Tell me a bit about your background and how you got to where you are today?
I had a beautiful upbringing, growing up on a semi rural property on the cusp of Dural. We had horses and beautiful gardens with flowers surrounding us, which inspired a lot of what I was drawn to and my idea of beauty. From a young age I thought I would go into the fashion industry, so I went to University and studied a bachelor of Fashion and Textile design with Journalism. Half way through the course I started my own fashion label, which meant I began to explore business and how that might work. After stocking a couple of stores with our product I realized it wasn’t quite working. I needed to make the decision to either manufacture overseas in order to be cost effective (because at that point I was making everything) or I needed to stop. So I decided to stop, and once I graduated, took up a job with the Sussans group in buying which I did for 3 years. Over the course of that time I was really trying to work out why I didn't love it. I progressed within the company but was still struggling to find meaning in my work and to make sense of the high pressure environment. They sent me to China and I got to see first hand what happens in the factories and in all honesty I was really confronted by what I saw. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact I was contributing in some way to it… because at the end of the day I can't justify how fast fashion contributes positively to the world. A month later, after encouragement from my parents, I quit. Nine months earlier a girlfriend from work was on instagram doing a bit of influencing, and I remember not even knowing what influencing or Instagram was at that time and didn’t really understand the concept. She encouraged me to do some “scribbles” and to write and post them because she believed I could offer something different with my words. When I quit, I thought I would just continue doing this for a couple of months whilst I got a real job. But then I was asked by an old friend working in communications to put together something for the Australian Open, on behalf of Tag Heuer, to be a part of a gift package for Maria Sharapova. I will never forget how scared I was. They asked me to draw the logo to be included and I remember thinking "Yup no worries…haven’t really drawn much….and your asking me to draw the logo….but yup cool!"
From there, the PR and communications world is quite small, and that opportunity just launched it for me. It was the first moment where I felt “Ok, I’m going to throw everything I have into this.” One because it will save me writing new resumes and two, I absolutely loved it so I thought “why not give this a shot?” Five years later I am here still doing it - still making it up as I go.
What are the main things you do and offer within your business?
Calligraphy is the main product, targeted at premium or luxury brands. This might come in the form of event or wedding stationary, letters to influencers/bloggers/magazines, ghost writing for people who want to use my hand script for their own text, live event work and wall murals etc. Creative direction is an aspect of my business that has evolved organically on a needs basis. It came from overseeing the blackline's creative direction, then helping businesses style products and shoots and has led more broadly to building community around creative activity, to collaborate and lift up other people in the process.
Can working for yourself get lonely at times?
Yes, so lonely. As a solo business owner I often work here on my own most of the time, so having that creative community helps me feel like I’m a part of something that is greater than myself. As an introvert I love that aspect of working alone at times, but having a community of like-minded people can help you through the harder times.
There is quite a strong element of collaboration that comes through your work. You often acknowledge people you have worked with on instagram - thanking them publicly, which is amazing. Why is collaboration important to you?
I love connecting people. I loving forming genuine connections with people and connecting them to other people that align to what they are doing or the stage of life they are going through. One of the things I have loved about taking on people to specifically work on projects with The Blackline is that I haven’t just taken them on because I love their product or think they are talented but also because I love them as people, their philosophy and how they do life. The thanking process isn’t just to give credit where it is due but it is to really put them forward, because at the end of the day they are doing good work and are good people and I believe they will be valuable to others. It’s so rewarding to see creative friends connect with other creative friends and build each other up. That way, as a community we are growing together.
Sometimes a collaboration isn’t even directly growing your business (and may be nothing to do with it) but it grows you as a person and indirectly effects your business, as you are getting someone else’s take on life and a new perspective so it is expanding you and giving you new ideas. I once collaborated with a florist on a book project that pushed The Blackline's aesthetics in a very different direction - and possibly to a different market. It allowed me to reach readers I wouldn’t normally have had direct exposure to. It caught the attention of wellness clients and quite a few terminally / chronically ill clients. It was so rewarding to create meaningful work that was going to be read by people facing real hardship, that may have needed it the most. There is often a silver lining or take out from any collaborative project.
Was there a moment where you decided you had to go all in with the business or nothing?
It really took me a good few months to come around to the fact it could work. It felt like a hobby that was passing the time. At the time I was doing it there were no full time letterers so I didn’t really have a model for how it could be viable as a full time job. It’s been an incremental process and I’m grateful to the people that I kept around me at that point in time who believed in me.
Do you think there needs to be a point where you don’t give yourself a plan B to lean back on?
