A Day In The Life With Koala’s Product Design Director, Alexandra Owen


Hailing from New Zealand where she helmed her own high-end fashion label, it wasn’t long until Alexandra Owen took the rest of the design world by storm.

After meeting her husband James Whitta, who was running furniture brand Conscious Design at the time, the couple realised they worked best when putting their creative minds together. And so began a lifelong partnership of innovation, design, love and travel!

The pair soon moved to Melbourne where they worked at Country Road, and Alexandra began developing an interest in homewares and textiles — particularly the innovative work Scandinavian designers were doing to change up home decor.

‘A colleague of ours moved to Sweden to work for IKEA, and approached us to work there,’ Alexandra says. ‘It was exciting and terrifying given it was so far away.’

But she quickly adapted to their new Scandinavian lifestyle with the furniture and homewares juggernaut, where she collaborated with some of the biggest names in the design industry, including Ilse Crawford and Marimekko.

‘Living in Scandinavia taught me I knew nothing in comparison to the locals about home furnishing,’ says Alexandra. ‘I learned just as much from visiting homes as I did living next to Copenhagen, and spending every weekend scouring the best home stores in the world.’

After four years in Sweden, James and Alexandra were poached by Australian furniture label Koala, leading to their move back to Sydney. Since then, they’ve been focusing on expanding the brand’s furniture range, ensuring each piece is accessible, sustainable, beautiful and ‘uniquely Aussie’.

‘I think the majority of Australia still thinks of Koala as a mattress company,’ Alexandra explains. ‘Whilst this is a big part of our original market disruption, we are now huge players in sofa beds, sofas, storage and accessories.’

As the brand’s director of product design, Alexandra recently played a big role in launching its new Bangalow Modular sofa — a cushy, curvy and customisable sofa complete with chunky piping and luxe boucle material.

Alexandra and her team design every product and frabic from scratch, allowing them to ‘shape every part of the process’. This is all with the goal of offering designer quality at accessible prices… ‘something everyone can have and treasure’, says Alexandra.

‘The launch of the recent Bangalow was one of my proudest moments,’ she says. ‘(It) was a tipping point for the new direction of Koala.’

Below, Alexandra takes us through her typical ‘day’:

First Thing

I wake up at 5.30am if I have slept well, or 7.00am if I haven’t — I’m only a morning person if I get a good sleep. Also, our two cats demand a lot of attention and require us feeding and petting them urgently.

Then, coffee! We bought a lovely coffee machine during Covid, and waking up to freshly ground espresso and well-textured milk is the joy of every morning. Otherwise mornings are a bit hectic trying to fit in all the tasks before getting to work — checking the news, exercising, Instagram, emails and planning the day out.

I make amazing green smoothies in the morning with more greens in it than a salad. The health descends during the day but I try to start right.

Morning

I do pre-work and planning before I get to the office at 8.30am-ish. This allows me to start with a clear head and be able to be available in the office first thing. I walk a whopping eight minutes from my apartment to the Koala offices.

I normally catch up with Koala’s design manager, Adam over coffee (almond flat whites are my go-to), then we will look at design boards together. We usually have morning meetings with the design team, reviewing new sketches and concepts, and workshopping what the path forward is.

Lunchtime

Almost everyday I make time to stop and sit with others for lunch. If I don’t do this, I find the day compounds and can be overwhelming. I will generally eat avocado on toast from the Koala kitchen, or a classic caesar salad from the Meat Emporium over the road from us.

Afternoon

My typical afternoon tasks involve setting up design presentations for the next day in our design space, and meeting with our product leadership team to discuss priorities. We are always looking at how well set up we are to succeed in the short, medium and long term.

I generally meet with my textiles team in the afternoons as well, planning new textile developments, weaves, yarn qualities, colours and treatments.

Evening

I will often leave the office after 5.00pm to get home to feed the cats, but pick up the focus tasks at home which I wasn’t able to get to in the day. I really like using the office time for connection and home time for focus. I definitely need both and don’t work well creatively or strategically without being at our offices.

As for dinner, we have roasted greens, legumes and grilled chicken A LOT.

Last Thing

I always change my work clothes into loungewear as soon as I’ve finished up work tasks. Then showering, skincare rituals, tea and spending time with our cats are all part of my wind-down routine. I’m generally asleep between 9.00-10.00pm. I need at least seven hours — any less and I’m grumpy to be around.

Right now I’m listening to, watching, and reading… I’m listening to The Design Files Talks. I’m watching The Jinx. And I’m reading Ego Free Leadership by Brandon Black and Shane Hughes.

I get my best work done when… I’m around creative thinkers who see beyond what’s in front of them.

My productivity tool/tip is… I like to move quickly on things and knock them out to keep momentum. I’m not at all one for procrastination or hanging on to ideas, I’m always moving on to the next and find that the best work is always yet to come!

A philosophy I live and work by is… Everyone deserves good design, it is not a privilege but a human need. Great design brings joy everywhere.

Head to Koala to check out their full range of Australian-designed furniture at down-to-earth prices!





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