#DIYwithDYD is a series that follows creative individuals. We learn how they made their amazing projects happen. First up in the series is Nicholas Christowitz. He studied Graphic Design at Vega, and is the co-founder of Father Coffee and The Bread. Father Coffee is one of Johannesburg’s best coffee shops while The Bread is a brand consultancy that has created projects that include Levi’s® Pioneer Nation 2014 and Ray-Ban The Order Of Never Hide.
DYD: You’re a Graphic Designer through your studies and a co-founder of Father Coffee and The Bread. How does your time management work? Are you Dr Manhattan or The Flash in disguise?
Nicholas: To be honest my time management leaves a lot to be desired. I’m still trying to figure it out. I work 9 to 14-hour days, 6 days a week. Sunday is my only day to myself and I’m incredibly selfish with it. I’m in Braamfontein by 7am and usually leave around 4pm to miss traffic, then do another few hours of work before bed. It’s not the ideal system but it works for me right now. Sooner or later I’ll probably have a burnout but for now I’ve got the energy and drive for it. The benefits of really enjoying what you do, coupled with the fucking terrifying awareness that it could all come crashing down around me at any moment, really keeps me moving forward.
DYD: Father Coffee has been featured everywhere as one of Johannesburg’s best coffee shops. Talk us through the creation of Father Coffee. How were you involved in the project?
Nicholas: Basically myself and my friend Angie wanted to start a little business and we chatted about it casually for a while. When we decided to open a cafe of sorts we pulled in our friends Barry and Chad (the coffee genius). After 9 months of meeting several times a week we managed to open Father Coffee, our very own little roastery and espresso bar in Braamfontein. Honestly one of the proudest moments of my life. Okay, that made it sound kinda easy. It wasn’t. There were tears. There were fights. There were loud debates over glossy vs. matte packets. There were times when I’d sit at home staring at a blank wall wondering what the hell I was thinking getting into this. It was a really hectic time for all of us… which is why I think the whole thing turned out so well. The evidence is there when you enter the shop. Even now, almost 2 years later, I still get excited every time I open the doors in the morning.
DYD: Father Coffee has an interesting store design, layout and logo. Can you shed some light on how to go about designing iconic things?
Nicholas: As a graphic designer I spend most of my time developing identities for brands. I honestly never knew how nerve wracking it would be to create an identity for our own place. You’re filled with self doubt throughout the entire process and then all of a sudden everything just clicks into place. We knew we wanted to steer clear of all this rustic-looking, faux-vintage, crusty “old-school” crap. We decided to take a more scandinavian approach to the design. Simple, clean and considered. I created the font for the logo after a few attempts and it just stuck. I’m still so happy with the result. Angie pitched the decor style to us and we all agreed and developed it further as we went. We knew if we created something striking enough, while maintaining a clean, unapologetically simple aesthetic, the marketing would do itself. And it worked. I think we broke Instagram on our first day. Obviously the coffee is insanely good and forms the core of the business, but having a shop that’s so easy to photograph has definitely played a massive role in our popularity. The space is beautiful without being intimidating, and that’s really what makes it so special.
DYD: You’re working with a different business model in The Bread because you don’t have a staff of creative people at your agency. Have there been any challenges with running the business this way? Or is outsourcing the future of collaborative creative projects?
Nicholas: I do believe outsourcing and collaborating will hold its ground in the years to come. To us it means we’re always working with the best possible people for each project. We build a team around each problem a client brings us, which makes for an interesting workflow. The challenges are there. Sometimes our team is spread over 3 different cities around the world and our creative partners are spread out too. Co-ordination can be tricky but so far we’ve been handling it well.
DYD: What three character traits do you need to excel in all the work that you do?
Nicholas: As terrible as it sounds, you need to dream big and visualise what you want. I remember about 4 or 5 years ago, when Wolves opened, thinking to myself, “Damn, I’d love to have my own little cafe one day”. That stuck in my head for months and before I knew it we were drawing up plans for Father Coffee. It’s a recurring trend in my life, seeing where I want to be and subconsciously working my way towards it, which is rad. I roll with it.
