Elly Oak


Tell us the story of your business – was there a particular moment, person, or need that inspired it?

I had just come back from a few months backpacking around Thailand, and it was time to return to reality and get a job. I had held several corporate positions over the years and just assumed I would take on a similar role. The more I thought about it, the more I realised this was my ‘crossroads’ moment, and if I was ever going to act on my long-time desire to design and make things, it was now. I was quite open-minded, positive and energised after all that travel, and I think that helped in making the decision to start my own business.

I had always loved greeting cards and had quite a collection of all my favourites in a box. I thought, if I love them so much, why don’t I start making them rather than just collecting them? I had also painted throughout school and uni, and I saw greeting cards as a manageable, smaller-scale way to get back into my art. Each card was like a little mini canvas.

What first steps did you take to turn your business idea into a reality?

My business started with very small ‘baby’ steps and grew quite organically from there. One afternoon, I spent a few hours hand-painting some very simple Scandinavian-style flowers and shapes onto cards. I took them to a little regional art gallery to see if they were interested, and they took the lot on commission.

When I tentatively rang a few days later to see how they were going, the owner said they had all sold, and could she have some more, please! I will never forget the rush this gave me and that little tingle of excitement where you realise something big and exciting may be about to happen.

From there, I did a short course in screen-printing so I could produce my cards more quickly and economically. Twelve years on, I no longer hand-paint each card, and I now have my cards printed digitally by local printers.

Was it scary, or did everything come naturally?

The growth of my business wasn’t really a daunting process, as it grew in little steps, and I was able to change and adapt as necessary without having to make any big jumps, scary decisions or large financial outlays. Looking back over the years, I can see how far I have come, but I think at the time, it all felt like quite a manageable, enjoyable and natural process. Along the way there have been the hard times too, mistakes I’ve made and failures I’ve learnt from. But because I am doing what I love, I always seem to be able to push through these moments. It’s a bit of a childhood dream come true. As a child, I loved setting up a shop out the front of our house and selling things I had made.

Tell us three things that excite you about doing what you do.

1. Working for myself and not being locked into a routine.
2. The unknown… what the future may hold.
3. Being part of a community of makers and surrounding myself with like-minded people. Our stories are all so similar.

How do you keep your business fresh and exciting? Do you have any new, upcoming products in the works that you can tell us about?

I have recently added hand-embellished pom-pom cards to my range. I glue all the pom poms onto the various designs myself, and whilst this sounds very time consuming (it really is), it is also quite meditative. I love these new cards and am excited that they are doing well, even if it means many more late nights with the glue gun. It is also a nice return to the hand-made aspect of my early cards and reinforces my enjoyment and need to use my hands and make things.

What energises and inspires you, generally?

Being outdoors and surrounding myself with any form of nature seems to be a never-fail way of making me feel inspired. I also love art, and the thought of spending an afternoon wandering around an art gallery with a coffee and a good book is my idea of heaven.

Where do you think your area of design is heading? Are there any business trends that you’ve identified? Have they affected the direction of your business?

I think that e-greetings and customised/personalised greeting cards are an interesting area. However, I strongly feel that there will always be a place for a beautiful greeting card that you find in a shop that is perfect for the person or occasion you have in mind. It’s like a little piece of art. And I think this tactile aspect of selecting a card, writing it and giving it to the recipient is a special process and one that I feel lucky to be a part of. I just make cards that I would like to receive and hope that people feel the same.

What advice would you give to someone who has a creative business idea?

Just start… you really do figure everything out along the way, just by doing it. But the hardest part is starting, so once that’s been done, it’s fun (if not challenging) from there on in!