002 The Jo Philes

After deciding to leave behind the male dominated Architecture industry and instead focus on starting a family, Jo knew that she still needed a creative outlet…

Finding herself in the idyllic surroundings of Clovelly,  Jo became inspired by the ocean and her Kenyan heritage. Born out of this intertwining came Clovelly Cozzies. Clovelly Cozzies is a bold print focused swimwear brand for women, every piece is designed, cut and sewn in Clovelly, using original textile designs that Jo creates sustainably and thoughtfully.

We caught up with Jo and her daughter in her bright and light home in Clovelly on a sunny Saturday to chat about style, entrepreneurship, motherhood and her inspirations...

Images by  Teniola Komolafe

Tell us about your career? What has the journey been like?

I am a freelance textile designer and illustrator.  I work from my home in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Building Design (Architecture). After about a year of working in Architecture, I realised that it was not for me! Being the only Black Woman of African descent in an industry dominated by white men requires a level of assertiveness and that was not in my nature. It left me feeling isolated, sapping all the passion I had for Architecture. Also, I lacked proper mentors to steer me in the right direction.

Not long after quitting my job, I started a family! I was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home parent to my daughter. I bought my first sewing machine as I needed a creative outlet during those early years of motherhood. I taught myself how to use it by watching Youtube tutorials and by dissecting a myriad of pattern books.

Being the only Black Woman of African descent in an industry dominated by white men requires a level of assertiveness and that was not in my nature. It left me feeling isolated, sapping all the passion I had for Architecture.

Sewing opened my eyes up to the world of fabrics, patterns and colour. I made some cute outfits for my daughter and myself for a while. It was by chance that one of the ladies in my lovely mother’s group in Melbourne mentioned Spoonflower - a custom fabric printing company based in the USA. I was quite interested in the prospect of having my own designs on fabric so I looked at the website and it was as if a light bulb had been switched on.  I was hooked instantly! I then taught myself how to make patterns out of my artwork –using Youtube, Skillshare Classes and Textile Design Books. The practical design skills I had gained at Uni came in handy too!

Currently, I design my own prints for my swimwear label, Clovelly Cozzies. It’s still a young business finding its legs but it has been instrumental in showcasing my patterns to a wider audience. I also license my patterns out to clothing manufacturers. There are some sweet collaborations in the works.

Images by  Teniola Komolafe

Describe your typical weekend...

My weekends are pretty relaxed at the moment. I have made a conscious decision to slow down a fair bit after having a stressful year that impacted on my health. I love to sleep in on Saturdays and will wake up at around 9am. My body and senses are pretty sluggish in the morning so I need a coffee kick before I think about even starting my day!

I spend the morning with my daughter listening to her playing the flute or watching her play with her bearded-dragon lizard. I also encourage her to do some journaling. By this time my husband has usually accomplished ten tasks! He is an effortless goal-smasher!  In the summertime, we spend most of our mornings at the beach as a family. We are lucky to live within walking distance of both Clovelly and Coogee beach. Sydney has so many farmers markets and festivals, we love to attend them as a family.

Sundays are for girlfriends - we spend time together at  picnics or at brunch, going to art shows or watching movies.

What inspires you and how does it influence your style?

I am inspired by my surroundings, my travels, and my Kenyan heritage. Relocating from Melbourne to Sydney has afforded me a relaxed approach to design. I gravitate towards bolder colour choices, however seaside living also draws me to use calming blues in my work

I am drawn to African material culture and this bold textile design language is evident in my designs.

How do you navigate culture and tradition while living in Australia?

It’s been a challenge living in Australia while the rest of my family is spread around the world. My daughter is biracial. I have to admit that I have struggled to hold onto aspects of my own African culture let alone pass them down to her - like speaking Swahili with her. When we lived in Melbourne, she attended a Swahili speaking language school on Saturdays sadly I am yet to come across any Swahili schools in Sydney.

I don’t have the immediate luxury of an extended family to turn to when I need help but I have an awesome husband for support. I think with the move to Sydney, creating new friendships was initially challenging as most people have already formed their tight-knit friendships in their early 20s but I’m starting to find my tribe by attending events like the Sistahood Picnics and by joining the Facebook group which posts events and gatherings for Black Women. This has eased the feeling of loneliness that comes from being a minority in a new place. With that said, I could do with a lot more Black Women in my life and my daughter’s life. Applications for Aunties are open!

Black womanhood is a dichotomy of tenderness, strength and a bit misunderstood.
Images by  Teniola Komolafe

Motherhood is the best but also toughest job there is, how do you handle the more stressful parts of being a mum?

Motherhood is tough but I am very lucky as I have a supportive partner for a co-parent. We came to a conscious decision to have only one child. I have a lot of respect for people with more than one child while managing to do a decent job of parenting. My child has a good-temperament so that helps a lot in being a seemingly graceful mother.

How do you maintain a kid-friendly, beautiful home?

I love the idea of a clutter-free life. I used to be a bit of a neat freak but motherhood has taught me to let go a bit. My child is eight now so she is pretty much domesticated at this stage. She can clean after herself when prompted. Nonetheless, I won’t be investing in any expensive pieces of furniture until she moves out of the house! She has her own desk /space for her creative mess. The most important thing for me is to maintain a space that fuels that creative spark in my child and myself.

Images by  Teniola Komolafe

How do you juggle all your responsibilities?

For years I was under the illusion that I was good at multitasking, turns out I am not that great! Honestly, now I just try to keep things simple. That means saying no to a lot of engagements or work that does not fit into my vision.  Writing to-do lists and scheduling are some ways I have learned to keep on top of things. Again, my husband plays an instrumental role in my day-to-day sanity. He makes dinners when I’m caught up in my work and picks up my daughter from school etc.

As, for my business, I have recently engaged a production partner to help me with my swimwear line so that I can focus on my strengths within my business.

Images by  Teniola Komolafe
Images by  Teniola Komolafe
Growing up, my biggest wish was for a simple and peaceful life... It doesn’t mean that I don’t face everyday struggles like everyone else. It just means that I chose to react to things differently...

Where is your happy place?

I am happiest when I am at home enjoying a good read or working on a new design. Growing up, my biggest wish was for a simple and peaceful life. I think I have that at the moment. It doesn’t mean that I don’t face everyday struggles like everyone else. It just means that I chose to react to things differently and choose my battles. As an introvert, I don’t always have infinite amounts of energy so I need my space to recharge.

Looking ahead, what kind of adult might you like your daughter to grow into?

I’d like my daughter to radiate warmth and be a socially responsible human. I think she has had a good start in life to have a generous and accomplished future.

August Inc.