TEA AND A CHAT
Get to know designer Katie Leamon
There’s a real thrill to picking out beautiful stationery to write a letter or a card, and it’s that special feeling that Katie Leamon’s luxury paper goods label is dedicated to preserving.
After studying Woven Textiles at university, Katie worked for a small Fairtrade fashion label. It wasn’t the industry for her, but Katie took the skills working for a small company gave her – managing wholesale, admin, and design – and launched her own card range.
Katie landed Liberty as her first supplier after attending their open call day in 2011. A huge achievement for a new brand, her business grew from there. From making cards herself on a shoestring, she began drafting in family members to help her, and eventually they built their own production studio.
Katie now works alongside boyfriend Rory (who does sales and accounts) in her London design studio, while her mum and sister run the production studio in Essex, and her uncle does the printing. We caught up for a chat about her creative career, and what it’s like to run a modern-day family business. Describe your style in three words? Contemporary, tangible and considered. Why did you move from working in fashion to designing stationery? I’ve loved stationery for as long as I can remember – I was always collecting stickers, colouring books and pencil cases full of di erent bits and pieces. I think the feeling of putting pen to paper is something that can’t be beaten. There’s a certain magic in how someone feels when they receive a handwritten letter or card, and for me, that’s the real ethos of the brand and what we’re trying to create.
When I was working with fabric after I left university, I found my designs didn’t quite translate the way I wanted them to. There’s something about the matt, raw nature of paper that just seems to suit my style of designing better. What’s your typical working day like? I get into the studio about 8am. There are three of us based in London, and we’ll discuss our tasks for the day and the week, then I’ll crack on with admin and all the other company-running bits. Then, in the afternoon, I’ll take myself down to a space I’ve got at the end of the studio, and get on with some drawing away from my desk. I’ve got all my art materials down there, unfinished designs or samples I’m working
on, and anything that’s inspired me, such as quotes I’ve seen, or bits from magazines. I also pin up our previous bestsellers to try and work out why they sold so well, and translate that into new designs. Take us through your creative process. I make moodboards with the things I’ve been collecting for a few months. Then, when I start designing – which comes in waves; it could be every day for a few months, or only once a week for a while – I’ll pull it all out in front of me. I’ll do some sketching, making boards and spider diagrams of what I’m trying to achieve, and really think about what we need to do to build a collection. I quite often work backwards, so I’ll have an idea of what I want to achieve in my head first, then figure out how to do it afterwards. Who, or what, inspires your work? I always seem to have a lot of architecture pinned up, as well as tiles and repeat patterns. They tend to crop up again and again in my moodboards. Recently I went
‘There’s a certain magic someone feels when they receive a handwritten letter.’
to Kew Gardens and looked at the big spiral staircase, trying to translate the shapes into something more organic. I also like to keep up with trends – as well as maintaining our signature style, I try to bring a new, trend-led look and feel to each collection. I like to think of our stationery as a fashion accessory, with the latest notebook or diary being something exciting for you to have in your handbag. How did you end up working with so many of your family members? The first to join was my mum – she’d taken early retirement and started helping me print and pack. Then, when my sister went on maternity leave four years ago, she helped me pack cards in the evenings. By the time she was ready to return to work, I realised I couldn’t lose her! My boyfriend was working for a sports charity in a di erent role, but he was fed up. We’d always talked about starting our own business, so I suggested he come and help me out, and we branch out into other ideas in the next few years. It still hasn’t happened though as we’ve been so busy! Are there positives and negatives to working so closely with family? The good thing is that you can trust them 100%. They know me inside out, so they
know if something’s not right without me even having to say it – we can almost read each others’ minds. The downside is that it’s very di"cult to take a family holiday together, as we can’t all just up and leave! But the good outweighs the bad. What’s been your proudest moment? Getting into Liberty was a huge boost to the brand. I was running the business all by myself, part-time, and I queued for hours to get seen by the buyers. Having them as my first ever stockist was incredible. And what’s been your biggest struggle when running the business? Relinquishing control. The bigger you get, the more jobs you have to hand over to other people. That’s hard when you’ve been doing everything by yourself for a long time, even if you trust those people. Tell us about your letter-writing campaign – how did that come about? We’d heard about di!erent letter-writing campaigns in the US, and were trying to think of something similar we could do.
‘I like to keep up with trends, and try to bring a new look to each collection.’
Then, one day in the studio, someone asked what we were all giving up for Lent and it clicked – instead of giving something up, why don’t we take something on? So we started a ‘Letters for Lent’ campaign. We sent out a letter, postcard or handwritten note every day, and encouraged other people to do the same. My grandma loved it! We’re going to do something similar next year, based around origami envelopes that we’ll be producing. What other future plans do you have for the Katie Leamon brand? I tend to draw on what’s happening in fashion or interiors for each collection, so I’d like to do some collaborations creating products we wouldn’t necessarily be able to make ourselves, such as wallpaper or really high-end ceramic tableware. I’d also like to make paper tableware for parties or hen dos. Finally, what’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve ever received? Just to get your ideas down. Once, when I was having a creative block, my brother told me: “Just start writing down ideas, don’t think about the process.” Sometimes you might not feel in the mood to design, but those are often the times when you need to push through it the most.
in01 London’sKatie’s new studio Hackney Wick has big, bright windows and enough space for a planning and designing area. 02 A selection – of the luxury wrap copper foil designs were both best sellers at Christmas. 03 New limited edition prints.
01 Katie uses a foiling machine to personalise and customise products. 02 Original marble artwork, and the pencils and notepad made using it. 03 Noting down the finishing touches to a new pencil collection.
The studio 01 filled moodboard, with pinned ideas, inspiration and Katie’s various works-in-progress. 02 A few of Katie’s best-selling cards, all made at the family’s production studio in Essex. 03 A peek inside Katie’s sketchbook – this page has new...
01 Katie revisits old sketchbooks to help plan new collections, develop themes and consolidate ideas. 02 The Katie Leamon brand ethos is all about making people feel special when they receive their post.