The Inspirations: Abbey Warner of Sugalily

April 4, 2012

Abbey Warner is one of those incredibly giving and beautiful people. She is someone that I can always count on to dish the advice as well as have a dirty gossip with! I love her dearly and I’m totally chuffed to have her in The Green Room today. Women don’t come much more inspirational than my friend Abbey.

Hi Abbey! I’m so excited to have you as part of my Inspirations series. Can you tell us a little about yourself – Who you are, what you do etc?

Hello! I am Abbey, a little bit of the team that makes up the Sugalily design studio, which is based in Derby, right in the middle of England. I also spend at least one day a week in London town, meeting clients. Within the business my role is as Creative Director, doing {most of} the design and looking after our wedding clients.

So how did I get into the design and publishing game? I was already designing greetings cards that I was selling into local shops and creating wedding stationery for friends. I was really enjoying the creative and print processes and really wanted to get more involved. As I was commissioned for more and more projects, I decided that if I was going to do it properly that I needed to concentrate on it full time…so I left my old corporate life {enjoyable but increasingly unfulfilling, I was the Graduate Programme Manager within the Talent Management Team for a FTSE 100 Company} I resigned my role {telling my parents and boyfriend {at the time} I was on a 6 month sabbatical} and during my three month notice period planned the launch of the business…taking on a Web and Brand Designer, a PR Company and a Printer and launched at the Home and Gift Show at Harrogate in 2007, got my first trade clients and never looked back {although its not always been plain sailing!}

What is it about wedding stationery that you love?

I love the diversity of our clients and the vision of what they are wanting to create for themselves and their guests, and how we interpret it and make it come alive for them. Although the stationery is a really small part of the big day, I find the design process that we go through, from sketch booking and mood-boarding, can really help shape the design of the day, as we can often help make decisions that impact on colour schemes or a theme for example.

You still design and sell greetings cards. Can you tell us how the idea of remaining in the greetings card game came about? Why did you want to continue to do this as well as wedding stationery and how, if at all, does it enrich your wedding work?

I didn’t know how long it would take me to build up a really great reputation within the wedding or greetings worlds, so decided to launch Sugalily as a greetings card publishers AND wedding design studio. There were also whispers of a recession so I wanted to make sure that I had varied revenue streams, so really was a practical, business decision.

The inspiration for our greetings collection is mainly fashion inspired and you can see this research reflected in the wedding designs. I guess it is just a natural and the bold backgrounds, typography and florals and birds can be seen across many designs, although the greetings cards are more daring and playful.

You’ve just launched a new greetings card range alongside fellow designer Lucy Ledger. Can you tell us how this came about and what it’s like working with someone (who some might see) as a direct competitor?

Ahhh the lovely Lucy Ledger! Yes we have a little brand all of our very own, Lucy and Lily Studio and we have six stockists and have also just started distributing in Australia, which is really exciting as we only launched a capsule collection of 18 designs in January. We have big plans for our joint baby!

I find collaborations can be really inspirational for all involved and Lucy and I are actually friends. Although some may see us as competitors, we both offer very different services and our designs are really quite different. A lot of my designs are typography led or have very rich detailed backgrounds and Lucy’s very popular collage style of design compliment each other. So we just thought it would be a great experience to work together.

From the Lucy & Lilly capsule collection

I also hear you’re writing a book! Can you tell us anything about it yet?

I am! I am co-writing and illustrating an interiors book with the lovely, beautiful and inspirational Pearl Lowe, the book is called Pearl Lowe’s Vintage Home and is being published by HarperCollins. It is the largest project I have undertaken and it is so, so exciting, we are picking a photographer and stylist at the moment and next week begin writing up the DIY tutorials that will form the basis of the book. I can not tell you how exciting it is to be involved in something like this, every day has become an adventure and I am learning lots of new skills which is really interesting as well as energising.

The book will have its first outing at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October and will go on general release this time next year, I will make sure I keep you updated!

You’ve had some not so nice experiences of people copying your designs and even people taking your work and trying to pass it off as their own! How do you deal with this and do you have any advice for anyone experiencing the same?

This is one of those subjects that I absolutely can not allow myself to think about too much on a regular basis, otherwise it consumes me! But, like many designers I have been imitated on a fair few occasions, although a lot more recently in the last two years. I guess it’s a lot to do with the meteoric rise of social networking and online business presence. In 2007 when Sugalily was still in its infancy, there were not many blogs, facebook wasn’t that big and no one had heard of twitter.

Basically you had to work hard at your brand, carving out a niche for yourself and there was no ‘easy’ way in to meet people. Don’t get me wrong I ADORE social media and the internet, from snippets on twitter to reading full length blog posts, and for those of us who merely seek a little inspiration, the benefits are enormous. However, there is a negative, and although the positives far out weigh them, to creatives like me and countless others, it is a constant source of frustration {as a designer you expect to be copied, I freely admit I take a lot of inspiration from fashion and the arts, but what you don’t expect is for it to happen so often within the wedding industry and directly on your door step.} This free and open sharing is then, well abused, with little or no concern for the original designs and concepts, when people have spent untold amount of money and time of developing a product, brand and style.

From the Pearl Lowe greetings card collection

Some people/ businesses have developed their business and/or designs, built entirely on another business ‘passing them off’ as their own, people who lack the imagination and creativity to create an original concepts and design. In one of my most recent cases, it was such a blatant case of ‘passing off’ {I received so many emails and calls from fellow designers, wedding planners and bloggers} that I could have gone legal and spent thousands of pounds proving {easily} that the designs, fonts and concepts had been taken directly from my designs, but instead I turned it on its head and saw it as an opportunity to do a rebrand, after all, the whole vintage scrapbook styling is here there and every where now. So I have gone altogether sleeker and more classic rather than off-the-minute vintage, retro etc and this is how I would encourage others to deal with it too {if time and budgets allow.} If you are being copied you need to remember that it is because you are always one step ahead of the game and creating the trends, rather than following them. Knowing yourself that you have created your brand from your own vision is so, so satisfying and it is turning a really negative experience into a really positive one.

