Believe it or not, March 2020 marks our 10 year anniversary…10 years since I followed my dream, stepped back from the rat race and took a chance on myself. I remember when I started I felt like a fraud, serious imposter syndrome, and I distinctly remember thinking I would have ‘made it’ if I was still in business in 10 years…I can safely say 10 years on, I still feel like I’m making it up as I go along at times! Its been a rollercoaster… one at times i’ve wanted to jump off while at others, screaming to go faster.
In celebration, this year will be launching exclusive ranges, looking back at our archive collections and spending 2020 celebrating just how far we have come over the past decade. I wanted to start with a bit of reflection, some of you are probably familiar with our story, but if not, here’s how it all began…
In Jan 2010, having worked in fair trade fashion for 2 years I became dissatisfied with the lack of creativity, fed up with commuting and I longed to work on my own projects. Following an impulsive decision and a whirl wind few weeks I found myself self employed and working from my brother’s studio while temping in the city to make ends meet. By late September, and a string of freelance commissions I decided to turn some of my illustrations and graphics into rubber stamps and began hand printing them onto beautiful cards & paper. It was an incredibly organic start, driven from a instinct to create and a love of stationery rather than a planed out business venture. My debut collection was born and my first stockist was a beautiful wine & flower shop on Bermondsey Street that my brother’s friend owned, it has sadly since closed – not as a result of selling my cards I hasten to add.
In terms of ‘Big Breaks’ I got mine in the form of a Liberty Open Call day in early 2011 – If you didn’t see the TV series – it was a chance for 1000 people, first come first served, to come and present their designs or ideas to a panel of buyers and if they liked you, you were in! So I set off at 4.30am, eager not to miss my chance or be too far down the list, and yet I was still 4th in line, and had to wait 4 hours until the doors even opened! Plenty of time to practice my pitch and calm my nerves. After a gruelling few minutes of quick fire questions and snap decisions, the buyers liked my cards and, just like that, the course of my business’ future had officially began. I still remember in every detail calling my mum from the coffee shop on the corner outside and telling her they wanted to see me again for a buying meeting the next week. History was made and I was over the moon.
With a spring in step, and a bit of confidence that I might be onto something with my hand printed cards, I went on to exhibit within the Launchpad section of Pulse – a trade show for home & lifestyle brands. It was there that I picked up another few iconic highstreet names including Selfridges & Paperchase. Over the next few months I continued to print cards, map out new ideas and meet the demands of my few but high profile stockists. It was a mad time, I was working 15 hours days, temping two days a week then going back to print and pack orders, build a website, compile some sort of a plan for how to make this budding business into a fully fledged business.
I remember getting my first payment in from Liberty and Paperchase, seeing it in print on my bank statement was a little surreal. I used that money to reinvest into a collection of notebooks, it was a very modest, slow, organic growth, due to limited funds and being a one woman business, but slowly I grew the collections.
Over the years we had a few collections that really made our mark on the industry, our original hand printed cards certainly still define our range. They are individually hand stamped on a table top adana letterpress now but for the first few years of business I hand printed them all using individual rubber stamps. Our technique now uses the same principle of keeping every print and every card unique but eliminates the repetitive strain injury I caused myself back in the early days! One memory I look back on so fondly was when we got our first order from Waterstones bookstore in 2012. We had just brought our first press and I roped in my sister, mum and aunt to help print and pack it all. I think it was actually only about 2000 cards, which we now produce in a few hours, but as it was all very new I had no idea. We got a production line going across my parents kitchen table and cheerfully printed and packed and distributed the order. It was a milestone in our production methods as it took so much less time with the help of the new press and I also realised how much easier it was with the help of others.
My mum started to help me out more and more, and my sister took on some packing work while on maternity leave, before long they became invaluable and I didn’t want to do it without them. With relatively regular orders coming in from Paperchase, Liberty and Selfridges, I quit my temp job and gave my mum and sister some more regular work. It was another milestone in the business history and one that I have never looked back on.
Fast forward 8 years and my sister now runs our whole production studio, she is absolutely integral to the running of the business and my mum is equally amazing but juggles helping us at work with looking after her grandkids. People often ask me what its like working so closely with family, and while its not without its challenges, my overall feeling is one of incredible fortune. The trust and commitment is unrivalled and its also a lot of fun, albeit it can be pretty unprofessional environment most of the time! New, non family, team members have to slip into the flow of familial jokes which has led us to have a very close team over the years that I consider family despite not all being related!
Adding to this, in early 2015 my partner Ruairi joined me as a business partner and continues to run the ‘business & sales’ side of things. It has changed the business structure for the better and given me more time to concentrate on design. From a personal perspective it’s been an incredible move – we get to spend everyday together and we make a very good team as he thinks in a different way to me and we challenge each other and therefore leads to exciting ideas and opportunities we might have otherwise not thought of. We now have a young family and the benefits of running your own business together become ever more worthwhile.
