One of the things I tell people the most about having a business or having a career you love is that nothing happens overnight. I've had my business for almost 12 years, and every year, things get better because I have gained more experience and learned more from past mistakes. Today, I'm partnering with Nespresso and their new Selection Vintage 2014 coffee (which, too, was crafted by time) to share the story and a look back at the evolution of my career.
Time is an important element to doing things well and finding true success. I have spent the last 16 years since graduation working towards my goals, and in the same way, Nespresso has aged this coffee for the last three years in a complicated system of rotation and regulation to make this Selection Vintage 2014 a fine aged coffee. This is a very long post, but worth a read if you want to know how careers really are built over time…
2001 – After finishing high school and college (I went to Syracuse University and graduated with a degree in Communications Design, which is the same as graphic design), I knew I wanted to work in New York City at a small ad agency. For the next two years, I worked as a graphic designer for a boutique ad agency called Ink & Co. with a focus on fashion and beauty clients. I got to go to Fashion Week every season, and my love of fashion really began around this time.
2003 – A couple years into that first job, I really began to crave designing products for the everyday person. I loved textiles and home decor, and decided I wanted to design patterns—except I had no real textile design experience. So I put together a giant postcard with work from my portfolio that showcased graphics that would be most attractive to the companies I was reaching out to. I put the giant postcard into an envelope wrapped in a pattern I had created, then sent it to a handful of my favorite textile and fashion companies in New York. And finally, I got a call from Cynthia Rowley's office—they were looking for a textile designer for their Swell line for Target. Because I didn't have a ton of experience in that area, the art director gave me a test project to complete. I guess she saw enough potential in me to give me the job, and I went on to design hundreds of products for the Swell line over the course of the next year.
In 2005, I left New York to move to Philly with my then boyfriend (and now husband), Bob (we had been dating long distance previously). Having gained a ton of product design experience at Cynthia Rowley, I decided I wanted to continue designing home products and work for the home department at Anthropologie. I again sent over some of my work in the mail to attract their attention, along with my resume. I got an interview, but sadly, the position I wanted wasn't available. So I began freelancing to make money and started this blog—both things that led me down a path I had never expected but that ended up being some of best things ever. I still ended up starting my freelance career with clients like Urban Outfitters designing rugs, glassware, and other fun home products. I started this blog, and what started as a way to keep track of my inspirations began to get read by more and more people and became a great way for potential design clients to find me.
2007 – My "freelancing to pay the bills" work ended up turning into my own full-time design business. But a couple years into designing for my clients, I realized I wanted to design products that had my own name on them. So I launched my own stationery line at the National Stationery Show in 2007. It was the first time that I had my name on items I designed, and it felt so good! My stationery was picked up and sold by some of my dream stores, like Anthropologie, Kate's Paperie, and Paper Source…but….
2008 – I hated the production part of the stationery business. I was spending more time packaging and shipping orders then I was creating new products or designs. So I decided to explore licensing. While you get a smaller percentage of the profit when you license your designs, you don't have to produce, manufacture, or sell the items yourself—which was much more in line with the way I wanted to work. And almost every licensing collaboration I worked on initially were all ones I went after and pitched myself. I contacted companies like Tiny Prints and Wedding Paper Divas for wedding invitations, Chronicle Books for home office products, Hygge & West for wallpaper, and Winter Water Factory for baby clothing, showing them the kinds of products we could create together and how my style was complementary to their brands without being too similar to things they already produced.
2010 – After being in business on my own for five years, I'd learned so much—both from what I had accomplished and from the mistakes I had made—that I wanted to share those things with others. Meg Mateo Ilasco had written Craft, Inc. and Chronicle Books (the publisher) was interested in expanding the series. So Meg approached me about co-writing a book, and I suggested we pitch a freelancing book. The pitch was accepted and Creative, Inc. came out in 2010. Then I realized I wanted to share all the things that new bloggers want to know about and write Blog, Inc., which was published in 2012. Both of those books were so fulfilling for me because they are the books I wish I'd had when I was starting out—so if I can help people in some way through what I've learned, then writing them was totally worth it.
In 2012, I decided to change up my business. I had Ruby at the end of 2011 and I couldn't continue to do all the things I was doing before. I stopped taking on graphic design work for clients and instead chose to focus on the work that I could schedule in on my time. I decided to go back to blogging in my own voice again, sharing more custom photos, and to change the way I work with sponsors. While banner ads were the main way that my blog previously made money, I wanted to focus on creating more meaningful new content for my readers in collaboration with brands. I began approaching and pitching to brands and got help from an ad network, and now, when opportunities come my way, I make sure to only work with brands I really love on stories and ideas that make sense to me.
2013 is the year that my business turned a corner. I signed my first licensing deal with Target and knew I needed more help. More help meant working outside of my home and having a space for my new employees to work and also a place to help me separate work from home a bit more. I got my first office and hired 3 part-time employees over the course of that year—many of whom became full time within the next year.
In 2014, we launched a collection with Land of Nod and our first collection at Target. People began to take notice of our products now that Oh Joy was seen in bigger name stores. My love of creating products really cemented itself that year and I just wanted to make more and more. I also was pregnant and gave birth to my second baby, Coco, all while working on our 3rd book!
2015 – We launched our 3rd book in 2015. It is the first coffee table book I had created, and it was a true labor of love that included the hard work of the entire Oh Joy team. I went on a ton of morning TV shows to promote it and also got more comfortable talking to a camera and doing live TV.
2016 – After the success of our first collection in 2014, our second Target collection launched — expanding into home decor, nursery, and baby apparel. We continued to create DIYs, styling tips, recipes, and general Oh Joy lifestyle content for this blog and for social media.
Now, here we are in 2017. We outgrew our first studio and needed more space for all the interiors shoots we do, so we moved at the beginning of the year to a new space which I'll share photos of in a few months once we finish designing it. This year, we have several new collections coming out (spring home decor and pets has already launched!). Plus, I have a lot up my sleeve with more products launching, new ideas in the works, and our team feels stronger than ever. I keep hustlin' and keep working at growing, building, and creating things that will add joy to your daily life.
Often, when I am catching up with friends or colleagues over coffee, there's often frustration when people are seeking career paths or levels of success that haven't yet happened for them. One thing that was cool for me when working with Nespresso in telling this story was a series of gifts they sent me that reminded me of different steps in my past jobs that led me to where I am now.
A print of New York reminds me of my first job out of school, a book about Pucci who inspires my continual love of textile design, and a set of cups gets me excited about the newest products we're designing. I love the idea of encouraging people in your life who may be frustrated by the time it is taking to find “success”, and to remind them of how far they’ve already come through small gifts like this. A meaningful item sent to them by surprise not only gives a fresh dose of inspiration to move forward but also a nice walk down memory lane to see how far they’ve already come on their own path.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at how I've built Oh Joy and all the steps along the way. And no matter what stage you're at in your job or career, remember that every phase is a step closer to the next bigger, better, or more meaningful goal.
*This post is in collaboration with Nespresso. All words are my own.