Pony Rider is well recognised for our visuals’, starts Kelly Searl, founder and creative director of the iconic Australian-made homewares brand, ‘We have grown as any brand has, but our genre has stayed in the same arena.’ That arena is one of sylvan scenes, a space inhabited by wood cabins, quiet adventures, salty hair and empty beaches. The visual imagery surrounding Pony Rider portrays an ideal, yet imperfect, rustic existence and it has done so, consistently, since Kelly launched the brand back in 2009.
With a background in fashion (counting Sass & Bide and One Teaspoon among past employers), Kelly is no stranger to the power of engaging visuals. ‘My background has helped me a lot’ she admits, ‘a strong visual presence will help any brand establish their own unique look.’ Yet, when it comes to Pony Rider, Kelly has experienced the same lessons as any other small business owner. ‘There’s a definite awareness of what we [the brand] like and what the audience will respond to. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. Occasionally a really boring shot will get a tonne of likes, and that can throw us.’
The ‘us’ is Kelly and her husband, photographer and founding partner of Monster Children, Chris Searl, who together execute all visual content for the brand. ‘We plan it out using a few techniques: best sellers, new sellers, what we need to feature. As far as a team goes, it has, and always will be, me and my husband. I come up with the creative and he makes it look good. ‘Keep it simple’ is our motto.’ After almost a decade working together on the visuals, the duo has cultivated a tight-knit team of ‘awesome peeps’ that assist with the shoot. ‘We don’t run with a specific authority over the shots. In fact, Chris tends to run the day. If he’s over it, we move on.’
Starting out originally as a cushion brand, Kelly initially aimed for two shoots per year, which mirrored the two main annual collections. As the brand has grown to feature blankets, beach towels, wall-wares, bags, throws and accessories (many of which are created in collaboration with local artists), Pony Rider required more regular shoots, aiming now for four to five per year. ‘I wish I could be more helpful on our approach [to these] but it changes all the time’ Kelly concedes. ‘I try and stick to stories, but find it too contrived, so we end up running with what comes to top of mind.’ The brand’s popular blog, Journal, forms the basis of their content requirements – ‘we do try to run the journal as the hero, and we feed content from that’ – and shots are then amplified across social, email and online. On the topic of social media, Kelly admits it’s one area she still feels she hasn’t quite nailed. ‘I would say we don’t play the social media game very well. Too much analysing can sometimes take the joy out of the look that you set out to achieve. Go with your gut and always be prepared to step out. There is a lot of mimicking going on these days, and the audience is saturated in fodder, so the fresh approach will always win.’
One brand creating fresh visuals Kelly admires is 1924us. ‘I’m amazed at what some individuals can pull off. 1924us has a stunning style… consistency, visual interest, space and mood.’ For those just starting out or looking to increase the quality of their business’ visuals, Kelly suggests ‘get out and start shooting. Muck around a bit and create your own look. Try some filters as they can help establish a mood for your brand. Any good brand has a consistent style; keep it simple.’
The simple life portrayed in Pony Rider’s visuals has inspired a loyal and global following, with people flocking to secure the locally-made pieces before they (often) sell out. Yet, Kelly’s focus is not to over-hype the brand, but simply to encourage her audience to want to buy something that’s made by artisans, and created to last. ‘What I love most about running my own small business is that you can change, inspire and have the ability to engage people, no matter how big or small. Inspiration is a wonderful thing, but to provoke people to make better decisions is the ultimate outcome. It’s something that’s very close to our hearts.’