A recent addition to our online store, is our curated 91 Magazine gift boxes, filled with a lovely collection of goodies from independent brands to enjoy with your copy of 91. If you haven’t seen them yet, pop over to the shop for a peek.
We brought together lovely items from four favourite indie brands, and over the course of the last few months, we’ve been speaking to each business owner to find out more about the people behind the brand. We’ve already chatted with Bare Bones Chocolate, Tea in the Moment and Forest Mystic, and in this, the last in that series, we are hearing from stationery designer Katie Leamon….
Combining skills from a fairtrade fashion career with a lifelong love of good design, Katie Leamon took the leap in a new creative direction to launch her eponymous stationery company. We talk to Katie to discover more about her work…
Hi Katie, how would you describe your brand?
As a lovingly crafted stationery collection that is contemporary and carefully curated. It’s a reflection of our core values: to create sustainable, beautiful, original stationery collections and deliver to customers with exceptional customer care and attention to detail.
What inspired the idea of setting up your business?
I was working in fairtrade fashion and not getting much time to be creative. I wanted to work for myself and took the decision initially as a lifestyle choice, as well as to assert creative independence. I always loved stationery, so although I initially called myself a surface designer, it was quickly apparent it would be stationery and cards that I led the business towards.
I then worked alongside my business in a temp job while I developed my ideas, which slowly and organically evolved into my first collection. I presented that to Liberty during one of their Open Call days and then took part in a trade show as a new designer, where I picked up my first stockists.
How did your early career begin?
I studied textile design at university and have always had a sketch book on the go throughout my whole career, slowly gathering ideas and styles I would later use.
Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
Nature, architecture, home and lifestyle magazines, previous collections that have done well, interior trends.
How did you first discover your love for what you do?
I have always loved stationery, from as young as I can remember, and always loved sketching, experimenting with typography and crafting, so it was a natural path for me. I knew very early on that I wanted to work in design of some sort.
Describe a typical working day…
This varies slightly depending on what time of year it is, but I try to structure my day by doing admin and enquiries first, I then try to spend the afternoons designing and curating new collections. From sketching, researching and creating moodboards, to final press proofing and sampling. My days are a little more compressed now we have two small children, so sometimes, this rolls into the evenings and I take a break in the day to do pick-ups, or alternate days in the studio with days spent with them.
What is the ethos behind your business?
To create a beautiful range of everyday items that inspire customers to write, draw and connect. We focus on doing this in an honest and sustainable way from the way we work as a small family team, to our UK production and green credentials.
What has been the greatest hurdle in starting your own business?
Managing the accounts side of thing is the most challenging, along with managing people. I find neither particularly easy, but both are essential for a small business. When our team was at its biggest, the day-to-day work to manage people took me away from my design time, and I don’t think it was efficient. We are now a smaller team and more personally managed, and I much prefer that.
Tell us about your work process…
I tend to start out by looking at what we need, and what season we are going into design-wise. I like to do a moodboard for a new collection, to identify what I am trying to achieve and the overall look and feel – that helps determine colours, fonts and styles.
During this time, I’ll be sketching ideas, taking swatches of colours, and liaising with suppliers about practicalities to ensure ideas are commercially viable. Next, I start to format the products, placing my drawings and working fonts around them.
Describe your workspace…
We have just moved into a beautiful old building, not far from home. It’s got very high ceilings and lots of light. I’ve started to fill it with plants, but it’s a long way off the jungle I like to work within – it’s a juggle to keep plants alive so I have to draw the line after a few!
I have a drawing desk away from my computer, to ensure I am not distracted when I draw and that I can come and go from it as I need. So far, it’s all plants and moodboards, but we plan to fill the walls with new samples, press articles and favourite prints.
Our production studio is in Essex, it’s where we have been working from over the pandemic and up to now. It’s a hive of activity where all the orders come through. We print and pack all the orders there on table-top Adana letterpresses. Although I love it there, and love to jump onto the production side of things whenever I can, it’s nice to have a quieter space to concentrate on new creative ideas.
