Agata & Hania – Balagan / 
We’ve got all the time for family and friends.

Agata Matlak-Lutyk and Hanna Ferenc-Hilsden, the founders and designers at Balagan talk about the skill of delegating responsibilities, planning holidays and conscious decision-making.

In conversation: Bożena Kowalkowska
Photos: Maciek Niemojewski


How are you dealing with time? Do you also have too little time, like most of us?
Hania: I’ve actually had a bit more time lately, that’s quite a joy! More time for myself, more time to read, watch films, for walks, sports, more time to spend with people from outside of work. Which is interesting, since it’s a side effect of the pandemic – I wasn’t even able to spare the time to cook myself a nice meal or finish work a bit earlier before. I felt that an 8 hour working day has to last 8 hours. I’m learning to take it easy these days.

Agata: I feel there’s enough space within the 24 hours. I’ve thought about this a bit recently, and I feel like saying you’ve got no time for something is often just an excuse. You could find the time for anything, it’s just a question of setting priorities. I have quite a few aspirational ideas about my own personal development, and I’ve now stopped saying I haven’t got the time, I’ve accepted that not devoting time to something doesn’t mean I don’t have that time, it just means I don’t really want it enough.

How have you managed to do that? To find the time for your interests?
Agata: We’ve been thinking it would be good to pass some of our responsibilities at Balagan on for a while – the things we don’t really feel good at, onto people who know more about those areas. For the past five years we’ve literally ran like clockwork toy cars – we were doing everything by ourselves – from packing parcels through marketing, to photoshoots. We have since enlisted a few more people. Having learned how to delegate responsibilities we expected there would be less work for us, once we done that. But onboarding needs time, so the workload tripled for a while! Last year work was really starting to wreak havoc in our personal lives.

We were feeling burnt out, we thought the chase would never end. Luckily all of these processes are now bringing the desired results. We now work with people who have completely taken some duties off us, so we do have less responsibilities. And then on top of that the pandemic has really turned everything upside down, so all of a sudden we’ve gained some space – working from home, away from the chats – a space to look at the ceiling and really contemplate the state of things, really think about what suits us and what doesn’t…

Hania: And thanks to all that we’re really having a very cool moment at the company – we’re finally going back to our roots. We founded Balagan as two designers, with no experience or understanding of business. And although I have very fond memories of the times when we worked the tills and packed the orders ourselves, it’s creative brand development, conceptualizing and designing products that really gives us a buzz and that’s what we’re really good at. Now we can finally meet up with the patternmaker for two days to discuss new models and move onto designing them. It’s a luxury and it’s wonderful! It really does the trick for me – as a human I feel best when I do what I want to do and what I’m best at. Ultimately it’s also in the company’s interest that I use my time for something I really know about.

When we’ve heard of people having to plan their time off a year in advance, we couldn’t comprehend it!

How about organizing your time? Do you do that a lot? Often?
Hania: Lately it’s been more and more planning. The people we have hired have spoken about the planning of our brand’s future steps as a priority. This applies to introducing new products to the market at a specific time in the year for example. The calendar has really become crucial as it translates into profits and losses. We used to really wing it, but we’re really getting the rhythm now. And this is a novelty, we’re still getting a grasp of it.

Agata: Judging by various companies’ standard, we’re quite spontaneous, we even plan our holidays pretty last minute. When we’ve heard of people having to plan their time off a year in advance, we couldn’t comprehend it! What? How? How can you make a decision like that a year in advance, how is it even possible?

Would you like to be able to do that now? To have the calendar worked out and know when you’re going on holiday?
Hania: It’s a yes from me! I think I might like that. I like spontaneity, but in my case it very often turns into putting my holiday off, there’s always something I just must do. I know I can’t blame it on work, it’s my own issue. I could just set that boundary and say nah, I’m going anyway! We’re our own bosses at Balagan, mistresses of our own time, we can work things out the way we want. That inner, imperative voice dictating what I can and cannot do, telling me I have to work my ass off is my own voice, it’s my own decision. And since I have that tendency I feel like making definite plans could really help.

Holidays without a laptop?
Hania: Yes, although it’s so easy now to just swap the laptop for a large screen smartphone. I’ve recently installed an app that blocks access to other apps on my phone, so when I’m trying to get into my email after 7 pm all I get is an hourglass icon telling me it’s too late. That really brings you round!

Do you ever unblock that?
Hania: Yes, but only to look for specific info. I don’t want to turn into a mindless amoeba scrolling through content I don’t even need. I’ve noticed I sleep, and in general, function better since I’ve turned the block on.

You’ve been friends for many years, you also work together on a daily basis. Have you established any boundaries in your daily communication to not get tired of each other?
Agata: That’s true. We’re constantly on a hot line, although we try not to really tackle any bigger issues after 6 pm. We’ve also stopped working on the weekends a good while ago. Every now and then we’ll send one another something inspiring, something lightweight. It’s really important – as you say, we’re friends, we spend time together after work, it’s crucial we give ourselves the space to talk about our needs and our relationship.

Hania: We definitely try to give each other a bit more space nowadays – we used to go on holiday together until two years ago! Our everyday interactions are really intense so we do need some time apart, another perspective, a different quality. Apart from that, our lives are really different. Agata has a kid and lives a different lifestyle.

That’s right Agata, your motherhood has coincided with an exceptionally busy period at Balagan. What are your memories of that time?
Agata: Great, it wasn’t really an issue, Hania is a wonderful business partner. As soon as I found out I was pregnant we worked out a strategy. Hania came over from Israel, where her husband lives, to look after our business. She’s taken over the company so I could really switch off for a few months. And thanks to that, I don’t feel I’d need to do that again, next time I would prefer to juggle my private life and my job from the get go.

Neither of you has mentioned time for your close ones throughout our conversation. That’s quite unusual.
Agata: That’s because we’ve got this space sorted. We have all the time we need for our families and friends.

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