April 28, 2015 • Sarah Schwartz
Stamps of Approval
A London designer shakes up the American stationery scene
There’s always room in the stationery and gift markets for a distinctive voice, and lately many such voices have materialized in America — but all are not domestically grown. This unofficial British lifestyle invasion is populated by the likes of Cath Kidston and Orla Kiely — and more recently, Katie Leamon, whose refined selections balance a sense of sophistication with a more subdued, simple nature.
This luxurious yet down-to-earth quality makes every release from this house unmistakably its own — the signature of an enduring brand. Further distinguishing the line is the fact that most of it is hand-printed using polymer rubber stamps, so each piece is truly unlike any other. Stationery Trends interviewed Founder Katie Leamon to learn more about her vision and future plans.
ST: How did your stationery line come about?
KL: I graduated in 2007 with a degree in textile design and then worked in fashion and print design for a small company until deciding to do my own thing in the summer of 2010. I experimented and worked on my portfolio before developing a range of my drawings into rubber stamps in late 2010. It was then that the idea was born, and I developed a range of designs and established a brand identity. In the spring of 2011 I heard about Liberty of London’s Open Call day, and that was the spark — I launched at their iconic store in the summer of 2011, which marks the start of what the brand is today.
ST: Can you share a little bit about your rubber stamp technique and process?
KL: I have always loved the effect of rubber stamps, and (originally) my brother — whom I shared a studio with at the time — brought a DIY stamp kit, so I began playing with the idea of developing some of my designs into stamps. From there the technique evolved, and I now continue to print them all individually using polymer stamps, but they are mounted onto a Perspex block that I have had fitted to an old press. (This) relieves the pressure on our wrists after our original technique resulted in RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury)!
ST: Your design studio is in the heart of London, and you have a family-run production studio in the English countryside. Can you describe each briefly for our readers?
KL: I started the company from our London studio, which I still work from today. I outgrew the space I shared with my brother (so) I moved next door. Our studio in London is within a hub of studios. There are approximately 80 creatives working from an old network rail depot alongside Waterloo rail tracks. There are three of us based here, and the remainder of the team work from a studio at our family home in Essex. My sister and Mum run the wholesale production there. My increased workload was perfectly timed with my Mum’s retirement and my sister having a baby, so they began to help out and now work full-time. The studios are very closely linked, and I hope to have them both under one roof at some point.
ST: To your mind, how does the British stationery market differ from that in America?
KL: As a British brand going into the U.S., I love how fresh and exciting the U.S. brands are. I think the hand-finished or letter-pressed style of card is popular in both countries, but it’s nice to see people expanding on a theme and pushing the boundaries with design. The U.S. market is obviously that much bigger and so there seems to be a wealth of designers and young brands with some really beautiful collections. I think it’s an exciting market and a little more daring perhaps, so I want to explore (it) further!
ST: What tend to be your biggest inspirations?
KL: Vintage finds, old notebooks and letters, (my) earlier work … I often open up old sketchbooks and rework something I’d given up on a year previously!
ST: Do you personally collect anything? If so, what?
KL: I have a small collection of fine bone china with really intricate patterns and markings. They’re too beautiful to use for tea so I often have tea lights or jewelry in them. I am not sure I would say I collect them, but I would like to if I had more time to rummage through flea markets to find them!
ST: Can you describe a typical day?
KL: My day varies largely depending on the time of year and on how close we get to a trade show! But generally speaking, I arrive at the studio (between) 8 and 8:30 a.m., and run through my emails or any urgent queries. When Georgia and Helen arrive, we will run through our current projects and where we are up to with them. I will then catch up with my mum and sister (at) the production studio in Essex and iron out any issues that might have come up and discuss any projects or new accounts that we are working on. I then try to concentrate on the design side of things, whether it’s working on new design projects, selecting and sampling colors and paper stock or actually doing some drawing. I always start with doodles in my sketchbook, then edit and try things on the computer. As to be expected with a small company, my day is interrupted with various queries, but I try to structure my day around our current projects and deadlines. Currently I’m trying to finish off our catalogue for Top Drawer, so I’m finalizing samples for a photoshoot next week and organizing the build for our stand at the show.
