Smart by name, smart by nature. Carissa Smart was smart (and brave) enough to follow the advice we all get, but so often don’t follow: “Do what you love”. Aware this would lead to a fulfilling and happy career (and life!), even though it would also likely be plagued by the uncertainties and inconsistencies freelancers frequently face, Carissa turned her back on the opportunity of a steady Graphic Design job working for someone else. Instead, she followed her heart and her gut and used her graphics skills, her passion for photography and her impeccable eye for detail to build one of the most aesthetically pleasing beauty-focused feeds on Instagram and in doing so, a highly sought after content creation business. This “Queen of the Flatlay” is now not just a full time successfully self-employed graphic designer but her business evolved into a full-time content creation studio. And if that wasn’t enough, in 2019 she launched her own brand of chic and minimal accessories to keep the smart, modern woman organised, under her Instagram name Design By Aikonik (pronounced “iconic”). Below we see what’s inside Carissa’s VESTIRSI bags, while learning her tips for beauty, business, style, stationery, design and why you should dare to do it all.
What’s in your bag right now?!
It changes daily, but my staples are – Gucci card wallet, iPhone, sunglasses, my Design By Aikonik stationery (The Black Book Notebook and The Agenda – to-do list), a diary plus some loose pens, always a million lip products (Clarins lip oil, Sol De Janero Balm, Clinique Even Better Lip Pop Lipstick in Subtle, YSL Water stain, Nars Lipstick in Dolce Vita). I usually have a small “emergency bag” that will have some Band-Aids, Panadol, hair ties etc. If I know I’m heading out I may pack a mini bag of makeup with just the essentials – concealer, bronzer, blush/highlight, mascara and a roll-on perfume.
My LOUISA is the perfect size handbag, one of those bags that looks quite deceiving because it fits so much in it. Other than the leather being such amazing quality I absolutely love the statement red lining which always seems to get compliments. I love a bag that is completely versatile, with an adjustable strap so you can wear it on your shoulder or as a tote. A great addition to anyone’s wardrobe as it goes with any outfit and one that I can see will just get better with age!
Inside Carissa's LOUISA bucket bag - "a great addition to anyone's wardrobe"
As one of Australia’s “Flaylay Queens” you have an incredible eye and are highly sought after to create content for many of the leading lifestyle and beauty brands. As a result you spend countless hours each week photographing luxury beauty and skin products. SO, I’d love to know, what’s your all-time number one favourite beauty product?
The most difficult question to ask anyone that owns way too many beauty items! Other than my addiction to lip balms, it’s a dual-purpose product (so I’m sort of cheating) but it would be the Mecca Cosmetica Hydra Cheek Tint Illuminating Balm Duo in Blossom. Makes your skin look so glowy and healthy even if your skin really isn’t feeling its best.
The Mecca Cosmetica Hydra Cheek Tint Illuminating Balm Duo in Blossom along with other MECCA must-have beauty products, as shot by Carissa
And what about the must-have skincare product and fragrance you can’t live without?
Must have is obviously SPF. I was taught from a young age to always wear sunscreen so I don’t go a day without it. I love To Save Face SPF 50 by Mecca Cosmetica, also Queen Screen SPF 50 by Ultra Violette and Dermalogica’s Oil-Free Matte Sunscreen SPF 30. My favourite fragrance would be a toss between a long- time love for Givenchy L’Interdit, I always get compliments when I wear this, and Korres Aau De Toilette in Black Pepper/Cashmere/Lemonwood – it’s more of a unisex/masculine scent but I love a scent that is a little different.
A few of Carissa's favourite fragrances, alongside her VESTIRSI GRACE bag
Although you're usually behind the camera (not in front of it) when you are, you always look effortlessly chic. What is your style mantra?
Always keep it simple. I stick to a lot of basics but good quality. My wardrobe isn’t huge and overflowing, but I know with what I have I can mix and match and it all works together. Also, my colour palette is mainly black and white, with a hint of khaki, navy, grey and maybe some neutrals and rarely any prints. So whilst my clothing may be more “basic” I love to accessorise with handbags, sneaker/heels/boots, jewellery and sunglasses so I never get bored of mixing things up.
Carissa changes up her look with her chic sunglasses collection
When did you start creating your flatlays and what was your inspiration?
Back when Instagram started I did not get into flatlays straight away but I remember seeing Margaret Zhang do these incredibly detailed flatlays and I started to try to create some of my own. But it has taken me years to create my own signature flatlay style, although I love to make the very structured and colour coordinated flatlays I also have slowly evolved my style and do all types of flatlays which can be inspired by the packaging, the colour, the way the light hits, the possibilities are endless.
What’s the secret to a good flatlay?
The ultimate tip I would have is to be patient, flatlaying is like playing a game of Tetris. It is more time consuming than most people think. Even though there are no real ‘rules’ when it comes to flatlaying, create your own style, but ultimately people will engage by what you choose to place within it. I guess I have had more success with my audience when there is a colour theme involved or they subconsciously notice that there are items matched together based on colour which appears aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
What is the biggest misconception brands or followers have about your work?
