I have been a huge fan of Katie Leamon products ever since I spotted their distinctive designs in Fortnum & Mason many years ago. For those that don’t know (there might be someone out there!) Katie Leamon is a UK design led card and stationery brand creating beautiful, practical products with tangible craftmanship.
They say never meet your heroes, but in this case, there was no disappointment. I met Katie at a trade event a few months ago and she could not have been nicer. So, I was beyond excited when she accepted to be interviewed for the Rama Journal.
How did your desire to create Katie Leamon come about?
I knew I wanted to work for myself, I had been working flat out for other people and not having control of the end product, or the final say on a design, so I knew in the long term I wanted to be in more control of my work so it was just a case of deciding exactly what medium I would choose and how I would achieve independent success.
Katie Leamon feels very much like a family business. Can you talk us through the positives (and any negatives!) of working with family?
It is very much a family business; I started the company on my own in 2010 but only a couple of years into business I had my Mum and sister helping me out. My boyfriend Ruairi is now my business partner, he joined me about 3 years ago.
The positives are hard to beat, there in an impenetrable trust, honesty and openness that overrides any negatives. Obviously there are some drawbacks though; For Ruairi and I we have to make sure we don’t take work home with us too often – it can be tempting to carry on from home but then we would never stop, so we have learnt to try and make time to stop and relax and actively switch off. It can be the same when we get together at family occasions, the four or us will end up chatting for ages about something work related! We also still have big family holidays (we are very close family!!) so it can be challenging as it leaves only a few members holding the fort!
What I love about Katie Leamon is whenever I visit your website there is something new to discover. What do you find helps you get your creativity flowing when creating new products?
I tend to fall into a cycle of design in line with deadlines. Although I like to collect inspiring bits and pieces along the way, there are certain deadlines in the calendar we aim to have new collections for. I tend to start by reflecting on previous collections, what has worked, what didn’t work as well – then look at that alongside brainstorming new ideas, new trends, new techniques or styles I want to try. I find stopping to just scribble down lots of ideas away from my desk is the best way of coming up with new ideas. It tends to be a bit of a path of discovery and one thought leads to another – for example I first came up with our original marble collection back in 2012 when I went to a trend seminar about old fashioned techniques, they mentioned tie-dye and it reminded me of being at school and the marbling technique so I then went home and experimented until I had come up with a solid idea and some really exciting new designs.
You have recently moved to a new studio. Do you have any rituals for bringing positive energy into a new space?
The latest space has been a long time coming so it’s been a lovely to finally get settled. I like to get my design space set up, so I have somewhere to escape to design from. It always involves a few late evenings spent alone in the space to get things just right.
If you could only bring three things to a desert island what would they be and why?
- Pencil Case – these two kind of go hand in hand but I would hate not to be able to document and sketch and write as and when I wanted to. I’d keep a diary of thoughts and come up with lots of new designs in peace and quiet!
- Music Player – ideally Sonos and Spotify! I love working to music and think it could be pretty lonely without it. Songs transport you back to memories which is lovely when you can just sit back and enjoy your favourite songs.
Should probably have mentioned Ruairi and Baloo as two of them but can I assume they can come with me as a given!!!??
Setbacks and failures are almost certain in life and I believe there is great power in sharing them. Could you please share one with us and what you learnt from it? Note: It does not necessarily have to be about your business.
We have actually had a large set back just last year. Without going into too much detail it involved one of our large stockists and we were stung badly from returned seasonal stock that was not previously agreed. Working with the big guys can have its setbacks that as a small business you are expected to just accept and absorb but can almost be crippling for a small business. We luckily came back from it with a greater resilience and taught us to keep a tighter rein on our spend and production, as well as making us question our business model and learn exactly what we want to achieve in the company and re-establish why we are doing what we do.
You have been in the stationery industry for almost a decade (9 years to be precise). How do you stay in love with what you do?
My love of the business has never faltered. If you love stationery from a child like I have, I think it’s instilled in you for good. The business can be challenging for a variety of reasons, but I never tire of seeing new samples come to life. I think ensuring you keep a check on the long-term plan and ensure you are on the right path is important as well as taking a step back sometimes to have a look at it all as objectively as possible. For me, I also think it’s important to keep things fresh, ensuring you have lots of new designs and ideas on the go keeps things interesting.
What trends have you seen in the stationery industry recently?
There seems to be a lot of mark making across the industry, lots of pastels, foils and graphic typography. I find a lot of styles regenerate quite quickly and alternative versions of similar things are developed. There is a lot of competition in the industry and I think also a lot of overlap which is hard to avoid at all times when everyone is inspired by similar things, but we try to stay on brand by starting our design process on reflection from our current ranges and checking into the brand and its colours, style and values before launching anything.
What is your favourite book and why?
To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the relationship between the father and his children. Its set at a time when dads were not typically the sole carer and it’s a lovely story of childhood adventure, challenging the status quo and unexpected hero’s.
What are your plans for Katie Leamon for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
It’s actually a very exciting year for us. We have been plotting quite a big shift in our business structure. We are aiming to make some bold moves to trial pop up shop ventures and showroom spaces over trade shows and studio rentals, as well as expecting our second child at the end of the year so will have our hands full!!
Thank you Katie for being such an amazing interviewee and opening up for our readers. To see the Katie Leamon collection in all it’s beauty, head over to www.katieleamon.com and follow her on social media @katieleamon for the latest updates.