An Interview with Then & Now Studio

Marina South founded Then & Now Studio when she left the fashion industry in 2018. Having become increasingly wary of an industry rooted in high-level stressors, Marina set out to gain certifications in therapeutic practices, holistic guidance and reiki healing to explore what she could do to adjust attitudes and practices within the industry, as well as for herself.

Then & Now Studio is leading a new frontier in design and brand strategy. Working with artists and independent creatives Marina forms individualized plans which enable her clients to operate on a holistic and sustainable foundation and bring their business, their brand or their practice back to its core purpose.

Operating under the principle that modern disconnection from life comes from a warped perception of success which places material gain and notions of power or superiority at the core of our perception of progression, Then & Now works to return artists and creatives to a basis of truth, intuition, art and nature.

There’s a lot in the works for Then & Now; Marina leads a global course with Istituto Marangoni on Responsible Design and Sustainable Development, and is co-founder of We Are Formless, a social enterprise company encouraging social and environmental wellness through creativity, compassion and community.

We’ve invited Marina to be a part of our Glasshouse Hosts workshop series and sat down with her to talk about her recently launched Creative Soul Deck, and all things Then & Now.

Image: Then & Now
Image: Then & Now

What led you to found Then & Now Studio?

In my last role as Head of Design for a London based fashion label, I was immersed in a very toxic environment that only ever perpetuated more stress. During this time I went through a number of significant life events - a major health scare and my beloved cat, Meenew, getting sick and passing. To counteract these stressors, I began researching animal tested products as well as holistic approaches to work and life. I spent my childhood drying herbs and brewing tinctures with my mum in rural Wales, and can see that I’ve been instinctively returning to these roots.

As a Designer, my background was in the arts, I trained at the Slade and fell in love with this creative way of working. Progressing through my career I dreamt of creating a space that was about returning to a truthful and soulful way of cultivating creativity. Within my role as Head of Design, I found myself at a point where I could either continue moving further into a very conditioned industry, or I could commit to building everything I believed in. I left the security of my job and founded Then & Now Studio in 2018 to share my ethos with other independent creatives and artists.

I am an activist at heart and believe that, as creatives, it is imperative we cultivate our own creative ecosystems. Creativity is our power, through our skills and knowledge we can become pioneers of a healthier world that works for everyone. As creatives and consumers we hold the power to shape the world, by removing ourselves from structures which negatively impact our environments, we can begin to build creative independence, which I believe is the strongest form of activism.

What did Then & Now look like at its inception and where do you envisage it growing in the future?

I aim to always remain open and fluid to the unfolding journey of Then & Now Studio, I love witnessing how a creation begins to take on its own life. Conventional commercial business doesn’t allow for this intuitive approach and often stagnates creativity. I wanted to cultivate a space where I could encourage as many people as possible to build businesses that integrate intuition and holistic approaches rooted in interconnection.

What initially started as a consultancy for sustainable development and conscious art direction, has now developed a soul of its own. The reason we reference nature so often is to awaken the simple truth that we are organic beings, nothing in nature exists in isolation, all is connected. Once we begin to separate from this truth we lose ourselves and begin to experience deep disconnection. Art has the capacity to provoke the mind and expand the soul, we want Then & Now Studio to be a space for artists and creatives to connect back to this truth and purpose.

Even when we want to help build holistic and sustainable businesses we are still creating within conditioned systems. To build something with authenticity we have to create outside of those structures. It is a personal journey and we have to remind ourselves this is not about the number of likes or algorithm analytics, it is about returning to what is authentic and tuning into what the world needs now. Conscious creativity is about a new narrative that starts to cultivate a more balanced approach.

Image: Then & Now
Image: Then & Now

As Now & Then works to advise brands on how to create a more sustainable work environment, what advice would you give for fostering a more conscious home space?

My home is my sanctuary, I love nesting. I grew up in a working class family and creativity was always a necessity for us. At home we were making our own candles, bundling herbs for cooking and drying lavender for scent. I was surrounded by my mum’s cooking aromas along with Pink Floyd playing from my Dad’s workshop - it was an environment I felt inspired and stimulated in. I’ve never connected with themed interiors, for me personally building a space to achieve a certain aesthetic feels disconnected. My space is a constant evolution of my life and everything I own holds an energy or nostalgia and evokes my art.

The senses are intrinsic in cultivating a balanced and inspiring home space - sound, scent, tactility of materials, light that calms and soothes. I believe spaces should always be an extension of our personality, aiming to achieve a visual theme takes us away from what is true to us. Music and movement are definitely my medicine, I’m always creating playlists and that is a massive part of my space. I’m always burning oils or natural candles and am surrounded by art and my black cats! Sensory art experiences are definitely something I want to weave into Then & Now Studio.

We’re excited to be able to offer our clients The Creative Soul deck as we move into this new stage of the year. Could you tell us a little of the backstory behind the creation of this deck?

