I'm a big fan of calligraphy and stationery, I just adore the thoughtfulness and artistic approach to creating something so utterly unique and refined. Today I’d like to introduce you to Phylecia Sutherlandwho designs and creates the most beautiful wedding stationery.
Can you tell us about your business?
Phylecia Sutherland is a design and letterpress studio based in Yorkshire specialising in really beautiful, tactile and refined wedding invitations. My designs tend to be quite simple and based on calligraphy, illustrations and typography and designed in a way that really lets the letterpress stand out. I use the finest materials and papers and believe even the smallest touches are important.
What is your background and does that experience help you in your current role?
Where we come from always shapes where we are currently. Family-wise I come from two very hard working parents who really had to make their own way in the world, so I’m very glad I learned how important grafting is but also so very grateful and blessed I have not had to do it alone. Education-wise, I never knew what I wanted to be. At university, I studied everything from anatomy to anthropology as I thought I wanted to be a doctor or maybe an archaeologist. In the end, I got my degree in Journalism (Public Relations). I think I’m rebelling, because I feel like I don’t do very well with my own PR and social media.
I have had to teach myself everything-illustration, calligraphy, graphic design and letterpress, but have loved it as I know now that’s where my heart is.
I think my education experience really pushed me to do what my heart desired and I am a big advocate of pursuing that whatever “that” may be because that’s probably what you were created to do.
Did you always know you wanted to be a stationery designer + letterpress printer?
Definitely not. As I mentioned, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But looking back I can see that it was always the plan- to be a creative business owner who loves stationery. When I was a little girl, all my friends played “teacher” and I always played “business owner”. My dad used to take me to this huge junk place (though he wouldn’t call it junk) and I very quickly found the stationery section. Notepads, pencils, while-you-were-out phone message pads and [PAID] stamps galore. My parents used to give me old unused cheque books, those plus this metal cash box and I was set, little girl boss!
Can you explain your workflow/What's a typical day?
Oh, am I supposed to have a typical day? Life with two young boys feels like my typical days always get morphed into a not-typical day. If everything is to go as plan it would be this: I wake up and squeeze in a 15 minute workout while my husband gets the boys dressed and gives them breakfast. I then head out for the school run. When I get home, before anything else gets started I like to read my Bible and pray, then I head to my studio at around 10am.
I don’t have a set workflow during my work hours-maybe I should. But typically with my couples I start with a consultation to get to know them and their story. I then go away and create a couple of design concepts that represent the direction we’re heading aesthetically for their stationery. Once a final concept is agreed upon, I move onto the stationery design based on that concept. I love sketching and inking illustrations and doing custom calligraphy. I also love that I bring my designs to life with my own hands on my press. So some days are scheduled press room days which is so great to get away from the computer.
Work ends at 3pm when I have to do the school run again. We come home to a never-ending feed fest and then it’s the witching hour (what many families know to be that time when the house is chaos, dinner needs cooking and eating, then it’s bath time and bed times and all the hiccups in between). After the kids are in bed, my husband and I spend the evening together. I rarely work at night or weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. My family is my priority and if my work takes away from that, well, then I wouldn’t consider that to be success.
What's your top advise for business owners?
Get your life priorities/goals right and let that guide how you structure your days and how you spend your time and do not compromise on that. How you spend your day is how you spend your life, so make sure you are intentionally spending time on the things you will be proud of when you’re 80.
What’s your favourite things about being a stationery designer + letterpress printer?
So many things! I love that I work with my hands from illustration to printing to all the hand finishes. I’ve seen a few in-house printers start outsourcing their print so they can take on more clients or because it’s easier, but I just couldn’t let that part go. I also love that I work in solitude- this is not something I struggle with though a lot of business owners do. I love the quiet- I don’t even play music while I work unless it’s Classic FM. Lastly, possibly even most importantly, I get to share something beautiful with other people. That sounds really poetic, but that is what our gifts are for, to share with others.
What kind of clients do you work with and how do you find new clients?
