Thailand Yao Noi with our Tastemakers from Alchemy One

In our Tastemakers series, we talk to Australia's movers and shakers to learn what importance travel has to them.

Five years ago, Joel Trethowan and Paul Scarf quit their full-time jobs to open up their own media and connections agency, Alchemy One, in Sydney. Quickly, they became the go-to agency for clients wanting a fresh and innovative approach and Alchemy One became a premier agency with clients all over globe. Between client visits and personal passions for travel, Trethowan and Scarf have been able to travel the world extensively. We sat down with them to learn how they take their artistic expertise and professional prowess on holidays and how their travels have made an impact on their work.

Man hanging from rope at graffiti area

7travel: How do you bring your artful eye to your travels?

Trethowan: Everyone has an artful eye. What we realised is most is important is to find the beauty in the day-to-day mundane things and listen to your gut.

Take a drive in Firenze that we did. We saw a sign that said “piscina,” or “pool” in Italian. We were driving on our way and we could have driven without stopping, just continuing the journey. Or we could have stopped, gone off track and followed a chance encounter. We did just that and what we stumbled upon was divine: a white calcite pool with hot springs. It was a moment when our guts told us to follow through, and it was worth it!

Scarf: The other half of this is avoiding an entirely set plan. We like to relax and immerse ourselves in the culture and the surroundings, taking a step back from the traditionally “touristy” activities or sights. When your agenda is filled with one day here, one day there, you don’t get a chance to find your bearings. If you’re looking for inspiration, you need to acclimatise and stay open to what the destination is offering. Find the grocer on the corner, find the local’s favourite bar. You explore the soul of a destination, and that is what generates a memory in your mind and feeds into your inspiration.

Man in dark tunnel with lights

That ties back to our work. Australia is so isolated geographically, so we are a bit insular, which is so different from countries like the United States, which in many ways feels more global. So when we have a client in a different city from ours or an entirely different country, we have to dig deep into what makes sense in their ecosystem - we can’t apply a “one-size-fits-all” recommendation everywhere. We find inspiration from what people love and respond to and to do this on a global scale, we tap into our strategic consultant network of over 160 incredible strategy and design professionals globally to help design connection strategies built for each market and their nuances, building passionate teams for each client rather than the archaic multinational model of being wedged in with a team looking after multiple clients and verticals. 

7travel: What destinations have been the most inspiring for you?

Trethowan: For us, we need to feel calm during a holiday so that we can feel recharged. We don’t see the point of taking a holiday and then feeling like you need another holiday. So when it comes to destinations that inspired us the most, I think of Kaş, which is in the Turquoise Coast of Turkey, was this bohemian fishtown that we’ll never forget. It’s a town that even Turkish locals hadn’t always heard of, but we spent every day swimming with turtles and unwinding.

Man standing on mountainside

Scarf: Our trip to Vietnam was another trip to remember. The culture is so incredibly beautiful, as were the people, as was the food! We came away from that trip feeling so relaxed and so happy.

Trethowan: Then there’s Barcelona, which will always hold a place in our hearts. Paul and I had quit our jobs and took three months in Europe. And it was when we were in Barcelona that Alchemy One was really born.

Scarf: Our experience there was one that you don’t set out to have, but it turned out to be the best. We stayed in a 30 Euro/night studio, practically on the street, and had almost no budget for activities and entertainment. But it was intimate and pushed us to get creative on no budget. Actually, that was the perfect lesson for us because that’s how a new business goes in the beginning!

7travel: Are you able to bring back what you’ve experienced on your travels to work?

Trethowan: What we bring back isn’t always a literal, physical thing. The more you travel, the more open your mind becomes. And it is that sense of being open to inspiration and constantly learning that allowed our business to grow. If you don’t stay open to inspiration, you’ll stay stagnant, and there’s nothing worse for a business than becoming stagnant. Pushing yourself to go out of your comfort zone gives you a sense of confidence and resilience that you can’t get from many other experiences. Take that confidence, challenge yourself to push the boundaries at work, and watch what you can create.

Rio De Janeiro Hang Gliding

7travel: How important is travelling for you personally and professionally?

Scarf: The importance of travel to us is imperative and powerful. Regardless if you’re away for a weekend or a week or a couple of weeks, it has an impact on your mental clarity and your ability to experience new things. It’s a mantra of ours to find time to get away and escape. Most of the time, we’ll return from a holiday and come back with incredibly fresh eyes and perspective on something that was hard to crack, or an innovative idea for a client who wants to lead their category, because when you’re away, the mental space lets you process and work through an entire idea. Today, five years after launching Alchemy One, we laugh about how we operated in the beginning when we were a team of only two.

As a new business, we would get calls at all hours of the night because of the time difference and we wouldn’t even tell clients where we were. We just did the work and made it happen. You just go with it!

Trethowan: It’s never an ideal time to go away. There’s always a next pitch or a new project and we’re always working. But you need that calmness and clarity of mind to give your best to a client. Appreciate the moment you’re in to use that as fuel for your business.

Man at Isola Santa lake