With grazing platters gaining popularity as a prerequisite for any impressive event, it’s no wonder Sydney-based friends Amy Middlemiss and Jess Cornell were inspired to turn their love for a good cheese board into a full-time gig. Combining Amy’s experience as an events manager and Jess’ interior design background, the two joined forces to start Eleven Events, a food styling company which acts as an expression of their wanderlust nature—finding the perfect balance between a tendency to indulge and a passion for wellness. They work with a number of health food brands that align with their sustainability ethos and their epic table settings are amongst some of the most Instagrammable you’ll ever come across. Here, we sit down with the girls and chat all things career, inspiration, creativity, style and of course, food.
What were you doing prior to launching Eleven?
A: I was working as the event and office manager for a small oceanic sports business, and before that, I had worked at an event and entertainment company, as an Events Manager. I have always wanted to own my own business and was close to starting a restaurant at one point. I was lucky enough to work for some amazing people that were not only inspiring business owners themselves but also super supportive when I decided that I wanted to pursue Eleven with Jess. J: I had studied Interior Design and was working as a Stylist for Totem Road, a beautiful sustainable furniture company. It was teaching me so much about the industry, running photoshoots and styling as well as a glimpse into the life of managing social media. However once Amy and I started Eleven I knew where my heart was, styling events has its own special place and feeling of satisfaction. You can be so much more creative, come up with different and interesting concepts and ideas and it feels good being able to bring people so much happiness, even if it’s just for a short period of time.
What was the inspiration behind Eleven events?
A: It was inspired by lots of different ideas coming together. But really from wanting to start our own business that has a low impact on the environment, looks beautiful and is enjoyed by other people. J: It really was inspired by so many different ideas and ventures we both wanted to pursue, Amy coming from a hospitality and events background and mine more styling we were trying to think of what we could both combine. The initial inspiration was for more of a bar cart as Amy wanted to open a restaurant, I was going to help her design it and then we just got so excited working together and it escalated from there.
Where did the name come from?
Both: It was our first “business trip”, we were flying from Melbourne to Sydney to have a look at a caravan bar that was for sale. We had out our little notebook and were running over favourite words, different meanings and then got onto numbers. Eleven is a number that means something to both of us and after experimenting writing it out we realised how much we loved the sound of Eleven Events, it just felt right. We then did some research and the number 11 actually represents balance, which is exactly the idea behind all our creations and what we wanted to express through Eleven.
Have you both always had an interest in events/pretty things?
A: Yes! Definitely in events and seeing something you have designed and planned come to life. All your hard work paying off and seeing people enjoy themselves. It makes it all worth it. J: Yes always have and I think always will. My mum said since I was young I was attracted to anything pretty so I guess I was destined to do something that involves creating or making beautiful ideas come to life. Events not so much to begin with, Amy and I actually always used to plan and organise my sisters birthday parties so maybe that planted the seed. But now I can’t imagine not being a part of it.
How do your roles differ within the business?
A: We never set out to have defined roles, and they evolved organically. Jess is behind the graphic/digital designs and predominantly does a lot of the sourcing of our props and styling items. Her background is style heavy so I take her lead in the arena. I love the creative aspect of our business but I am also a logistics and operations nerd. Luckily for us, we have different strengths and weaknesses but love the things we are strong at, and are happy for the other one to take the lead when its not our forte. But to be fair we work together on everything, all ideas and concepts, and then execute our different tasks to make it all come together.
What was the hardest part of launching your business?
Both: Realising that sometimes no matter how much you plan and budget, the universe may have other plans. This was particularly true when it came to designing and developing the bar. It was supposed to take 8 weeks… in reality, it was 8 months!
What has been the most rewarding part of your business journey thus far?
A: I think just doing an event and stepping back and being so proud. Every event and creation is different, and we have worked with some amazing people and brands. I think just seeing people come together and enjoy what we have designed, whether it be a grazing table or a cocktail we have curated. It is also amazing to be able to enjoy all this with your best friend, I don’t know how sole business owners do it. J: I would definitely have to agree with Amy, regardless of how different the event is, it really is about being able to watch it all come to life. From that initial enquiry to developing and creating the concept and then watching it all come to life. Being able to create something for someone and bring them happiness is the best feeling in the world and I could not do it without Amy or would I ever want to!
Where do you draw inspiration from for the styling part of the business?
Both: Our styling inspiration honestly began with us just using different pieces from Jess’s house but I think we definitely both lean towards a more bohemian feel, Jess growing up in Byron and Amy on Bondi Beach, we honestly find inspiration in our everyday lives. You can’t go past mentioning social media, it’s amazing being able to see what other talented and creative people are doing all over the world having both travelled quite a lot we definitely get a lot of inspiration from our travels. Stay tuned for what Jess is sourcing from Bali!
Can you explain the creative process from start to finish?
A: It usually starts with the event or concept, we brainstorm ideas and the vibe we want to create. Lots of googling for images and looking at some of our past events for references for mood boards (thank you Jess!). We discuss each aspect a lot and map it all out. Make sure our clients sign off on it and then go for it. I feel like a lot of the time, although we plan all the details, it’s the ‘in the moment’ things that look make it look the best.
Do you have any favourite health food brands that you work with?
A: I love all the Orchard Street spreads, we use the turmeric and macadamia one all the time on our breakfast boards. Could eat it with a spoon! J: Yes if you haven’t tried the turmeric and macadamia spread then you haven’t lived, the Hazelnut spread also tastes exactly like Nutella… Honestly, every product we use we love to eat ourselves and that’s really the whole idea behind Eleven. We would never put anything out there that we wouldn’t eat ourselves and the same with where we get it from, we eat from the farmers market so you eat from the farmers market. I also have to mention Pana Chocolate and Loco Love Chocolates, definitely a favourite on all the feasts and usually the first to get demolished.
Best piece of advice for women who are thinking of branching out, quitting their day job and following their passion?
Both: Just start. The more you talk about doing something the less likely you are to do it. You might not be able to quit your day job, you might just have to work on your business either side of the working day, or go part-time, however, making the first step will keep that momentum going. And lean on the people around you, you will be surprised on how willing people are to help you and support you reach your vision.
Sourcing quality, local and sustainable produce where possible is part of your ethos. Why is this an important aspect?
Both: From the start, we knew that whatever we were going to create had to be as ethically and sustainably sourced as much as possible. We strive to do this in our daily life, and understand not everyone is perfect and there are still so many aspects of the business where we could improve but every little bit of effort helps. We wanted people to enjoy our creations guilt-free, whether that be free from sugar and preservatives or knowing that our meats and cheeses etc are being sourced responsibly. We are really lucky that we have been able to partner with like-minded brands – such as yourselves, to get the message out there and that is something really special.
Your all-time favourite food that no grazing platter is complete without?
Both: We would both agree that our favourite thing to put on one of our feasts would have to be cheese, I mean you can’t go wrong with a good cheese, no matter what else is on there. Whether it’s our signature organic triple cream brie, goats cheese, handmade vegan cheese or that super stinky blue, it is unavoidable. Visit www.eleven-events.com.au for more!