Melbourne and it’s really dragged. Bring on the sunshine and the spritz!
What is your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I moved to Fitzroy from Sydney around two and a half years ago, and I love it here. I’d only ever spent a few weekends in Melbourne before relocating, so knew nothing about the suburb before moving here. Every day there is something happening or somewhere new to eat – and I love being able to walk into the city or Lygon Street to grab dinner or watch a movie.
Where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne and what did you have?
Cutler & Co on Gertrude Street is incredible. I had a very long and boozy dinner there a few months ago and have thought about it a lot since.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Mile End Bagels on Johnson Street is my Saturday morning jam. A good bagel is a great way to start the weekend. My boyfriend and I often walk there en route to the city to do some shopping or watch a movie. I highly recommend the #3!
Do you think you’ll stay put in Melbourne for a while or is there an alternate destination beckoning?
I love Melbourne and I love my neighbourhood, so I’m not planning on going anywhere soon. After living overseas in my early twenties, and travelling a lot since then, it’s always so nice to be home.