A couple of things, that I flatlay all day every day which is definitely not the case and also that I get paid for every post – very much not the case! I am very transparent with my sponsorships and I would say I get paid for about 5% of what I upload on my feed. The other misconception and one of my most asked questions is what camera/filter/lighting I use because they think this will help create a similar image. To an extent, yes good equipment helps but definitely isn’t going to make the flatlay or image really any different. I think a lot relies on placement, colour and the composition of it all which comes down to lots of practise!
Getting the perfect shot: placement, colour and the composition...and patience.
Through your Design by Aikonik Graphic Design and Content Creation work you’ve always worked for yourself – I know many women that would be very jealous of the freedom and autonomy this involves. But I’m sure it’s not all roses…. What’s the best and worst thing about working for yourself?
I’ve worked both at home and self-employed for over 10 years and it does come with its pros and cons. I think the biggest advantage is that there are times when being alone is super productive and not having to worry about distractions, but alternatively not having the advantage of surrounding yourself with people for company and conversation and to bounce ideas off. The definite pro is that I can work on my own terms, have flexible hours and as well as determine who I want to work with.
With so many women now working from home with the outbreak of Covid-19, I know everyone would love your WFH tips since you’ve been doing it for such a long time. How do you stay motivated whilst working from home?
Having worked from home for almost 13 years now, I consider myself quite the pro. It does take some time to get used to, with all the distractions you have to teach yourself to be disciplined. Simple things like, getting up at the same time every day and set a work schedule (including giving yourself a break and getting some fresh air). Never work from bed, set up a comfortable space with all your essentials that can separate your “work life” from your “home life”. Staying motivated is the hardest, I love to write lists and set goals I want to achieve throughout the day, big or small. Turn off your notifications on your phone and set times for conference calls so that the temptation isn’t quite literally starring you in the face. Lastly, give yourself a break, get a coffee, set scheduled time for lunch to chill out and do something other than work. When you get back to your workspace you will have fresh eyes and be able to knock out the next thing on your to do list! More tips from working from home are on my blog here!
Working from home essentials with the VESTIRSI Tonia Tote.
What advice would you have for women who have a side hustle they want to turn into their full time gig?
Can’t hurt to try! I think a lot of people, myself included, are afraid of risk – obviously it's second nature to have doubts or feel like you are going fail. If it’s something that you are passionate about you have to be willing to give it 110% and invest your time to making it succeed. It may not happen straight away or you may not be in a financial position to go full time at first, but having a plan and working hard towards a goal can lead to so many opportunities.
You’ve since gone on to launch an incredibly chic monochromatic stationery line which helps the modern woman stay organised in style. (I personally love your “The Agenda” Notebook which keeps me organised on the daily!) What’s one career tip you’ve learnt along the way, as you pivoted from graphic designer and creative to an e-commerce business owner?
That launching a physical product and building an online store is not as easy as some may think. I was a little naive myself initially thinking that once I launched it would go flying out the door! But I am now enjoying the process of launching products that are really useful to people and continuing to find ways of promoting and showing my followers/customers the benefits of using my stationery. This, in turn also helps me come up with new ideas and ways of reaching a broader range of customers, especially internationally – which is why I’ve also created affordable and downloadable resources, for example, my printable 2020 calendar.
Design by Aikonik's "The Agenda" notebook alongside VESTIRSI Lindsay and some of Carissa's other monochrome daily essentials.
"The Agenda" notebook in action - all in a days work for Carissa Smart.
Whether you’re preparing shoots, shooting content, or running your own online business, there’s a great deal of pressure as online never stops. What is your top strategy for switching off, managing stress and maintaining positive mental health?
I still have to remind myself to switch off sometimes, as my job and my hobbies sometimes merge into one! This is not a bad thing but everyone needs to shut down at times so you can come back re-energised and with fresh eyes. I usually have a night off social media once a week to really switch off – computer off, close the door to my workspace and do anything not related to my work. I make sure I go to the gym most days, and as I work from home, I don’t get out often so I really use this time to switch off and unload any stress from the day – nothing like some healthy endorphins! I also love a good Netflix session or get immersed into a book so that I’m thinking about nothing else.
If you could go back to Carissa at say 18 or 21 and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
To go for it! I’m an overthinker, so much so that I probably lost some opportunities because I didn’t put myself out there enough, doubted my capabilities or thought about things for too long. This is really a confidence thing too, I’m not the best (and still not brilliant) at promoting myself and putting myself out there enough, something I’m getting better at and obviously wish I had the ability to do at a younger age.
We hope you enjoyed this interview! Perhaps it inspired you to pick up a camera - photography is such a great self-isolation activity and there are hundreds of courses and tutorials you can do online, many run by incredible, inspirational creative women. If you have any questions for Carissa or Monica, please comment below! In the meantime, stay well and stay safe xx