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Carving your own creative sphere with Trelise Cooper protégé turned creative consultant, Kayla Jurlina

Kayla Jurlina is the art director of her own name brand creative consultant business. Making waves in the fashion and design industry since her young involvement as a sub-designer for popular Auckland designer Trelise Cooper. Although coming from a creative led family Jurlina did not immediately see her future in design, as like most creatives, she felt a bit lost when school placed heavier importance on mathematics and literature rather than the arts.

“I always felt like I wasn’t good enough to do the subjects that were so highly regarded. I wasn’t good at reading or writing, and I just wasn’t interested…I was always worried growing up that I wouldn’t find something I would be good enough to do for a living.”

“I never really understood why you’d get into the creative industry when everything was already so readily available? Like, I could pop down and get clothes from the store, why would I make them? Then when school came about, I found that maths, writing, and science didn’t really captivate me. So, art quickly became this easy passion. I could sit there and get lost in it.”

Flair for the theatrical

Finding something that appealed to her only opened doors as she began to put in the hard yards to forge her own path, contacting Trelise Cooper to do a gateway programme while in her last year of high school and subsequently opening up the opportunity for other Massey High School students to start gateway with the fashion designer.

“I did not get these opportunities through any type of privilege, because at my school they didn’t hand you things on a plate, you had to go out and find it. They didn’t have anything for fashion or art back then, so I had to approach Trelise myself and ask if I could do a gateway programme. There were so many girls in my art class who were as hungry as I was to work in fashion, but they didn’t have the drive to go out and build those relationships.

“A few girls had asked me to bring them along on the gateway, and I did. But no one took it as seriously as I did, they’d come in and they’d do their job and leave. I would be in the back like high heels on, smashing down boxes.”

After a few years interning for Trelise Cooper and during her arts and design degree at AUT, Jurlina found herself flexing her own creativity as the head designer for Cooper’s younger target brand, Coop.

Kayla Jurlina and Trelise Cooper 

“I was really driven to figure out what my path was. I hate the uneasiness that comes with not knowing what you’re doing, or where you’re going.

“I started with Trelise one winter, I think it was around 2014, and worked through Fashion Week and realised that this was what I wanted to do. I found it so cool we had something like this in New Zealand. There were people in the marketing teams all the way into production, and the design team upstairs where everything happened; from there I was sold.”

Through several years successfully running the design for Coop, Jurlina found her creativity was growing past playing it safe in a commercial setting, and that the young designer wanted to challenge herself past what catering to consumerism could offer.

“Trelise’s was like a well-oiled machine… But the thing is with such a big brand, it must be commercialised and safe. I was pushing to make things a little edgier and kept getting a no. It was all about playing it safe to please the customer, and I kind of started getting frustrated… To me, a brand, artist or person can teach an audience at the same time as influence them.”

A Homage to heritage 

Jurlina’s grasp for a more creative journey lead her to start her own business, a jewelry brand which paid homage to her Greek heritage, hence the name – Homage. Yet it wasn’t the jewelry that was the distinct point of her new brand, but rather the merchandising, which positioned her brand as one of the first in New Zealand to focus more on the branding than the product.

“I want to do something that New Zealand hadn’t seen,” she expressed. “I wanted to teach people that jewelry doesn’t have to be on a model, I can sell it on a piece of toast.”

Homage’s prints and they way she styled them became the main aspect, with gold earrings submerged within a plate of oysters and exotic looking pieces strewn across haphazard cereal art. The designs were a first, but they were also calculated. Creativity is not only about coming up with something new, but it is also about applying critical judgment, which is something Jurlina found she could easily expand on in the creation of Homage.

“Homage came as a result of me looking for a creative project that I could do while I was taking a break from Trelise Cooper. I organised the entire thing, I sourced the product, I hand painted all the backdrops and started the website. I taught myself Illustrator and InDesign and started working on how to get people behind me to support the process.

“I don’t like Instagram, I think its hard work. But last year, all my business pretty much came from word of mouth and Instagram, so I needed what I created to translate well into social media and online. And a lot of that came from not putting anything up if it isn’t up to scratch, it had to be clean.”

From start to finish 

Even through years of design and working within a top New Zealand company, Jurlina turned to a business mentor to help her grow both the creative and directing side of her business, as the inability to find inspiration in similar work left her at odds.

