As part of our series of interviews with female-founded stationery brands, we wanted to take this opportunity to spotlight our very own founder, Sidonie.
In 2013, with only £500, Sidonie launched the brand that has now become a small group of independent stationery stores. Boasting a curated range of products, Papersmiths has become the go-to destination for design fanatics.
In May 2018, we opened our doors in the vibrant North Laine area of Brighton. It now serves as both our physical store and online hub. Shortly after, in July 2018, Papersmiths proudly introduced its Chelsea store. A captivating atmosphere with orange walls, rich dark wood, and eye-catching fittings. Finally, Papersmiths was welcomed into Coals Drop yard in 2018 as a collaboration with concept store Wolf & Badger. The Papersmiths' products can be found on both floors.
With now three locations in Brighton, Chelsea, and Kings Cross, and a thriving online shop, the brand has come a long way since its humble beginnings.
We had the chance to sit down with Sidonie and chat about the origins of Papersmiths, the things that inspire her, and what the future holds for the brand. So, if you want to learn more about the journey of entrepreneurship, creativity, and passion that brought Papersmiths to life, keep reading!
"I’d always dreamt of creating a shop and have been an avid stationery appreciator since I was about five. As a child, I used to sharpen and sell pencils to my neighbours."
- Sidonie, Co-Founder.
How long have you been creating and designing for Papersmiths? Where did it all begin?
Back in 2011 Kyle Clarke and I started working on design projects for local businesses in Bridport, Dorset. By 2013, we’d built a small and busy design studio specialising in graphic design. We relocated to Bristol Arts Quarter and took on a new space for our design work. It had a shop front and passersby would pop in and ask to buy our magazines and artwork - the special things we’d collected and had out on display in our work environment. It was the catalyst for a new business idea. We turned half of the space into a shop and sourced and sold various design goods from our favourite creators and makers. We outgrew the space quite quickly and relocated to a bigger building in Clifton Village. I had a design hiatus of about five years, during which I focused on creative direction and running our busy design studio and retail stores. In 2020, I began designing again but this time the focus was on product design for Papersmiths, rather than for clients. In 2021, I launched our first notebook and pen collections.
When did you know you wanted to work in the stationery business?
I’d always dreamt of creating a shop and have been an avid stationery appreciator since I was about five. As a child, I used to sharpen and sell pencils to my neighbours. It never occurred to me to open a specialist stationery shop, though. It just so happened that, in the original iteration of the shop, stationery was the most popular category that we offered, and these were the pieces that got me most excited, so it made sense for it to evolve into a specialism.
Did you feel there was a big break in your career, or was it a gradual road to success? Were there moments that made you feel you’d chosen the right path?
I got to where I am today in a serendipitous and, at times, unconventional way. It all began with the uncomfortable realisation that I’d chosen the wrong degree at University. It was the best mistake I ever made because, by the time I’d graduated, no part of me wanted to continue with my planned path. So I returned home, down in the dumps, and started working as a receptionist at my mum’s new dental practice where I accidentally learnt how to start and run a business.
I didn’t plan to end up where I am now, and, even if I had wanted things to come about in this exact way, that wasn’t within my control. The launch of the Papersmiths stationery collection, for example, only came about because of the pandemic lockdowns. I found myself with spare time and decided to use it to design the first notebooks.
When serendipitous things happen, I feel aligned and see it as an indication that I’ve chosen the right path. Like the other day, I saw someone in the exact same jacket as me and she turned out to be called Sidonie, too, and she lives one street away from me. There was a five second window in which we could have crossed paths and it happened. That made me feel aligned and I thought, I’m where I’m supposed to be right now.
"When serendipitous things happen, I feel aligned and see it as an indication that I’ve chosen the right path."
- Sidonie, Co-Founder.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
It’s okay to go slow. I don’t always need to be innovating. Some phases will be about gradual growth and taking good care of what I’ve already created. This has been a big lesson for me. As quite a spontaneous person, I regularly feel a pull to try something new.
Have you ever taken a leap of faith and what did that feel like?
I think the very nature of entrepreneurship requires leaps of faith to be taken, but I don’t do it blindly. I calculate the risk by doing my research and my numbers and, if it looks like it’ll be worthwhile, then I will take the leap fairly confidently. Of course, the outcome is still unknown and somewhat out of my control. My biggest leaps have been opening new shops, closing down shops and launching the Papersmiths collection. These sorts of changes to the business have the potential to be good or bad and pretty impactful either way.
What inspires your designs and ideas?
Travel is a big opportunity for inspiration. When I visit a new place, the souvenir I always bring back is a colour palette. I found many of our Primo pen colours in Sri Lanka. The periwinkle blue is the colour of a carrier bag from a tea shop and the coral is an aged bus which was originally a red but it was sun faded and had gathered a bit of dust on the busy Sri Lankan roads. I love visiting foreign supermarkets to look at the packaging design. Antiquities also get me thinking, particularly old book and textile design.
How do you get into a state of flow?
No interruptions. A national lockdown usually does it! Seriously though, flow requires space and that can’t be forced. I have to switch off from the day to day running of the business which, historically, has been next to impossible.
What's in the pipeline for you? Do you have any big exciting projects that you’d like to share?
I’m working on the next piece of the Papersmiths collection so watch this space. All will be revealed.
I’d love to know which one is your favourite design from the past and present combined. Do you have a preference, and if so, what makes you favour a design over another?
My favourite design is the Primo pen because of its multifunctional capability. With Primo, you can switch the ink refill depending on whether you’re in the mood for an inky gel or a neat ballpoint line. I’d never set out to create anything too ordinary. I think it’s the clever design features and surprises like this which are why people choose to come to Papersmiths.
Any last words to offer entrepreneurs looking to push into the stationery world?
I’d say be yourself.
Keen to shop more of the Papersmiths own brand designs? You can shop the full collection hereYou can browse the Papersmiths Instagram here