Featured Designer: Polka Luka

FK chats to Alex of beautifully simplistic resin label Polka Luka!

Can you tell us about your lovely label and where the name comes from?
Polka Luka works primarily in resin and we are inspired by luminosity of colour and simplicity of form. Whenever we dabble into diverging our designs into more complicated or intricate work I always get uncomfortable and go back to the primacy of simple shapes and strong colours.

The name Polka comes from two different themes. When coming up with the name, I knew I wanted the design brief to be grounded in strong, simple forms. I was inspired by the humble polka dot, which in its simplicity actually resonates with energy and clarity. Secondly, I wanted our designs to be inspired by bold colour and sometimes naive representations of the Polka dance, and Eastern European folk costumes and folk art in general. Luka is the name of a friend, which luckily when added to the Polka, gave the name a nice rolling energetic feel.
We came upon our logo by chance and there were three different shaped beads sitting on the table and I took a photo of them and transformed them into our logo.

Who are the team behind Polka Luka and what are their roles?
I design our products in Australia, and I’m responsible for admin and sales etc. The majority of sampling is done by me in Australia, where I experiment with shapes and colours for new ranges. The pieces are then made in a small workshop in Bali. We have now been working with this workshop since 2006, since we first established our label. It is a very hands-on process and we are in contact most days with the artisans to discuss designs and processes.
I have also set up a small office in Bali where I employ a full time staff member Putu Indiani, and a part time staff member who also assists if we get busier. Putu and I have been working together now for over five years and I’ve learnt a lot from her about Bali, and sometimes the difficulties of being a Balinese woman. Putu is responsible for constructing some of the necklaces and also communicates directly with me. I spend between 2-4 months in Bali each year to put together new ranges.

While I am really sensitive to the motivations and aims behind the made in Australia push, I also really appreciate the arguments for sensitive and properly conducted ‘off-shore’ production. Prior to beginning Polka Luka, my study and work had been in cultural conservation and livelihood development in the artisan/handicraft sphere. I spent four years working in rural South West China working primarily with people from minority ethnic groups in this area (livelihood development). This work gave me a direct example of how important sensitively run cottage type industries can be for developing livelihood, enhancing self-esteem especially for women, creating work that is protective of the family unit, and contributing to general community development. It is this experience and awareness that I bring with me to my work in Bali. I am lucky that I have seen first hand how transformative sensitively conducted employment can be in these areas.

What inspires your work? and what keeps you motivated creatively?
The things that inspire me on a daily level are light and colour and especially for resin the interaction between these two. Aside from that, I am inspired by simple form and the desire to cut out the superfluous. If a piece becomes too fiddly or detailed especially where the complexity of form takes the focus away from the colour of the piece, I tend to drop it.
I am also inspired to create pieces that are fairly fuss free primarily our pieces are for women that have a simplicity to their dressing, and are seeking a easy to wear piece that brings warmth and colour to their dressing.
I find myself referring to and using interior design magazines alot more than fashion magazines as sources of inspiration. I think this is because these stress the geometric and simple bold form. I also love that most interior design for some time has drawn its inspiration from mid 20th century Scandinavian design which is probably the period that continues to inspire me the most.

I take part bi-annually in the Life Instyle Trade show, which gives you the chance to catch up with other designers, makers and businesses. In addition to this trade show, participating in events such as Finder’s Keepers is a great way to keep inspired both design wise, but also seeing people managing creative businesses and making a commercial success out of their creative and aesthetic ideas. It is great to get these reminders that it is all possible!

What is your workspace like? and what is your creative process?
My workspace is a big airy and light filled room in my house in Moruya, South Coast, New South Wales. My house is over 100 years old but has a beautiful wooden structure and generous sized rooms that I fell in love with the first time I saw it. The beautiful light and moody shades of grey and blue surrounding the coast here was the inspiration for my most recent range, Hinterland 2011-12. I am currently, however mapping my move to Melbourne, which will take place in the second half of this year, 2012.

What challenges have you faced starting your own label, and what are some things you love about it?
I’ve been running the label now for just over five years, and I actually think the biggest challenge has come now at this fifth year point. I need to take on more staff to cope with ongoing growth (and to get some weekends back!), but looking at the structure of my business and working out where they could best fit in is more challenging than I thought.
Probably the biggest challenge on a day to day level is the ongoing multi-tasking and feeling like your work is never done, however that is also an aspect I love. I love the fact that when I don’t feel like administration, I can swap to design, sales or production research etc. I also love the fact that the learning process of running your own business is never-ending. It suits the restless and curious part of me.

What new projects are you working on and where would you like to see Polka Luka in the future?
One thing that continually motivates me is to keep learning about different manufacturing processes and techniques. We are now launching into hand-cast and hand finished recycled aluminium and stainless steel jewellery and I’m excited to be learning about the possibilities of that medium. I am keen in the near future to learn silver-smithing skills and bring that medium into our work as well.
My dream would be to launch or to combine forces with another person to produce a range of natural fibre clothing (especially silk and silk cotton) in styles that worked with and complimented our jewellery range. Finally I’d also love to take our bead designs and translate them in an abstract sense onto canvas bags, cushion covers and stationery. For the moment though, I am busy enough with the jewellery!

Regarding where Polka Luka is in the future, I don’t have a burning desire to create a really large label. I love small scale, and I love the fact that our cottage-style production processes allows us to be involved in a personal way in people’s lives. This ensures that from our designs, to our payments to craftspeople in Bali and our interaction with customers we are always individual, hands-on and fresh.



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