Hi Emma, how would you describe Hunter Paper Co.?
Hunter Paper Co. is a stationery lover’s treasure trove! We have a curated collection of the best stationery from around the world, alongside a range of letterpress stationery and greetings cards that we design and print ourselves in our Northern Irish studio.
What did you do before setting up your business?
I was a student before I started the business. I graduated from an illustration degree at Falmouth University in 2013 and started taking my work (mostly lino prints and paper cuts) to different markets and local fairs and building from there. I started adding cards into the range and testing the water with what worked and didn’t, and just built on that month–on–month. At the same time, I opened an Etsy shop and was accepted onto Notonthehighstreet.com. Fast forward to 2017; I attended my first trade show, Top Drawer, and started to wholesale on a more consistent level and have continued to grow that side of the business ever since.
What inspired the idea of opening the store?
It really just snowballed from what I enjoyed doing – I loved printmaking and followed my curiosity from lino prints, to screen printing and eventually letterpress printing. From there it evolved to what customers responded well to.
What is the ethos behind your business?
We consider ourselves a people-first business. We are a living wage employer and want our team to feel valued and enjoy their work. We also put our own family first when it comes to work and work flexibly around our young daughter, so we both get plenty of time with her.
In terms of the products we make ourselves, we’re 100 per cent plastic free and strive to create everything with as minimal an impact on the planet as possible. The products we buy in from other brands are sourced with great care and attention to how and where they are made, and if the people who made them were fairly treated.
How did you approach the design of your space?
We wanted the shop to reflect the way we approach making our own products; modern design combined with vintage techniques, so we used a lot of bare wood and copper piping to create our shelving and table. Our till desk is very special to me because my grandfather, who was a carpenter before he retired, made it for us. In terms of merchandising, we always think about how the customer shops and what their eye will be drawn to first. We break up the composition of a visual display with bigger and smaller items.
Tell us about your location and community…
We’re based in Ballyhackamore, East Belfast, a village on the outskirts of Belfast known to locals as a bit of a foodie hub. We were one of the first shops in the area in quite a few years and it’s exciting to see that grow, and how thrilled locals were to see a nice mix of retail and hospitality in the area. We’ve built up a lovely local customer base of passing families on their way to local schools, to coffee shop locals, and everything in between, and we love knowing lots of our customers by name.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
It’s a bit of a cliche but there’s great design all around, for example I love old shop signs.
Tell us about your curation – how do you source your collections?
We enjoy visiting trade shows, which are great because you get to actually hold the products and speak to the people behind the brand, but more and more we are finding new brands online and through social media. We look for products that we would use ourselves, which are not only aesthetically pleasing but also well made, so that our customers will enjoy using them.
And we’d love to hear more about your letterpress printing process…
Letterpress printing is a technique I absolutely adore, and don’t think I’ll ever get bored of it! Each print that comes off the press is a little unique piece, and seeing a new final design for the first time never gets old. We have two Heidelberg windmill presses, one for ink and one for foil. The ink is applied to rollers which runs over the design, which is raised on the bed of the press.
Any favourite makers or products that you sell?
We just started stocking Studio Wald, who make beautiful screen printed flower presses, so that’s a current fave of mine.
Has your business evolved since you began?
It’s constantly evolved over the years, and I’m sure it will continue to do so! I started at markets, then trade shows and developed a wholesale business. My husband Ross joined the business in 2020 and grew the online side of the business – and then in 2021 we opened the shop!
Is the online community important to your work?
Yes, it’s definitely growing and becoming more important. In recent months we’ve started hosting a monthly journal club with a local journalling expert, Ian from the Paper Sparrow. The community of journallers is growing on Instagram, and translating to customers coming to the event and shopping with us, which is lovely.
Working as an independent store owner – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
Seeing instant responses to products from customers as they pick them up and browse the shop is an absolute joy! The challenge is constantly finding new and interesting products to keep our selection fresh, as well as keeping up with our own product development.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
We just try to be as genuine and organic as possible. When something is happening, we share it honestly with followers and newsletter subscribers, and connecting on a human level we have found works best for us.
What have been your business highlights so far?
Opening the doors to the shop has definitely been a highlight. Being able to see a vision that we had had for so long come together was amazing!
What does your ideal day off look like?
I love to get working early in the day, it’s when my mind is at its clearest, so I love to get a few hours of designing in the morning. I’m lucky to work from home most of the time, and the shop is a two-minute walk from home, so at lunchtime it’s always lovely to catch up with my daughter Ava, who’s playing downstairs with one of her grandparents. Then in the afternoon, I’d pop into the shop to see what’s been happening.
Any good advice for aspiring store owners?
Just take the leap – you’ll never know if a store will work for you until you try it, and we really have no regrets!
What does the next year hold for you?
I’ve just come back from maternity leave, so designing new products really went on pause for quite a while. I’m excited to really focus on developing some new products and new ideas. We’d also love to be in a bigger space in the next year or so. We’re hoping to find the perfect space which is big enough to accommodate the shop and the two printing presses under one roof, so our customers can see how the products are made right before their eyes!