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Sarah Aoki, Designer and Entrepreneur Hybrid
interview
14/01/19

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR CREATIVE BACKGROUND?

When I think about this, I have always wanted to be a leader and "stand in front" of people. I have loved being different and unconventional. Drawing, making small things and using Computer was my childhood hobby. When I got my first computer (Windows 95) I have started making gif animations but did not think these kinds of things were going to come useful in the future so it all stayed as a hobby.

When I came to Scotland in 2010, I was quickly sucked into the creative path. I have studied Design and Digital Arts (DADA) at Napier University after going through college. I couldn't imagine my future at all at this point to be honest, but I was ecstatic to be surrounded by like-minded creative people. Throughout my studies however I was not able to truly unleash my creativity. I was constantly thinking about how a piece of work can achieve a highest mark and whether people would like my work or not. When I think this retrospectively I think that I should have went all out with my creative output and did whatever I liked. I always had something tamed inside me that was waiting to be unleashed!

After my graduation in 2016 I made a decision of not going into the industry but instead me and my then boyfriend (now fiancé) have decided that we would go into business together. He studied accountancy and finance at the university and at that time we have decided to set up a commercial cleaning company. I went all out designing our marketing materials, uniforms, vans and even decorating our office. Even though this journey is not directly related to my design studies, I feel that my creative output is at its peak. We design all our systems and procedures from the ground up and that gives me enormous joy to see my thoughts and dreams materialising before my eyes.

CAN YOU GIVE US AN INSIGHT INTO YOUR PRACTICE AND WHAT YOU DO?

As a company we offer office and commercial cleaning services to businesses around Edinburgh and West Lothian. We absolutely love working with like-minded business owners. We aim our services at businesses that take great care of their employees and supply chain as we pride ourselves of being very supportive to our employees, clients and suppliers. We have a great team of people that works with us and supports each other. We recognise the fact that our employees are our most valuable asset and we take care to develop our people and maintain their high motivation and satisfaction.

We believe that business success should be shared with everybody that contributes to that success. That is why we offer our employees to enjoy the success of the business by offering them shareholding in the company. We believe that by doing so we are creating sustainable structure that will benefit everybody around. I manage the day-to-day business operations and do our branding and social media marketing. My close friend is running our social media pages which is a great help as it might be quite difficult to post regularly during extremely busy periods. My fiancée manages all of the back office tasks and also expands the business visibility within the West Lothian area. My focus for expanding the business is Edinburgh, so we complement each other in yet another way.

Sometimes people say that it is a shame that I do not practice design anymore. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. Running a small business is a very creative activity. I need to be constantly on my feet and resolve issues as they arise or come up with creative solution that bypasses obstacles. Not a single day is the same. Every day I face new challenges and opportunities and dealing or seizing them gives me great joy and enormous satisfaction. Design has taught me to always be myself and to express my personality in a way that positively affects real people's lives. Creative thinking allows me to see things from a completely different perspective and this is very valuable in business. As mentioned previously, my fiancée manages all of the back office tasks from HR, payroll, legal and finance. I am glad to have a business partner with such complementary set of qualities. For me this means that I can focus on expanding our business, building relationships and making a difference.

ANY EXCITING PROJECTS OR EVENTS YOU HAVE ON THE HORIZON?

Every single day is different and exciting for me. We are working hard to become the most colourful, funky and exciting cleaning company in the central belt of Scotland. Our aim is to change perception of the cleaning industry and those working within it. We want to make cleaning a viable, rewarding and long-term career for people and not only a part time job. We want to change a perception that outside world has about cleaners as well. In our business we call our employees “Cleaning Operative”. We know that clean and uncluttered office environment adds productivity and increases overall mood of office workers adding to the overall morale. Therefore, our mission is to provide clear, hygienic and uncluttered environment and by doing so contribute to overall productivity of Scottish businesses.

We have recently added another van to our fleet and I am looking forward to designing funky wrap for our new van. We have also moved our premises to more suitable location and I am looking forward to getting into designing walls, desks, cabinets and our storage area.

WHAT MAKES EDINBURGH A GOOD CITY TO BE BASED?

I cannot think of any other city as I do about Edinburgh. For me Edinburgh is a hub for innovation and creativity. There is so much positive energy in this city, there are so many small businesses that support each other on a daily basis. There are a lot of ambitious and motivated entrepreneurs that can easily match those of London or even of Silicon Valley.

Also, Edinburgh being such a multicultural and vibrant city means that I am able not only to fit in but to thrive. My favourite time of the year in Edinburgh is the festival period. During Fringe, streets of Edinburgh fill with people of different cultures, nationalities and ethnicities. This is simply amazing. It gives me so much positive energy. I love interacting and learning about people of different cultures. Nationalities of our employees range from Scottish to Indian, Polish, Portuguese, Pakistani, Gambian, Italian to Japanese. We are a positive mix and we proudly embrace that. In my opinion, Edinburgh is the same, positive mixture of different cultures and nationalities. This brightens the streets and boosts the city’s visibility on the international stage. It is a fantastic city to be in business.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE THINKING OF PURSUING A CAREER IN THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES?

I am not working within the 'creative industry' but my advice would be to just go for it. There is absolutely nothing to lose. I believe that especially young people should try many things before settling in one career or occupation. I am currently running my own commercial cleaning business, but I know that throughout my life I will have multiple businesses and careers. For me it is very important to always seek ways to develop myself and gain new skills, abilities and knowledge. I wake up every day excited to learn new things and experience something new and different. Always look for the ways that will get you out of your comfort zone. This is something I consciously do now as well.

I would definitely recommend reading a lot. Only then you will realise how much you don’t actually know about the world. As an example, recently I have read number of books about the benefits and effect of plant-based diet. After finishing my last book, I have expanded my research to other medical publication and internet. As a result of my research I have decided to become vegan and embrace plant-based diet. It has enormous impact on my health and levels of energy throughout the day. But I would not know that if I had not picked that book in the first place. Hence my advice, read a lot, and read a lot of books about topics you have no idea of. As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. I particularly love listening to audio books and podcasts as I am always out and about!

Another piece of advice I could give is to be persistent and be confident with everything you do and do not be afraid of change! You need to be constantly changing. From that change the new inspiration arises.

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