We spoke to multidisciplinary artist and entrepreneur Dexter Biyela from his home in South Africa via Zoom.
Dexter has had a diverse and well-rounded journey to get where he is now from studying communications to music management to setting up his brand, Creative Cartel, almost a year ago. We had the chance to chat to Biyela about maximising time management and the beautiful sweet spots that sits between the commercial and the artistic.
Wishu: How did your passion for storytelling, identity and design come about? First memory.
Dexter: My mum is a screenwriter for TV and has been doing that for over a decade so that has its influence on storytelling. I also used to manage music artists which is where I discovered I was good with writing hooks. When I discovered that about myself I realised that maybe I had a knack for building brands. I was always fascinated by brand identity as a young child. I used to wonder what makes Nike, Nike and what makes Coca Cola its iconic name. I want to build companies so that they have a realistic impact in the real world. I’m also such a sponge. I love to read and absorb information and consume data with regards to my niche.
Wishu: I guess in a way artists are brands in themselves and have to tell a story via songs, hooks and image, so it’s interesting that you went from music to brand identity. Your brand Creative Cartel is approaching its one year anniversary. Could you tell us about its beginnings and why you started it during the pandemic?
Dexter: I was studying creative brand communications in 2013, but dropped out due to complications in my personal and academic life but that decision led me to music management. While managing artists, I did a lot of graphic design work and it got me thinking why shouldn’t I provide these services to clients? So I started doing that for 3 months as a freelancer but after researching I realised that within my field in South Africa, freelancers are sort of looked down upon and therefore paid less. For this reason I started research on how to start my own agency, I re-enrolled to study strategic brand communications, I became active on LinkedIn and it started to snowball. I’ve never marketed myself because one job has led to another. Word of mouth is so powerful.
Wishu: Did you find that you got a lot of business in the pandemic also due to brands turning an eye to brand identity with the rise of TikTok and increase in social media use during the lockdowns?
Dexter: At first it was frustrating because in SA freelancers aren’t fully taken seriously and branding doesn’t seem fully understood as of yet. The people who understand branding are only comfortable hiring bigger agencies. With the new agencies they’re a little hesitant so I needed to find a sweet spot. I found that by doing work overseas and that’s helped me get more consultancy work from SA – there’s a sense of respect there.
Wishu: You’ve evolved in such a short space of time. Could you also tell us about the growth you have witnessed over the past eleven months?
Dexter: I’m someone who loves to learn and am fascinated by technology. I’ve been incorporating a heightened sense of tech within the services I offer in the past 6 months such as more AI within the web building space as well as a sense of automation. I also research brand/business intelligence for my clients so they can make informed decisions. I’m still studying and don’t graduate until next year so the more I learn the more I can offer.
Wishu: Does juggling studies with Creative Cartel affect your relationship with time management? As in you maximise the knowledge you’re learning?
Dexter: Exactly that. I learn the basis and structure and it helps that I study online – that saves a lot of time. I want to maximise every hour I have so I have the time to take on clients and be there and present for that hour call. School is the framework and then what I do on top makes the infrastructure my own.
Wishu: On your LinkedIn you describe yourself as an Ambivert – how would you relate this in regards to networking in the industry and developing creative relationships?
Dexter: I’m a very outgoing person but Covid forced me to hone in and look at the man in the mirror so I found out things about myself that I hadn’t caught up with. So I say I’m an ambivert now because I’ve only recently been appreciating my quiet and at home side. But I appreciate my social time because that’s how I understand people and thus stories and brand identities.
Wishu: You clearly have both a creative and logistical side. Do you feel like what you’re doing now with Creative Cartel allows you to have an outlet for both of those things?
Dexter: I think so because I’m looking to add more things into how we do things like content production. I’ve been producing music for thirteen years so I’m now looking into having an in-house music production part so we can produce soundtracks for some of the brands. I want to find peripheral ways for artists to make more revenue.
Wishu: How many employees do you have?
Dexter: I do everything on my own right now but if I’m overwhelmed I have a group of freelancers at hand who I have a great understanding with. I can also partner with small creative agencies that have a niche and we collaborate on a brief together.
Wishu: What are your references when designing identities?
Dexter: At the beginning it was more retail based but since working in the music sphere I’m interested in record label branding and music branding such as Beats by Dre. I’m super keen on technology too, like how Apple stays elegant and advanced with succinct branding. I’ll find brands that are relevant to the brief and get inspired.
Wishu: Brands like Apple demonstrate such a great balance between the artistic and the commercial when it comes to their references. Do you apply the same to your work?
Dexter: Absolutely. I look at the commerce, tech and design side of things and my job is to marry the three and the centre of those is where the magic happens.