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Designer Interview 02: eieio studio



Designer Interview 02
Who: Ellen Elfering & Jean Orlebeke of eieio studio

As a graphic designer & crafty type, I’ve always been a huge fan of paper of all kinds. When I came across eieio, I fell in love with their gorgeous & graphic wrapping paper. So, I’m delighted that Ellen and Jean have agreed to take part in one of my Designer Interviews!

1 ~ What is your role in your company?
Ellen: My role is primarily the liason with the customers, reps, and fulfillment house. I also collaborate with Jean on design and help in naming our patterns.

Jean: My primary role is to generate new designs for papers. We produce new designs twice a year, for the May stationery show and for the holidays. Together Ellen and I think of new product ideas, new production techniques, we look at the designs collectively and think of what may be missing (like ‘green’). We decide what trends to ignore (everyone’s doing it) and what to attempt (no one will like this but us). It’s really a very collaborative process. I wonder how it would be different if we didn’t live 3000 miles apart.

2 ~ What inspired you to start your line?
Ellen: The main thing is that I really wanted to work with my friend, who I thought (and still do) was the best designer I had ever come across. We both saw a need in the market for nicely designed and produced gift wrap, so off we went.

Jean: That’s right, the first thing we agreed was that it should be fun, and creatively satisfying. We wanted to make something, both a bit tired of the ‘professional service industry’. We didn’t think about the financial consequences of it. We were, and still are, so excited about making something for ourselves, and then discovering it has a life of it’s own.

3 ~ What’s the significance of the name “eieio”?
It’s not about a kid’s song or one of our names being McDonald! The truth is that we both have a ton of vowels in our names (first and last). We thought about “aeiou” but it wasn’t quite right. We thought eieio was nice because it was easy to spell, is whimsical without being too cute, and we liked the look of the letter forms together. Viola… eieio was born. (We had to add “studio” to our web address because the name already belongs to real estate company.)

4 ~ Did you find it hard to get started? Did you start the business cold turkey full-time or did it start as a side project while at another job?
Ellen: I don’t think it was that hard to get started, but looking back on what we didn’t know makes me think that if we had, we may have thought twice about starting this venture at all. Ignorance is bliss, right? We both work diligently on eieio but it’s not a full-time venture for either one of us. We continue to struggle with making it self-sustaining, let alone a profit making venture that we could get paid for. It’s my dream someday that we can.

Jean: The getting started is was actually the easy part — all dreaming. Keeping up, and learning how to keep it going is the hard part.

5 ~ If this isn’t your full-time business, what is?
Ellen: We do both have full-time jobs. Jean has her own successful design business, Obek Design, in Oakland, California. I work as a freelance account manager for design and branding firms in New York City. eieio is something that we both hope grows to the point where it sustains us (financially) so that we don’t have to work another job full-time. We both devote a tremendous amount of time to this business, so our lives can get quite crazy at times!

6 ~ What is your favorite product or series of products in your collection?
Ellen: I love all of our papers and products. I have my favorite designs, but feel that naming them would be like favoring a child. I don’t wish to play favorites! I do love our storage/mailing tubes, though. Especially the “minis”. You just don’t see these out there and ours are so nice. I also really like our latest designs that utilize different printing techniques such as spot gloss varnish and opalescent ink. You don’t see that on most gift paper and I think our production techniques are one of our primary distinguishing factors (besides the amazing design, of course).

Jean: My favorites are the group that looks like string, wire and netting (Flex, Fiber and Mesh). They are quieter, I think the design and color palette are more sophisticated. I think these will still be my favorites in five years. My other favorite is La Fonda, which is a drawing of a seaweed photo I took in Baja.


7 ~ Where are your items made? Are they made in factories/mills or in your own studio?

Ellen: Our paper is currently printed in Canada. Fulfillment of all orders is done from Washington State.

8 ~ How did you go about finding a manufacturer?

Ellen: Both Jean and I have a lot of experience with commercial printers since we are in the design world. We expect a great deal from our printers and they’ve been great.

9 ~ What inspires you in general?
Ellen: Many things inspire me. My friends, food, books, art, music, walking. Just seeing a teenie weed growing in the crack of a sidewalk makes me think life is pretty amazing sometimes.

Jean: Right now I am in a phase where botanical forms inspire me – seed heads, exotic succulents, the insides of vegetables. I used to be inspired by huge landscapes, the big view, now I am fascinated with the tiniest forms and detail. I should get a microscope.

10 ~ What is one piece of advice to other designers and creative types who are looking to start their own business?

Ellen: If you have the passion and desire to do something – just do what you want to do. Sometimes thinking about anything too long is not good. Listen to your gut and that will lead you to places you may fear, but that will ultimately be worth the journey.

Jean: Do it. Even if it is not a success by anyone else’s standards, it will be a success because you actually did it, instead of just talked about doing it. You will always have the thing you created, on your bookshelf or in a closet, you will be exposed to a whole new world of people, you will get a new education in the process, and you will be a more interesting person on the other side of the whole experience.

11 ~ Since you work as a team, what do you think are the benefits of having a partner rather than going at it alone?
Ellen: I’m not sure what Jean would say but for me, I couldn’t do it without her! Her amazing talent and fresh design keeps us in business – seriously. I would never think about doing this business with anyone but Jean. There’s another part of it, too. We both have strengths and weaknesses, and we compliment one another perfectly I think. Plus we collaborate on everything from the design, naming, new products, printing issues, billing issues, budgets, tradeshows, reps, etc… I can’t imagine making all those decisions solo. And the best thing is that above all, we are good friends and it’s so great to do this venture with a friend.

12 ~ What’s your favorite thing to do on a Saturday afternoon?
Ellen: I love going for a walk in my neighborhood. I live in a quaint little part of Brooklyn and I just love it. Birds, trees, and lovely architecture.

Jean: I live in a place surrounded by coast oaks, it’s uncontrollable, and I love to be in the little area where I’ve tried to create a garden while surrounded by the tall trees and wildness. My favorite thing is to be in the garden, with no specific task in mind, doing insignificant things — like collecting seeds or propagating something – but it gives me loads of instant gratification. It’s my therapy.

13 ~ What is your favorite flower, pet/animal, and magazine?
Ellen: My favorite flower is the Gerber Daisy, but love Lilacs as well – that’s two (sorry). My two cats are my favorite animals in the world. Favorite magazine is tough, but I’d say Harper’s.

Jean: Hard question! My fav flowers are lilacs, my favorite pet is one of my cats, an adopted wild one, my dream animal pet would be a little orange fox, and my current favorite magazine is ReadyMade, but that changes every month.

Thanks to the girls of eieio for giving us a great perspective on their amazing friendship and business relationship!



  1. glad you are all liking these…i was really excited to have this recent interview with eieio. i’m aiming to do one or two per month…look out for the next one will be after the holidays!

  2. I really admire these two ladies, jungling between full-time job and eieio. That’s really something! thanks for another great interview! I look forward to the next one!

  3. As the other’s have said, thank you for such inspiring interviews and the beautiful (visually) blog page. It’s nice to know you are doing this!

  4. Beautiful home!!! I happened upon this site by chance & am blown away by it’s beauty. But more importantly, I’d like to know if this is the same Jean that I grew up with – if so please email me I’d love to catch-up!
    P.S. Tell your dad that my dad is just fine.


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