Paulina Paige Ortega’s path to designer and creative director has been refreshingly winding. In fact, the Sydney-based creative is most proud of the “openness” with which she has approached her career and the “multi-disciplinary, roundabout path” that defines it. Her diverse aptitudes – which span graphic and product design, creative and art direction and, most recently, publishing – have amassed over many years working in her home country of the Philippines, as well as in Singapore and Australia. As part of Women’s History Month, The Local Project visited Paulina at Laker’s Chippendale studio where she shared her thoughts on the importance of women “taking up space” through their varied pursuits.
As someone who thrives in the unknown and actively seeks out opportunities and challenges, the many compelling touchpoints of Paulina’s career are unsurprising. Today, she is Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Philippines-based activewear label Recess, and Creative Director of Par Femme – an online content and e-commerce destination for women. These somewhat varied endeavours are fitting given her background in graphic design and her work as an art director at a multi-national advertising agency, as well as for boutique firms.
“I felt like a bit of a renegade when I was younger, having seen a lot of my contemporaries follow quite a linear path.” She adds, “I wouldn’t say I meandered, but I definitely explored many different disciplines within design, and, for a while, I think that crippled me in […] deterring me from creating the kind of work I wanted to do.”
Reflecting on her formative years, Paulina says, “I felt like a bit of a renegade when I was younger, having seen a lot of my contemporaries follow quite a linear path.” She adds, “I wouldn’t say I meandered, but I definitely explored many different disciplines within design, and, for a while, I think that crippled me in […] deterring me from creating the kind of work I wanted to do.” This way of thinking has lessened over time; she now sees these layered experiences as fundamental to her dynamic output.
Upon moving to Sydney, Paulina was struck by the lack of women – and more specifically, women of colour – in positions of power, noting it fuelled a pattern of self-doubt in her practice as a designer. She believes this can be re-prioritised by women “taking up more space” in the creative industry through communication, practice and visibility. “My personal experience of it [involved] meeting some good people that I really connected with and built a very strong foundational trust with – creatively, personally, professionally – and from there, I’ve been able to meet more people, grow my network [and] partner with more people to produce things I’m proud of.”
“It’s taken me a while, but I’ve learned that the more dots you have to connect, the more experiences you have to learn from, the richer your work is and the more interesting your contribution to the world is,” Paulina says.
Paulina formed a pivotal relationship with CAON Design Office’s Jeramie Hotz whilst working for the studio in a multifaceted design role. Their professional partnership was the result of a fortuitous introduction made by a mutual friend. “At that stage, I was looking for a challenge and a progression from the standard brand identity work I’d been doing for a long time, and so that was exciting and interesting to me,” she reflects. This role represented her first exposure to the Sydney design community, and she recalls Jeramie – who was the only other woman at CAON at the time – being a “supportive presence”.
Similarly, Paulina’s involvement in Par Femme has cultivated many meaningful relationships, namely with the company’s Director, Monica Nakata, previously of Oyster Magazine. When Monica approached Paulina to collaborate on the publication, she leapt with a “beginner’s mindset”, no doubt buoyed by their strong foundational relationship built on a like-mindedness and mutual admiration. As she says, “I had zero publishing experience. My experience had always been on the brand side of things – art directing and creative directing campaigns, of course, but never the rigour of a magazine. So that was very exciting to me [and] it’s been very creatively rewarding.”
Paulina’s drive to explore the unfamiliar paired with her innate curiosity will undoubtedly feed a sequence of spirited creative pursuits stronger and more valuable for their undefined nature. As she says, “it’s taken me a while, but I’ve learned that the more dots you have to connect, the more experiences you have to learn from, the richer your work is and the more interesting your contribution to the world is.”