You might not know Jonathon Zalakos by name. But chances are, you’ve watched his video on making a Cuban Chain.
That video, published on YouTube four months ago by the Bachelor of Design/Bachelor of Business Administration student, has garnered more than 7.1 million views. And while the number of views it earned was much higher than Jonathon was expecting, its success hasn’t been completely accidental. It’s been in the making for a number of years, going back to his school days.
His double degree at ANU is an extension of what he was doing in high school: industrial technology, multimedia, design technology.
“Pairing the physical production of jewellery with marketing content and online media is sort of what I’ve been doing since the start,” Jonathon says.
Because his high school had a woodshop but not a metalshop, Jonathon began his craft working with wood. His jewellery, he admits, was clunky: “Rings that were centimetres thick all the way around,” Jonathon says, laughing. “I moved on quickly from that.”
He has always been interested in making things for people; things he can see people enjoying and engaging with. In line with this, he’s always sought an audience for the things he makes.
“I’d consider business quite an innate feature of my creative practice.” Jonathon says. “Marketing plays big into that, having my work be seen.”
The two videos he has created (filmed, directed and edited) so far serve to substantiate his brand. He also creates image albums and posts on the streetwear and DIY forums he frequents, and participates in online competitions that focus on metalworking.
“There are so many facets of marketing that seem quite instinctive and are strategies I’d use without even thinking about it,” he says. Studying business and design at ANU, however, has made him more focused and deliberate about his marketing.
“Putting names to theories and practices with marketing and knowing the correct fundamentals before going around and doing things slightly wrong – it's good to be developing that awareness.”
On the topic of branding oneself, Jonathon says it’s a balance of aligning your product with what people want and making people want what you’re trying to market.
“My brand, I’d say, is an extension of who I am as a person,” Jonathon says. “I don’t think I could separate my brand and myself.”
In describing his brand, he offers the word “helpful”.
“With a lot of deliberation on how the brand is presented, how I am presented,” he adds. “And always thinking about how that will be interpreted by others. So it’s really self-aware.”
Awareness is a quality he ascribes as being key to his art practice, and one that’s synonymous with his interest in cyber culture and digital culture.
“Being aware and thinking on a meta level, I try to make create a space for reflection through my jewellery and through my art,” he says. “I create a platform where people interact and offer them an opportunity to be aware of how they're acting or acting in the context of certain communities.”
He elaborates by describing one response he has been getting to his ‘Making a Cuban Chain’ video. He firstly explains that the chain was made from brass but polished to the point where it looked like it could be 24 carat gold.
“People were calling the whole thing fake. Like, what was the point of making a chain from brass? It’s as if the value of what was essentially a prop dictates the quality of the production,” Jonathon says. “I think that's illuminating of hip-hop culture especially, where there is an expectation and delight in having wealth flaunted.”
“I also think there’s an opportunity to broaden our understanding of the culture that the video is responding to through conversations sparked by the production. I’m fascinated by online discussions and internet culture, I think it’s so much fun to observe from a distance.”
Jonathon believes that the community engagement the video inspired goes a long way to accounting for its high viewership. He is, nevertheless, surprised by just how well it has done.
“The lease I purchased on the music track that I used didn't cover past 500,000 views,” he says. “So I had to go back and purchase an extended lease.”
On the back of this success, Jonathon has been planning a lot of content for 2019. He’s aiming to release one video a month and has ambitions and engagement targets he’s hoping to tick off. He reveals that he’s also in early discussions with a media network.
“It’s far long term, but we’ve been talking about what programs I can create and share with the support they might offer.”
Jonathon’s advice to other makers is to spend a lot of time working: “The most important thing is to create non-stop.”
“Iterate upon the ideas you have and the processes and techniques you've learned,” he says.
“Just always be taking another step forward.”