The C Word

Yes people, Christmas is coming. Like Death & Taxes, it’s a certainty and it’s only 3 short months away.

And if you think we’re a bit early with the whole promoting the big C moment thing, then spare a thought for me – I’m typing this on the 20 August and Boy! Am I feeling Christmassy right now :).  Because the new products have been designed through the summer, they’ve been sent to print and I pressed ‘upload’ about 10 minutes ago on the catalogue that I’ve spent the past fortnight completing.  Thank heavens the heatwave came early this year; nothing quite like sweat dripping into your eyes when you’re looking at an image involving snowflakes.

Weird industry this one we call ‘gift’.  We’re not an entirely conventional studio.  I tend to launch to you people first rather than work with the retailers’ calendar, because it’s difficult to keep up.  Some chain stores work on an 18 month timeline, which means that the ‘trends’ they set become self-fulfilling prophesies, something I find vaguely depressing. Other chains work a year in advance which is slightly easier so if I’m working on Christmas in July, they are too; it’s just for different years.  Smaller chains tend to work two seasons in advance and then the lovely independents can have strategic plans in place or go from one stand to the next at a trade show with that wonderful look of ‘ooh shiny, go see’ expressions on their faces (they’re my favourite).

I don’t have the time nor money to produce two seasons a year.  Because it takes me around 9 months to birth a new range and we all know how painful it can be – I wouldn’t want to put myself through more than that.  9 months to produce, proceeded by an enormous amount of trepidation and pain at launch, followed quickly on to starting the whole process again only 3 short months later (a pattern I started with procreation – it’s exhausting!).

So, seeds of inspiration are sewn during November and December, usually when standing on our patch at the Christmas shows selling our new products to all of you wonderful people. We don’t get much spare time at those shows, but everything is so busy and frenetic that it’s impossible to be diverted to anything but customer service and there’s something quite white-noisy about it that clears the head of all else.  And that’s when the ideas start to percolate, because you can see what it is that everyone is going nuts over and which product lines are flying off the shelves.

Then Christmas happens and I don’t talk for the week in-between Christmas and New Year (I’m not kidding).  And so it is that I ponder on those November/December ideas in January, just before a few trade fairs and possibly an award ceremony (if we’re lucky). And then onto logistics in around March/April. This process usually involves the gathering of a few samples – I don’t know why, but I find some comfort in looking at interesting bags and boxes that I’d like to incorporate into the new product which I then have to abandon because the costs are too high.  I write detailed print specifications to have my printer quote the costs, then realise that I’ve underestimated how much printing in full colour on heavy card stock is, change my design to fit accordingly, have him re-quote to a more palatable figure and then, over the process of the design, slowly creep back to the original specification.

I then allow a further month for a crushing crisis of confidence.

So we get to summer and I have fun doing what I like doing best – writing, designing, drawing, messing about, colouring in, listening for a good month to the same album over and over and over.  We’ve had Oh Wonder! (killed it, can’t really listen to it ever again), We’ve had Elbow (ditto), We’ve had Royal Blood, Maroon 5 and the dulcet soothing tones of Simon & Garfunkel, all now relegated and logged as the Sounds of Summer 20–.

I then allow a couple of weeks to tidy the office, catch up on some admin, think about doing some PR, get frustrated with social media, hate everyone and everything before returning back to the matter in hand, having a read through, making a few tweaks here and there and then sending the designs off to print.

And then, and only then, do I realise that I’ve left the print run too late to get the products back to photograph and into a catalogue that has to go to print before September.  Kicking myself, I spend painstaking days ‘creating’ the products in Photoshop to, effectively, lie to you, the consumer, with an ‘artist’s representation’ of what the finished item will look like.

And we’re back to this morning, when I pressed upload to my Dropbox and watched the progress bar in a bit of a fug (it was 6am).  And then I decided to write a blog about it as a really long-assed way of saying “Hey, our Christmas Catalogue is out!”