ST: Does actually running a paper line differ from how you first envisioned it? If so, how?
KL: To be honest I didn’t set out to start a paper line initially; it just seemed to evolve into one, so I had little expectations. I am continually learning more and more about business — and the amount of work that goes into every aspect of running a company is astonishing.
ST: What advice would you give to new or young invitation designers and stationery companies?
KL: Work hard. There’s no way around it, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s also very important to experiment and know your brand identity and style before you pitch to the market; have a strong, unique product and target the right places. Originality is key. An original, considered product is so important in today’s mass market and consumerism.
ST: Where would you like to be in five years?
KL: I would love to collaborate on a range of luxury wallpapers, something really unusual and fun. Generally speaking, I hope we have secured accounts with more of the world’s leading names in retail and to have a continually evolving collection of beautiful designs. I think I will branch into more and more paper products, whilst also trying to push the boundaries of paper and its conventional uses.
ST: What consumer, lifestyle or industry trends do you find interesting?
KL: I think fashion trends influence my design ideas a little, and I am somewhat led by the need to create designs to suit people’s needs. For example, our latest invitations are hand printed and luxurious, but they are still template packs so are that little bit more affordable for people wanting something a little different for their party or wedding. Equally, I have a new range of naming day cards (birth announcement and baptism cards) and same-sex wedding cards that came about as a result of looking for what’s missing and what customers’ needs are not being met in the luxury stationery end.
ST: What other stationery designers or companies do you admire and why?
KL: I am inspired by how quickly and well Anna and Nathan Bond have built Rifle Paper. They are leading examples in the field for all young stationery designers. I also love the chic and simplistic work of Sugar Paper La, and over this side of the world, I love Archivist Print, Dear Prudence, Alison Hardcastle and more collaborative brands, such as Wrap and Ohh Deer. They’ve all got distinctive style and brand identity, which I think is really important.
Katie at a Glance
Q. If you could travel through time and space and land anywhere, where and when would it be?
A. I would land in the 1920s in Britain’s post-war euphoria. I love the styles and designs from this period and would love to experience the romance of that era for awhile!
Q. How would you define your signature style?
A. Nostalgic, considered and modern. The designs are simple and chic but have an air of nostalgia brought in from the use of brown papers, glassine envelopes and a range of typography. I think my original hand-printed cards epitomize the style best. The luxe range this season is a perfect example of how the brand has evolved, maintaining the hand printed nostalgia and combining the elegant but fun gold envelopes.
Q. What is new for 2015?
A. I have a luxe range of cards in pastel hues and gold polka dot foiled envelopes as well as a range of monochrome notebooks and giftwrap, which I am really excited about.
Q. What one design or product from your 2015 releases do you suspect will be really hot?
A. I love our new monochrome notebooks with gold foiling. I am really pleased with how they’ve come out and cant wait to get stores’ reactions.
Q. Which piece (or grouping) reflects the overall direction of your line?
A. I think the fact that I always come back to the hand-printed ranges of cards is a reflection of the brand’s grounding in this aesthetic, but the introduction of (elements like) decorative envelopes brings freshness to the collections whilst maintaining our signature aesthetic. The new notebooks reflect this well as they compliment our monochrome cards, which were our very first collection but continue to be so popular and relevant.
Q. Do you have a personal favorite from your new offerings?
A. I am really happy with the new notebooks and the luxe cards. From that collection I think my favorite is the bonjour card and the ‘you’re my favourite adventure’ card.
Q. What other designers, music and movies inspire you?
A. I love working to music and like a good movie soundtrack, like “Drive” or “Little Miss Sunshine.” I greatly admire the prints and colour palettes used by UK fashion design duo Teatum Jones.
Q. If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead?
A. I would still be in this industry I think, but if I couldn’t do that, my dream job would be a photographer for a travel company so I get to see the world and get paid for it!
Photos Courtesy of Laura Hutchinson