Life & Business

Life & Business: Anishka and Niya of Ishka Designs

by Sabrina Smelko


Having someone to bounce ideas off of is important in any business, but in the world of design, that constant feedback-loop and collaborative working relationship can be just what a business needs to really thrive. For Anishka Clarke and Niya Bascom of Ishka Designs, their creative partnership continues to guide their business down a path of growth, but although their aesthetic is similar, the paths that have led them together in business couldn’t be more varied.

After working for a decade in finance on both Wall Street and in Jamaica, Anishka has spent the last eight years honing her voice and making her mark in the design community. Since she can remember, she’s had a strong penchant for art and aesthetics — which even led her to modern dance — so after quitting her financial job in 2006, she followed her instincts and enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology. Since graduating with honors from their Interior Design program, she has taken the interior design industry by storm and, for the last four years, has been listed as one of the Top 20 African-American Interior Designers.

After years working for other people, Anishka’a need for creative independence couldn’t be ignored, and Niya became the perfect creative partner. Having worked for many years in the film industry, within countless art departments — and as an esteemed photographer whose work has been shown in dozens of galleries — Niya’s experienced eye for design and innate sense for style has taken him into a variety of arenas and industries, including landscape design. Not long after Anishka graduated, she and Niya came together, and Ishka Designs was born.

With a ground-up approach, Ishka Designs offers design and construction services — from building to decor. Their eclectic, nature-inspired aesthetic paired with a modern, clean approach to design, along with their collaborative-working style, results in inspired solutions. With a dedication to creating “efficiently beautiful” spaces, their clients are always happy with the results. Today, Anishka and Niya are joining us to chat about their respective career paths and the biggest lessons they’ve learned since launching. —Sabrina

Why did you decide to start your own business?

Anishka: Multiple reasons really, however, the primary one was a need to be independent. After finishing design school, I had a choice to start from the ground up with a firm or learn the hard way on an extremely steep learning curve. As a career switcher with 10 years in finance under my belt, I had already done the ground-up thing. It just felt right for me and where I was in my life to make the leap of faith into entrepreneurship.

Niya: Ishka Designs is not my first rodeo, but made sense from a visual and creative development standpoint…an extension of my photography and film career. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and freelancers and so it was a natural progression for me once I finished college. All I’ve ever really known is the freelance world, working for myself.

Portelette Project Paris - 11 Rue Daniel Stern

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

Anishka: We had an organic approach at the start and kinda let the chips fall where they would. Ideally, we would be a full-service operation and as luck would have it, our first job was a full-service project. From that point forward, we knew that would be our preference: design, construction, build, decor with all the bells and whistles.

Niya: I’ve always been fiercely independent and drawn to the creative arts. After multiple freelance opportunities in film, I decided to do still photography full-time and on my own. Also, I had opportunities during my film days to work with set designers, which sparked the interest in interiors. I also worked at the Botanical Gardens which developed a love for gardening. Helping to develop Ishka Designs and ultimately joining the company just felt like a logical next phase.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Anishka: I have two pieces: Value yourself and your talent and let that reflect in the fee structure. Those were the words of my business partner, Niya Bascom. I am still perfecting that bit of advice. The second words of wisdom are thanks to my FIT professor, Nicholas Politis: Sleep if you are tired. This one I have no problem with :)

Niya: There’s a wise old saying that I heard somewhere: “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”  Basically, don’t count your money before you actually get it in hand. Many of us fall victim to this.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Anishka: The first six months were a bit euphoric, a new company with a full-service project…how hard could this get? And then the market crashed. That was in 2008. That steep learning curve I mentioned earlier? It was now tilting back on us. We have hung in there, though, riding the ebb and flow of an inconsistent project flow. All told, finding clients continues to be the hardest part of any service business, but it has become a little easier with experience and a growing portfolio.

Niya: Finding capital to support marketing, business development and technology. Starting Ishka Designs was not necessarily a fully fleshed-out idea months in advance, and so we kinda hit the ground running with what little we had.
Elbert Restaurant - Ishka Designs

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Anishka: Don’t get sick! Okay, well maybe that’s not possible, but having insurance or a back-up plan when you do get sick is so vital.

Niya: As mentioned before, don’t count your money before it is in hand. Assuming that a client is in the bag before the contract is signed and you receive that first check, is a big no-no.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

Anishka: The one that always comes to mind was our second major project, which happened to be in 2008 as well. The anxiety and stress happening all around the finance world was being felt on the project, as that was the world of our client. In addition, it felt like everything that could possibly go wrong on a project, did on this one! So many costly lessons were learned, the biggest of which boiled down to managing expectations. It is so important to set expectations early, to highlight the limitations and balance the pros and the cons, especially in interior design, where so many things are beyond the control of the designer.

Niya: It’s not an exact moment, but ultimately not trusting your gut. Putting the immediate need for cash flow ahead of your desire to actually work with a client. The result was close to disastrous, whether in the form of our team dynamic suffering, the design integrity not holding up, and the client feeling unnecessarily frustrated.
Portelette Project Paris - 11 Rue Daniel Stern

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

Anishka: Lifestyle.

Niya: Time, time, time.

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

Anishka: The fact that we are still in business is a success in and of itself, but I would have to say that right now we are very excited and proud to be working on what we consider a dream project: a hospitality development in the Caribbean. Longterm prospects, custom design, ground-up construction, travel, amazing clients, etc…

Niya: Ishka Designs is still here :)

What business books/resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

Anishka: Who Stole My Cheese and The Alchemist for inspiration, and Inc. Magazine and NYC’s Small Business Services for resources.

Niya: A mentor or business advisor is a great resource to have. It may not be easy to find one, but well worth it when you do. Another important resource should be education. Go to school, take a class or workshop, apprentice. Learn from others.
Raymond Residence for Ishka Designs

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Are you patient enough? I read a long time ago that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success.
2. Do you have the courage to seriously sacrifice your current lifestyle? There will come a point when you will have to sacrifice that holiday weekend with friends to the accounting or something truly mundane yet necessary. It’s worth it, though.
3. Do you have healthcare coverage? Entrepreneurship will be one of the most stressful things you will ever do and it will eventually take its toll in one form or the other. So best to be preventative, try to live as healthy as possible and get insurance.

1. Learn how to deal with constant disappointment.
2. Learn how to do without time with loved ones, oftentimes travel, etc.
3. Learn how to balance spending on an inconsistent income revenue stream.
4. Build relationships with those already in the field or just any range of entrepreneurs who’ve both succeeded and failed, doesn’t have to be in the same industry. Listening to their stories will clue you into all the aspects of building your own business and whether it is the right step for you.

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