Founder / Together Journal
Greta Kenyon’s story is a lesson in being open to opportunities, whether it’s letting your passion for design inspire a career in London, to joining start-ups, fashion houses, or perhaps letting your creative fly with camera in hand – Greta has eloquently guided her career like she has with her beautiful publication Together Journal. Authentically, and with a commitment to smashing the status quo.
In this interview Greta gets real about what goes on behind the scenes in building a modern publication, including the joy she has always found in photography and design, alongside the difficulty of navigating the COVID life in business.
This #careerstory is for those that want to set the trends, be disruptive and leap into a creative industry. But it’s also for those that want a lesson in building a career from the ground up, and listening to your heart as it guides you to your next step.
Lets dive in…
Hi Greta, I am so excited to have you here. Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up and how did your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I had an interesting upbringing. My father worked for one of the large national retail banks (still does) and they moved him around the country a lot. So, every three years I moved to a new town or city, started a new school and began all over again. I think this has had a huge impact on who I am. This is when I first learnt to hustle! When you move so often you become very good at reading the lay of the land. You have to be able to approach people and carve out your place. You also have to pull yourself up and achieve over and over again.
I am competitive by nature and I loved sport, especially netball where I played rep level. It was hard having to leave teams I’d fought hard to make and start the process over again. But no doubt this shaped my tenacious personality, work ethic and drive to succeed.
When you were a young girl what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I wanted to be in a creative role. I thought I would be a fashion designer or a graphic designer. I did actually dream of having a magazine, I remember watching Gloss growing up, essentially NZ soap opera in the late 1980s based around a magazine called Gloss. There were a lot of big shoulder pads and chunky earrings. I so wanted to work there!
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
Because we moved often, I went to two high schools, Wairarapa College where I spent most of my secondary school years. It was large, strict and old fashioned, which sounds terrible, but I loved it! They had excellent facilities, lots of historic old buildings and huge sports grounds. It was both academic and sports orientated. It was rural with a boarding house and lots of farming families from the Wairarapa and Manawatu feeding into it.
I made great friendships and spent a lot of time on farms with friends, rounding up sheep on horseback, adventuring and enjoying the outdoors. It challenged me, the teachers were inspiring, I was pushed academically, and I loved the sports side too. It was definitely the best school for me. Then sadly for my last year of school, we moved quite far away, and I had to complete my secondary schooling at a smaller school without as much on offer. It just wasn’t the same, I meet some great people and made some good friends, but the school was a lot more relaxed, and I didn’t feel as inspired or challenged. By this time, I was pretty certain I wanted to go to art or design school, and I was specialising in things like art history, clothing and textiles, tech drawing, design and photography. So, I poured all of my efforts into creating.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Not so much. I think there was a disconnect between school and actual careers when I was at secondary school. I am happy to say I think this is changing, my children are learning so much more about business and careers already and they are still really young. At their primary school they are working on business projects and learning basic commerce and marketing fundamentals.
Wow, that’s incredible. So, did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
Yes, but not through high school sadly. But I remember my father organising for me to spend some time in a swimwear company through his friend who was the owner when I was about 17, Expozay for those who remember. I was very inspired by this.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I studied graphics and design and photography at the Waikato Polytech which basically involved me spending a lot of time in the photography darkroom wearing Doc Martin boots and perfecting my art school grunge look – think Kate Moss in the 90’s with a flimsy floral slip layered over some kind of dark woollen spencer and chunky boots. I had a lot of fun creating art and socialising, but I learnt way more when I went off to London and worked for design firms.
I then went back to Auckland University when I was in my late twenty’s and completed some post-grad marketing papers at night school which were really interesting and helpful as I was working in marketing at the time and was able to apply the theories, I was learning to what I was doing in my career at the time.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights?
I have had a non-conventional career path but there have always been consistent elements. One is that I love marketing and I love to sell. And that I have a habit of throwing myself into start-ups or businesses that I know nothing about, but I figure it out.
I went to London after art school and was lucky enough to somehow land myself two jobs working for very cool and notable design firms, the influence these jobs and companies had on me was huge.
The first was working for a prestigious Interior designer who designed interiors for places like Claridge’s Hotel, The Bank of England and some of the Rocco Forte Hotels. I was only 21 at the time and very junior. I mainly answered phones and made people tea and coffee, but I got to do the odd thing like sourcing trim for cushions at Claridge’s and hand painting colours for custom carpets etc. John had a small team of international designers and they were very talented and very cool. Coming from little old New Zealand into an environment like this and seeing these exquisite design projects and how these talented people worked was mind-blowing and incredibly inspiring.
My second job was at Pentagram. I look back on this and wonder how on earth I managed this? I actually think I might have just turned up at reception and asked for a job and then kept pestering them until they gave me one. Again, I was very junior and mainly answered phones and did low-level admin, no design. But to be around those people and the projects they were doing was insane.
Pentagram is one of the biggest and best design firms in the world, it’s iconic (google them if you love design but don’t know of them). They work across multiple disciplines like graphic design, product design and architecture. I still have many design books created by Pentagram, some signed by various founders and original Pentagram papers (little design booklets they publish each year), I still love looking at them.
These two design jobs had a huge impact on me, and I still think about those environments now. They really opened my eyes to great design, how things worked on a global scale and what was possible.
