Blair Cooper has forged a successful career in what could be considered both a niche and highly competitive industry.

She designs retail stores and believes it all starts from the shop floor. To design for retail, she tells us you should have a background in retail too. It’s this realist and humble approach that’s made Blair so adaptable and given her a leg up when understanding the retail landscape.

Along the way, Blair’s been lucky to have the support of some incredible female role models and business mentors. Read on to hear about Blair’s career and the women who’ve helped her along the way.

You’ve carved out a super cool career for yourself. Can you tell us a little about it?
I’m the owner and creative director of Melbourne-based retail design studio Noise Noise Noise. We specialise in branded spaces and activations that help bring brands to life.

How did you get into retail design?
It’s such an interesting career path I studied Interior Architecture with a Major in Retail Design at UTS in Sydney. While at uni I started out on the shop floor visual merchandising for General Pants. It’s what gave me a real-life understanding of the functioning of a retail space, rather than just the aesthetic of it. I truly believe you can’t design for retail unless you’ve worked in it. I’ve worked in large advertising agencies, small studios, and internal brand teams before starting the studio over three years ago. These different experiences have helped me understand the various perspectives of the retail landscape and the design process, and has given me a 360 degree approach.

Who or what inspires your designs?
There are way too many creatives who inspire me. Thanks to Instagram I can have a visual diary of what is going on around the world. Brand experience studios such as Hotel Creative, Flyaway Studio and IDL Worldwide work with the likes of Nike and blow me away each time. Crosby Studios has fun with bold colour and form. Studio Blup creates amazing motion graphics that are just next level, and Creative Studio Unravel from Korea definitely inspires me with its choice of materiality and simplicity of form.

And with International Women’s Day coming up, what women do you find inspirational?
The risk-takers, the trailblazers, the women who are doing it for themselves. Women who aren’t afraid to step away from stereotypes and challenge the norm. Women who hustle, and side hustle to do what they love doing and to have a go. Women who further their education and keep learning. Women who inspire other women and give them support.

Have you had any strong, female mentors?
Yes, throughout my career I have had many amazing women who’ve taken me under their wing. Each of them taught me something both personally and professionally. Someone who I really want to acknowledge here is managing director of Country Road, Elle Roseby. Elle empowers people, she trusts in their skills and knowledge and always gives good energy in abundance. She is real, she is humble, a true leader that teams fall in love with. She taught me to work on these qualities, be a better listener and see things from different perspectives.

What do you think women can do to help and empower other women?
Funnily enough, I spend most of my days with men. I really see the difference between how men work compared to women. Men really seem to naturally come together as a team. Women – we need to build our army, and have each other’s backs. We need to learn from one another, respect one another. Push each other forward and do it together. We are stronger together.

This year’s IWD theme is #EachforEqual. What individual changes do you think we can all make to work towards a gender-equal world?
I think we need to reconsider the gender stereotypes we have been exposed to growing up. We need to help change people’s perspectives with a gentle approach to educate and inform. Times are changing and we need to keep pushing society forward to a kinder, more respectful and more equal world.

What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I took the initial leap to start my design studio Noise Noise Noise, even though many people tried to convince me the security of working for a large company was a better option. I was going into business completely blind when I come to think of it. Three years on, I have a number of projects I am really proud of. I’ve built strong relationships with clients, trades, suppliers and internal teams that make for a seamless process. I’ve won some awards, received some awesome press, and somehow even managed to keep the accounting in order. (Actually…. that's kudos to my accountant.)

How do you remain authentic and true to yourself?
The studio name embodies who I am as a person and what I do for a living. I’m extroverted and I like to challenge conventions and do things differently. Taking risks is all part of the design process, however when you are working for clients you need to know how far to push or how much ‘noise’ they want to create. Get a feel for what they want early on and respect that, but learn how to propose more left of centre ideas in a softer way to help them understand and come on the journey with you.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about your job?
That it’s glamorous… people see the end result and the fancy photos. I like to spend A LOT of time on site. Work boots and hi-vis, learning from the trades how things are built and installed, working with the teams that bring the vision to life. It’s dirty and sweaty, but it’s that extra effort and humbleness to learn and understand from those who do it better than you. Being a part of the process is what makes a project a success.

Are there any challenges women face in your industry?
I guess the interior design world is dominated by women, however when it comes to the ‘build’ it’s dominated by men. The problem I faced early on in my career was I really didn’t understand how things were built, or what the project process looked like – you don’t learn this at university or from behind a desk. Women in the interior design industry could benefit from going out on site, getting a little dirty, asking the builders more questions and genuinely showing interest in learning from them. Taking in knowledge from the teams building your designs will make you a far better designer and definitely more respected.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Know you are exactly where you need to be. Things happen for a reason and the universe gives you what you are ready for.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
To remain humble, and always thank people for the work they have done and show your appreciation big or small. It goes a long way and people remember kindness.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Running a studio, I don’t get much spare time. There’s always something that needs to be done. If I could travel somewhere new each month, learn new things, broaden perspectives, and eat great food – that would be perfect. At the moment though, getting an hour to myself for a run (let's be honest… a walk) and a coffee before I start my day is what I’m loving.

How would you describe your style?
Black on black with a street-ninja kinda vibe. I like geometric shapes and asymmetrical lines. I like to add bold statement pieces like mismatched earrings and coloured sunnies from the likes of Ambush and Gentle Monster. I have a 100 plus pairs of sneakers, so you will always see me in kicks. On my feet right now are the all-black Nike Tailwind sneakers.

Follow Blair’s career highlights here and check out the incredible business she’s built .