…. if you want a proper copy, email us with your address.  In the meantime, you can just click on the front cover and you’ll be taken to those clever people at Issuu and an online version to peruse at your leisure.

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Christmas Catalogue 2017

…I’m off to my bed.  I will be fully awake and functioning by the time you read this in, ummm, let’s see, a couple of months time…

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Thinking of You and the Art of Communication

Were you forced, as a child, to write thank you letters to relatives? Did you have to tell them which book you had bought with the National Book Token they had kindly sent you for Christmas? Yes? It sucked right? Don’t get me wrong, I loved my book tokens, I’d buy my brother’s from him because he hated reading and I loved the luxury of owning a book rather than borrowing it from the library.

But I hated writing those letters, they felt arbitrary and, weirdly impersonal. I guess it’s because we were forced to spend an evening writing two lines with great care to Aunt Flo lying about the book you had bought (had in fact not got around to buying) to somehow reassure her that she hadn’t spent her money on a voucher for an ungrateful little shit.

Let us skip forward a couple of decades and my own children are grandchildren, children of family friends, nieces and nephews and they’re receiving thoughtful gifts and the standard (and often preferred) Amazon or I-Tunes vouchers. And for a few years, I sat them down and sternly instructed them on how to write a thank you letter. And as a Godparent, aunt and family friend, I would receive thank you letters from various children whose parents had done exactly the same. And then when my children finally rebelled and I fully remembered the irritation of that time set aside to write thank yous, I stopped my maternal demands under the parenting rule #2, subsection #6 which states: Pick your fights.

…. and yet…. I have just spent months designing and producing a truly lovely pack imaginatively entitled ‘How to Write a Letter’.  It doesn’t, for a second, advocate the duty eschewing of “thank you letter” writing. But I ain’t no hypocrite – it doesn’t promote it either. What it does do, however, is encourage the great, time honoured tradition of actually putting pen to paper, how to layout a letter like a pro and includes suggestions of what letters can be written.

As with everything I write for 2littleboys, I keep the tone of writing to…. well…. this. I refuse to talk down to children. If you can imagine a middle-aged woman doing a silly face and basically saying stuff to give the impression that she’s the idiot in the conversation, then you get the general idea. Children tend to like that.

Letter writing is a dying art form and I really think we’re going to regret letting it go. That email you received from your tech savvy gran just aint gonna cut it when they’re gone. Those pen-pals we used to have when we were younger? Get your kids to take that up. Have them write to someone experiencing a different culture, a different climate, different circumstances and get a rapport going and then wait for their responses to come with weird stamps on the envelope.  It’s a joy. What’s the hurry? They don’t need to email each other because they’re getting a flavour of each other’s lives, not a blow by blow account that needs immediate response.

My father used to write (well, type, because the dude had the writing of a GP without actually being a GP) to my children when they were very young – it was utter nonsense, utter nonsense! But it had his voice (loud) and his sense of humour (bizarre) indelibly printed into every word. And that’s the point – indelible. We all look back at those letters every now and again and my children howl with laughter and I am grateful that they’re old enough to be holding those letters in their hands because I don’t want to ruin the pages with my tears.

I have letters from my great aunt – pedestrian stuff that she wrote from her homeland of Wales. But I’d wait and wait for the sample of her handwriting on an envelope to come through that letterbox with news of my beloved great uncle and various other family members that she liked to gossip about.

And then there’s my husband. We met at 15 (everyone say ahhhh!) and we wrote to each other twice a week until we were old enough to financially and legally move in together. And then the letters and the replies went into the same box. That’ll be an embarrassing couple of hours for our children when they come to clear out the loft.

And I still have a letter written to me 22 years when I was going through a really tough time. My friend wrote to me telling me that I’d get through it, that I was young and indestructible, that I was admired and loved and that she’d treat me to a cup of tea and a biscuit whenever I was ready. And I see that letter in my mind’s eye and I’m still glad that she took the time to write. Texts and emails and comments on Facebook all gratefully received, but ultimately erasable.

