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From finance to design and decor

Published:Sunday | May 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Anishka Clarke, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ishka Designs Inc.

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

Anishka Clarke has exchanged a career as a financial adviser for that of interior design, swapping cold numbers for what appears to be the warmer, more exciting world of colour and form.

The New York-based designer, who lays claims to 'mutli-cultural aesthetic and outside-the-box thinking,' was born in Kingston, where she studied accounting and economics at the University of the West Indies, graduating with honours, and later completing a Masters in Business Administration from New York University's Stern School of Business.

A 10-year career in finance followed, starting at Mayberry Investments Limited on Oxford Road, and ending in New York as an equity research analyst at investment bank Morgan Stanley and ratings agency Standard & Poors.

In 2007, the creation of Ishka Designs Inc coincided with her graduation, summa cum laude, from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City with an associate degree in interior design.

Start-up capital

Partnering with fellow designer Niya Bascom, a creative photographer also based in New York, Clarke secured start-up capital for her business, later taking a bank loan, which created a 45 per cent debt-to-equity financing ratio for the firm.

The duo worked at projects, from conceptualisation to implementation, including colour selection, concept studies and hand-rendering.

Clarke said the small team did everything at first.

"From strategic direction to taking out the trash, we wore all the hats, including accountant, lawyer, sales, Web designer, graphic designer."

Ishka Designs, she says, does not have the typical partnership structure of a design firm.

Clarke is principal designer and majority shareholder. Her title at the firm is chairman, president and chief executive officer.

In total, there are three team members as well as a steady intern.

Adrienne Smith, an MBA graduate of Columbia University, also joined the team in February, bringing with her business-development skills.

The company's brick and mortar design studio is located in Brooklyn, with a satellite office in Kingston.

"With technology and increasing outside-the-box thinking, we are pretty much able to design anywhere," Clarke said.

Ishka provides interior design solutions for both residential and commercial spaces. Services currently range from one-day consultations on conceptualisation, colour, furniture fixtures and equipment or FFE selections, and material selections, to long-term comprehensive design-project solutions, which includes space planning, working drawings, hand-renderings, custom-design solutions, as well as FFE and materials selection.

Clarke explains that a comprehensive project solution starts with conceptualisation and finishes with a fully installed project, including lighting solutions, custom furniture design, colour selection, renderings and sketches, as well as design consultation.

On almost every project to date, they have created a custom piece of furniture.

"We find this highly appealing to most clients. Our future goal is to have a line of furniture/fixtures to sell at the retail level," said Clarke.

The primary development cost in the early start-up phase was building out technology.

More recently, the company has switched to investing a great deal in marketing.

Its chief focus is to grow business in New York, but, "we also have an eye on the Jamaican market," said Clarke.

As Clarke sees it, Ishka Designs will become the umbrella company for all things interior-design related including interior-design services and custom furniture and product solutions.

"We are very confident in 2010, particularly as our marketing efforts have begun to show yields. Strategies started in 2009 have landed us projects in 2010, and recent tactics have put us in negotiations for a few commercial projects expected to start this year."

The company's goal is to have a 90 per cent commercial client base, primarily focused on office and hospitality - including restaurants, boutiques, hotels - with preferred small design space of less than 2,000 square feet.

In two years of operation "we've grown up a bit with a lawyer, accountant - both Jamaicans living in New York - and a market consultant, all hired on an as-needed basis," she said.

Branding and imaging

"While we love to design and create, we still have little time to do our own graphic work and recently contracted a graphic designer to work with our marketing consultant to aid us with branding and imaging."

The design entrepreneur has also used business school and other networks to access financial and strategic consultants, whose services were instrumental in a recent expansion. The company has taken advantage of social media, linking to www.ishkadesigns.com, and its own blog, www.ishkadesigns.blogspot.com, which keep current and potential clients apprised of relevant interior-design-related news.

There is a weekly effort to provide must-have products with a positive environmental impact for the home and business, as well as tips for a better lifestyle.

The blog discusses interior design and decor with a sustainable voice and a subtle Jamaican undertone, Clarke says.

Profit

In 2009, the company's second full year of business, Ishka Designs made a profit.

"Our net earnings are not up to the Steve Jobs level just yet, but we are working towards that," said Clarke wryly.

"I have no regrets about leaving the finance world behind and its six-figure salary," she said.

"In hindsight, I think I timed my exit pretty well. I wake up every day extremely encouraged by the independence that entrepreneurship provides me, and despite the amount of sacrifice that accompanies start-up and growth-phase firms, the current and potential rewards are well worth the risk."

Clarke believes her background in finance, particularly company and industry analysis, has made her appreciate the inherent value of interior design and how it can affect the bottom line of the company. "Industry-wide," she comments, "it is understood that professionally designed interiors provide a more comfortable and energised work environment that foster increased productivity on all levels, reduce workplace illnesses, and encourage a familial setting."

- avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com