Tell us about your location and community…
We are in Tottenham, it’s just myself and Ruairi, my partner, that work from this studio. Tottenham itself has got an amazing creative heart and community spirit that’s hard to match. Our team in Essex is amazing. It’s headed up by my sister Rachel – she leads a streamlined operation and has a mastermind memory, so is always on the ball. We encourage a very friendly and family run community spirit, and hope to foster a calm and engaging work environment where everyone feels valued. The Essex studio itself is on a farm not far from my family home, amongst fields and horses – it’s idyllic.
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
The flexibility to work as and when we need is something we can never take for granted. This is so important to us with small children. I wanted to be present, and to work for yourself is the best way for me, to ensure I can be around as much as I would like.
Creatively, to be able to design to my own brief is something I am so grateful for. That we have an audience that allows me to explore my creativity and support that through their custom is amazing.
How valuable is the online community to your work?
Incredibly so. Particularly Instagram – we have lots of loyal and lovely followers on there that engage with us. I try not to spend too much time on there, as it can be a bit of a rabbit hole and not good for your head, but we get lots of lovely comments of support, which is wonderful. Also, it’s key to discovering new brands that might become potential collaborators.
How do you differentiate your business in the marketplace?
The majority of our collections are hand printed in-house and we are a small family-run team, so the personal touch we are able to offer is unique. We’ve also been creating for nearly 12 years now, and are proud of how our traditional techniques and original designs continue to be popular.
Do you enjoy working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
I love it. It gives me the creative freedom that larger corporations would never be able to offer, and we are able to set our own timings, goals and briefs. Obviously, it’s a risk putting something out there that has come from your mind, rather than a more thought-out corporate response to a demand in the market, but we are always getting to know our customers more and more, and learning what they like to see.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
We have recently taken on a PR agent, so we outsource our press. We have tried various things with marketing, including in-house, freelancers, and doing it ourselves…. the jury’s still out on that one!
What have been your business highlights so far?
Being able to move into our own production studio – moving it from the kitchen table into its own space was a big day. Also, taking part in the Liberty Open Call Day – it’s where it all began and one of the most empowering and scariest days of my life!
Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?
I like to do creative workshops as much as possible – such as candle making, colour theory, wood carving, jewellery – it all keeps my skill set expanding and encourages me to think differently from two-dimensional paper sometimes.
What’s the most important lesson that running your business has taught you about life?
Stop and breathe. It’s so important to learn to switch off, take a step back and breathe. I tend to work until I am super-stressed and burn out, and I am trying now to implement strategies to ensure I don’t continue to do that. I also think it’s an incredibly important lesson to realise that you can make a living doing what you love – you can harness and carve the lifestyle you want out of your hobbies.
Any good advice for independent creative businesses who are just starting out?
Keep moving forward, keep making decisions. Sometimes it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other as you don’t know which route to take, but if you keep evolving and moving, it will inevitably grow around you. Making what turn out to be bad decisions is all part of the process – it’s as important to know what you don’t want as it is to know what you do.
What does the next year hold for you?
I’m currently working on KL-KIDS. I’m hoping to launch that range in the new year. It will be a collection of cards and stationery with kids in mind but that parents will happily have adorn their mantlepiece. We are also working on a botanical drawing series as we work more and more with garden centres.
Books I love: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee are two favourites.
Creative Heroes: Meg Gleson from Moglea (moglea.com) – a US Brand that hand paints their stationery, so each piece is unique. Sugar House Ceramics (sugarhourseceramicco.com), in Nova Scotia, an incredibly creative duo who have a beautiful range. And Wrap (wrapmagazine.com), here in the UK, a collection of illustrators that curate incredible homeware, stationery and prints.
Shops I love: Search & Rescue (searchandrescuelondon.co.uk), Labour & Wait (labourandwait.co.uk), Glassworks (glassworkslondon.com), Present & Correct (presentandcorrect.com), and Mon Pote (monpote.co.uk).
Inspirational places: Scotland. Everyone should go if they haven’t already. And make sure you make it to the Outer Hebrides.