In fact, now I’m thinking about it, why on Earth did I not write a letter-writing pack for grown-ups?

Next week, it’s “Thinking of You” week. So think of someone you want to reach out to and write them a letter. In fact, buy the ‘write a letter’ pack from here and beg your child for a piece of the cute letterhead.

If your child is one of those ‘go away, get your own’ variety, then may I suggest you pop over to Julie Bell  – she produces the most stunning correspondence cards and letterheads. Then invest in an ink pen from Plooms and you’ll be good to go.

It’s at this point, I need to acknowledge that my niece, at the age of 21 and her parents continue to write thank you notes. And long may they continue with their missives that are just the right side of grateful, witty, personal and informative.

Now grab your child and spend 20 precious, quiet and companionable minutes writing a letter to someone.

Do it.

Seriously.

Just do it.

P.S. A mate of mine is spending a year reaching out with cards through the mail and I’ve been lucky enough to receive a card from him this year. Do check out his vlog about it all.

 

 

 

 

Free Ticket Giveaway!

We’re going to be busy again this November. Making hay whilst the sun shines and all that.

Although, thinking about it, it’s going to be November so the sun aint gonna be shining.  So maybe a better saying would be: “let’s spend a load of money and book up those Christmas show stands because everyone’s looking for Christmas gifts and we sell excellent Christmas gifts so we need to put our gifts in front of those people so that they spend their hard earned money on the fruits of our hard earned year round labours.”

But that isn’t quite as snappy.  So we’ve booked up our November to ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’ and hopefully make enough money to keep producing the gifts that we’re proud to create.

It really is that simple.

Now, because we spend so much money on these stands, the organisers give us some complimentary tickets and we would like to offer them to you!  We’re not going to run a competition because we find that it ends up on some ‘money saving’ site that has a url to directly click through and even an answer that you may need; and then we have 1000s of requests from professional competition enterers. (One time, a bright spark had put the wrong answer up so we had to discount around 90% of the entrants).  It’s not that we’re judging competition enterers (see what I did there).  I can remember buying “Take a Break” in the late 1980’s and armed with just a few postcards and a book of stamps, I would very happily use my free stuff – particular favourites included the sun-cream and the bright blue mesh shower pouf to exfoliate my legs in the shower (do you remember those? awful things).  It’s just that we’re not Ambre Solaire and we don’t need tens of thousands of email addresses for people who simply aren’t going to see us on a supermarket shelf.

So, please only respond to us if you genuinely want a pair of tickets to one of the shows.  You are under no obligation to buy anything, to visit our stand or even to like us or follow us on our feeds (although that would be very nice).  We would just like to know that we’ll be sending out codes to claim tickets to people who will make use of them.

So, if you’d like the chance to win a set of 2 tickets to either the Spirit of Christmas at Olympia or to Country Living Christmas in Islington, then please EMAIL ME and tell me which show you would like to attend.  That’s it.  I won’t save your email address or bother you or do anything.

I’ll simply pick 15 people at random on September 30, which should give you lots of time to plan your trip.

We also have ONE precious set of tickets to the Wealden Midwinter Fair to give away so if you’d prefer to not come into London, do put Wealden as your preferred choice.

That’s all.

Further show information can be found by clicking on the images below:

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1 Set of 2 Tickets up for Grabs!

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10 Sets of 2 Tickets up for Grabs!

 

London MPU

5 Sets of 2 Tickets up for Grabs (Saturday not included)

 

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To CheesePlant or not to CheesePlant

I have been in turmoil people.  Absolute turmoil for the past 3 months or so and I have thrown tantrums and stormed from the office to the high street to eat biscuits and drink hot chocolate in a coffee shop on more than one occasion and yes, I inhaled those biscuits and yes, I felt guilty afterwards.  But there’s nothing quite like frustrated indecision to get you onto the biscuits I’d say.

