Designer tea: Two IDEA students gain invaluable experience at a luxury tea producer

Designer Tea

Two IDEA students have been working at a luxury tea producer, gaining invaluable experience

JUSTIN SCOTT // MANAGING EDITOR

Two of Capilano University’s IDEA School of Design students will soon be completing their internships at local company Tealeaves, a high-end tea manufacturer. Danielle Vallée and Fiona Dunnett found the placement for their internships with the help of IDEA instructor Judy Snaydon and have been at their positions for the past months.
Vallée and Dunnett may be working at the same company, but they have very different roles. Tealeaves started as a supplier of luxury teas to high-end hotels and has since branched out into selling their products to the public. The company offers an extremely wide variety of products, with numerous different lines of tea. Dunnett has found herself focusing on illustration tasks while Vallée has been more involved with the products packaging design and other design oriented responsibilities.
For Dunnett, the experience as an illustrator has been one of growth and learning. In accordance with their luxury status, most of Tealeaves products feature watercolour-based illustrations, a style Dunnett had to revisit for the position. “I needed to sort of brush up on my watercolor skills, because I had done it before, but I guess I needed to work on that,” she said. But, while much of Dunnett’s work is very much in one style, she has been allowed opportunities to show her personal creative flair at times when the company releases a special edition blend that’s illustration is allowed to stray from Tealeaves standard style.
An example of this was the company’s Chinese New Year collection. “With that one particularly, I was trying to think and research,” Dunnett explained. “I ended up with the papercut style because of that connection to Chinese art, but I was also looking at ink drawings and sort of classical styles as well.” Much of Dunnett’s work is done independently. She is given project briefs and deadlines and is then allowed to create on her own.
Vallée on the other hand has been a part of the brands design team. She not only works on packaging design, but Dunnett also works on the company’s online newsletter – an experience she has really enjoyed. “That’s not something that I’ve never done before and it’s nice to be able to work on,” she said. She particularly enjoys seeing the analytics of her newsletter designs and understanding what design elements are more effective.
In terms of packaging design, Vallée sees her ability to express herself artistically more in the idea formation stage of the process as opposed to the actual designing. Another aspect that Vallée has enjoyed is the business side of things. IDEA certainly offers its students a platform to push design boundaries, but the school’s programs don’t always include financial restrictions. She’s found the challenge of designing with budgets in mind to be an exciting challenge.
The main challenge the two faced when they first began at the company was their lack of luxury experience. “It’s definitely interesting to try to get into the heads of the clientele that I’m quite removed from,” Dunnett said. “That’s been a learning curve for me because I’ve never worked with a luxury brand before,” Vallée added.
With their time at Tealeaves soon coming to an end, the IDEA students are already speaking the praises of their experience. For Vallée, it’s supported her goal of working in-house as opposed to at a design firm. “I think working at Tealeaves has kind of reaffirmed that as well, that I do enjoy being in-house working with a brand in-depth,” she said. Dunnett on the other hand, has been comforted a bit in terms of future job security. “I’ve always been a bit worried, as an illustrator, about being able to get work, or not having enough opportunities,” she said. “But being with this company and learning about opportunities for illustration and developing that kind of information with a company that has a big emphasis on illustration in their work is really important as well.”
For the two creatives, their internship has not felt like just work. “It doesn’t really seem like a practicum or an internship, we’re doing work that any designer or illustrator would do,” Vallée said.

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