How to maintain authentic brand values whilst building a business
The founder of multidisciplinary studio Paq shares her intel on how to gain cultural clients by following your true creative instincts.
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When you’re running a business, there is no map — you have to create your own. As co-founder of multidisciplinary, Brixton-based creative agency, Chiamaka Ojechi illustrates how creative leaders can successfully navigate this task. Here she explains how a strong sense of purpose can help guide the way.
I’m not the kind of person that does five year plans. So much can change in just a year. But we do have a guiding vision at Paq, which is to have autonomy over the stories we tell, whilst supporting our community with integrity.
“Putting aside qualms” were the words that birthed our acronym Paq, an agency formed in 2014 during our final year at Ravensbourne University. Here we learned one of our most important lessons; “collaboration over competition”. This mantra and energy fuelled us post graduation, using evenings and weekends to work on our own projects outside of the daily nine to five routine.
This culminated in the summer of 2015 with a project called Baking. We wanted to tell stories through film about the people around us, our peers that were doing their own thing and who we were bouncing off creatively. We were inspired by the cinematography of 1989 film Do the Right Thing and decided to explore the expression of heat — hence the name. We also wanted the series to express all our various disciplines, from typography to stop motion.
We self-funded the series so that we had no creative restrictions and it seemed like the only option back then – that’s all we knew. We were happy to invest our time and our resources into it. Baking was our outlet essentially, free from the constraints of our day-to-day work.
It’s still one of our favourite projects because we were able to flex any way we wanted. We put everything into Baking, so it became a true representation of who we were. So much so that in the end, the project attracted clients who wanted us to create something similar for their own brands.
The first was Nike, who initially approached us in 2016 to help them with a local campaign. After its success, they asked us to develop a national campaign for Air Max Day that we shot across Milan, Manchester and London. We worked with four different athletes, and like Baking, it was all in stop motion. It was a very full circle moment, especially as we were working with one of our favourite brands to promote some of our favourite trainers.
We always look to partner with clients that understand our vision, culture and values. Aside from its original meaning of “putting aside qualms”, Paq also stands for purpose, authenticity and quality, values which run through every project and are embedded in our company DNA. We always look to partner with clients that understand and trust our vision.
I’ve had to say no to things that didn’t align with our values or progress our perspective. After all, if we don’t stay true to ourselves our audience will be able to tell that we’re not being authentic. Whether it’s an in-house or a client project, we focus on the purpose and message we want to convey and what our audience will take from our work. And in terms of our culture, we want to create a space that champions access, so that Paq can be a home and safe space for up-and-coming creatives.
With Baking being so pivotal to our success, we’ve always had an in-house arm at Paq. We have twelve people on our permanent team, including designers, creatives, strategists and project managers, often developing our own projects internally. One of which is “Rap in Paper”, a freestyle platform that connects the worlds of music and design; two things that are foundational in our practice. Through Rap in Paper, we spotlight artists and expand their brand identity. Our in-house work keeps us grounded. It is integral to us providing a fresh perspective for our clients whilst focussing on developing our craft.
That’s what the aim is with Paq Wears, our rebranded lifestyle range set to launch later this year. The journey started in 2017, when we created a team uniform called the “Primary Paq”; the tracksuit was designed to function around the needs of working on set.
Later, we decided to share our vision for the Primary Paq with the world. After that it went mad. So we made merchandise that paid homage to the Primary Paq, so that people could feel part of our vision. That lead to us making more collections off blanks that would sell out instantly. However, it was never our aim to keep printing on blanks and we spent 2021 designing a new collection and developing Paq Wears.
With these different elements of the business, the biggest struggle we’ve faced has been managing our resources. It’s a bittersweet thing, because it’s amazing to work on the projects we love with our clients, but we need to be able to invest time into growing the business.
Finding the right people is also a key part of this. It is often a long but necessary process, as you need to work with people who share your values and understand the vision. Paq is a family, so we look out for people who actively demonstrate their belief in where we’re going. It’s clear when someone is ready to contribute for the long haul and not just here to get their cheque and go. Those are the people that have formed part of our core team.
Commitment works both ways and nurturing up and coming creatives is of high importance to us. We need to be what we didn’t see in the industry when we were getting started. I didn’t build my own design language overnight, it’s been moulded over the years. I need to have that same understanding for someone else.
Having compassion for yourself is just as important. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from running Paq is to be intentional about scheduling time. Now I’ll focus on one project in the morning and one in the afternoon. If you try to do everything at once, you become a bit like a ping pong ball, bouncing from project to project.
When you work for yourself, it’s also very easy to feel guilty whenever you’re not working. It’s very easy to just keep going. I found this feeling peaked in the first lockdown, when I was stuck in my house and had nothing to stop me from working around the clock. Now more than ever it’s important to set boundaries, like not working weekends or too late into the evening.
With the right people around you, it’s easier to find a healthy balance. So this year it’s important that we look inwards as a team. Our focus is on continuing to refine our structure and to build systems that enable us to purposefully grow, whilst serving our community and clients, as well as the kinds of stories we want to tell next.
About the Author
Kate Hollowood is a freelance journalist covering a range of subjects — from mental health and female empowerment, to art and design — for titles like Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, the i paper and It’s Nice That. Based in London, she also creates copy and content for brands like Flo, Nike Run Club, Laced and Ace & Tate.