There’s an ambition inside a person that can set them apart from others. Tuning into that feeling, and making it their own reality, takes independence and a vision to drive them on – they move along their path by never standing still.
Andy Smith (Smith The Roll Pack) chose to pursue his own ventures from his creative instincts and experiences on the road. He founded Cactus Creative and recently took a run down, industrial mill building and turned it into a thriving creative hub called The Factory, in a small Lake District community.
We delve a little deeper into Andy’s creative vision and Maverick Streak.
A Q&A with Andy Smith.
Can you tell us how the role of creativity has enabled you to live a more Maverick lifestyle? Or put quite simply, why do you do what you do?
As soon as I was old enough to pick up a pencil I started drawing, as a kid it was all I wanted to do – apart from ride my bike. I had a fascination with bikes, aircraft and horses, a strange mix I know, but these were my favourite things to sketch. I also had a love for the outdoors, I rarely spent any time indoors growing up, I was out everyday after school either riding my road bike, hurtling down local trails on a cranky old motorbike my mate built, skateboarding or climbing trees.
My dad was a keen photographer (as well as a talented artist) – we built a darkroom in the house and spent many hours developing film and printing images before bedtime.
I chose to go to college – I was told it was much more hands on, less theory based. I didn’t need to read about art, I just wanted to get stuck in. At the time I chose to study graphic design so I could draw forever – that isn’t the case now of course – but I still encourage my team to start with the pencil before moving onto the computer, that is really important.
On finishing my course I was asked if I wanted to work for Europa Sport in Kendal; a company that distributed ski, snowboard and outdoor gear. I moved to Kendal to work in a professional studio with a group of really talented designers. I was creating campaigns for international brands within days of leaving college and living on the edge of the Lake District, I couldn’t believe my luck.
My time there was incredible, I learnt so much but it also gave me the wanderlust. Working with all those groundbreaking action sport images from around the world gave me seriously itchy feet. I realised it was time to go and see it for myself. One day I literally sold everything I owned, handed my notice in and bought a one way ticket to Australia.
Have there been any turning points in your life that have driven your creative work and ventures?
I had no idea what I was going to do in Australia, apart from visit relatives and hopefully pick some fruit for pocket money. I dropped into a job centre in Adelaide on my first day and spotted a design job in a local agency. They gave me a chance, even though I only had a tourist visa.
So I bought an old VW camper van and lived on Glenelg beach, each day I drove into the city, to the studio, where I worked on some seriously big campaigns at the time. I did this for nine months while saving up my money, but before long the itch to move on needed scratching and I hit the road again.
Travelling was important to me and it fuelled my design ideas. It was the hardest decision of my life to leave Adelaide, but I knew I had to move on, to experience the rest of the country. I spent 3 months, and all the money I’d earned, travelling through every state in Australia. I have only one regret from this journey. I was asked to go and see a new band who’d just started out, called ‘Nirvana’, but I had other commitments that night … That decision will live with me forever.
My time in Australia was up. I had found my independence while travelling the road, the only option was to return to the UK and pursue my own ventures – to go it alone.
What did you want to achieve when you first set up Cactus Creative and what sets you guys apart from other design companies? How does your vision/lifestyle influence the studio?
Returning to the UK I had one goal: to start my own business. After taking a couple of local design jobs to get by, I hooked up with a copywriter friend of mine and we set our sights on the big city agencies. We spent 2 years concepting for all the biggest design agencies in Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. This was an incredible experience for both of us, we would literally turn up with layout pads and pencils, be ushered to a room, plied with food and drink, and left to create – we were the go-to creative team in the North West.
It wasn’t long though before clients were asking us to work for them direct, so we set-up Cactus Creative, in my bedroom on Kendal Green with our first Mac, 2 Ikea desks and a dog.
Cactus now employ 9 people, 8 designers and an Account Manager in ‘The Factory’- a Kendal based Creative Hub I set up. We work for clients across the board, but the thing I love best is we still work a lot in the outdoor trade and this has allowed me to continue to travel all around the world, art directing photoshoots.
I believe our humble beginnings (two guys scribbling out ideas without a care in the world) in advertising has set us apart from other agencies, we always look for that copy-lead unique idea, we never take the ‘expected’ route for any client. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of local design companies around at the time who could makes things look pretty, but we had the edge, and I believe we still have. I have an amazing team around me now, all passionate and talented designers. I get so much out of watching these guys create, I love to let the younger ones go and create and always enjoy the results.
Can you tell us more about the creative hub you helped to build in Kendal, ‘The Factory’?
Having a little more time away from the sketch pad and the mac enabled me to think about a possible new studio for us – we’ve moved around the Kendal area over years, but never felt we’d found our perfect place. It all started while I was art directing a video shoot in a disused warehouse in Manchester, and the videographer and I were converting the space throughout the day.
As I drove home, I remembered a good friend of mine owned lots of industrial property in Kendal, so I gave him a call. He said he had somewhere I might like to see – he had recently bought the old Goodacres Carpet Factory as a going concern, but the company had been bought and been moved elsewhere, and the property-friend was left with the post-industrial buildings. I met him the next day and was just blown away by what I saw. On the first floor of the old factory offices I found the perfect studio for Cactus, but there was so much other space and so much potential.
Breathing life into one of Kendal’s most impressive post-industrial sites to develop a creative hub has been a dream of mine for a long time. I pitched an idea to the owners to develop the premises into affordable artists studios, as I knew a lot of creative people had been driven out of town due to expensive rents and business rates. We agreed to give it go and ‘The Factory’ was born.
We put the call out on social media and the response, as you can imagine, was off the scale. We now have 64 separate working artist and creative studios on site and a huge waiting list: glass makers, sculptors, screenprinters, photographers, weavers, fine artists, designers, architects, woodworkers, storytellers, even brewers – we’ve got it all. We’re hoping to continue to develop the old buildings and create even more studios.
What would you tell others out there who are taking the leap to follow their own independent spirit, or those for who it’s still just a dream but need that extra push?
I’d say just do whatever is in your heart. There’ll always be obstacles and tough times along the way, but it’ll always be well worth it in the end. I’ve always followed my gut instinct and I often say I’m not a businessman, I’m a designer who owns a business. Cactus Creative has been running successfully now for nearly 16 years and most of my team have been with me all the way. The Factory is thriving and we are building a local community of happy artists.
My passion has always been to draw, paint, point a camera, ride mountain bikes and travel, so that’s where I’ve set my sights for the future – I find it hard to stand still.