Now you wouldn’t think that something as innocuous as a cheese plant could do that to a grown woman would you?  But boy, have they plagued me.  Sometimes, most days.  Some days all day. The relationship that is Sarah and cheese plants is starting to wear thin.

I liked cheese plants.  We had one in our first flat and we kept it alive for a number of years (which I think goes to show how resilient and therefore how lovable cheese plants can be).  But once we’d managed to kill our beloved cheese plant off, circa 1994, I don’t think I gave the genus another thought.

1aRoll on to summer 2015 and I had a very rare girlcrush on an item of clothing.  It was a Vivienne Westwood dress and, you’ve guessed it, the pattern was cheese plant leaves.  I liked the greens and I liked the cut and I managed to snaffle one at a rockbottom price and realised I couldn’t really walk in it… but still…. I stroke it and look at it in my wardrobe now and again and just, well, love it.

(and that’s fine because if you were to line up photos of me at trade shows over the last 7 years, you’d find that I really do get the most out of every item of clothing I buy – so having one in my wardrobe just for strokes isn’t that profligate).

 

Moving on….

So let’s get to 2016 when I take an idle wander around the floors of a well known department store to see what’s ahappenin’ and I notice that, yes, owls have, indeed, had their day.  The pale pink and grey ‘Pantone colours of the year!’ are moving on and we’re still trending through flamingos, pineapples and Rio stylee stuff.  (please see “Mid Week Rant” for the other trend that prevails).

and there I am, surrounded by flamingos and pineapples

…. and I think to myself.

“It’ll be cheese plants next”

And so, as I liked cheese plants more than I like owls, pineapples, flamingos, toucans and, indeed, unicorns (they’ll be everywhere soon….) I thought…

“I should design some products with cheese plant patterns”

Turmoil.  Because I’ve been drawing spider plants, ferns and cheese plant leaves for months now; moving them around the screen, playing with colours, tweaking, changing layer layouts, taking out elements, putting them back in, putting new ones in, isolating, combining.  And then I’ve looked at the cost pricing of having product printed and worked out the cost-trade-retail ratios and yes, may just make some money here and then I wonder if the artwork is good enough and whether we’ll get a garden centre or two interested and then I start to see cheese plant leaves popping up in a few places.

… and suddenly, I’ve found myself feeling sick in a coffee shop with crumbs down my front thinking “I can’t compete with them.

Last week was particularly bad. I was beginning to question it all, and I mean everything.  The very existence of cheese plant leaf artwork on my desktop felt like a virus in the files.  And it’s taken a lot of soul searching to conclude that I’m going to pop all of those artwork files into a folder and chuck them into the virtual abyss that I have named “Artwork in Progress” and here’s why I’ll probably never do anything with those files:

  • I’m not talented enough to compete with the true artists out there.  If I were, I would spend my life being an artist and making money from my art would make me happy.
  • I don’t want to lose sight of what 2littleboys.co.uk is all about.  We make cool shit to keep kids happy, beautiful stuff to keep memories and the odd funny thing for older people.
  • We don’t make patterns
  • We’ve never followed trends or even capitalised on trends we’ve foreseen before. Why start now?
  • We’re not big enough (or talented enough) to compete with the companies who create beautiful product with patterns and who can create a ‘story’ with their ranges.
  • I kinda like unicorns, pineapples and toucans, but not enough to create a range of stationery around them.  What if the trend after cheese plants was something I really didn’t like?

But most of all, and this is key.  

I don’t want to.

And that’s the joy of being the boss.

But it won’t stop me cringing every time I see a cheese plant leaf on a product. I’ll get over it, because FINALLY, I am exhaling and the turmoil of indecision is over.

And now I’m off to buy some soil, fertiliser, a nice big terracotta pot and a plant to grow in my living room.  I’ve moved on from cheese plants. I’m thinking a ficus.

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If there’s any company out there who likes some of these designs – don’t copy them, license them…. We’re fabulous licensors and our rates are very reasonable ;).

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