Justina Blakeney has always been creative. As a kid, you could often find her painting or drawing, and she’s long had a love of ceramics, knitting, and even playing music (she sings and plays guitar). For years she dreamed of running her own design empire. Nearly a decade ago she launched her blog, Jungalow, which quickly became its own creative powerhouse as equal parts forum and shop, overflowing with everything from in-demand rugs and quilts to throw pillows and dining chairs. The artist and designer is also the author of The New York Times best-selling book The New Bohemians, sharing elegant, easy techniques for transforming any space. We sat down with Justina to find out more about her journey.
What was your initial vision for Jungalow?
My initial vision for Jungalow is pretty close to what we’re doing now—a multidisciplinary design studio that focuses on designing home decor and lifestyle products that help bring good vibes home. Our mission has always been to inspire, empower, and provide all people with the resources to create homes that make them feel happy, healthy, and inspired.
How did the blog evolve into the brand it is today?
I started the blog nearly a decade ago in 2009, and it evolved slowly, starting with a couple of small brand collabs for a few products. Now we have 14 licensed collections, an online shop, and lots of fun projects and products in the works. Since my professional background is in graphic design and art direction it was very natural to start designing product for Jungalow.
What was that transition like?
The transition happened so slowly it was almost not noticeable. Our first larger product collab was our wallpaper line, which was a perfect product to start out with because it’s such a bold, visual statement. Those papers have become iconic for Jungalow and can now be found in restaurants, hotels, and homes around the world. It’s pretty great. I think one of the keys to creating a successful product line is to have a very clear vision for what will help you stand out from the crowd. Because I draw and paint all of the artwork for our surface patterns, my hand and my heart is infused into each item. I think it’s vital that that personal touch be there. Authenticity and connection are what makes brands and products successful I think.
What is the hardest thing you’ve encountered building your brand?
Managing the money side of things as well as a growing team have always been the hardest part for me. I would be perfectly content making art all day, but running a business obviously comes with a lot of other “hats” that need wearing. We are still totally independent (no investors), and managing cash flow is always challenging and pretty stressful.
What’s your biggest pet peeve in the industry?
Lack of diversity and representation. The design industry is still pretty homogenous and I think everyone suffers because of it.
What has been your favorite part of building Jungalow?
Having the privilege of sharing my voice, vision, and creativity with the world, and getting paid for doing it.
What’s your team like today? How did that evolve?
It was just me for a long time, but we started growing the team about three years ago and we currently have five full-time employees (including myself), one intern, and a couple of off-site team members who work with us on a freelance basis. My husband Jason does our HR, editing, and functions as our office manager, and I am the creative director and I help lead the team on all matters.
How do you split your time between the business side and the creative side of your work? What’s a typical day like?
There is no typical day at Jungalow. I do whatever needs doing, when it needs doing, and that fluctuates a whole lot. I actually do a lot of the creative work at night from home because it’s hard to be creative and get creative work done during the day because there are constant interruptions.
What’s been most surprising to you about this journey?
I think the most surprising thing has been that everything comes down to people. If you’re good with people, if you can relate to people, understand people, and listen, you can go really, really far.
What’s the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning?
What time is it (I don’t use an alarm) and that I need to get my daughter dressed for school.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on designs for 2020 right now. Everything from furniture to new wallpaper designs. Also, I’m getting my ducks in a row so I can buy a building for Jungalow. That’s one of my big business goals for 2019.
Did you ever expect to be where you are today?
Yes! I’ve always dreamed of being a leader in my field and leading a team and getting to be my own boss and be creative. This is what I’ve been working hard for. I didn’t expect it, per se, but I welcomed it for sure.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
I hope to be at a place where money is not a stress. I hope to have the opportunity to go abroad and live somewhere in Latin America for one year with my family. I hope to continue to have the opportunity to be creative, to inspire and to be inspired, and to do some social and environmental good with my business and personal life.
What sacrifices have you made for this work?
I’m constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I don’t see that as a sacrifice per se, but I do sometimes realize I’m busy all the time. There’s part of me that loves it, but there’s part of me that wishes I could just chill out and relax a little bit.
What does it mean to you to have “made it?”
It means I feel fulfilled: spiritually, emotionally, creatively, and financially.
Photos courtesy of Jungalow
This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Sixtysix. Subscribe today.