Name: Jessica De Block
Job Title and Description: Founder & Designer at Antwerp Avenue
College Name/Major: Master of Strategic Communications at the University of Antwerp, Belgium.
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Jessica De Block: Antwerp Avenue is a young business (only 1-year-old!) that I started when I was still studying. I was in my Master’s at the University of Antwerp when I started printing my oil paintings and digital designs onto phone cases and laptop sleeves and decided to make a business out of it. I went head first and gave it a full 200%. I worked so hard on collections, production, my website, and marketing. Within three months Antwerp Avenue was featured by Cosmopolitan USA, which lead to a series of features by a.o. Seventeen, Allure and HelloGiggles.
At Antwerp Avenue, a typical day doesn’t really exist. I do have some tasks that need to be done every day, like making packages before 4.30pm in order to get them shipped out on time. Apart from that, I let priorities make up my schedule. Since I am in charge of every single thing that happens with the brand, from design to production to retail, my tasks are wide-ranging. Some days, I’m up early to get in touch with the factory, in order to make sure everything goes according to plan. Other days, I’m up late at night drawing new collections and updating the website, making sure every page looks just the way it needs to look. And then some other days, I am out and about meeting with sales people, stores or even networking at events. Then apart from that, I travel quite a lot to get some international exposure. I can never make up my entire week schedule beforehand. Meetings are fixed, of course, but when I wake up, some things just demand my attention. Basically, that is what my life looks like at this moment.
For control enthusiasts (like myself J J ) it can sometimes be a little bit scary to have a very flexible, variable schedule, but along the way, I learned to let go. And it works just fine this way. By being very flexible, you’re allowing your business to grow fast, as you can take decisions swiftly and take action rapidly whenever any sudden changes need to be made. For example, I don’t work with seasonal collections. I make collections whenever I have time and headspace to paint/draw/design. Inspiration know no schedules, it comes when it wants to come, and that may be at your busiest time or in the middle of the night. If I had a tight schedule planned a few weeks in advance for every day of the week, my creativity would be dead. It does, however, take a great deal of discipline to work with a flexible schedule. But I manage! And most of all, I’m having tons of fun.
What is the best part of your job?
JDB: Designing is my number one favorite occupation in the whole world. I’ve been drawing ever since I was a kid, and I’m an autodidact. That means I never attended any drawing or painting classes and just taught myself whatever I know, including Photoshop, Illustrator and Adobe Sketch. The reason I’m so happy to do this as my job is that I had never imagined someone who has no art degree like me to sell art for a living. But in the meantime, the business side started growing on me. I thoroughly enjoy being able to make decisions that are commercially smart and lead to higher revenue. It takes some practice, but with the right mindset, you can become very good at it very quickly. I do have to admit I wish I knew a thing or two more about finance. Have to catch up on that by reading books and consulting some of my friends.
What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
JDB: I was lucky enough to start my business while studying, so literally the first day after graduation, I started working for myself full time. However, I am a firm supporter of the ‘Skills Pay The Bills’-mindset and I did practice many skills while still studying. I was always working. Either for a cigar shop, writing formal newsletters that are suitable for their client type, or making animation videos for a business that does e-learning programs for people in certain safety-relevant jobs like train drivers or construction workers. I had no experience in either of these fields but I went ahead and applied for these jobs anyway. My thoughts were “I’ll just try my very best and wing it”. The worst thing that could happen was getting fired, and the best thing that could happen was acquiring new skills and getting some much needed extra money. So that choice was made very easily!
What words of wisdom (well-known quotes, an anecdote from your boss) do you find most valuable?
JDB: I have two favorite quotes.
1. “You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute” – Tina Fey. This one is so important to me, as I kind of based my whole decision of going for my business on this quote (Major Tina Fey fangirl over here!). You have to take careful preparations, but in the end, it’s always a leap of faith. If YOU believe in it, by all means, go for it.
2. This one is more a principle that I follow than a quote. It’s the 80/20 principle invented by economist Vilfredo Pareto. This basically states that roughly 80% of the results comes from 20% of the causes or input. Which means you can reach an amazing level of efficiency if you just identify that 20% of input that will reward you with 80% of the outcome. That doesn’t invite you to be lazy of course, but it leaves you 80% more time/input to spend on other things. If you practice enough, you get really good at it, and your results will skyrocket.
What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
JDB: Without disrespect towards my former business partner, who has been great, I know now that personally, I am perfectly capable of running this business by myself. Many people thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, because I was inexperienced or I only have 1 set of skills, which obviously implies I lack other skills (ahem, finance, ahem). But being inexperienced and lacking some skills doesn’t mean you should get discouraged and not start anything on your own. It means you should just watch out for red flags and consult an expert at those times. Other things, you can just learn by doing. Trial and error. Just be prepared to ask for help whenever you need it.
What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
JDB: So as you may or may not know, Belgium is a tiny country where nothing ever happens (not entirely true). People in Belgium – sorry not sorry, folks – tend to dream small. But I don’t. I dream of international distribution, and while I’m dreaming of it, I’m also working my butt off to make it happen. When Antwerp Avenue was featured by Cosmopolitan USA in February of last year, I decided to pay them a visit in their online headquarters in New York. Quite an investment of time and money, of course, and many people would think I’m totally crazy but they kindly invited me over and I met many of the wonderful girls at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen. That for me personally was a surreal moment.
Only 4 months after my launch, juggling my master’s thesis with my full-time business, visiting the Cosmopolitan USA HQ in New York was quite the summum for me. But without trying to sound cheesy, owning a business has so many beautiful moments. It’s like the most amazing yet bumpiest rollercoaster ride you can imagine. Your lows may be very low, but your peaks are skyhigh. And it all goes so fast! But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
JDB: I don’t have any employees just yet, but I recently hired an intern. I try to be really modern in my approach. The most important characteristics I look for in an employee/intern is enthusiasm. That makes up about 50% of my decision. The other 50% should be someone who is very independent and has a vision for the brand that matches my own.
What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
JDB: Go for it. Do your research, make some preparations and by all means just go for it. I would recommend getting in touch with someone who is a startup as well, or who is (at least a little bit) experienced in building a business. Having a mentor can save you a lot of time and can help you avoid making mistakes. And as Woody Allen once said: “I have no idea what I am doing but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.”