I would love to see some kind of stamp of authenticity when it comes to our {small} industry, supported by event organisers, wedding planners, magazine and lifestyle editors, bloggers etc so that emerging talent is supported and encouraging to those who are original in their work, and those who take direct inspiration {and therefore potential credit and revenue} from someone else are left out in the cold. I have exhibited at a well established and relatively high end wedding show since 2008, but in October last year made the decision to stop exhibiting there {and I don’t exhibit anywhere else} because I found that the organisers were promoting {passively} these copy cats {not just in stationery but other areas} and that it was becoming less exclusive than it has been previously. There is a way to combat this and if anyone has any more ideas, would be great to hear them!

Obviously you’ve been in this industry for a while and because of this I would imagine that you are now positioning yourself at a higher end of the market than a lot of new stationery designers. Do you find it hard to compete with newer designers who undercut you in price or offer brides more for their money?

I don’t really worry about competition, I have been around for five years now and have always positioned myself at the higher end of the market. I find that the brides and clients that we attract are much more interested in design, experience and our knowledge, than in the price. If the enquires are not suitable or we are full, I recommend other fellow brit designers that I admire… Pretty Wild Wedding, Louise Richardson, Hello!Lucky, Artcadia, Cutture and of course Lucy Ledger Designs.

There are so many other stationery designers out there, how do you make sure you and your designs stand out from the crowd?

We now only offer a bespoke service, with 12 spaces for clients a year {we are fully booked for 2012 into april 2013} we want to keep the brand a little bit exclusive. I also find that because I am not known just as a wedding stationery designer I get some really interesting projects that cross weddings, designs, fashion, beauty and interiors, which also help keep designs fresh.

Do you have any tips for people wanting to find their own style?

I think ones style is constantly developing, so I would say, no matter what I do or how I work, I mood-board concepts and designs so that I am always referencing the brief {palette, design, end product}…if you always get the basics right, the rest will follow…and your style will evolve naturally.

What inspires you as a designer, a business woman and a person?

Generally my inspirations are primarily fashion, fashion art, and travel, which I adore, and I try and go abroad about 5 times a year. One of the most inspirational places I like to visit {as often as possible!} is Paris…the food, the culture and the fashion are just like no where else, in fact I plan to spend a few months out there in the next year or so. I also love Italy and am spending three weeks there this year, such a treat!

In terms of business I find incredibly successful business women who appear to have life sorted beyond inspirational, such as Natalie Massenet who founded Net-A-PorterIndia Knight (journalist) and Sophie Dahl (model turned cooking guru).

And in terms of being inspired daily, I get so much support and love from my gorgeous friends, wonderful boyfriend {I don’t mean to sound smug, believe me I have kissed plenty of frogs!} and finally my mum, who handles everything life throws at her with a knowing nod, a wink and chink of a wine glass! It’s really the only way to get by without loosing yourself along the way!

Can you tell us about your blog, Pretty Lovely Paper. Why did you decide to start a design blog and how has it added to your brand? Where do you see this moving forward?

Pretty Lovely Paper is really, just a personal project, sharing inspiration and print pretty predominately showcasing work from designer makers in the UK. I have also launched a new range of ‘Lessons in Design’ that is really just advice that designers probably have to repeat time and time again, and knowledge is taken for granted. I wanted to create an online resource that designers can point their clients too for the basics. It is very much work in progress at the moment!

What’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve been given?

There are two pieces of advice that I live by…”Be the best that you can be at what you do” and “pay as much as you can afford to create the best team.”

And the worst?

“You can trust him, he’s been a friend for years…” as I hand over cash to a very talented web developer {who turned out to be a functioning bankrupt} to develop my new site when the agency I employed for my launch site, closed down {recession casualty}. Oops.

Money lost and no new website. I have learnt a lot since then, helped by meeting other awful web designers but I now have an amazing one!

If you could go back to before you launched Sugalily and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be {SOOOO} trusting and ready to share your successes with people {which I still and probably always will do} I am terribly inclusive and it has led to a few ‘fools rush in’ moments which I will happily share over a cocktail or two…

What are you most proud of to date?

My ‘exclusive to’ range of 9 greetings card in Harrods, since 2009, which are also their most expensive and best selling cards, priced at £12.95. If you love a bit of bling then they are absolutely for you!

How do you stay motivated?

I make sure that I go to workshops and classes to broaden my skills in design as well as non design subjects. I also spend lots of time with inspirational people in the many collaborations that I involve myself and the business in.

And finally, what’s next for you and for Sugalily?

Well, first up is all about websites… the launch of a new site, Abigail Warner, which will be focussed on the pure design side of the business, followed by developing the Sugalily mini site {which was launched in January}. The latter will will concentrate on our wedding design portfolio and greetings cards, and also a bit of a revamp of Pretty Lovely Paper.

Also we are launching a blog to sit alongside the launch of Pearl Lowe’s Vintage Home book which will be out in May. I have lots of other projects under my sleeve but cannot share too much at the moment except to say 2012 is a good year for the Sugalily team!

You can see more of Abbey and her fabulous work on her website and her Pretty Lovely Paper blog (I dare you to not get addicted!) You can also find her on facebook or follow her on twitter (and I would, she’s hilarious!)

All Photography Credit: Holly Booth