PROfile is a series of interviews with artists and creative souls who have built businesses around their craft and passion. We'll dig deeper to try and find out everything you could want to know from seasoned pros who have experienced the full gamut of highs and lows that come with running a creative business.
This week we are interviewing Paris-based stationery designer Emily Sell, whose brand, Ever After Press, shot to fame on Instagram after people fell in love with her romantic aesthetic and pretty glimpses of her life in Paris. Here she shares her journey from a law degree to Parisian designer.
What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
My first ‘grown up' job was in a law firm in Dubai. I had just finished my law degree and moved out to the UAE after university. I really enjoyed it, but I've always been creative and it wasn't long before I started to crave doing something less corporate. Living in Dubai was unbelievably fun, and it's where I met my husband and many of my best friends, so Dubai is still very close to my heart and I work with a lot of Dubai based clients. I've always loved being an expat, which is one of the reasons I like living in Paris, even though being here in France is a little closer to home.
Has design always been in your blood?
Both my parents studied art and always encouraged me to draw and paint from a young age, although graphic design wasn't something that I was aware of as a potential career until much later. I've always been very creative, but I think there used to be a perception that it was more sensible in some ways to go into a non-creative career. That's definitely what happened with me, I think that's why you see a lot of people changing into more creative roles when they are a bit older.
What made you get into stationery?
When planning my own wedding I fell in love a second time around, this time with wedding stationery. Being a wedding stationery designer is the perfect way for me to be able to work with the understated feminine aesthetic that I love every day, and help couples transform their ideas into reality.
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
In order to gain the creative suite skills I needed to move into working in design, I retrained in Graphic Design at the wonderful Shillington College in London. Shillington is a specialist graphic design school where all of the teachers are practising designers, and you work on live briefs in quite an intense environment with a lot of time pressure. I absolutely loved it and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to retrain in design. I think I always knew really that I would like to work for myself, as the kind of design that I like is quite niche. After graduating, I worked as a designer in some agencies in London for a couple of years, before going full time with Ever After Press. It basically reached the point where it was obvious to me that my interests lie within a specific aesthetic, and that I only really wanted to work for myself.
How did you go about starting your own business?
I started off working from home in London, setting up a very basic website with the designs that I had already done for friends and starting to figure out my prices. About a year later I totally redesigned my website, as by then I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to offer. To me that's a relatively natural part of the evolution of a young brand.
I spent a lot of time building up printing contacts, and also figuring out what the processes behind my business would be. It sounds boring, and when I first went into this I thought I would be able to spend most of my time designing, but I've found that I actually spend a huge amount of time on admin, accounts and that kind of thing. I'm trying to streamline my processes at the moment so that things are more structured.
How did you secure your first clients?
My first clients were largely through word of mouth and friends and family. Now, I find that most of my clients are via Instagram or are referrals from past clients or wedding planners. Instagram now seems to have overtaken Pinterest as a planning tool for brides, and I find it invaluable in terms of staying in touch with clients.
What is your typical daily routine like?
Every day is different, which I really love. I tend to start work slightly later than normal as I work from home, but I do often end up working late at night, and sometimes at weekends. I get up at the same time as my husband and either have a healthy breakfast of yoghurt, berries and chia seeds, or homemade nutella on toast (I found a great recipe by the very talented Deliciously Ella). If it's the weekend, or we're up early enough, we'll head to our favourite local café for pain au chocolat and a crème.
I then start replying to emails in my little studio and getting down to the client work for the day. It could be anything from putting mood boards together for a wedding client, working on stationery designs, artworking files to be foiled or letterpressed, or preparing something special by hand for a styled shoot. I also sometimes work on branding and website design for small companies and start ups with a feminine or luxury aesthetic. I often chat with clients over Facetime, as they tend to be pretty global.
