Women in Business Ep. 4
Welcome to our blog series, 'Women in Business' where we chat with a range of creatives all working hard for something they love.
A place to talk about the challenges.
Where and how they started.
The process they've taken and tips they recommend.
Why socially conscious brands are doing good things.
The hacks for productivity and mental health.
The struggles and rawness of business.
And the advice for us all.
Welcome to Episode #4 with Jessica Ellis, founder and entrepreneur behind Ranger Studio. A sustainability driven creative studio making creativity accessible to everyone. With Ranger Rookie weekly classes and holiday programmes, adult workshops, one-on-one lessons, based all around Auckland.
1. How was your business born, Jess?
Over the years my frustration with the creative world has been building. There is limited support and funding around showcasing work and accessibility to studio spaces. I was noticing the huge amount of empty retail and warehouse spaces around Auckland, the spaces have been staying empty for months on end and the contracts are long term and very expensive. I knew I wanted to create a friendly, creative space, somewhere to show my work, host workshops, showcase other local creatives and have a strong focus on sustainability. I managed to hustle a landlord in Mt Eden into letting me lease a space for 4 weeks to do a pop up show. I had no work ready to exhibit, no workshops planned and no money to pay the rent but I had the idea and the passion and was going to make it happen. Ranger Studio was designed and planned while I was traveling around Mexico, it was a risk, a challenge and a dream so I ran full speed with my ideas and fully invested my heart in the process.
2. Walk us through the process you went through to take Ranger Studio from just an idea to where it is today.
I am quite naive when it comes to running a business, but I think that can be a positive thing as I don’t tend to over think risks or ideas, I just push my passion and hope for the best. I don't give myself an option to fail, there is no backup plan because it has to work. I took on the pop up commercial lease for a month, one week before I went traveling in Mexico. It was the most stupid but exciting thing I have done. I hustled for sponsorship, support and creatives (from a small studio space in the middle of Mexico and everyone assumed I was in Auckland!). I managed to get some amazing NZ brands, small businesses and local creatives involved and the launch month of Ranger was an incredible experience. I learnt so much and realised how much support there was for an initiative like Ranger. People do care about sustainability and want to make time to learn and create. Ranger is a platform that is accessible to everyone. Commercial lease in Auckland is so expensive so I have had to adapt my ideas, I have currently popped up children art classes in multiple locations around Auckland, I am in the process of launching adult classes and taking on another pop up space for later in the year. I have a long way to go with the business but I am so excited about the direction it is going in.
3. Where do you find inspiration for your brand?
I am inspired by businesses that are putting the environment first and that are focused on culture and local community. There are some amazing brands out there that make sustainability a priority. Society needs to change how it views consumption, local brands are making better quality, more sustainable options, we need to encourage this and support these small businesses. I am inspired by creatives who stay focused on their identity, some brands that I follow closely are Maggie Marilyn, Patagonia, Aoteamade, Ladies Who Paint and of course SaltySea. I love listening to podcasts and have chain listened to How I Built This (by NPR), it is so eye opening to hear the journey that some of the worlds most impactful companies have been on.
4. We love that you focus on creating an ethical brand, can you tell us more about why keeping your brand ethical is important for you?
I am inspired by my surroundings and nature has always been a big part of my life; I have been so lucky to live in the beautiful Titirangi my whole life, surrounded by bush and native birds, I love immersing myself in the bush and found that my art has always been focused on nature. My passion for sustainability grew while I was at art school, my projects became more and more focused on the environment and the impact humans are having on the planet. I was lucky enough to take part in 2 art residencies a couple of years ago, one in Mexico and one in Brazil. I dove head first into these experiences and learnt so much about myself, my practise and the world around me. When I was in Brazil I found myself surrounded by environment that seemed like something out of a dream or was only found on a documentary, I was in awe of the diversity of animals that surrounded me everyday and constantly felt ill about the destruction of the landscape. I saw hillsides set on fire and vulnerable species of endangered birds chained up for tourist entertainment and pet trade. I understand how powerless we can feel not knowing what to do, and feeling so far away from what is happening. But our money is power, our votes are power and our voice is power. We help fund what is happening over in these countries. Since that time my focus and energy has never been more driven by making a change and keeping my brand and values aligned ethically and sustainably.
