Q&A: Katie Leamon (and a reader competition!)
c/o Katie Leamon
At Betty HQ we have a handful of go-to brands when we are looking for that extra special card or wrapping paper to give our favourite people. These are brands that not only make lovely products but are individual makers who are very hands-on and have built their companies from the ground up. Katie Leamon is one of those brands. We thought we were fans of Katie’s stationery before, then we sat down for a chat. Proudly British-made and family run the brand she has developed shows that it is possible to create beautiful things with a beautiful message, both in print and in process. Prepare to be inspired.
Tell us a bit about you. What did you do before setting up the Katie Leamon brand?
I was working for a fair trade fashion label. I was helping with the print designs and helping run our concession that we had in Topshop.
The brand launched in 2011. Why did you decide to set up your own stationery company?
I didn’t actually set about to deliberately set up a stationery company, it was an evolution of an idea that continued to develop. I have always loved paper products and when I started illustrating for myself again and putting some designs down on paper, I decided to try a few designs on some cards, and then they did well, so I developed the idea. Before I knew it I had a collection of cards alongside other work I was also doing, and it wasn’t until late 2011 that I refined the idea and put more intended design into it and decided that I wanted to build a stationery brand. It was suddenly very obvious that I had already been doing it blindly for some time, and so clear that I should have been doing it the whole time, but I came to the decision the long way around!
What did the very first card you designed look like?
My first card design is still one of our bestsellers. It’s our ‘Squashed Tomatoes & Stew’ birthday card, a typography design of the popular birthday riddle. It’s still a popular choice with most of our customers. I printed it on different card stock originally though – they were initially on Fabriano Medioevalis stock but the sizes were bespoke to their brand so it made it limiting. I then developed the stock and envelopes but that initial design has not changed.
Some of your cards and stationery are hand printed using polymer stamps. Can you talk us through this process from design to the finished product?
Initially I send off my drawings to be made into sheets of polymer stamps, we then cut the sheets up into each design, and apply some adhesive to the back of it. The individual stamp then is mounted onto an acrylic block that is then put into a hand-operated letterpress. (We have had a traditional letterpress adapted to fit them) The positioning takes a while to line up but I quite like the fact that each one can be a little different in terms of ink and positioning. The cards are then fed in individually and then the stamp rolled down onto the card to create the print. Our wonderful production team – otherwise known as my family – then pack up the cards in house and dispatch.
Your design studio is based in London and products are made at a family run production studio in the English countryside. Why is it important to you that your products are both handmade and British-made?
My personal taste in design is tangible, authentic and original so I always wanted to create a brand that encompasses those things. The brand is very much a reflection of me personally so I think it had to have these basic elements. I am very fussy about the whole design & production process and like to oversee it all, so it was never in question where we would source our production. I also think it’s the only way to truly say you know how and what goes into your products – I worked in fair trade fashion before I did this, so I am very aware of how easily people are exploited when you cant see how things are being produced and don’t want that for my products.
Where do you get ideas for your collections?
From all over; I find myself taking a quick photo if I see a pattern, layout or font I might like. I will then come back to things and make an ideas board that will slowly develop. Quite often with new designs I see the end product so I then have to take steps backwards to make that idea come to life.
Have you had any big ideas that haven’t worked out? What did you do when this happened?
It’s frustrating and disappointing! We had a really exciting collection of new products that I wanted to launch last summer but in reality it was way too soon. It was brand new lines that we hadn’t branched into before, and the initial costs were too high to balance the possible risks. I am now pleased we didn’t go ahead them, it was too soon, but they are still on the list to develop one day. I would like to collaborate with other brands on new projects like this going forward because you can both play to your skills and hopefully produce a beautiful collection with limited risk.
It’s obviously much harder when the collection does go ahead and it’s not as successful as you had hoped. I have had that with individual cards, it’s hard not to. I might design something I like but it’s all personal taste so it might be something that the market doesn’t need quite as much as I do!! All my designs are quite personal to me so it can be really hard, but you just have to move on to something or develop it and rework it.
Katie Leamon is stocked in a fantastic range of shops. What do you think makes your products stand out from the rest?
I think, and hope it’s the finished quality to them; they’re very considered. Right from the initial illustration to the choice of envelope, shade of card, and positioning of labels and barcodes. I am very particular throughout the whole process, and am constantly analysing products and reworking anything I am unhappy with. I also think newness is important – I aim to have new things for every show so all our stores can choose from something fresh.
Do you have a favourite occasion or celebration?
For cards, probably weddings. I think its one of the occasions that people put most effort into their gifts and cards, so you know people are happy to choose something a little more special. A lot of my designs are not too specific on occasion though, I don’t personally like giving a card that says ‘valentines’ or ‘mothers day’ necessarily, I like to be quite vague a give a ‘you’re wonderful’ card instead and I think that comes through in my collections. Some of my stockists do keep reminding me their customers like it to say ‘birthday’ etc so I need to remember this with the next designs I do!!
If you could personally give one of your cards to anyone in the world who would it be, why and what would it say?
I would send a card to Mike Eavis, the founder of Glastonbury. I am a big fan of the festival itself but more importantly the charity work and bigger picture that accompanies the festival. I would ask him if we could collaborate on all the design & merchandising for the festival… in return for a few free tickets!!
What’s next for Katie Leamon?
We are heading back to New York for the Stationery Show in May. It’s really exciting to see how the product is received over there, plus a great opportunity to see what the market is doing and see what other brands are developing. So with that in mind I am going to be designing some more ‘American themed’ sayings for the cards, some more multi card options as they seem to sell better in the states, as well as developing some more designs for Christmas!
Thanks for giving us a peek inside your world, Katie. If you are feeling like you need to run out and purchase a bunch of Katie’s products then this is your lucky day. We have not one, not two but three sets of Katie Leamon stationery to give away! To be in with a chance answer this question:
What did the first card Katie designed say on it?
Email your answer to email@example.com and you will be entered in to the competition to win one of these lovely prizes. You have until midnight on Tuesday 31 March 2015. Good luck!
*Terms & Conditions: The Katie Leamon and Betty Magazine competition is open until midnight on Tuesday 31 March 2015 (GMT). Entries past this date will not be considered. There will be three winners that will receive a stationery set from Katie Leamon. The winners will be chosen at random by the Betty team. The winners will be notified by email and the winning entries will be available on written request. All entrants will be subscribed to the Katie Leamon and Betty Magazine database to receive e-mail updates, to which you can unsubscribe at any time. Your data will not be sold, or used for any other purposes. UK entrants only. There is no cash alternative.