She Designs, He Prints

26th February 2023

Posted In: The Interview

This week we hear from Alison Watson – one half of the dynamic duo ‘She Designs, He Prints’.  The other half is Brian Grant (aka the Print Pixie) – he magically turns Alison’s designs and illustrations into life.

What prompted you to establish ‘She Designs, He Prints’?

She Design He Prints has been a long-term dream – Covid gave us the time to bring it to reality.

I have always illustrated as part of my work as a graphic designer. When the pandemic hit the wheels fell off our business overnight. As we sat with a very quiet print works, we took stock and decided we would do our best to use the time as wisely as we could. Everyone was stuck at home and sending cards to keep in touch with friends and family – it seemed the perfect fit for our lighthearted homegrown humour.

It was a proud moment to see our first card range rolling off the presses. Then the challenge really began. We learnt how to create our own wordpress ecommerce website and She Designs He Prints was up and running, trading both directly to clients and very proudly getting our first stockists.

It has been a huge learning curve, not least having to embrace the wonders of social media, but the whole process has added so much to our skillset. The positive byproducts of it have been fantastic. It has broadened our network and changed the kind of work we do.

Your elevator pitch (in less than 20 words describe what you do)?

Basically our name is our elevator pitch…She Designs He Prints! It really is exactly that; I design all kinds of paper products and He Prints uses his craftsmanship to bring them to life for me.

Is it an offshoot to your company ‘SmartImaging’?

We consider She Designs He Prints as Smartimagings’ biggest client.

It sits well beside our core business of design and print but operates in a completely different area. We have found this to be a great way of diversifying, not just into illustrating and producing our own cards, but we now print cards for many other illustrators and artists, so in essence one business feeds the other.

What’s your USP?

Our secret sauce is that we are a partnership, a team that covers both sides of producing our product. I create the artwork and Brian prints it and we both love what we do.

We produce products with a sense of humour, using sustainable materials and we can create things that make us smile and that we’re proud of. This allows us to really stand over what we make.

The collaboration of working with a business partner, who not only challenges you to do better, but supports you when you have hairbrained ideas is what drives me on. The working relationship between She Designs and He Prints is really what keeps both of us going.

Who is your target market?

Is it too simple to say anyone who needs a greeting card!

Our market, we have found through research, is largely female and over 25, we have been very lucky to build a loyal community of customers, largely through word of mouth and social media. We have a great bunch of followers on Instagram, who engage and support our brand. But really our cards are just aimed at anyone who likes to smile.

Do you believe there is a resurgence in ‘the personal touch’ – of receiving a handwritten card or letter in the post?

I do think Covid gave us more respect for the joy of receiving post. There is a definite newfound appreciation over the last couple of years for the time and effort it takes for someone to buy a card, write it and post it to you. And we have also had great feedback that our cards are fridge friendly, people often say we loved the pic so we still have it on the fridge. Can’t do that with a text message!

What role does sustainability play in ‘She Designs, He Prints’?

We have always made responsible choices, not just on using sustainable materials but also on our supply chain. We source local and minimize our impact on the environment as much as possible.  Our sustainable choices include using local suppliers, minimizing our travel to meetings, recycling as much of our waste as possible and managing our logistics in a responsible way.

How has technology influenced your business model?

The main impact technology has had on our business has been selling online. This is now an important part of our business. We have had to learn a completely different way of trading, but it has been worth it. While there are constant production advances in our industry with automation and while we keep up to date with new techniques, we pride ourselves on being craftspeople at our core.

Was there a steep learning curve?

Many! As a design and print business our client base was corporate, a completely different kind of client to She Designs He Prints. We had no social media experience, no online selling experience and we had never created a consumer product before. In the last couple of years we have really applied ourselves to educate ourselves and change our skillset.

With the help of our Local Enterprise Office, I have had training in email marketing, social media marketing, pricing, video content and presentation skills. I have also had tremendous support from the MentorsWork programme which was a fantastic experience. It included business mentoring one-on-one for 12 weeks plus access to online masterclasses in marketing, lean business, social media and many other relevant areas. This programme was incredible – a total game changer for me as a creative with no business development background. Participating in it has given me the tools I need and the confidence to drive our business forward.

Aside from all the practical insights that I gained from the MentorsWork experience, it also really lit a fire in me to make it work.

