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IWD 2024: In conversation with Tegan Wotton

Sophie Gyles
 
 
8 minute read

This is part two in an IWD conversation series profiling some of the incredible women we have the privilege of working with. This week we speak to Tegan Wotton, a Creative Director at Melbourne agency Space Between, who we’ve been lucky to work alongside over the last 10 years. Tegan generously took the time to share part of her journey with us, including lessons she’s learned creating game-changing creative for top global brands.

One of six kids who grew up in a tiny village on the south-east coast of NSW, 38-year-old Tegan Wotton knows a bit about hard work, and calling a spade a spade.

Everyone who works with her will tell you there’s no BS with Tegan—she’s the real deal, and she pours everything into what she does.

To illustrate this point, while Design Director at Space Between a few years ago, Tegan directed a huge install in Queensland from a wheelchair, because she’d broken her knee playing footy in Victoria the weekend prior.

She kept her injury from her team and boarded the plane, broken knee and all, to deliver the project she had been working on for over a month. No one could stop her.

“I’m a pretty zero to 100 person, there’s no inbetween. I go balls to the wall; I go hard,” Tegan laughs.

Tegan’s journey into the creative world was anything but traditional. After school, she moved to Sydney, where she was noticed on the street by a basketball talent scout at the age of 18. At 6”6’, she stood out. Optimistic by nature, she decided to give it a go.

Tegan spent a brief period of time on a scholarship at a college in the United States, before coming back to Australia and moving to Melbourne for a fresh start. America might not have been her cup of tea, but her penchant for diving in head first when opportunities come up would continue.

Back in Australia, Tegan worked at a finance company for a number of years. But she had a creative itch, an interest in art and making, that wouldn't go away. It has always been there, she’d just never seen it as a genuine career she could pursue.

After travelling around the world, Tegan decided to enrol in a Media Studies degree to get out of finance and change tack. Tegan took four design subjects in the first Semester for a purely practical reason—they were able to be done by distance. But suddenly, she was hooked. She switched degrees to Communication Design as soon as she could. She’d finally found her ‘thing’.

“I’d never heard of design growing up, it just wasn’t something I was aware of as a kid in the country,” she says.

'I believe you kind of are it before you get given the title.'

Tegan studied design as a mature age student while working full-time. After graduating in her mid to late 20s, Tegan worked at a couple of other agencies before landing a design job at Space Between six years ago.

“I was a bit older when I came to design, but I advanced quite quickly once I started,” she says. Tegan brought with her more than a degree, she brought life experience, something people can underestimate when hiring.

Finding herself more passionate about the bigger picture than wrestling the Adobe suite, Tegan quickly looked for more opportunities to stretch her creative wings.

“After about a year I said to Dave and Ty [the owners], ‘I love it here, but I know I want more. What’s your intention for me? Because I’m going to get it—either here or somewhere else.’”

There’s something to be said for being honest and transparent about what you want, being clear about your ambitions and open with your employer. Within six months, Tegan was made Design Director at Space Between. “I’m a bit of a hustler,” she says. “If a door opens, I walk in. When they opened a door for me I just got after it. I didn’t even know what ‘it’ was before then.

Within a couple of years, Tegan was promoted to Creative Director. Working with global brands, dreaming up cutting-edge campaigns, Tegan has made her mark as an incredibly smart, talented, yet approachable Creative Director.

This kind of dedication comes with the risk of burning out, something Tegan has had to be careful of, especially since being diagnosed with bipolar and ADHD in recent years. She says the diagnosis has helped her to have a healthier relationship to her work, to not sweat the small stuff.

That’s not to say it’s inconsequential, though. A favourite campaign last year was a Nike (Pacific) campaign shot in WA. Space Between were responsible for the Concept, Creative Direction and Art Direction for the campaign which was photographed on the traditional lands of the Yawuru People, and the Jabirr Jabirr and Ngumbal People of the Dampier Peninsula (otherwise known as Broome).

The striking red coastline of the Peninsula was the backdrop of the campaign which features women of many cultures.

“Communicating with the Traditional Owners, going over and meeting them, and working with them and then being accepted by them on country, it taught me a lot,” she says of the experience.

“It made me want to ask, more than ever, not just who is behind the camera, in front of the camera, or who is the stylist, but whose country are we on? Who are we communicating with? How are we going about things? It was such an incredible and beautiful process.”

Tegan also made some new friends along the way. She’s stayed in touch with Diane, one of the Traditional Owners. “We text each other often and she sends me pictures of her family.”

'I didn't realise how still male heavy the industry was when I came into it.'

Supporting women and other minorities is something Tegan is passionate about. Around 2017, she started the local Melbourne chapter of Ladies, Wine, Design, a global space for women and non-binary people from creative agencies to share ideas, be mentored, learn and support one another. LWD, along with other groups like the 3% Movement, have helped increase the percentage of female creative directors globally from 3% to 29% in the last decade.

“I didn't realise how still male heavy the industry was when I came into it,” she says. “Regardless of men being allies and how much people do, [challenges] are still there. It’s systemic, it’s institutional. So I’ll protect women and push them forward; I will gun for women more than anything.”

Tegan became a mum 18 months ago, which presented new challenges for her as a female creative director.

“People say it’s only 6-12 months maternity leave but it puts you behind several years. I only took three months off, because I was so scared and nervous,” she says. “There’s just not the conversation, the support and the understanding.”

When it comes to having those conversations—challenging bias and sexism, educating people and correcting straight-up factual errors—Tegan does her fair share, but says it’s not always something she has capacity for.

“I am prepared to have a hard conversation, because people don’t get called out on their shit enough. But sometimes you don’t because it’s exhausting. You might have other stuff going on in your life and you can’t go up against it right now. Not speaking up perpetuates the problem, you become a passive bystander. But sometimes, fuck, it’s hard,” she trails off.

'I used to think that we shouldn't talk about money, when in fact wage secrecy hurts women a lot.'

So what does sexism look like in the creative industries? Tegan isn't a stranger to the microaggressions women experience leading or participating in a meeting where they’re spoken over, ignored or spoken for.

She's also critical of wage secrecy, something she’s encountered in previous workplaces. “I used to think that we shouldn't talk about money, when in fact wage secrecy hurts women a lot. I wish I’d known it was ok to be more open about what everyone is earning.”

Because of this experience, Tegan has made herself an open book for the women at Space Between and in the industry more broadly, helping other women to communicate their worth and know how to approach their own careers.

As for the future of the industry? “I hope for non-males coming up that they can hold space and their value is recognised. It’s always been there, but if we can’t recognise it, we can’t push forward.”

Whatever the future looks like, it will be better for having Tegan Wotton in leadership, spearheading change in the industry, speaking out and mentoring those coming up the ranks.

Check out @spacebetween on Instagram.

Read part one of our IWD Conversation Series with Jessica Gabai from Metricon.

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