“To be honest, I have not found anyone to model my creativity off. I try, I would love to be inspired by people or things… I haven’t found anyone who is doing what I am doing. I did struggle last year with the aspect of not having anyone to talk to, and not having anyone to bounce ideas off that would have any idea what I’m doing. So, then I went to this business mentor, and I’ve chosen to invest money in getting business mentorship and has helped in the aspect of refining what my offering is.”

“I’m surer of who I am,” she says. “I’m a lot more content.”

Despite several years heading a fashion label that was highly praised within the industry, Jurlina has found creative consulting to be a good step for her, the ability to master the plan from start to finish is a drawcard for most creatives. Despite growing her reputation quickly and working with some of New Zealand’s largest brands, she says remaining grounded and thankful is an important aspect for her.

Homage Online 

“It’s important to be grateful. Every time I’m given an amazing job, I’m always conscious to be grateful for the opportunity. I’m not shy in the aspect that if it is going well you have to the energy out there to make sure people know it’s going well.”

Kayla has worked with a multitude of brands, including the likes of Whittaker’s, Tip Top, T- Galleria, Smalles Farm, Farmers, &Sushi and No Ugly. All have entrusted the young director to create them a one-of-a-kind-branding merchandise.

&Sushi by Kayla Jurlina 

No Ugly Tonic by Kayla Jurlina. 

Yet despite opportunity and the ever-existing highlight reel that is social media, Jurlina expresses that, “the creative industry is not anything like it seems” and no matter a person’s background, they need to be prepared to pay their dues.

“I’ve had a few assistants who have come in and expected to be on set all the time, and it’s like small things like coffee runs and packing the car are all part of it, don’t feel too privileged that you can’t do smaller jobs,” she says. “What I’ve found is people coming in and they’re kind of too good to do the hard work. You have to be hungry, you have to work for it, and when you pay those dues eventually you will be recognised.”

Communication as the bigger picture 

Jurlina says her creative process starts as most would: with a conversation. Working closely alongside some of New Zealand’s biggest brands such as Tip Top and Whittaker’s meant the young art director had to carve herself a creative space that still delivered a product.

“Everything I do is a conversation in the aspect of whom I’m working with, which usually brings in what we’re doing and how I bring it to light. I’m not going to go to anyone and ask for handouts to promote my work, for me it’s a partnership, it’s like, ‘let’s work together’.

Jurlina praises the help of individuals such as chef Al Brown and Showroom 22 director, Murray Bevan; people who have backed the young director as she branched out into bigger creative projects. 

“Creativity centers a lot around communication and how you ask for things. Launching Homage gave me a fresh slate to see who I was as a creative… It’s taken six months to a year for Homage to pay off in the aspect of showing brands what I can create for them as an art director.

Jurlina says of her creative process that switching her perspective to look from the outside in gave her more opportunity to try different things, citing communication as her first step in creating something tangible to present and subsequently expand.

“I think the creative process, for me, starts at the initial meeting: you can get an idea, and get them excited for the process. The creative process feeds a lot off each other’s excitement. For every person that comes to me, I will do a proposal and a few concepts, something a bit more tangible. I’m a very visual person, and if you’re going to work with me, I need something quite visual to start off with to communicate what I’m thinking.”

All creatives will have a small piece of their own influence in what they create, and Jurlina is no different. As the designer has grown and become more content in herself, her creativity in both design and business has reflected that.

“I’ve changed my aesthetic and I can see that in what I create. I’ve become a lot more minimal and cleaner and my work has started to reflect that. I’m trying to implement a high standard in how I operate, and that trickles down into what I produce.”

Jurlina’s creative process has shifted from pencil sketches of urban clothing to digital designs leading the way. Yet the consultant stresses that just because it isn’t the norm, doesn’t mean for her it doesn’t have value.

“Everyone’s creative process is different. And I don’t think it has to be as traditional as what people think. When I think of a creative process I think of like an artist or a person, drawing and developing an idea. But it’s always changing, it needs to. Just because I’ve started to implement a process where it may not be traditional doesn’t mean it isn’t a truly creative process. If someone came into my business, I would want them to implement the same processes. Creativity is timeless, and all we have is time.”

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