You really need to be able to make decisions based on gut feel. Logic, numbers and emotion will always play a massive part, but when shit hits the fan, or there’s a big decision to be made that could affect the next 3 years of your life, you need to rely on a bit of instinct. My gut has always been right except that one time I went for a run in the dark and hit a low fence and had to get stitches.
Lastly, I think the most important thing is to have just a ton of raw ambition. I barely know what’s going on half the time, but my desire to create and succeed helps me through hard times and slow weeks. If I’m bored with something I’m doing, or unhappy with the results, the ambition makes me proactive enough to change things quickly.
DYD: Have there been some difficulties that you’ve had to face along your journey? Did any problems flare up when you were building your own personal brand or through any of your projects?
Nicholas: I think the biggest thing was leaving Says Who, a company I co-founded with friends. It seemed like my world was ending at the time, but my gut told me to leave immediately because I was bored and unsatisfied with my work and my relationship with my partners. It was one of the first truly terrifying decisions I’ve ever had to make. The fear of going at it alone again ignited something within me and within 3 months of leaving I had almost tripled my income and regained my happiness. I got really lucky, and Says Who went on without me to do great things too.
DYD: What have been some of the highlights that you’ve experienced because of your work?
Nicholas: I think the first really cool thing that happened was Says Who getting invited to be one of 8 teams to exhibit at Gallery on 4th (The Nike Culture HQ at the time) for the start of the World Cup. We couldn’t believe we got chosen, and we got to watch the game with some really incredible people in a space set up exclusively for execs and friends of the brand. More recently though, finding work overseas and travelling as a designer, brand consultant and coffee shop owner, has resulted in me seeing some incredible places and meeting people who are way ahead of myself in the game. People also start to take you seriously (they usually don’t because I’m kinda young) if you have something they’ve heard of (like Father Coffee) behind your name. This is one of the original reasons for starting Father Coffee. It’s hard when I try give someone advice in my capacity as a brand consultant and they look at me like “what the hell does this kid know”. Now I have meetings inside Father Coffee and people are a little more inclined to listen to what I have to say.
So in recent years what I do has really allowed me to experience so much which in turn improves my work and general outlook on life. Having the opportunity to meet and hang around people who I truly believe are better than me in so many ways, inspires me to try harder
DYD: Your 2015 slogan is “Make Money Don’t Die”. What plans do you have lined up for this year?
Nicholas: Other than that I plan to travel a bit more. My girlfriend lives in Berlin which means I’ll spend more time there this year, but I’d like to see more of New York, I’d like to visit Tokyo and Seoul for the first time, and I want to start another small business that I don’t have to run on a day-to-day basis. Obviously there’s all that other stuff too: Running more often, quitting smoking, being more patient, figuring out how to brush my teeth without walking aimlessly around my apartment. The usual junk.
DYD: This feature falls in our “Do It Yourself” series. We’re trying to get young people to see different ways of handling their futures. What advice would you give to young people about starting their own projects and/or businesses?
Nicholas: Make sure you have some sort of fall back but work like you don’t. From a young age I relished my independance in a financial sense. I got my first job at 15. After completing college and embarking on this freelance journey, I was lucky enough to always know I could go home and eat for free at my folks if everything went to hell. I also assumed I could get a job at an agency if the freelance life didn’t work out (not even sure if this was true). I worked hard to get here but I managed to convince myself early on that everything I set my mind to was do or die. I haven’t had any big failures so far, other than some very, very broke months in the beginning. As long as you’re prepared for failure and hard times, and are willing to learn from everything and everyone, it will be a fulfilling journey. When things start going your way you’ll naturally pick up some momentum, go with it.
I also believe that surrounding yourself with people who you look up to will make you better in so many ways. Try to avoid people who don’t inspire you in even the smallest way. Cutting people off can be incredibly healthy. Try it with that person who makes you feel kak all the time. You know who I’m talking about. I can safely say everyone I surround myself with adds some sort of value to my life. It could be their work ethic that inspires me, or their patience that I wish I possessed, or the way they write, or the issues they debate; there’s always something I hope to learn whether by osmosis or by concerted effort. The internet has also made it much easier to connect with people in positive ways. Use it.
Photos by Yetunde Dada