A light-filled design studio tucked away in an industrial building on Palmerston North's Grey Street, oozes creativity and simplistic style. It's delightfully unexpected when you roll aside a heavy sliding door and the space is a true reflection of both Jemma Cheer and her synonymous design business.
Jemma knew she wanted a career in design and dismissed the urge to head south to join the creative community in Wellington, instead following her gut feel that Manawatū was the place for her.
“I enrolled in my design degree at UCOL, and it was the best decision. The creative scene in Palmy is truly special and I’m always astounded by the amount of talent in our city.”
During the first year of her degree, she started freelancing. Three-and-a-half years after graduating, she had built her client base to a stage where she knew it was possible to go into full time self-employment. She found herself a studio and spread the word.
“Three years after graduating sounds fast now, but it felt like the time was right and I’d prepared myself enough to take it on. I’m really grateful that I’m able to do what I’m doing.”
Jemma says it’s not always easy to start your own business, but her networks and support from the Manawatū community gave her the advantage she needed to get her to where she is today.
“Other business people and clients have all been so supportive,“ says Jemma. “I learn something from everyone and try to contribute to my community in a valuable way.”
Jemma works pro-bono with several local community organisations including The Stomach, Arapuke Mountain Bike Park, Just Zilch, and Methodist Social Services.
“I’ve always done this as a way to give back and make a change that may not otherwise be possible for these groups. A lot of clients I work with do the same with their skills in their communities.“
It’s not all about work for Jemma, who’s deep in the creative scene in Palmerston North.
“I love seeing the number of young musicians thriving at The Stomach, artists pushing boundaries at Snails, cyclists dominating up Arapuke track – there are so many people out there kicking ass!”
As well as attending local gigs and art shows, Jemma enjoys getting out on the nearby mountain bike tracks, catching up with friends over a beer or heading to the beach. She loves how accessible all these different activities are for her. With only a 15-minute drive across town, there’s always something happening around the corner.
“The accessibility of recreational activities is pretty unique in Manawatu.”
Jemma’s partner also grasped the opportunity to follow his passion and start his own business in Palmerston North and after competitively cycling in the USA, he returned to Manawatū and opened Central Bicycle Studio in 2010.
“We often chat about how lucky we are to have started businesses in our hometown. We both didn’t fully comprehend it at the time, but having a long history with a place and being invested in its future really means something.”
Being self-employed means Jemma isn’t tied to working in an office and when the desire to travel or experience other parts of New Zealand comes calling, the freedom and ability to work remotely offers her the best of both worlds. And being two-hours from Wellington, trips to the capital are a common occurrence.
“I enjoy seeing friends in Wellington, working, and checking out what’s new, but I always really look forward to getting back to Manawatu.”