It’s funny you bring that up because there has been moments in the past year (in my fourth year doing this) where I had some doubts about what I was doing and where it is going. Suddenly I began to create plan B’s left right and centre and it really did hinder me moving forward, so I had to decide for myself again that “yes I am doing this, I am committed to this progressing.” I think it’s also seasonal - you constantly have to fight your brains urge to look for stability when there are seasons of uncertainty. I was really fortunate to have a really supportive family around me, but you do begin to realise that some voices aren’t as productive to keep you moving forward. In the first twelve months or so I was so careful about the people I curated into my life. I filtered the various voices in my life and had to learn to cut certain voices or not give away too much about the business to certain people, for the betterment of my personal growth and the growth of the business.
How important is it as a small business owner to be flexible to pivot and take another direction if you need to?
One hundred percent. It will die if you don’t learn to pivot.
What has pivoting looked like for you?
My workshops are a great example of pivoting. Workshops weren’t on my raider whatsoever. I didn’t think I would make a great teacher because I think very laterally so you can’t really hold me down on a certain thought. William Sonoma reached out to me and pitched the idea of running a creative workshop in their space. At this point I had never thought of running a workshop and was trying to understand how I would teach something that I had self taught myself. I doubted whether I was expert enough to teach other people. How would I even run an event? I got to the point where I realized it was too good of an opportunity to pass up with someone who had great alignment with the business so I just thought, “Yeah let’s do it.” It sold out so quickly and over time it has been something that has allowed me to travel Australia and teach what I do. I have always kept to the idea that it’s good to have goals but not to be bound by them. We still need to be conscious and smart about what we say yes to, but also to remain open and flexible enough to see when something might be beneficial to you personally or for the growth of your business.
What is the most important thing to always stick to within your making process?
The jobs themselves have become second nature to me now. The one thing I won’t sacrifice is building the customer relationship. I am the first to admit I may not be the best calligrapher out there, but I always want to give my customers the best possible service. That’s one thing that drives the process from start to finish. Every customer is different and I always want to remain sensitive to his or her individual needs as much as possible.
I heard someone say once that a lot can be revealed about our personal purpose by what activities brought us joy and made us come alive when we were a kid. Looking back on your childhood moments, have you carried those similar joys and experiences into what you are doing today?
Yes, I would say I have. I grew up as one of five kids and my parents were purposeful about what we were allowed to have in the house. I never owned a Barbie for example. I learnt to create things that “looked-like felt-like,” for example I remember my sister and I used to make dresses for our soft toys with tissues and make cars out of cardboard boxes. As we got older I used to go and pick my neighbours flowers and sell them back to them as potpourri, so in a way I up-skilled them (hah). It was little indicators like that, where I loved taking things and improving them or finding a way to make the same thing in a different way, which I am still doing to this day. This process also really grounded me in loving the simple things, such as sunlight, picking flowers and fruit. It gave me understanding that a lot of things don’t really matter and finding joy in the small things is important.
What do you know for sure to be true?
Life isn’t linear and you just have to jump around with it.
How does purpose play out in your day-to-day activity?
I think you have to engage with purpose everyday. Especially as you grow as a business it’s easy to get caught up in the menial day-to-day tasks coming through. It’s good to take a moment at the beginning of each day to remind yourself of why you do what you do and where you are going with it?
Why do you do it (The Blackline)?
I want to see people grow. When I was involved with fashion buying I lost a sense of purpose. If I had had an outside voice - like the one I'm trying to provide on Instagram - that I'd trusted and grown with at that time, it would have made a difference. I am hoping that The Blackline can be that kind of voice for people of all walks of life - to inspire, to develop and to see them through all seasons of their life.
What do you want your customers to feel when they engage with your work?
I want it to inspire them, to help them reflect and grow. I don’t want it to just be an aesthetic decorative piece. I would love for every customer that owns a piece of my work to feel like it has taken them from one place to a better place… whatever that might be. For example a lot of couples get me to print out their vows for their first anniversary for them to have in their house. It’s something that suggests that those couples are intentional about living those words out and seeking to fulfill those commitments the best they can.
If you could finish the following sentences for me:
I feel most alive when… I am out in nature.
Words can… Heal or destroy.
The world needs… I feel like it needs more space to breathe. It needs more positive, but measured messaging. At the moment it feels as though there is positive messaging but interlinked with a lot of crap…there’s too much noise going on. I guess that’s what I am trying to do with The Blackline, but I can’t do it alone. We need to do it communally, to build a really safe community of positive messaging that pushes people forward. If you empower people they are more likely to do what they are made to do.
To see more of Lauren’s work click here
Styling + Photography by Hannah Darkins (The Unfold)