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Hayley King and the business of art

Hayley King has pulled together business and art in creating her all-encompassing design label Flox.

Hayley King has pulled together business and art in creating her all-encompassing design label Flox.

Professional squash and street art might not seem to have much in common. Sport and art are disparate forces, especially in New Zealand, where creativity plays second fiddle to physical prowess in our national psyche. But for Hayley King, the force behind art and design label Flox, the mental discipline of high-level sport has provided the focus and drive needed to excel in our competitive creative industry.

Fresh from a tour with Fly My Pretties (for which she did the visuals), King can look back on 2011 as one of her best professionally. There was the commission for the Britomart Car Park (each level features a mural with New Zealand birds and flora), a huge mural in Cross Street, a visual interpretation of Cloudy Bay’s 2011 sauvignon blanc, (used for a launch party in Britomart) and numerous private commissions. The Fly My Pretties tour was recorded live and has resulted in 16 new songs being captured on CD and  DVD, and next week an exhibition of large-scale Flox works in different mediums all inspired by Fly My Pretties opens in Auckland (155 K' Rd) before travelling to Wellington's Bat Theatre and opening on March 26.

Working with spray paint and stencil, King creates delicate, intricate images inspired by the natural world. She is probably most well known for her birds – from which the name Flox is derived – but her work is also populated with New Zealand plants, exotic animals, and lush flora. Hailing from Kaitaia, she spent her childhood immersed in nature – the wild, lonely beaches, and verdant, primeval bush fuelling her creative vision.

Hosier Lane Hit the Hay poster Hamilton Kitchen Fly My Pretties Fly My Pretties Fly My Pretties Fly My Pretties Fly My Pretties

As a teenager, King looked set for sporting stardom. A talented, world-class squash player (at one stage she was ranked 44th in the world), she’d spent years training to reach the top of her game. She admits that people are often surprised when they hear about her sporting prowess, but says that it has helped to fuel her success.

“In terms of my career, it gave me drive and mental discipline.”

A passion for art had always run parallel to her passion for sport. At 16, she moved to Auckland, where Western Springs College offered her the opportunity to study a range of art subjects, fuelling the creative urge. For a teenager who’d been so committed to sport, the lure of art would prove too strong.

“Art had always been a part of me,” she says. “After I moved to Auckland the balance began to shift to art.”

A Bachelor of Design degree followed in 2003. She’d always been fascinated by the magic and mystery of print-making: “I love the surprise at the end, you never know what you’ll end up with.”

The decorative arts and crafts movement influenced her early work. After graduating she began playing around with stencil, before discovering her favourite medium, spray paint. The streets became her canvas; she honed her style with collaborators Cut Collective, creating stencil and spray work on walls and for graphic design projects.

Flox as a label was developed in 2005. The name consolidated her market identity, giving her distinctive bird-and-nature oriented art a recognisable moniker. It was a clever piece of marketing – think birds, think flock, think Flox.

With the name and the talent sorted, she just needed the business smarts. An enterprise scheme gave her the chance to learn her business ABC, and create a business plan.

“It gave me grounding in the reality of business – it enabled me to understand how the business side of things worked.”

King used the course to develop the clothing side of Flox. The incorporation of clothing into the brand made good business sense – it brought in regular cash, raised the visibility of the brand – the clothes were walking advertisements for the label – and added a further string to the Flox bow.  

She sold her clothes at the Aotea Markets for five years. When the markets closed in 2008, she and fellow stall-holder Jen Wilson, from Design by Nature, set up the City Designers Market off High Street. They shoulder-tapped simpatico designers from the markets and formed a collective. Four years on it’s still going strong.

Concurrent with the stall, King worked on the mainstay of the brand, undertaking corporate and private commissions with clients such as Air New Zealand, developing and nurturing baby Flox into a fully-fledged creative enterprise.

Her philosophy when it comes to marketing is simple. “It’s based around keeping doors open,” she says. You get the feeling she’s happy to take on anything. There’s the clothing, the private commissions for murals, the big public commissions, the prints, the cards.

“I try to keep all price points covered,” she says.

Her street art has been an important business tool.

“It’s my form of marketing,” she laughs.

The Fly My Pretties project introduced Flox to New Zealand’s music public last year. Asked by band leader Barnaby Weir to “create 16 illustrations, one for each song, that encapsulated the song, the artist, and was able to be animated”, the project was big and challenging; but ultimately rewarding. It took her four months to complete the work, two of which were dedicated solely to it. She then joined the group on tour in Australia and New Zealand.

“I did live painting, then jumped on stage to introduce the show,” she says. “It was a wonderful experience collaborating with the musicians and a real challenge for me personally as an artist, fulfilling all the needs of the artists, tracks, and overall concept of the Fly My Pretties brand.”

Never one to rest of her laurels, King has a fair bit planned for the forthcoming year. She’s aiming for a solo show, something which she hasn’t had for a few years, and there’s a new, improved clothing range.

“I’m creating a streamlined line, based around the prints,” she reveals.

She’s also planning to raise her profile internationally, setting off on a six-week trip to Europe. Armed with spray can, she’s ready to illustrate the streets of some of the world’s most famous cities.

“I’m going to reach out beyond New Zealand,” she says. “I hope to make some connections, and do some projects overseas.”