Horology, translated as the ‘study of time’, has got to be one of our favourite words. Yet, we don’t get to drop it in conversation nearly enough. Hence we were excited to chat with emerging horologist Cedric Austria of the AÃRK Collective about establishing himself in the creative industry. You have to be bold to redesign objects that measure the passing time, people have been refining these devices for a cheeky 4,500 years or so.
Apparently, the Sumer were the first to adopt the current sexagesimal system (i.e. a numeral system with sixty as a base), the Egyptians used sundials for during the day and water clocks at night, and the ancient Greeks kept track of time with sand. Thankfully, AÃRK releases stunningly minimalist wristwatches, so you don’t need to carry half a beach everywhere.
Please describe the formation of AÃRK and how you progressed from the Latrobe Valley to having a business in the city.
AÃRK was founded by myself and Sara Su in 2013. Naturally, this partnership grew to include our better halves; Karla Magayanes (my partner) & Celica Austria (my sister and Sara’s partner).
After finishing high school in Traralgon, I moved to Melbourne to study design. Learning from, and meeting, great people at university opened me up to the design scene in Melbourne. This led me to work with an animation studio and doing design jobs on the side.
After being exposed to many design disciplines it was always a dream of mine to create my own products. AÃRK is actually the fourth business Sara and I have worked on together. After a few years, and a few attempts, I think we have managed to understand and learn what it takes to sustain a healthy business.
Looking back, we started out small, having to run the business at Sara’s Mum's house to now having a studio with a workspace and stock storage for shipment. It has been a long road for us and we have further plans for growing the business and expanding our retail list around the world.
Can you please describe the projects AÃRK works on now and the project you're most proud of?
Currently, I'm designing concepts for a new range, which includes a website and branding refresh, as we like to keep things new here at AÃRK. Designing a new range is both scary and exciting – as it pushes me to reimagine a product with no brief. Our approach is mainly to design for ourselves and ask “Will we wear this? Does this appeal to me? Would I buy this at this price point?”.
These are the questions that run through my head and this is usually the process of me going through numerous concepts to define the intent and story behind every design.
Recently we did some collaborative work with a design couple, which was a different process for us, but a fun one, as we got to feed off other creatives to produce something unique that represents us both as designers.
I’m proud of all our work, but I think I'm most happy with the launch of our business. I kept it a secret from most people I knew and sent a massive email out when the site was live and product was ready to ship. It's very nerve-racking putting yourself out there and it has been very gratifying to receive positive feedback, growing sales from our lineup and also to be featured on our favourite blogs and magazines.
It’s also very validating when you are asked to be stocked in great design stores. One which I’m quite proud of is the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) design store in New York and Japan, where we launched an exclusive colourway with one of our best sellers.
What are some of the struggles you face in growing a design business?
Growing a creative business is a lot of work and it requires constant refinement and reflection on what you could do better. Being positive and able to push through hard times is very important. It’s challenging to create consistent products, especially when some ideas don’t pan out. There have been quite a few failed concepts, which can be frustrating when we become attached to an idea that doesn't translate in the sampling stage or is unfeasible due to manufacturing constraints.
Our main focus is to bring out new products that push our creativity and ensure our latest range fits within the AÃRK aesthetic. Making sure that I’m pushing the boundaries as a designer is also a driving factor. There are times that I do get into a creative block but it gives me a chance to step back and work on other aspects of the business. We always have multiple projects running in parallel, which helps me to make sure I have a good balance between different types of creative challenges to keep it progressive.
What are the joys of working in the creative industry?
Running our own business gives us the freedom and flexibility to do what we want to do. We change and experience different things over time and this affects our views and taste which is reflected in our work. I just love being able to create full stop, and this business is an outlet for me to play and have fun with ideas. It can be all-consuming but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Working with other creatives and sharing experiences with other talented people has improved my skills on both a personal and professional level. We have formed genuine friendships with people through various projects. It’s great to work with people from different fields around the world, spanning from photographers, illustrators, videographers and graphic designers to art directors. It’s great to get an insight into other people’s passion and ways of thinking when being involved and contributing to a creative process.
What can be done to foster Gippsland's next crop of creative talents?
I feel there will always be a market for designers, as long as you can offer new thoughts and different experiences. The problem is that there is not a big design community in Gippsland. But there is always room for growth and I believe people need to be educated on what good design can do to grow businesses and help communities.
What made me grow, personally, was surrounding myself with other creatives, learning alongside my peers, sharing thoughts and ideas and being challenged on what design is. The Internet has closed the gap between designers so most creatives can now work from home and have clients all around the world. The industry is not bound by location as it once was.
Who are the Gippsland creatives/businesses that you feel are doing cool work?
You guys at The View From Here of course! It's great to finally see a creative studio in the Valley and I'm a big fan of your work. It's very pleasant to come back home and see well-designed branding on buildings and different cafes. I’m very excited to see how this impacts other businesses and paves the way for new demand for creatives in the Valley.
What do you think are the reasons behind your success? The industry is tough, yet you're nailing it. What's driven your success?
Yes, the industry is very tough. There's more and more competition every year and the dawn of smartwatches has shifted the market, but we are not too worried – we will push on and focus on creating the best products we can. I think what has kept us going is being true in what we want with AÃRK.
We want to have fun and to be able to express our individuality within our designs experimenting with different concepts, materials and colour combinations. We enjoy pushing the idea of what a wristwatch can be because at the end of the day when you wear it becomes a part of you.
AÃRK started off as a side business for me and has grown into something I love; a place to develop a personality within products and create imagery that tells this story. The formation of AÃRK has been very fulfilling for me as a designer and hopefully, we can continue producing beautiful and quirky timepieces into the future.