My clients are all a bit different, but they value the tangible and it’s ability to hold value and capture a moment in time. They know that looking back on their wedding day, they’ll be able to hold very few things and their invitations are one of those things. My clients also understand that true luxury is rooted in the materials and processes used- so they value my time and expertise. Most of my clients come from word of mouth or wedding planners.
What mistakes have you made that have taught you a valuable lesson? Oh man, where do I start?! Most of my mistakes have been in the press room, but they all teach a lesson. Every time I’m on one of the presses, I learn a little more and I continue to grow and refine as a printer. Making a mistake makes you learn the hard way, which is the best way because then you won’t forget it. A few things I’m glad I’ve learned is to never undercharge for my time and talent, to have clear and precise terms and conditions, and that something will always go wrong when you have a rush order so add in a big time buffer!
What inspires you to be your best everyday?
My whole purpose on this earth is to make much of Jesus. Everything that I do has been prepared for me in advance- even making pretty wedding stationery. I make much of Jesus by pointing to beauty in this world that only exists because of Him, I make much of Him by fully relying on Him for strength, wisdom and direction, and most of all I make much of Him by finding my value and identity in Him alone, not in the works of my hands.
What challenges have you set yourself for the next 12 months?
I never think that far ahead, but in the next 3 months I will have like to taught a few calligraphy classes locally, something I hope to offer regularly. For the past 8 years, I have been a bespoke-only stationery and I just launched my first house collection a few weeks ago, so I’d like to have booked a handful of my first semi-bespoke clients in the next few months!
One thing I’ve learned is to love and live in the season you’re in and right now I’ve got a toddler at home. Instead of pushing myself unsustainably, I pace my business so I can enjoy this time at home with him as well. Knowing that, God-willing, in a year or so I will put him in more hours in child care and be able to step things up to fit that season of life.
Can you tell us five interesting things about you/your business?
1. When I first started my business there were not many stationers offering letterpress, but I knew it’s what I wanted to do and must learn it. So I went to London for the first time ever just to buy this table top press from a lady there and off I went. But my standards were much too high for that press and eventually after scouring letterpress forums I realised I needed a bigger press and I bought my second press (an Arab printing press originally made in the 1890’s in Halifax) from a guy in Oxford and drove it all the way back up to Yorkshire in a sheep trailer (thanks to a farmer friend!). I still have that press but last year I got an even bigger press, a bit younger (1950’s) Heidelberg windmill press. Both of my big presses are incredible machines.
2. I started my first business at 18 right after high school to help pay for university. It was a Hawaiian shaved ice business and it was called “The Coco Cabana”. It ran for about 6 years until I moved to England.
3. My business name used to be “By Phylecia” and was named so most definitely before the whole “bye felicia!” meme/phrase took off internationally. Once that phrase did take off, I just couldn’t think about my business name the same anymore. Good excuse for a rebrand!
4. When I first came to the UK, I was locked up over night, escorted through the airport in handcuffs and sent back to the US the next day because they had “doubts” as to why I was here. It’s a long story that fascinates most people and I can laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn’t funny. I think I had slight post traumatic stress over it. After it happened I couldn’t hear the English accent or go through an airport without getting heart palpitations. I’m ok now though, obviously. :)
5. My husband is basically a professional cyclist.
One of those facts above is untrue. (hint: don’t leave documents open on the computer!)
My background is as a wedding & lifestyle photographer, shooting both digital and film to create authentic, soft and natural fine art photographs. Working primarily with natural light to give my work a beautiful, light and airy touch infused with soft tones.
I have always appreciated and valued the simple things in life and finding the interesting in the ordinary. Coco Lane was founded as I wanted to create something that is about an experience, the slower pace of life, cosiness and candlelight, cuddling up on the sofa with loved ones, being with the people you love, sharing food with close friends, a feeling of home, nurturing a chosen career, wanderlust travels, savouring the small moments in everyday life and just being you and enjoying a cup of tea.
I'm excited to bring you stories that promote all those moments in life that give us value and meaning; inspiring us to live beautifully.
"I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is. Go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good" - Roald Dahl