2015 also saw the introduction of our stationery subscription service; POST. I wanted to introduce a service that, at the time, was not available in the UK. It was common place in the US and I knew we could create something really well curated and considered. POST continues to run, and every month we deliver boxes all over the world. I enjoy developing the box and coming up with a theme that inspires and excites the recipient.
As I look back at our signature style and designs over the years there are a few main themes that I have nurtured. Typography, tangible craftsmanship and a organic pattern.
My original collection of cards was all typographical – a combination of hand illustrated and graphic design. Its something that as a greetings card designer is integral to design in order to indicate your message, but I like to explore how you make typography more pleasing to the eye. Size, font and styling all combine to create a huge collection of typographical designs over time and its something that will forever feature heavily in our portfolio.
Tangible craftsmanship is what has driven me as a designer over the years; I strive to make people want to touch our products and appreciate all the little hand finished details that go into their production – from the delicate die cut edges of our cards, and gold foil detail on the envelopes to the textured finish on the stock of the cards and notebooks, nothing is overlooked in the design process.
Our introduction of pattern and pastels was a considered move to introduce some subtle colour to our otherwise monochromatic range. Although over the years I was concerned we always fell back to the same soft pinks and greys whenever we did a ‘colourful’ range, I now appreciate that this is just our signature palette, that people recognise from the brand. You only have to take one look at my home or wardrobe to know how much I love a pastel and neutral palette, with hints of black& gold. The patterns I have created over the years have always been soft and in line with this palette, from organic takes on architecture in our monochrome pattern range, or our iconic Marble Collection, and even our most recent collage collection – everything has a soft, organic quality to its form.
As our business grew, I could no longer share a studio with my brother but luckily the woman next door was moving out so I didn’t go far…I had the first studio of my own in 2013. It was in a place called Make Space Studios in Waterloo, I spent the first 5 years of business there, working next door to my brother as well as having my sister and mum working with me but from home, in Essex. It was in 2015 that my parents and I invested in building a studio in the garden of my family home to house the growing production in Essex (I want to add at this point that I don’t underestimate how much my family has helped make my dream a reality.) It was an incredible milestone for the company and we held a little opening night in late 2015. Between Make Space, where I made some of my closest friends (and where I met Ruairi) and our new production studio business steadily grew and life was good. In 2016 and the news I was expecting, we decided to move our London studio to Bow in east London to be closer to our Essex studio and limit our commuting.
With the arrival of Baloo in May 2017, I had to some how take a back seat from what I had been living and breathing for 7 years. It was a tough shift in gear but it taught me a lot about myself and my business. I handed over roles I never thought I would, all be it temporarily but it was still unnerving. I’ve had to learn that at times other people knew more about the business from day to day perspective than me, but I had a more important role at home. Luckily as any new parent can verify it puts things into perspective and all the small things I used to sweat over seemed to be less significant and I learnt to be so much more productive and decisive, the days of procrastination were over.
2017 also saw the development of our Debut leather range, entitled HiDE, it was a project I had been lovingly moulding over the course of my pregnancy and it was amazing seeing it come to fruition and be so well received. It wasn’t without a lot of ups and downs and it was a long time in the making but eventually we launched it in early 2018.
As we have grown over the years, peaking as a team of 14 in 2016/2017 we have learnt a lot about what we need and want from a business. Following some business mentoring throughout 2017-2018 we have since whittled it down to a sweeter spot that works better for us while we have a young family. There is now 8 of us and we juggle all the roles between our family run team.
In the autumn of 2019 we embarked upon our first proper retail space by taking on a Pop up store on Elizabeth Street in Belgravia, London. It was a dream come true, something I have wanted to do since I started and I loved making the space our own. We also launched our first ceramic collection in collaboration with Emma Alington which was and exciting development for the brand and having the Pop up retail space made it possible.
The Pop Up model is something we are looking to experiment with in terms of location, size and product over the next few years with a view to one day having a studio-shop where people can see us printing the cards, shop the full collection and provide workshops for our fans. Alongside this, we have new product launches planned including some retrospective collections looking back over our best sellers from the past 10 years.
At the end of 2019, we had another little boy, Woody, so as we enter our 10th year of business I am working from home a lot more again and juggling a young family with the running the business. It undoubtedly comes with multiple challenges but with our stellar team and Ruairi and I both committed to developing and nurturing the brand (whilst ensuring a healthy work life balance!!) we enter a new phase for the business that we are incredibly excited about.
Here’s to the next 10 years.