Raise Karma Co-Founder & Design Director Osvehanis Osman might not have always known that she’d end up in this unique career position, but now that she’s here, she’s committed to playing her part. Armed with a degree from the world-renowned Parson’s School of Design and an international upbringing which informs her personal and creative perspectives, Osvehanis views Raise Karma as the ultimate opportunity to explore how design can change the world.
“I've always known that I wanted to be involved in design since I was little,” Osvehanis told me one morning, explaining her personal journey while I sipped my morning coffee beneath still-warm blankets. She’s spent the past few months of the pandemic with her family at their home in the southeast Asian nation of Brunei. Because most of her clients in the Western Hemisphere, Osvehanis typically works late into the night to accommodate the time difference. It was my first time meeting on her time turf — 7am for me in NYC, 7pm for her, a relatively reasonable hour.
In an eerie show of persistent colonial influence, Osvehanis noted that she was educated in the British school system while growing up in Brunei. There, she balanced art and design classes against the school system’s heavy focus on STEM. She ultimately committed to studying design and technology alongside art for her A Levels, receiving the Arts Recognition award at her high school graduation.
After graduation, Osvehanis was accepted to a handful of design programs in the UK. When she found out she’d been accepted to Parsons, it quickly became her only option. “I was like, ‘I'm going to New York,’ of course!” She laughed. Most of her peers were wading towards more familiar and still waters, enrolling in British universities. Besides, America was eons away, on the other side of the world. At nineteen years old, she took the leap and moved to America on her own.
“Moving to America really opened my eyes to how much Hollywood just portrays an image,” Osvehanis said. Part of this country’s allure had developed, for her, from the media she consumed — movies and TV and music, all dominated by the American entertainment industry, all highlighting romance and drama and fairytale endings. “America was nothing like you see in the movies,” Osvehanis continued. “It’s nothing like Hollywood portrays it to be. Union Square is not covered with fairy lights 24/7.” Actually living in America, Osvehanis began to understand “under the layers, just how fabricated everything is.” She longed for a more solid fantasy.
Fortunately, she’s a problem-solver.
Osvehanis’s father studied at the acclaimed Central St. Martins, Parson’s European equivalent. “I come from a very creative family — my sister’s an artist, my father's an artist, my other sister’s a makeup artist,” she said. Even her grandfather did carpentry. “The whole family was always creative. I felt like it was natural for me to go in that direction.”
“But I was less artistically inclined,” she continued. “I like having guidelines to follow and designing within those guidelines.” She noted that design is more oriented towards cause and effect, and that constraints add an element of fun by introducing some question to answer with individual flourish. “As a designer, there's always a problem to be solved in the world. That's what I found very interesting. Growing up, I was always taking things apart. I would build my own computers, I would take phones apart,” Osvehanis recalled.
After she moved to America and found her previous, rose-tinted illusions shattered at her feet, Osvehanis began to see the multitudinous issues that plague this place as potential design flaws to be remedied. She realized that she could change the world. Osvehanis noticed how cities like New York were designed to cordon certain classes into specific spots. She noticed how ableist ideologies permeated public transportation. “Opening my eyes and realizing all this, I was like, ‘why did we just not design for everyone? Why did we not just design to make everything more accessible?”
“Being in the design industry for so long,” Osvehanis noted, “it's important to know the rules so that you know how to break them. I think that's where I'm at now. We're so tired of the same narrative and the same rules that are given to us, and it hasn't been working out. That's why the world is in chaos. Now I'm trying to figure out what rules we can break. How do we do this in a more beneficial way?”
Raise Karma has enabled her to address this question from new angles. Osvehanis told me, “I’m finding answers through working with artists and consuming other art and design, other creative things. I can't internally come up with the answer because it's such a collective problem, the things that we're facing in the world. It's not something that I alone will suffer from. What do we all need as a collective? And how do we all need to heal?” The large-scale landscape of all this contemplation has guided Osvehanis to a place of radical hope and innovation. “Right now with Raise Karma,” she continued, “the aesthetic that I'm going for is very much like decolonizing your mind.”
Liberation is a crucial plot device in Osvehanis’s epic. After graduating college, she flew to LA on a work trip. There, she unwittingly encountered a man who would help change her life by exposing necessary areas for growth. Osvehanis’s momentary lover and teacher swept her off her feet, taking her to dine around the city of angels and booking flights to visit her in New York. However, his behavior deteriorated after she quit her dream job and left NYC to move with him to North Carolina. When she returned to Brunei at the pandemic’s onset, this only further agitated his mean streak, subjecting Osvehanis to further putdowns. Always searching for solutions, she saw that moving on had become her only option. She finally accrued the strength to release him. Aspects of her internal state required optimization.
“I had grown up and always been empowered. I come from a very female-dominated family where the women are really strong. I was always brought up in the mentality you never let men step all over you,” Osvehanis said. “But then I met him, and in the beginning of the relationship it was so perfect… Now in hindsight, it was all love bombing. It's like conditioning you to get addicted to those serotonin hits.” Discovering the formal term for this pattern and recognizing her own experiences in it triggered Osvehanis to delve into her own healing journey. This work, which has yielded the path to her next highest self, began from a dark place of deep hurt.
Osvehanis’s early spiritual endeavors were marked by an air of uncertainty, shaken from the emotional tumult she’d withstood. Time has lent its strength. Osvehanis fiercely declared that today, “I’ve come to a point where I want to be so sure in myself that nobody else's opinions would break that.” She reached this more actualized place by recognizing and relinquishing her own self-loathing. “Self love was a really hard journey,” she explained. “It began with ‘take care of yourself, be happy, do the things you want to do.’ I realize it's a lot deeper than that. It's coming to terms with your demons, knowing that there are shitty aspects about yourself, and things that you are not happy with yourself, but you will always be there unconditionally for yourself regardless.” She’s let go of the Hollywood notion that life should always be happy. Acceptance of this variety isn’t defeat, but an important step towards victory.
Free from many of the shackles imposed by her younger self, Osvehanis has committed to honing her talents for the greater good. She believes in art’s power to heal the world, and she’s devoted to crafting the perfect platform to empower unrecognized emerging artists with principles, with substance, and with heart. In a way, she’s enabling the next generations to receive the media she once needed. “Third world countries, they don't have the resources to go out and film movies in South Korea or make their own narrative,” Osvehanis explained. “We're just consuming media that's already given to us.” Her design work with Raise Karma enables the organization to spread its message, but she’s very much attuned to that message. “I feel like as long as I'm learning from the content that we're creating, and the designs that we're making, and I'm bringing people on that journey with me… I think that's the best kind of goodness that I can put out.”