After a year and a half of working in low paid design jobs in London – which I loved but I didn’t love being broke in a big city, I left as I managed to wangle a ridiculously high paying (for a 22-year-old art school student in London) job at Merrill Lynch London through a friend, mainly because I had above-average computer skills and said I could do a lot more than what I actually could. This was my financial services ‘fake it until you make it stage’. I put my head down, worked hard and learned a lot. I ended up staying at Merrill Lynch London for two years, being sponsored for a work visa extension and then being picked up by my financial recruitment agency (Parker Bridge) to help them open up their agency branch in New Zealand. I worked closely with one of the directors who was an incredible mentor, and we successfully established the New Zealand office in Auckland and then after 18 months we were both sent out to Dublin to start up the Irish office where again we establish the business and I stayed for 18 months.
Working in these two start-ups was intense and exciting, they grew quickly, and every day was exhilarating and different. I learnt so much about what is involved in starting up a business from scratch and taking it to the next level.
Then it was back to New Zealand to work on a third startup where I worked as the brand and marketing manager for a software start-up for a few years, then as a merchandise manager for a fashion production company buying and putting ranges together for high street fashion stores. Then it was onto Staxs clothing, a fashion chain with 30 stores across New Zealand at the time (sadly they are no longer around now), where I worked for almost eight years as the brand manager alongside the director, again another amazing mentor.
I loved this job so much! I travelled to New York, Rome, Barcelona and London four times a year, I oversaw the collections and the design team, sourced and booked all of the fabrics, managed stock and was responsible for the company marketing. It was a dream job working with the owner and again learning so much about business and marketing. I have been very lucky working as a second-in-charge to two incredibly young and dynamic directors, who both threw me in the deep end in a really great way. One in finance and one in fashion, both taught me so much.
After seven years at Staxs I become pregnant with my first child and went on maternity leave, I came back after six months but after three months of being back I found out I was pregnant again with our second child! I wasn’t expecting to have two babies in such quick succession (my first two kids are 16 months apart). I found the thought of travelling so much with two babies impossible, I just couldn’t leave them both that often for so long. It was sad to leave but I was ready for the next phase of my life.
While on maternity leave, I dusted off my cameras and started shooting mainly cookbooks, lifestyle editorial and then some weddings. Lots of friends were getting married at the time and didn’t want the standard cheesy wedding photos. The wedding photography snowballed and before I knew it, I was being flown all over NZ, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and Indonesia to shoot weddings. I also even shot a few in the USA. One thing that struck me was that the media platforms and magazines in the wedding industry were very traditional and generally quite dated. But I knew photographers, florists and stylists who were doing cool things. I saw a huge gap for a cool new media platform on a global scale.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
I made it up! The job and the magazine.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
The logistics with COVID at the moment. International freight is a mess. We have huge demand but it’s hard to deliver and distribute the physical product. Although this is what is driving the digital side of our business forward so I shouldn’t complain too much.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
Where do I start? It’s non-stop, and every day is different. Most importantly I am a mother of three, I fit my business around my family. I try and be around for school drop off and pick up as much as possible. This means I often work evenings and weekends but I would rather do this to spend time with my children.
Running your own business can be overwhelming, I try and focus on one thing at a time. I’m always in touch with my clients, making sure they are happy, supporting them across the magazine and our digital channels. That’s the most important thing. Without them, there would be no magazine. I genuinely love my clients; most have become friends and they are a dream to work with. That’s one of the best things about having your own brand, you can choose to work with like-minded people.
There is a lot of planning and scheduling and developing new systems, processes and business initiatives. And of course, I need to think up the new and create!
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
My grandparents Kath and Clive Kenyon. Gran passed away two years ago at 94. I spent a lot of time with them growing up and beyond. Their relationship was so solid, they really enjoyed being together. They were great travellers and have been to so many countries. Gran was a strong woman and very creative, she painted, and she was also a weaver and she always encouraged me to be creative. They had a wonderful lifestyle and enjoyed life, each other’s company, the outdoors and their friends and family. Granddad is still around, he is 97 and still lives at home with no help, he is as sharp as a tack, still drives plays in bowels tournaments and has turned into a prolific baker in his old age. He is such a gem and still very adventurous. I went on a South Island trip with him a few weeks ago.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Don’t wait for an opportunity. Make one happen, and if you don’t know how to do something take steps first to try and figure it out yourself.
There are so many great resources out there. Go to a night class, find a tutorial on the internet, listen to a podcast or read a book, offer to do an internship or help out on a shoot day etc.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: Foundr.com and www.dwell.com
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking:@dwellmagazine – We recently bought a new house, and I am now interiors obsessed! Dwell is so good.
- Favourite Podcast: Blinkist has replaced most Podcasts for me. I’m quite obsessed. I love that they are only 12 to 18 minutes. A podcast feels like a far too big a commitment at the moment. foundr.com has great interview-based podcasts
- Favourite Netflix/Stan/ Series: I got really obsessed with Ozark over lockdown.
- Who is your mentor? My friends! I have a tight group of friends who have their own businesses. We span media, homeware, jewellery, fashion and nappies! We are constantly on hand for each other both on the phone and in person. They get the struggles, and we give each other advice and keep each other going and sane. I’m all about the Co-Mentoring. It also means I get to see my friends too!
- Favourite all time book/s: Company of One – Paul Jarvis. What great brands do – Denise Lee Yohn
- Favourite App that you use every day: I use so many daily as we run our business remotely with staff in NZ + Aus… Blinkist, VSCO, Xero, Trello, DropBox, Milanote, Capsule (client management), Spotify, Pinterest.