The first time I had the pleasure of working with Alex, it was, admittedly, not paper related. I was in need of a real couple to model for a styled shoot I was working on, and knowing that Alex used to be a dancer and a model (she actually has quite the portfolio of wedding shoots she's modeled for), I decided to see if she and her husband would be game to play dress up for a day. And they were! (The photo below is from that shoot.) The first time I worked with Alex on something paper related was the Lisa Frank holiday party shoot I organized last September, and the experience was amazing. She used the same process for that shoot as she does with clients, and I remember being so incredibly impressed with how she presented everything at different stages. First came an inspiration board and color palette. Then I got to see preliminary sketches. From those sketches we chose the direction we wanted to go in and she then prepared initial proofs. We made minor tweaks here and there until we arrived at the final product. I just loved how organized and transparent she was with the whole process, and I immediately referred her to one of my couples, whose rainbow-themed wedding I cannot wait to share after it goes down this August. Since then, Alex and I have collaborated on a pop art-inspired styled shoot as well as the Out of the Box Challenge for Catalyst Wedding Co. Alex has recently re-branded her design company from Arobesque to Suitesmith and I could not be more excited to help spread the word. Below Alex shares the details on her new company and explains why she's not just a stationer, but more of a wedding branding pro.
Tell me about the decision to rebrand from Arobesque to Suitesmith.
When I started Arobesque, I still had sea legs and was a bit unsure of what direction to take. I had accounts designing print collateral for small businesses, and was also creating wedding invitations. While I loved many of the projects I was working on, something just didn’t feel right. The name Arobesque had a deep connection for me, but wasn’t serving my dream clients. I’ve grown and my business has grown, and I wanted a new name to reflect that.
What's the meaning behind the name Suitesmith?
“Suite” refers to a set or sequence of things- we also commonly see this in reference to a luxurious room that has a connecting bathroom. In the wedding industry we typically refer to all of the pieces of an invitation set as a suite (ceremony card, reply card, reception card, inner/outer envelope, etc.). I think it should include all of the connecting design elements that will enhance your event, both digital and print- not just an invitation. Smith is my maiden name, and is an old English word referring to someone who works with metal (like a blacksmith). I might not spend my days with an anvil, but I do consider myself a maker. Whether I’m spray mounting and tearing down paper, tweaking typography, or sketching all of the necessary design elements, these hands are hard at work and nail polish is typically chipped! My hope is that Suitesmith will translate as someone who creates or makes a suite of designs.
For you, what are the distinguishing factors between the two companies? What makes Suitesmith different?
The biggest difference is that we no longer take on one-off projects for small businesses. We are event-specific and feel we can offer the most value and expertise to clients by figuring out what materials are needed to engage their guests before, during, and after an event. We’ve begun doing this with our current clients and I look forward to enhancing our services and streamlining the process moving forward. We don’t design wedding invitations, we create visual communication systems. Part of that is graphic design and illustration, and part of it includes art direction. An event planner, event designer, or the host/hostess themselves might offer the creative direction and the big picture. They’ll tell us that a bold and modern look is desired- I’ll show you what typeface and imagery can accomplish that.
What made you decide to start designing paper goods for special events?
My first inspiration probably came from watching my mother and Kelly (our close family friend) turn our basement into magical safaris, tea parties and other “environments” time after time for birthday parties. It was always the details I noticed most- glitter placecards with puffy paint roses and my FULL name? So fancy- I was hooked. In the days when computer paper was still attached with a perforated line, I took it upon myself to be the resident banner-maker in the family. If it was your birthday or anniversary, I was busy making bubble letters to celebrate you! It wasn’t until my oldest brother got married and let me create his invitation that I officially thought about applying design to events. When I got married in 2012, I really began to see all of the possibilities.
What sets you apart from other stationers?