Nine times out of ten my ideas come to me during the night and wake me up - 4am is the witching hour and filled with creative downloads. The idea for the Creative Soul Deck came very clearly and was a very personal tool I felt drawn to creating for myself. It’s so easy to get distracted with the amount of digital content and stimulation we’re exposed to. Rates of anxiety and depression are higher than ever before and this new digital landscape is responsible for so much of that. I’m sure this is something everyone can all relate to feeling impacted by at some point.

Although there are so many tools and practices to support this digital burnout, I wanted to create something tangible and sensory. I wanted to create a tool with evocative imagery and words that could root you in your innate and natural senses. I write a lot of poetry and creating this deck was almost like writing a book. My intention was to form a simplistic, tangible tool to connect with when feelings of detachment from yourself arise. To create an opening for returning to your inner knowledge and wisdom.

Image: Then & Now
Image: Then & Now

How do you/ how would you advise incorporating the Creative Soul Deck into an intuitive practice? I’m not one for scheduled daily practices, it always has to feel intuitive. I dance a lot; music and movement are definitely my medicine along with art and poetry. I really wanted an immersive tool that I could come to explore whenever I felt called.

For me, I tend to tune in with myself and the deck a few times a week. If I feel like I need a little nudge, I just pull one card and see what it might invite. If I feel more disconnected I will create space in the evening with a candle, scent, and sound and meditate with the deck then pull three cards for a more deepened exploration.

Creating a personal ritual with the deck feels luxurious to me, like entering into a soulful sanctuary where I can return home to my natural self, disconnect from the external charge this modern world holds and invite guidance from nature’s wisdom.

How can this deck benefit everyone, from those who already have an intuitive practice in place to those interested in beginning their journey?

In this digital era, there are so many wellness and self reflection practices offered via social media and online, which is so supportive and definitely has its place. However, being from an Art and Design background I know the importance of tactile sensation when seeking deepened connection.

I envisage this deck becoming a lifelong tool - you immerse in the meanings, it travels and ages with you, and wherever you are you can call upon it. When you feel confused or isolated you call a friend and ask their advice, that’s what I wanted this deck to become; a means for your soul to become your friend, to invite it to guide you. This deck was a manifestation of the soul.

I don’t believe we need much in life, simplicity is where we can expand the most. The Creative Soul Deck is a tool designed to really deepen further into intuition. For some, this landscape of the unseen is familiar and practiced. But this is not an elitist tool, it is not about transcendence or awakening. Science shows us that everything is made of energy, this is fact, the deck is to encourage connection to this truth.

Image: Then & Now
Image: Then & Now

How would you describe the significance of exploring a personal intuitive practice to someone who has no knowledge of this way of life? Words and labels surrounding an intuitive practice can often feel triggering. For me, expansion of intuition, energetic source and soul are all one. They embody the energies we don’t see but feel so strongly - love, fear, sadness, rage. We all experience these frequencies, from the most logical to the most creative minds. It is about creating time to return to this universal frequency as often as possible.

There are many ancient methodologies being capitalised upon to guide us and our unique energies in modern times, but a practice really never has to look or feel a certain way. For me, my bath is one of my most sacred immersions. I see it as a practice and a luxury, I will often make the time to layer this privileged experience with oils, scents, candles and sound to create my own sanctuary. It’s all about how we connect to the everyday. We can make the everyday an intuitive practice. The art of making a cup of tea for example; we can rush this seemingly mundane process or we can connect to these actions in a meditative way.

As a starting point, I would recommend really checking in with yourself and asking what you love - create more time for that. It could be 5 or 30 minutes, but really make time for what you love and see it as a practice. When we try to impose too much structure we lose the creative potential of intuition. Whether it’s a dance, bath, or walk in nature, Intuitive Practice is about being witness to the present experience.

What does a day in the life of Then & Now Studio look like?

A day in the life of Then & Now Studio is never the same, which is part of the reason I love what I do. Not that running your own businesses doesn’t come with multiple challenges! I came from an industry that is meant to thrive on creativity but the more I progressed the more stagnant my creativity became. My job revolved around analysing margins and designing by numbers, something I know so many people in commercial creative jobs still struggle with. I am grateful for the depth of experience my previous work allowed me to gain in strategy and design, but I now get to cultivate a more balanced approach to work.

It was scary leaving that sense of security that came with an employed role, but now I collaborate with so many inspiring creatives and artists and I see my daydreaming as one of the biggest parts of my work. I used to attach guilt to this creative exploration, like I wasn’t focusing on the job at hand whereas in reality I need it, it is my sustenance.

Myself and my partner at Then & Now Studio, Nicola Rothwell, have worked together for 10 years, so even when we’re not together everything feels really in flow. We love to collaborate with creatives and artists, crafting meaningful content and products. Our days can range from hosting sustainable development consultancy with brands to styling on shoots - and then there is always the fun bit of birthing new creative ideas into the world.

Words: Daisy Morey, Marina South

Imgae: Then & Now
Image: Then & Now

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