“This year has taught us all that work can be much more flexible than we think – and a silver lining is that brands are seeing the value and trust in having staff and contractors work remotely, and projects that push conversations forward.” As part of our The Company We Keep Series, content and branding expert Ingrid Kesa shares her mantras for self-motivation and advice for fellow freelancers.

At one point in her life, Ingrid Kesa thought she might become a lawyer. It wasn’t that she’d dreamed about it growing up. But that at the precipice of the ‘real world’, in a realm of ‘serious’ career trajectories on university entrance forms (she graduated high school as dux) it seemed the right direction to take. “I studied law at UTS straight out of high school and I loathed it,” she tells. “All I wanted to be was out there in the world.” Kesa spent her adolescence absorbed in art, fashion and beauty – with magazines her portal beyond her teenage bedroom. When university began feeling like a barrier to the creative existence she still craved, she resolved to trust her intuition and entered the workforce at a young age. It was a guiding force she’d return to as she shaped her career – from leading fashion and culture titles to her independent venture, Ingrid Kesa Studio – with the accompanying mantra: “dreams remain dreams unless you make them real.” Also: “it’s OK for things to change along the way.” Kesa got her start at Australian fashion bible Oyster magazine, which was, she says, “everything I had hoped for and more – with much less money but way more fun”. Amidst freelancing stints and a brief exploration of TV and casting, she’d go on to VICE and later Broadsheet, leading their branded content teams, and find a niche at the nexus of creativity and commerciality.

“A silver lining, I feel, is that more traditional clients and bigger brands are seeing the true value and trust in having staff and contractors work remotely and projects that push conversations forward.”

Ingrid Kesa

“A silver lining, I feel, is that more traditional clients and bigger brands are seeing the true value and trust in having staff and contractors work remotely and projects that push conversations forward.”

Ingrid Kesa

While she won’t necessarily tell you this herself, Kesa is the recipient of multiple awards and recognitions for marketing. But asked what’s most important to her in her career, she points to work-life balance. In her personal work, Kesa’s been drawn to wellness as a subject. A preoccupation of our time, no doubt, and an interest informed by personal experience. “I’ve already experienced massive burnout at various points in my career, so at this stage I have a pretty good grasp on my limits. I perform best when I am well-rested, relaxed and fulfilled in areas of my life external to work. It’s all interconnected.” Kesa’s now working for herself, and the culmination of her talents is Ingrid Kesa Studio. It’s a boutique communications and creative practice built on a platform of integrity, in an industry that increasingly places value on independent talent. “I love freelancing because of the freedom and constant stimulation it provides,” Kesa explains. “I think if anything this year has taught us all that work can be much more flexible than we think – and a silver lining, I feel, is that more traditional clients and bigger brands are seeing the true value and trust in having staff and contractors work remotely and projects that push conversations forward.” Here Kesa shares her working rituals, and her advice for creating balance and ‘finding your magic’ as a freelancer. UMENCO: When someone asks what you do, what do you tell them? Ingrid Kesa: I work with brands to help them bring ideas to life.

“There will always be more work. Get to know your own threshold. Find your magic and protect it.”

Ingrid Kesa

“A silver lining, I feel, is that more traditional clients and bigger brands are seeing the true value and trust in having staff and contractors work remotely and projects that push conversations forward.”

Ingrid Kesa

UMENCO: How did you find your passion? Ingrid Kesa: It happened quite organically, really. I’ve been creative ever since I was young. When I was growing up I loved writing, art, fashion, beauty. I also remember being quite entrepreneurial as a child – negotiating my pocket money pay with my parents or writing up fake business plans. I loved magazines. They were my connection to the outside world as a teenager. I found it all so glamorous and exciting.

Above: Image courtesy of Ingrid Kesa; Oyster issue 99; Teresa Oman photographed by Ryan Kenny, styled by Ingrid Kesa and Hayley Morgan, for Oyster.  Left: Images courtesy of Ingrid Kesa.

