It is obvious that Inez Tiara – founder of Kelly’s The Wrapping Paper Company, loves dogs. The moment I step into her spacious residence in the West of Jakarta, Tiara immediately whisks me to her kitchen where three very excited Yorkshire Terriers greets me by barking and jumping around “passionately”, which could easily pass off as a stance of attack even if they are wagging their tails furiously.
She then starts to introduce each of them, like how a mother would, except this time round the children aren’t willing to behave and stand in a neat line. After the introduction, Tiara picks Kelly and Mopy along to the living room. “The other one is too young to understand how to behave. Kelly and Mopy are more obedient,” Tiara explains her reason.
Before we plant ourselves down on her sofas, she leashes Mopy by the staircase, and then proceeds to pick Kelly up and place it on her lap. I am debating whether I should raise my concern about having her dogs around during the interview. Turns out, my worry is pointless. Even though with her sweet appearance and saccharine high-pitched voice, Tiara wields an effortless authority over her dogs.
“Stay where you are,” Tiara whispers softly to Kelly.
“But I was stubborn and idealist at first.”
Established in 2013, it is easy to be under the impression that Kelly’s The Wrapping Paper Company is something that Tiara has been planning to do all along. Each of the label’s paper goods and stationeries carry amusing and whimsical illustrations – tiny characters jump, wave and smile, in painterly quality that is charming and infectious. All of this seems to be a fluent expression of Tiara’s personality, but the path took longer than expected.
After graduating from RMIT University from Melbourne majoring in Graphic Design in 2010, Tiara returned to Jakarta for good in early 2011. She confesses that she wished to be able to continue to stay and work in Melbourne but is glad that she ended up in Jakarta in the end instead. “It is much more challenging and rewarding in Indonesia. Plus the market here is so much bigger. Melbourne is fun but I guess it is too laidback and relaxed,” she explains.
When Tiara returned to Jakarta, she worked for her Father – a manufacturing firm where its factory supplies food packaging for fast food chains like Hoka Hoka Bento and Starbucks. “Can you imagine? I have to call up suppliers and purchase spare parts for machines. I usually get bored by afternoon where I’ll pull out some papers and start drawing away!” she exclaims.
During that time, Tiara continues to sell her own artworks in the form of collage. But her concerned parents felt that she’s not utilising her talents to its potential. “They often ask me, ‘How long are you going to continue selling your artwork one by one? You got to sell something that people are able to consume in a faster way’,” she recalls.
“I guess my parents are more business-minded, especially my dad. But I was stubborn and idealist at first. ‘No, it got to be like this.’ But after awhile, I felt that there are some element of truths in what my dad said,” she says.
“I won’t submit a design unless I’m happy with it.”
“I have a client from out of town who loves to celebrate her kid’s milestones with gifts like cards to mark each celebration. So, I sort of got an idea from that,” she explains. This coupled with the realisation that collage is too time consuming, leads to the birth of Kelly’s The Wrapping Paper Company.
“I realised that I need to do something that is more approachable and eye catching while being design oriented at the same time. Something not too niche,” she says. And it is a hit, especially with the kids. Mothers often approach Tiara to design for their kids’ birthday party or even baby shower. She happily recounts where people often mistake her name as Kelly. Judging from her cheerful nature, it appears that Tiara is more than comfortable in letting her favourite dog taking the limelight.
While Tiara may have gotten less stubborn, she definitely has not let go of her idealist trait. “When someone custom order, I won’t submit a design unless I’m happy with it. I’ll keep on revising it until I’m satisfied. There is just a sense of gratification that I can’t describe,” she says.
“It is crucial to differentiate yourself from the rest.”
I wonder if she ever ponders on why her products appeal mostly to children instead of a more matured audience. “Not at all! I’m happy that my works have an audience. For me, I’m happy and content as long as my customers are happy,” she explains.
The latter statement may have come across as cliché and pretentious uttered from another person’s mouth. But it is hard to doubt Tiara’s sincerity and eagerness where there is not a single “sad bone” detected in her. I ask if she ever felt the pressure to perform well and stand out in the competitive design industry. Without warning, Mopy starts to bark softly. I sneak a look at Tiara, worry that she might be distracted. Again, my concern is pointless.
“Somehow yes because there are a lot of competitors,” she says as a matter of fact and continues, “How do I create a design that resonates with people? Consumers these days are exposed to plenty of brands be it local or international, and it is crucial to differentiate yourself from the rest. That’s a challenge in itself that I enjoy personally.”
By now, Mopy’s barks begin to get louder. Still, Tiara is unfazed and collected. “At the end of the day, it is gratifying to see that my customers often return back for more. It comforts me to know that they’re satisfied with what I’m doing.”
Tiara then cheerfully says, “Look, Mopy is calling out for me.” She turns to face Mopy and replies, “Wait for me, yeah?”
“But ultimately, it is a designer’s duty to inspire.”
Now that she has established a signature of her own, will we see her branching off to another distinctive style?
“No. I want to keep it that way for now,” she answers with a smile.
All of sudden, Kelly burrows her face into the sofa. Tiara giggles and asks, “Why are you hiding? Are you shy?”
I say since competition is getting tougher and fiercer, isn’t it perilous to stick to a style indefinitely where getting copied by other designer is a high-risk?
“I don’t mind. I’m actually flattered if someone were to copy my works,” she laughs. “I definitely take that as a compliment. It means I’m inspiring someone. I guess it’s a good challenge for me to evolve and create something new too, where hopefully it will spark another new wave of interests.”
“I know there are designers who get angry when their works get copied,” she says while calmly petting Kelly from her head down to the base of her tail. “But ultimately, it is a designer’s duty to inspire.”