(MentorsWork is a programme run by SFA in partnership with Skillnet Ireland, Ibec, SBCI and Microfinance Ireland)

Four adjectives to describe YOU

Positive, creative, flexible, resourceful.

Four adjectives to describe HIMSELF (yes, the print pixie)

Passionate, patient, perfectionist and of course fun!

Collaboration is an important aspect of your business.  What interesting projects have you worked on?

The She Designs He Prints adventure constantly throws up new and fun collaborations. Some we’ve really enjoyed were; creating a set of illustrated postcards for the WMB conference; collaborating with Boxable a female led Irish gifting company, (we have done so many projects together since connecting through social media a couple of years ago that I couldn’t pick a favourite); working with Touchnote, an international app that now use my illustrations on their cards, and most recently creating a range of bespoke cards for Drumshanbo gin. There have been lots of collaborations since we began this new adventure and no matter what scale of project, each one provides me with a new challenge. It’s hard not to love what you do when it’s constantly pushing you to develop new techniques.

How do you develop a passion (your illustration, his print prowess) into a profitable entity without stifling the process?

It can be hard not let the commercial side overshadow the joy of what you love to do, however the balance of having a partner in crime makes this much better.

We find that at any given moment one of us is thinking business and the other is just enjoying the process of their part of the business. Teamwork is what has allowed us both to develop what we do into a profitable business.

I would say hand on heart neither of us would have come this far on our own and we certainly wouldn’t have had as much fun!

Is there a business model you would like to emulate?

I love how Ohh Deer have developed in the UK. They are not only true to their ethos of supporting illustrators and creating great fun products, but they have branched into other paper products beyond cards. They have also developed a subscription box service full of beautiful items from a monthly featured artist. The way in which their business is agile and tries new things is to be admired. They do all this and still have a solid set of values that they stick to … She Designs He Prints definitely wants to be like them when it grows up!

You’ve expanded your revenue streams to include other offerings apart from cards, can you elaborate?

We are dipping our toes into the overall stationery and gifting market. We successfully launched a range of wall prints over a year ago which has been very well received and is now stocked in a variety of outlets throughout the country and overseas. Following on from that we designed tea towels, journals and we also print on ceramic tiles inhouse – he prints got to buy a new toy for that one! Our range is constantly changing and evolving as we play with different production techniques, basically we love printing things!

What brands/companies do you love?

In no particular order but just because all have playful elements in their ethos and branding.

Meaghers Pharmacy – Their social media is brilliant; Oonagh O’Hagan is fab  –  A very inspiring woman.

Kilkenny shop – their collection of Irish design is outstanding (we’re aspiring to be stocked there at some point!)

Peachylean – female led, female focussed, fantastic branding and the colours are magic!

Achill Island Sea Salt – not just because their fudge is amazing, but their packaging and branding are stunning and their willingness to look in different directions and collaborate with other makers to grow their business is inspiring.

Mimi + Martha – Family run, female run, with a tremendous ethos of supporting Irish creatives and providing quirky gift options. This pair set up their business just as covid hit and they have continued to grow it and expand their offerings by supporting small Irish makers…and they do all this with the biggest smiles!

Having written this list off the top of my head I’ve realised I’m clearly very inspired by female entrepreneurs!

Biggest ‘win’ to date?

Definitely one of my biggest wins on a personal note was having my illustration used on a card for Sainsburys in UK. There is nothing like walking into the supermarket and picking your card off the shelf. Through a collaboration with GCA UK (Greeting card association UK, which we are members of and Ohh Deer, I was selected to illustrate a card for Black History week). On a business note we’ve recently had some great achievements; attaining Guaranteed Irish status is something we’re very proud of, as is becoming a member of the Design and Craft Council of Ireland. Having our Mammy tea towel picked for the Edit at Showcase (the curated selection of makers objects chosen to be featured) this year was also a highlight. It’s super to get your products recognised by your peers.

Best business advice to pass on?

It’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.

This sounds like a cheesy one, but it is honestly some of the best advice I have ever been given. There are days, and I’m sure we all have them, when nothing goes right, doors close, things go wrong, production doesn’t turn out as you expected….in my experience I have three options; throw it all up in the air and walk away; get the chocolate biscuits out; or stop, look at what’s happened and see what I can take from it.