UMENCO: Tell us about Ingrid Kesa Studio. What did you set out to create? Ingrid Kesa: Ingrid Kesa Studio brings together all of my freelance work under one umbrella in the form a boutique creative and communications studio specialising in beauty, wellness, lifestyle and culture. I wanted to create a platform to showcase my work and also work with [and] support other creatives. One of my favourite things about my line of working is pulling together teams and collaborating with others.

UMENCO: How do you maintain creative integrity? Ingrid Kesa: I work with brands that I have an alignment with. I am lucky to have progressive clients who care about more than just the products they sell. I think it’s important to be transparent and agree on expectations upfront so there is a sense of mutual understanding and trust in order to reach the ideal creative outcome for a brief.

UMENCO: Do you have any sage advice for freelancers? Ingrid Kesa: Learn to say no. It’s easy to fall into a scarcity mindset when you’re freelancing – without the comfort of a regular payslip, it can be tempting to accept every opportunity that comes your way. There will always be more work. Get to know your own threshold. Find your magic and protect it.

“I’ve already experienced massive burnout at various points in my career, so at this stage I have a pretty good grasp on my limits.”

Ingrid Kesa

“I’ve already experienced massive burnout at various points in my career, so at this stage I have a pretty good grasp on my limits.”

Ingrid Kesa

UMENCO: What are your working day rituals? Ingrid Kesa: I like to wake up around 7am so I have a few hours to ease into my day. I’ll go get a coffee and go for a big walk – rain, hail or shine – or go to a yoga class. I make sure I take a lunch break every day away from my desk. I think eating in front of the computer is a terrible habit! I finish by preparing a to-do list for the following day.

UMENCO: Tell us about your workspace. What are your non-negotiables? Ingrid Kesa: I’m used to working in quite busy offices and shared workspaces, so I like ambient background noise and music over silence. Natural light and a clean desk. I can’t stand clutter. It stresses me out.

UMENCO: What is always sitting on your desk? Ingrid Kesa: I love using my desktop and laptop computer in unison. It makes things so much easier. I have glasses but I constantly forget to wear them. I always have a candle, vitamins, a carafe of water and notebook. Usually a coffee (I’m addicted). AirPods are an essential.

UMENCO: Where does your inspiration come from? Ingrid Kesa: I’m a very visual person so I get a lot of inspiration from photography, art, books, magazines, Pinterest and Instagram. I am an avid writer-downer so I’m always scribbling away and drawing up sketches of how I want decks to look before I make them digitally or brainstorming and mind mapping. I often have my best ideas away from the screen and in nature. The trick is trying to remember them!

Above and left: All images courtesy Ingrid Kesa. Below: Mateja Buila and friends photographed and styled by Ingrid Kesa and Hayley Morgan; image courtesy of Ingrid Kesa.

UMENCO: When you consider the future, what do you hope for? Ingrid Kesa: Diversity, inclusivity and equality in corporate settings. We have such a long way to go. Hire people that don’t look or think like you; engage directly with the audiences you are trying to target; if you are white, put forward a person of colour before you put yourself forward for a job; amplify diverse voices. Mainstream culture can only truly shift when the people creating it do. A stronger representation of women at the top of hierarchies. Closure of the gender pay gap (currently it’s at 14 per cent in Australia). 

“Mainstream culture can only truly shift when the people creating it do.”

Ingrid Kesa

“Mainstream culture can only truly shift when the people creating it do.”

Ingrid Kesa

UMENCO: What’s your advice to anyone apprehensive to pursue their dream career? Ingrid Kesa: Dreams remain dreams unless you make them real. There is no time like the present. It’s sort of like writing an essay, the most overwhelming bit is when the page is blank and you have to write your first sentence … Make a plan, map out a trajectory of how to get there and celebrate small wins … After that, everything flows.

“It’s sort of like writing an essay, the most overwhelming bit is when the page is blank and you have to write your first sentence … After that, everything flows.”

Ingrid Kesa

“It’s sort of like writing an essay, the most overwhelming bit is when the page is blank and you have to write your first sentence … After that, everything flows.”

Ingrid Kesa