Around lunchtime, if I'm really busy I'll make something quick at home, or alternatively meet a friend or work related contact for coffee and cake (I have a weakness for Ladurée!). I try to get out for a walk in the afternoon now that the weather's so great: I live right between Trocadero (which has a great view of the Eiffel Tower), and the Champs Élysées, but I also love popping into the Bois de Boulogne, a huge wood with beautiful boating lakes, which is also nearby (sometimes with a detour past my favourite local pet shop which has the cutest puppies)! Then it's back to work for a few more hours, until meeting friends for rosé on a terrace or for a picnic, steak frites with my husband or a night in with Netflix.
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
In the wedding industry, having a genuine desire for your clients to be really happy with your work definitely helps. I still feel like it's an honour to be involved in an aspect of every couples wedding and it's really touching when you get positive feedback.
You are originally from the UK, but living in Paris. How does running a business differ between each country?
That's a really interesting question. Our move to Paris was completely unplanned and out of the blue really! After living in Dubai for 7 years, we moved to London for just over 2 years. My husband's work then brought us to Paris. Working for myself meant that I could continue with Ever After Press from Paris, as although my French is really shocking (rusty GCSE level-I really want to find time to learn properly), most of my clients are international, so language isn't an issue. There is a lot of admin here in France and the taxes and social costs for a small business are high compared to the UK, which is difficult. However, I think it has been beneficial for my brand moving to Paris, people seem to like having their wedding stationer based here! On a day to day level, all of my printing is done in the UK, largely because of the language barrier an d because I already had contacts there that I know and trust, which makes delivery timeframes a little bit longer, but on the whole it's fine. I am a little removed from the UK wedding industry, but I've met some great wedding planners and photographers over here, as France is obviously a great place for a destination wedding.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
Spending time on getting things right behind the scenes and streamlining everything as much as possible – I think it's a real investment in your business to take your time and figure out the small details so that everything runs smoothly (most of the time)!
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
I definitely do, in fact it can be really difficult to switch off at night sometimes! I think there's the compulsion to get things done and move forward when you are running your own business. There's always so much that I want to do, and it can be hard to know where to start. Aside from that, there's the desire to work on new designs – I am always jotting down ideas and am hoping to develop some new products soon. It can be frustrating to put the day-to-day running of a business first, which is why I often end up working at night – that gives me time to focus on new things, whilst the day tends to be taken up with emailing, making calls, sending work to print and getting myself organised.
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
Not really. I think being your own boss takes a bit of getting used to – if there's a business related issue you haven't come across before, you can't ask your boss for their opinion. It can be stressful sometimes that all of the responsibility is on you. At the same time, the internet is a great resource, and there's a great network of people I can always speak to within the wedding industry. I'm also constantly inspired and supported by my wonderful husband James, he always believes in me and is happy to chat through work with me, even when he's had a really long day at the office, which means a lot when you are working on your own – sometimes it's really good to get another perspective.
How do you relax?
I love to read, wander round Paris and take weekend trips around France with my husband.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find design inspiration all over the place, both online and when I'm out and about, which is why I'm such a big fan of Instagram and Pinterest. It's great to be able to share your visual aesthetic in such an immediate way, although I feel that what I'm into design-wise is constantly evolving. I read a lot of blogs on many different types of design, from Scandinavian interiors to photography and how to master a minimal capsule wardrobe. I designed an invitation suite recently inspired by the ongoing trend for marble in interiors. Another recent invitation suite was inspired by Dutch painting and was a chance to explore a moodier, more dramatic palette which was really fun to do. When working on a bespoke design I am normally guided by my clients’ plans for their day and their personal style as a couple, but I hope to also expand my personalised collection soon with some new trend led designs. It's great to get the best of both worlds. I'm also inspired by textures and textile design, photography and architecture. Living in Paris, you are constantly surrounded by beautiful details, as well as a great wedding industry community.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Don't look back – you're not going that way.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
Having my stationery featured in Printemps as part of their 150th birthday celebrations was really fun. Also being featured in Stylist magazine, Style Me Pretty and French Vogue online all in one week was pretty exciting!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Definitely all of the kind feedback that you get from clients – it really means a lot to me.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Take things one day at a time and try to live in the moment.
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
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