I Started a Busi­ness: The de­signer be­hind Pa­pier hq

When Gabrielle MacDon­ald and her fi­ancé set up their home, they dis­cov­ered a niche they could fill with wall art busi­ness Pa­pier hq. She shares her tips for get­ting started

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You have to be will­ing to take risks and work ridicu­lous hours

Gabrielle MacDon­ald, 29, started Pa­pier hq with her fi­ancé and busi­ness part­ner Jar­rod, 31, last June after hav­ing trou­ble find­ing wall art for their own home. In less than a year Pa­pier – French for pa­per – has gone from an idea to a

thriv­ing wall art busi­ness with a grow­ing In­sta­gram fol­low­ing. Gabrielle shares what she’s learned about tak­ing risks, and the ben­e­fits of

hav­ing re­cently taken on a busi­ness men­tor.



I’m con­stantly look­ing for in­spi­ra­tion to keep the de­signs fresh. I love see­ing our cus­tomers’ re­ac­tions – es­pe­cially to those pieces I didn’t ex­pect to do well be­cause they were quite risky. Ev­ery­thing around me can spark an idea. We of­ten get peo­ple email­ing us say­ing, “I’ve got this idea; can you please put a print to­gether for me?” and I’ll work with them on a cus­tom print rather than us­ing a tem­plate. Peo­ple love things that are per­sonal to them and that’s

why cus­tomised prints do well.

How it started

I’m a tex­tile de­signer by trade, and dur­ing my nine years of in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence I re­alised there was a gap in the mar­ket for af­ford­able, on-trend wall art made from high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als. It’s some­thing we also no­ticed when Jar­rod and I were shop­ping for our home. So we started de­sign­ing art we liked, cre­ated an

on­line bou­tique and it’s grown from there. I’ve worked in de­sign since I was 20 so I felt like it was the right time to give it a go and see if it worked –

I had noth­ing to lose if it didn’t.

Find­ing bal­ance

At the start I was con­stantly work­ing and then re­alised the whole point of hav­ing your own busi­ness is that it’s meant to be fun! So now I make sure I take time out. As a de­signer you’re con­stantly switched on, be­cause ev­ery­thing can in­spire a de­sign. But you have to make sure you make time for friends and fam­ily. It’s al­ways a con­stant bat­tle. You have to be very hard­work­ing, will­ing to take risks, and work ridicu­lous hours. The fact that we’ve been able to hire some­one within a year has been pretty awe­some for us.

Know your cus­tomer

We want peo­ple to have nice things in their home with­out it send­ing them broke. I’ve no­ticed that a lot of our cus­tomers are peo­ple mov­ing into their first home and want­ing to set it up, and it’s def­i­nitely peo­ple who don’t want to take life too se­ri­ously. Fam­ily-fo­cused art­work is crit­i­cal to the hearts of New Zealan­ders, as fam­ily is im­por­tant to our well­be­ing and our rea­son for ex­is­tence. We con­sid­ered that our unique­ness as a coun­try and cul­ture is a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket­ing as­set for global clients too.


One of our big­gest chal­lenges has been pack­ag­ing, be­cause of the glass. Our first few weeks, we were get­ting heaps of break­ages, so we tweaked the process to make the prints more pro­tected – it prob­a­bly takes 40 or 45 min­utes to turn a print around now, rather than 10 or 15 with a sim­pler process. Fine-tun­ing this process

was frus­trat­ing at times, but see­ing a sys­tem start to work is so re­ward­ing. I’ve quickly re­alised there aren’t enough hours in a day – but I’m get­ting bet­ter at see­ing

where I can change how I do things.

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