Creatives often find inspiration strikes in unusual places. But what about crammed in the front seat of your car, MacBook balanced on lap, while your baby snoozes in the back?
Juggling a fledgling design business with being a mum to “three gorgeous but very demanding” sons under the age of 6, Zoe Wall often finds herself working in such unlikely settings, or into the wee hours; especially on those days when 8-month-old Sammy will only fall asleep after a long drive lulled by the car’s engine.
Wall, 35, is the driving force behind Wall Creations, a new branch of photography studio Creations Unlimited. Since launching last year, her line of contemporary Cayman-inspired graphic products is already stocked by some of the island’s leading retailers and resorts, including Books & Books and Pure Art.
It all started when Wall was on the hunt for a friend’s 30th birthday present. “I couldn’t find the sort of gift I wanted, with such limited shops on-island. I’ve always loved coming up with designs on my Mac and thought it would be really nice to put together some words in the shape of Grand Cayman,” she says.
When the present “became a talking point” among friends, Wall realized there was a market for personalized art prints, as well as for stylish, contemporary postcards and T-shirts for the souvenir market. Already working as a sales representative for Creations Unlimited, she was ideally placed to explore this.
Although she has always been passionate about design, she never received any formal training. “I used to spend ages on Windows Paint program and scribbling on paper, but I never took it further,” she says. “I read a review about a good design program that didn’t break the bank, so I bought it and gave it a shot! I’ve spent many hours working out what each button does and playing around on it. I’m definitely learning something new every day!”
She created the entire range herself, from coming up with the designs and arranging manufacturing, to door-to-door sales and delivery. Soon, the Kimpton Seafire and the Westin Grand Cayman were stocking the products.
Apparently, there’s no such thing as a typical “9-to-5” in this role. She might find herself in sales pitches with companies on-island one day; in the studio taking orders, checking samples and working on designs the next; or meeting with Creations Unlimited’s owner Lucy Beighton to develop new ideas. Every detail, down to paperweights and textures must be considered. “Organization and efficiency is key. I have a real passion for our products, so I don’t mind working into the early morning to get work finished.”
On the subject of work-life balance, Wall admits: “I haven’t quite established that yet, but I’m working on it!”
Her family’s hectic routine usually involves “sorting the breakfast disaster zone, dodging the little bits of LEGO and puzzle scattered around” (while husband Chris does the school run), milk and nap time for Sammy, and prepping the slow cooker for dinner before setting up work on her laptop. She collects the older boys in the afternoon and fits in some play time and a walk. When the boys are suitably tired out, it’s time for baths and bedtime stories, then lights out at 7 p.m.
After dinner, with her and Chris “immersed in our Macs,” is often the only time she has without distractions. “Although, I’m more efficient in the day, due to not knowing how much time I have, as Sammy could blow up at any point.”
She describes one especially stressful fortnight recently when a large order came in from a client, just as all three of her sons were taken ill – including Olly, 3, being rushed to hospital with a febrile seizure.
Now all recovered, the boys are shaping up to be her biggest fans – and potential sales reps. “It’s lovely, albeit slightly embarrassing when my eldest (age 5) walks up to people in the shops and tells them, ‘That’s my mummy’s work!’” she laughs.
The personal touch
Over the past six months, Wall’s small team at Wall Creations has become increasingly busy, thanks to marketing campaigns, social media and word-of-mouth bringing in bespoke projects from varied clients.
While the retail line is growing steadily, most of Wall Creations’ work is commissioned, taking around three to five days to complete. “Customers typically come to me with a rough idea of what they would like, and supply words or photos that are meaningful to them.” This could be a combination of families’ names and memorable places arranged in the shape of a stingray or starfish, or a single event such as a child’s birth marked out in colorful typography.
Fittingly, though, the most popular product today is the original Grand Cayman word map – the design that triggered this whole journey.