Edition 31 October 2019, by Phoebe Dodds
For some reason, art and business are usually – and incorrectly – considered polar opposites. Either you belong to the art community, characterised as creative and somewhat absent-minded, floating around with a metaphorical paintbrush in hand. Or you belong in the business world, a sharply-dressed professional who’s a pro at spreadsheets, but hasn’t got an eye for aesthetics.
But a new wave of brands is challenging this outdated stereotype. Take Ace & Tate, one of the hottest Dutch start-ups of the moment. The brand is synonymous with pared-back chic and immaculate design, a staple of the country’s artsy community. At the same time, Ace & Tate is running a massively profitable business: just take a look at their recent expansions in the UK and Germany, and they’re about to open shop in Madrid.
Part of this growing clan of hip, creative Dutch brands are Homerun, who create aesthetically designed job application software, The Titty Mag, an online and offline art collective creating dialogues around feminism, and The Cool School, an education centre offering courses taught by Amsterdam’s creatives. What do these brands have in common? Their founders are arty creatives. Thomas Moes and Willem van Roosmalen of Homerun studied New Media Design and Visual Arts. Cathelijne Blok, founder of The Titty Mag, studied Art History and Film. And Beau Colin, founder of The Cool School, is a former Graphic Design student. Not necessarily the Business Management backgrounds you’d expect.
The rise of the digital stratosphere means it’s easier for artists and creatives to start businesses that make the most of their skill-sets: the focus is more on using strong design to sell, rather than having to invest huge amounts of time and money into complex logistical operations.
Beau and Cathelijne are examples of creatives who have harnessed their skills to create businesses. The Titty Mag grew out of Cathelijne’s Master thesis on female photographers, which caused her to challenge her own ideas about feminism and the presentation of women in art. She created a newsletter, which blossomed into an online platform that today boasts a talented and diverse team of young creatives. Cathelijne’s brand aesthetics demonstrate her artistic credentials, and her offline events and partnerships – most recently at EYE film museum – prove her business aptitude. She thinks of herself as a combination of entrepreneur and creative: she explains that the question she asks herself is “How can I make something that’s creative, that also works eventually?” Cathelijne’s background in mixed media, including photography and film, also allows her to spot new directions for her brand. The Titty Mag currently includes an online platform, an Instagram museum focusing on fun female artists, and a podcast, and she’s working on introducing a video format soon.
Beau’s idea to found The Cool School also originated from her creative skills. She was asked to teach a creative class in Utrecht and really enjoyed the experience. Keen to replicate the setting in Amsterdam, she began teaching classes from her home. “I must have been the only person in Amsterdam with a big living room,” she says. Soon, her students were asking if she knew people who could teach them other creative skills like animation and design strategy. Beau thought to herself, “I know these people – I have them in my network, and if I don’t have them, I can find them.” The Cool School was born, with Beau securing a studio space and assembling Amsterdam creatives to teach classes ranging from graphic design skills to Instagram strategy. She notes that her creative skills played a massive part in her success in setting up her business. A budding entrepreneur since her teens, Beau went through phases such as buying earrings in bulk and selling them online and starting a soap-making business and a greeting cards webshop. Beau explains: “It really helped that I was a designer, because I knew how to make it look good. Because if I was going to set up this school, which is all about developing creative skills, then it actually has to look cool – especially when it’s called The Cool School!”
The polarisation of business and creativity is a myth, not least because of the overlap in skills required to succeed in each industry. For Beau, the link is clear: “Creativity is about problem solving, and as a creative strategy and designer, solving problems is what I do every day. I’m used to it, and used to the feeling of not knowing what to do, which I think scares other people sometimes,” she explains. She believes that in this sense, being a creative actually makes her and others like her better business people. So who knows, maybe we should be looking to the Netherlands’ art schools for the next Dutch start-up?