MIRROR WATER: Can you tell us the story of your career as a designer? (If that’s not a huge question to start with!)
MANUELY AVILA: Initially I wanted to be a lawyer! I’m from Venezuela and in South America it can be quite traditional in the way that some people think of careers. I always liked design but my parents thought it would be best for me to have a more reliable career. So I started studying law and – surprise – I hated it! I decided to quit and switched to studying fashion design, but I still felt a bit lost and wasn’t sure if it was right for me. I liked the process of designing clothes, but I didn’t actually enjoy sewing or working with material. The speed of the machine made me anxious. Then some personal circumstances came up and I had to leave and move back to the island where I grew up.
In my spare time I was always playing around with a piece of software called Fireworks. It doesn’t exist anymore, but you could use it to make pixel art. My then-boyfriend who is now my husband was the one to suggest that I studied design and I thought, “Oh, of course!”. So I studied Fine Arts for three-and-a-half years (it was a five-year degree) but at that point the economic situation in Venezuela was getting worse and worse and we had to leave the country. My husband and I moved to Melbourne, Australia and I had to start again, the third time I started again. I studied for a BA in Design and I finished, finally! It was a long journey.
MW: After you graduated, how did you get your first design work?
MA: When I was studying I was contacted by another designer who had seen my work. She had a studio in the US and she wanted to work with me. I also did an internship at a studio in Melbourne but I realised it wasn’t for me because I liked to work more independently and with smaller clients. Thankfully and luckily, opportunities came to me and I got more projects organically from there. In terms of MIRROR WATER, my friend Yana is an amazing photographer (Yana Sheptovetskaya, who is known for her Gelcream project, and who curated the first MIRROR WATER playlist) and we worked together on a couple of projects. Then Yana mentioned that a friend of hers was starting a new project and when she told me it was Estée I was so excited because I watched her YouTube videos!
MW: Before you worked at MIRROR WATER, had you ever designed physical products before?
MA: Yes I had, but I never got to see them! This was when I was working for the design studio, so I was in Melbourne and the studio was in the US. I would make a design, the designer there would refine it and deliver it to the client. But now I have other design work that’s in stores and the MIRROR WATER products have been released, it never gets old me for to see things I’ve made in person, though I get very nervous before I see them!
MW: What was your vision for MIRROR WATER?
MA: Estée (Founder and CEO) had a lot of sources of inspiration—all kinds of things, like art, architecture, photography—that resonated with her idea for the brand. I asked her a lot of questions to get insight into her mind and I used that to guide my research. I also added more things that made sense for the brand, so I looked at old packaging, old pieces of print and that was my inspiration for the signature font. I knew that things needed to feel connected and grounded and I wanted the design to be clean to complement the products. I had this idea of serenity. Estée sent me a book about the artist Hilma af Klint and that was so helpful to make the connection between the elements of the brand that are about reflection and working on our interiority, and then representing that in a visual design.
MW: On the topic of interiority, do you have any techniques for getting past a creative block?
MA: It happens to me a lot and what I do to help it doesn’t have anything to do with creativity itself. I love getting out into the fresh air, taking my mind out of what I’m doing. I usually do some form of workout—I love pilates—and I get out into nature. I also like to look at what people are doing in areas of design other than my own, so I look at architecture and art and it helps me to find a solution for a design problem I’m facing, or it helps me get out of my rut because it makes me feel excited about design.
MW: Do you recall a moment in your career where you had a creative breakthrough?
MA: I never considered working on my own or that I could have the skill to create something from scratch by myself. I always thought I’d be working for someone else at a big studio. At university you don’t usually get taught how to work on your own and in this industry it’s easy to lack confidence, but getting feedback from clients and seeing my work in places like Los Angeles made me feel that maybe I was onto something. Then when I did start working for myself, collaborating with people online was very important for me too, like when Yana first contacted me. The realisation that I can make things with people all across the world was a big moment for me.
MW: Has working with MIRROR WATER changed your relationship with things like bathing, rest, and relaxation?
MA: As a freelance designer, it’s hard to stop thinking about work. And there’s perfectionism too, constantly adding or refining; it’s hard to find the line. But as I’ve been working freelance for some time I’ve had to make some boundaries. I’ve also always been into skincare and now because I’m involved with MIRROR WATER I have thought more about paying attention to body care, so not just for my face. I’ve also seen, for example, MIRROR WATER’s body meditations series on Instagram, and I’ve incorporated more things like that into my routine alongside pilates, which I’ve been doing for just over two years.
"It takes me back to my childhood.
MW: What’s your favourite product from our range?
MA: I love RUB Solid Balm. That’s my favourite for sure. It’s so multi-purpose and I have such dry skin, especially now that it’s starting to get colder in Melbourne. I keep RUB close to my computer so I can use it on my hands a lot. I like to rub it into my cuticles. It smells amazing and – I’ve been meaning to tell Estée about this – but it actually takes me back to my childhood because the scent reminds me of a forest back home in Venezuela that I used to visit with my family. The forest floor would be covered in this fruit that had fallen from the trees and it made the whole forest smell incredible. My dad used to collect some of the fruit that had fallen and sometimes he’d make juice from it. It’s great with ice shavings too. In Spanish the fruit is called ‘jobito’, it’s like a plum but with more tropical flavour and kind of citric too. I remember, I almost didn’t want to open the products when I first got them because I didn’t want to ruin the packaging! But as soon as I did the scent blend reminded me of the jobito forest. I want to send some products to my sister, she won’t believe how much it smells like home.