Before you hear from Alexis, I just have to tell you the fun story of how we met.
The time - last summer. The place - on a blog post discussion thread from The Small Things Blog. NO JOKE.
We discovered we were both attending Create + Cultivate in Chicago and we were both going solo. Actually, it was my first time going really anywhere solo!
Alexis reached out to me via email and suggested we meet up before the welcome party and go together. Seriously, that's the kind of amazing human she is!
You are going to love her and her beautiful products. Now, on to the interview.
1. Tell me a little about yourself, what you do and where we can find you.
My name is Alexis Austin and I am the shop owner and main force behind the online stationery paperie, Curio Press.
I've been both an entrepreneur and designer / crafter since I was little. I think it started when I was 8 and I decided to paint rocks and sell them door-to-door - and people bought them!! My interests have evolved a bit since then and I've followed a not-so-straight path through my education starting with Architecture and ending up in Graphic Communications. During grad school I got this crazy idea to start a stationery business on my own, and voila - Curio Press was born! It was the perfect way for me to bring my designs into others' lives while still pursuing a career that brought me joy.
Curio Press offers beautiful and unique, personalized stationery sets, notepads, mugs and pencils that make great gifts or a special treat for yourself. All the design, printing, cutting packaging, etc, is done in my studio. The business has grown over the past 3 years, but it is still just myself and my husband—he does the packaging and shipping and I would be lost without him!
Since launching Curio Press in early 2013, both the business and my family have seen a lot of changes. We moved several times and have added a very active little girl to the mix. We currently live in Saint Louis, Missouri and are absolutely loving it.
Our main selling platform has always been Etsy but about 8 months ago we also joined Handmade at Amazon – which has been a much needed new sales channel. Our standalone website will also be ready very soon - I am doing that myself as well and there just aren’t enough hours in the day!
2. How did you know you wanted to pursue a creative career, and specifically paper products?
There is no simple answer to this. I had wanted to be an Architect since I was 9 years old and I took a very straight path to becoming one - right up until my 3rd year of undergrad when I realized that the design and printing portion of my building projects was the part I was most passionate about. So, I started a Graphic Communications minor and ended up in Grad school for printing. I knew I wanted to work in the graphic design and printing industry, but really had no idea where I wanted to end up. All I had ever wanted was to become an Architect and this huge shift threw all my life plans and aspirations out the window.
My online business actually started during a very rough time in my life. During grad school, I was suffering from chronic, crippling pain that the doctors couldn’t figure out. It was preventing me from doing my school work so I took a quarter off from school. During that time, we didn’t have the income from my campus job (and I got stir crazy being at home) and so I decided to start a home business. I knew I needed something I could do at my own pace – sitting or laying down whenever I needed to – and that it would have to be from home. Suddenly, Etsy was on my radar and I just jumped in.
I’m the kind of person who, when I get an idea that I am obsessed with, I dive right into the deep end and figure out how to swim later. Curio Press wasn’t my first Etsy shop. I started a furniture shop about a year prior to Curio Press that sold reupholstered chairs. It was going great, but was just too much work for each piece and was a very physical job, so I decided to close it.
About the same time, I was diagnosed with very severe Endometriosis, which had spread to my intestines and bladder. After 2 surgeries I was feeling significantly better, was able to resume classes, and got a job in a local print shop. About a month later I decided to take all my printing and design skills and launch a stationery shop. I mean, paper and design were what I was passionate about- why didn’t I think of that sooner?!
3. Our lives are all on the internet these days and many girls without previous interest or desire to design are getting the itch to do so. What are your tips for aspiring DIY designers?
The climate of Etsy and online selling has changed a lot in the past couple years. When I started doing stationery, there were only a handful of designers on Etsy doing the same thing. Now there seems to be a new shop opening every day. My best advice is to know your market and target it - and these days niche is a good thing. I’d also recommend not selling yourself short. I did that a lot when I started- I would charge way too little for way too much of my time and resources and it almost burned me out.
4. Tell me about your morning routine. Is there anything you make sure to do every day to have the best start?
Coffee - then more coffee!! I have a bit of a problem!
My husband and I are both fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with our daughter, Emma and we evenly split the childcare each day. He takes her in the morning until nap, then I take her till bedtime. So my mornings are dedicated to working on the business, whether that is doing the actual production run or just sending emails and working on development. I really do start with coffee, then I always sit down and write out all my goals for the day - split into work for the morning and life for the evening. I try to be realistic about what I can do too - one of my biggest weaknesses in the past has always been expecting way more of myself and my limited time than is reasonable. It sets the tone for the day and if I am able to accomplish everything then I can take a break that night before bed.
5. What are some ways you practice wellness in your busy routine?
As I mentioned, my husband and I split our childcare, so I have Emma in the afternoons. I used to spend that whole time feeling bad about all the work for the shop that I could be doing rather than really appreciating the time I had with her. But I noticed it was happening and about 8 months ago I made a mental shift - now when I am with Emma, I all all there. No work. And that has trickled into the rest of my life too. There is a distinct separation between work and life time that is really hard to achieve when your work is at home with you 24/7.
As for physical wellness, I still had a lot of baby weight to lose when we move to Missouri, so I hired a personal trainer to keep me on track. I’ve also set aside time for cooking each day and have started on a low carb diet, which has done wonders for my residual heath issues. We eat mostly organic and only home cooked meals now!
6. You've lived so many places! What is your favorite city?
It’s true! I have lived in 7 states - Wisconsin, New Mexico, California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and now Missouri. Each one represents a different chapter of my life. I have a couple favorites, but I think they may hold a different experience for me now. I loved the small coastal town of San Luis Obispo, CA, but that was my college self who loved the beaches and the nightlife. Albuquerque is a close second - the dry heat and gorgeous sunsets on the mountain while lounging in the pool make that my mental happy place when I need one. And now Missouri has turned out to be an amazing place to have a kid. There are way more family oriented (and free!!) things to do with kids here thanin any of the places I have lived before. So right now, Saint Louis is pretty great, but in 5 years who knows!?
7. What's an adventure you'd love to take?
Our dream is to go to France with our daughter. I’ve traveled to France and throughout Europe, but my husband has only been to Mexico. We have friends in France we would love to spend time with and just become fully immersed in the culture. I’ve actually asked them if they thought my business would survive there (as if I could get my printer across the Atlantic!) and they said no, that they didn’t think stationery was so popular there. But who knows! A great thing about working for yourself is that it is ever evolving and you are very mobile. I have no idea what will come next and so that is an adventure in itself.
8. What makes you feel super healthy?
Being low carb!! I think it is a bit controversial as a diet, but I have never felt better in my life than I have in the past 2 month since starting low carb. It has forced me to eat very clean and cut out all the processed junk I had been eating. I used to always gave myself a pass - blaming the business and being too busy - even though I knew it was unhealthy. And better still, my whole family is benefitting from my life change because they are getting healthy home cooked meals everyday.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received?
I have no idea where I heard it or if I made it up, but the thing I think to myself constantly is “You’ll never be ready. Do it anyway.” There have been so many times where I told myself I wasn’t ready, or if I just do this one thing, then I will be ready to move forward. And I would just put off whatever it was that I was afraid of. Having a baby is one of those things - I definitely didn’t feel ready, but she is here and I can’t fathom my life without her. Same goes for launching my line of pencils or making friends in the new places we have lived. The conditions don’t have to be perfect, just put yourself out there and do it! You will thank yourself later.