To me, stationery refers to paper correspondence or writing materials. That is just one part of what is needed for an event, so I’m not entirely a stationer. Suitesmith takes a broader approach: I like to think of planning the design details from a marketing perspective. Traditional branding and marketing materials aim to sell a product or service. Suitesmith design packages use similar strategies, but with a mission to create engagement and involvement between a host or hostess and their guests. I want to know what apps you use, what your friends use, if your party will be full of dancing or intimate conversation; basically, what materials can we design to best support the activities you have planned. Everything we do is custom, and worked around the host's or couple’s preferences. I typically work with clients to build their suite for anywhere from 6 months to a year, so I truly get to know their likes and dislikes.
How much does it drive you crazy when people spell "stationery" with an "a”?!
I like to joke that if you spell it with an “a”, you won’t get very far… You know, because you’ll be stationary… It is cringe worthy to read, but the truth is…I definitely made that mistake when I first started! Ergo, I didn’t get very far.
Looking back at your own wedding, is there anything you would do differently?
Yes and no! If I knew then what I know now, I would have approached planning the paper details much differently. I designed our invitations and I love them, but my typography skills have improved tenfold since then. I would have been able to step back and figure out which details were really important, and which were the result of my unhealthy relationship with Pinterest at the time (it was still sort of new!). Other than that, it was an unforgettable day. Our parents, wedding planner, and vendors made everything look positively gorgeous, and my husband and I were able to drink champagne, dance, and spend time with our most favorite people in the whole world.
What's the most memorable event you ever attended?
So many! As mentioned, the birthday parties that my parents threw for me and my brothers were truly magical. Except for the one with the clown…didn’t like that one. I was a flower girl for the first time in my cousin’s wedding when I was 9, and that to me was like being in a movie. Another wedding I went to as a child had an Orange Julius stand and absolutely blew my mind (#iheartthe90s). As an adult, I find more and more that the most memorable events are the ones where you feel included or part of something bigger. My favorite weddings that we’ve been to aren’t necessarily the largest or most formal, but the ones that feel warm and inviting, that make you want to dance like a fool and talk to the other people at your table (even if you don’t know them!).
What's your favorite color?
I’d call it situational, but I have always been drawn to muted and pastel blues, greens, and pinks. Do I have to pick just one?!
What advice would you give to other women starting their own businesses?
Take and implement lots of advice from people you trust and admire, but also learn to trust your own gut above anyone else. Seek a support system. Owning a business is difficult and can be isolating and lonely, but I do not believe in the phrase “one woman show.” Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time.
Do you have any daily routines that you think are critical for having a successful and productive work day?
It’s actually something I try NOT to do that I’ve found most helpful! I spend many, many, many hours on my computer working in design programs. I have to set certain times when my email is just off. It’s tricky because I need to be available for clients and potential print emergencies, but if I don’t occasionally turn in off when I’m in the middle of a project, I would literally be answering messages all day long. One routine I miss dearly is dancing- I think movement is so important for your body and mind, and am trying to figure out how to reincorporate this into my week.
What other business women do you look up to?
While there are many, my mom is at the top of my list. She and my father started a protective packaging business when I was very little, which has definitely impacted my life. I’ve seen them have struggles and successes and learn from them every single day. My mom and I are in some ways extremely similar, but I look up to her a lot as a woman in business because of our differences. She has a brain for numbers and is a super strong, yet elegant, presence both in the office and in the world.
What's your favorite business book?
I’m currently on round three of reading “Brand Seduction”, by Daryl Weber. Even if you’re not interested in branding/design, it’s such a good read!
What's one question you'd like to answer that I didn't ask?
I’d love to share the top three things I’d love to see people incorporate more of and less of in their design details!
1. Clean, minimalist typography
2. Deep, moody, and unexpected colors
3. Cohesive and simple wedding websites, with digital RSVPS
1. The same scripted typeface (or anything) your friend used- let’s talk about the vision you have first and then decide how to support it.
2. Blush- how about a powdery gray-blue to mix things up?
3. Any extra, out of the ordinary apps one would need to download in order to participate in the fun. Aunt Cindy wants to hashtag too!