Introducing the wise and beautiful interior designer Anishka Clarke, one half of the New York based Ishka Designs. She dresses, speaks and lives with a special sensitivity to material objects and the emotion and environmental impact they carry. As the world seems to shrink and speed up, those who choose to seek out sustainable practices, true craftsmanship and authentic materials become ever more important for the future of our world. That’s why our newest muse’s story resonates with us so deeply beyond her natural beauty and the gorgeous photos of her styling some of OZMA’s classic pieces.
Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Anishka Clarke now lives in New York where she and her partner, Niya Bascom. They keep things grounded and beautiful through their innovative and minimal interior design work creating “efficiently beautiful” spaces. She takes us through some of her defining observations, wisdom and perspectives on creating a career in the design world by way of a 10 year stint in New York’s finance scene and roots in Jamaica.
Though seemingly quite different there seems to be a kindred spirit living in the hearts of your two homes. What is the biggest difference in attitude and aesthetic between Jamaica and New York?
New Yorkers and Jamaicans tend to project a very tough persona to the world, but underneath the tough exterior is kindness and generosity. In both instances, and in general, there is a constant creative energy bubbling at the surface, ideas being formed, and businesses constantly materializing. Unsurprisingly, the rugged, raw attitude that defined old school NYC reminds me a lot of Jamaica's entertainment, fashion, and artistic scene. The constant need to outperform, the style of dress, and the music really matches up to the grittiness found in those famous NYC enclaves. There is a serious level of risk taking that flows through both cultures that is undeniable. Unfortunately a rapidly gentrifying NYC has diminished its grittiness and constant evolution of self-expression.
New York City is a cosmopolitan city with a constant flow of people of all walks of life moving in and out at any given moment. There is no limit to the types of folks that are attracted to NYC given the wide range of leading industries - finance, fashion, entertainment, and design, to name a few. As a result, there is this inherent freedom to be or find one's self here, a flexibility to turn on a dime, and a broader acceptance and appreciation of the diversity of cultures, religions, and sexuality that allows for this metropolis to thrive on it’s uniqueness. Jamaica on the other hand is definitely way more homogenous but despite that, the country has produced some major outliers that have become leaders on the world stage.
What inspired you to not only change industries, but also start your own business?
I did have an ‘A-HA’ moment when I committed to switching careers, but in truth it was precipitated by a yearlong soul search into what niche within finance I should actually be working in. No wonder it took a year to figure out…I was barking up the wrong tree! The decision to switch careers was not made lightly but it did happen really quickly once I recognized that design was the only thing that made me happy to get out of bed everyday. That recognition came strictly from exploring opportunities to design for myself and friends while committed to a career in finance. It was not easy to walk away from a lucrative career, but I figured three things: 1. I wouldn’t tell a soul what I was up to until I got accepted into school for fear that their fears would be projected unto me 2. If I didn’t leap now, I wouldn’t be able to find the courage later on, and 3. If I didn’t go all in, i.e., go to design school full time, I would have had an excuse to bail too early in the process.
What are some challenges or obstacles you've encountered in your career and how have you addressed them?
Most of the obstacles we faced starting out still exist today. On the business side of things, we are not the most savvy marketers. We are of the school of thought that our work will speak for itself, but in this day and age that kind of thinking is no longer enough to have a successful business. Through experience, we’ve realized that sometimes it isn’t about the quantity of the exposure but the quality, so we are more focused on developing, maintaining, and sustaining relationships with the good people we meet in the industry and trust that will bring us the right opportunities. So far, that strategy seems to be working...
Do I think our company has been limited by gender or race? The short answer is yes, as a woman of African and Indian heritage and further as a couple of color in this industry (Ishka Designs is led by myself and partner, Niya Bascom). We have faced many instances of micro-aggressions throughout our 11 year stint in the business - vendors, contractors, potential clients. We typically address the offending parties directly and we tend to get mostly favorable outcomes. Other times we choose to take our business elsewhere cause it is not worth the fight. We are in a service industry and “ being relatable” is often used as a reason for not hiring us, whether as designers, panelists/speakers, brand reps, etc. Further, diversity is often not supported or celebrated as it could be in our industry, which is truly unfortunate in the world of design. Despite this, we’ve been fortunate that our clientele has been quite diverse and forward thinking and this has allowed us to do our thing irrespective of our differences. In recent times, some of our fellow designers of color have formed organizations to strengthen our voice and break down those “relatability” barriers within the industry, namely the Black Artists + Designers Guild and the Black Interior Designer Network.
You have spoken a lot about efficiency, sustainability, and minimalism in your work. Does embracing empty space as part of the interior design play a role in the spaces you create?
It is important for the eye and the brain to rest so that we can process what we are experiencing. Empty space or negative space helps that happen...
When we first started out we would start ambitiously and then edit down, but we’ve found it way more efficient to approach the design with key strategic choices and then cautiously build with simplicity, minimalism, and efficiency in mind.
How does your design sensibility go along with or against the grain of your wardrobe?
I’ve really pared down my wardrobe size and design style over the last few years. I stick to quality clothes, independent designers, two colors (black and white), very minimal jewelry and a few key statement pieces/shoes. I would say our interior design solutions have also moved along a similar path.
What kinds of things do you do to increase the sustainability and efficiency of the spaces you design?
Aside from the easy-to-achieve energy efficient choices like lighting and paint quality, we consciously seek out local designers and vendors using sustainably sourced materials and/or fabricators with a similar mindset to ours to execute our custom designs. We respect handmade over mass production. We encourage clients to think minimally and efficiently, i.e., to live with what they need vs. what they think they need. We also emphasize longevity of materials and craftsmanship and really lean towards authentic materials in their natural forms. This doesn’t necessarily translate to a stark empty space but it does usually lead to a reduction in the visual noise of a space and a calming tranquil environment which our clients love.
Story By Miwa Sakamoto
Photography by Niya Bascom