5. Explain in a few words the positive impact your business creates.
I want to provide a space that is accessible to creatives and the community. A platform for local businesses, to support the small, the crafts, the creatives and show that sustainable options are there. I get frustrated seeing people buy things from fast fashion stores or homeware that is unsustainable and badly made when there are creatives out there making top quality and beautiful things. There are so many empty spaces around, leases that aren’t taken up because of pricing, I want to fill these spaces with creative, inspiring, educational environments. I am passionate about education so am focusing this year on hosting workshops. The effect that art making can have on us is huge, encouraging creative thinking and emotional understanding. I am so excited about the impact these workshops can have on children and adults and I am determined to create spaces that are open and inspiring to everyone.
6. What challenges have you overcome in creating your brand?
Wow there are so many challenges, big and small, but thats what its all about right?! I love challenging myself and being out of my comfort zone. I think its so so important to put yourself out of your comfort zone everyday, whether its a small thing like picking up the phone and calling someone, to asking for help or even physically challenging yourself. Set the goals high, thats how we grow as humans. A big challenge for me is social media, I really struggle with sharing my life and my art journey, I get so caught up in comparing my work with other artists that I just stop making work. I know how important it can be to a business and sharing messages but so far I have only found it creatively suffocating and I haven't figured out how to navigate it yet!
7. How do you balance life, work and business? Do you have a specific routine that motivates you to stay balanced and productive?
I don't really have strong routine, I like to write lists so I can monitor what I have to do but I have really tried to be more relaxed with how I approach my day each morning. Some days I am really inspired to create so I try to utilise that energy when it comes, other days I am more admin based and focused on goals and ticking off my lists. Balance is really important but I don't think its crucial to be regimented during the day unless you really personally need those boundaries. I prioritise my health and always fit in a bush run, a salty swim or a gym session, it keeps me energised and focused on my goals.
8. What is a blow your business has taken as a result of this Covid-19 pandemic?
Obviously being a small business this lockdown is a scary time. I have had to put all of our term two workshops on hold, cut the term one programme short and pull all marketing material, pop up lease options have gone out the window for now, so I guess in regards to big plans we had in place - everything is on hold. But so far this isolation time has been really beneficial for me, I have been lucky enough to have the space to come up with new workshop ideas, collaborations and I have really pushed my comfort zone. I have created some online workshops, which have downloadable workbooks, certificates and videos (apologies for how awkward they are, there is definitely room for improvement but gotta start somewhere right!?). It has given me the time to focus on what I want to teach and how important hosting workshops is to me. I really enjoy teaching the Ranger Rookies classes and although term one enrolments were low because of the impending pandemic, I had the most amazing group of kids in each class and it really confirmed to me how Ranger is a very special space, allowing the children to learn how to navigate creativity and their mental health. And... when the time is right I will be launching my adult workshops which I am really excited about!
9. What's a mental health practice that you have implemented to help you through this?
Physical activity is really important to my mental health, I have focused my activities during this time to really appreciate all my movements and my surroundings. I live in one of the most beautiful areas and have the Waitakere Ranges literally on my doorstep. I am out in the bush everyday, whether it's a run or walk or just to listen to the birds and stillness of the bush, just to have a moment to myself. If there is one thing I have learnt this year, it is the importance of allowing yourself to feel. It sounds simple but once you allow and accept your feelings, you won't dwell on them and you can step forward. This has been really helpful during this crazy time.
10. What is one piece of advice you’d like to leave with our readers?
Be positive and ride the wave. Things don't always go to plan, you have to be ok with that, you can take what you need from each experience and see it has a learning step towards a greater plan.
Follow along on our blog series 'Women in Business' once a month as we chat with a range of creatives all working hard for something they love.
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