Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lessons in Fab with Alicia Parsons of Akimbo

Alicia Parsons is this sweet, chic, quirky Aussie that I stalk via the internet. Her paper goods are just so cute and she makes the stalking so easy thanks to her blog, Etsy shop, and Pinterest (not to mention her many guest posts on totally posh blogs such as Houzz). If you are planning a party - wedding, birthday, whatever - Alicia has the goods to make a truly fabulous occasion. And! She's kindly agreed to let me interview her! Keep reading to learn more about the smiling face behind
1. The “about” and “bio” pages of Akimbo tell me you’ve been in graphic design for several (five) years but I want to know more! Where and when did you start – grade school? University?
From a young age I knew I wanted to be some kind of designer and by the end of high school I’d narrowed it down to graphic design. I went on to study Visual Communication at uni and then worked as a designer in the advertising and printing industries for five years before going it alone as a stationery designer.
2. What do you use from your corporate years and what were you happy to leave behind?
During my employed years I learnt a huge amount about the technical side of design: using software, understanding paper and printing. I also did the odd freelance job, which was fantastic experience in client relations, quoting, bookkeeping and production management. When I left, I was happy to see the end of a lack of creative freedom and ability to run things my way.
3. Um, Akimbo? 
      Like the hands-on-hips stance, it's got attitude. It's fun, quirky and will make you look sideways.
Alicia Parsons, the chick behind Akimbo

4. You've been featured in so many enviable places! How did that happen?
      I just ask! Remember that even the biggest bloggers are still just regular people, looking for daily content. Make it easy for them by tagging your photos, providing good copy and even offering to code the whole thing if it's a guest post. I've still had my share of rejections though. Don't take it personally: even smaller bloggers like me have a posting schedule that's organised well in advance and may not be able to accommodate an extra post. 
5. Is your Etsy shop the only way potential clients can purchase your fabulous goods?
At this stage, yes, but am working on a whiz-bang new website that will have its own shop. Stay tuned!
6. In true Type A form, you are totally anti-clutter.  Have your paper works always reflected that or have you had to hone that skill?
If you could see my desk right now you wouldn’t be saying that! I’d say my Type A personality doesn’t manifest itself in my designs with simplicity, but rather with a high level of attention to detail. It also means that looser styles don’t come as naturally to me – I had to step out of my comfort zone recently to do my first hand-illustrated invitation.
Brew Invitation from Akimbo
7. What are some of the qualities you look for in good printing paper?
I am currently in the surprisingly complicated process of sourcing the best papers for some new sample kits I’m producing (so that online customers can see and feel the paper before ordering). I seek out the stock that will achieve the look I’m after, then I run it past my print guru to check that it’s suitable from a technical point of view. Generally speaking, I look for stocks that are heavy to give a nice substantial feel and not too porous so the ink doesn’t bleed.
8. Do you use a regular office printer or some sort of magical industrial machine?
I outsource all of my printing to ensure the highest quality. The majority of jobs are produced at a local printer who has the best digital press in town, while I have screen-printing and letterpress done by specialists interstate.
9. Can you share part of your journey as an indie-prenuer? Have you stuck with a plan or have there been some detours?
I wrote a business plan as part of the preparation to launch Akimbo and it’s actually been quite accurate. Unexpected opportunities have come up which have changed some of the details but for the most part I have stuck with it. Even if you’ve been trading for a while, I would still recommend drafting a business plan to keep you on track with your brand’s message and strategy.
10.   Have you found marketing and PR techniques that have really worked for you? What about PR busts?
Blogging and social media have been great to increase trust and engagement with potential customers while blog and magazine features have introduced me to new audiences. I put a lot of effort into excellent customer service and meeting other wedding vendors, so I hope in time this will result in word-of-mouth referrals.
I recently held my first sale: I was so excited about it and was convinced it was going to be a hit but it was a total flop! To be honest I can’t work out why, so future promotions may be a case of trial and error. I’ve also made the mistake of listing in wedding directories that don’t attract my target audience. It’s no use getting twenty enquiries a day if none of them is ever going to buy from you.
11.  All of your paper goods are just so delicious! Can you pick just one favorite?
Gosh, thank you! Obviously my own wedding invitations are a sentimental favourite,
Mortlock Invitation by Akimbo
but I’m most excited about what’s yet to come, in particular a couple of upcoming collections that involve printing onto non-traditional surfaces.
12.   Speaking of how good your products look – what can you tell me about taking such great photographs?
It’s so funny you say that – I’ve learnt so much about product photography in the last year that I’m looking at the photos of my debut range and cringing! The single biggest thing is lighting: if you don’t have good lighting indoors, head outside but make sure you’re under shade or cloud cover (you don’t want direct light). Either way, never ever use your flash! It will distort the colours and create horrible harsh shadows. I have just invested in an SLR and the ability to manipulate the light and focus has made a huge difference.
From a styling point of view, make sure you have something that’s consistent across your range. The easiest way to do this is to use the same backdrop for every product. Personally, I use a different backdrop to suit the collection’s theme, but I always take the shots in a similar style to ensure consistency.

13.   Tell me about your ideal workspace.
Oh I daydream about my ideal studio! I’d love a bright, airy space with a brightly painted concrete floor, some funky industrial details and a nice garden view.
That said, I love the way my office looks and the only issue is space.

I’d love a bigger room where I can have a dedicated messy area for drawing, painting and craft projects, another area for packing and shipping orders plus storage space to stop envelopes and cards from taking over the room!
14. For the most part, your focus seems to be weddings. Would you rather design for the royal wedding, a weekend of nuptial bliss in Vegas, or a sweet barnyard bridal fete?
Definitely not a royal wedding: too much tradition and outdated etiquette equals boring-with-a-capital-B invitations. You could have a lot of fun with a Vegas wedding, but I’d definitely say the barn wedding: a heart-warming, intimate event with an eclectic style and lots of personal touches is everything I adore in a wedding.
15.  What do you wish more customers knew?
When shopping around for wedding invitations, I wish customers realised they’re not always comparing apples with apples. It’s not their fault: when the market is saturated with DIY kits and Etsy sellers using their home printer to produce invitations in their spare time, it’s no surprise customers get sticker shock when they get a quote for quality custom-designed invitations. For the record, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the other options (if it’s what you’re looking for at the right price, that’s great!) the issue occurs when brides have seen these incredible invitations on top-notch wedding blogs but haven’t budgeted accordingly.
16. What paper product do you wish you’d designed?
Oh there are some amazingly talented people out there so I admit I do suffer from design envy sometimes! Worse than that, though, is when you see someone else produce an idea that you had but just never got around to producing.
17. What is your unicorn – you know, that concept you haven’t quite mastered, but once you do will tell you you have arrived?
What a great question! I never have any problem coming up with new ideas, but sometimes the finished product doesn’t always reflect what I had in mind. I look forward to the day when I’m able to use my tools (by that I mean by hand or computer) is such a way that I can always achieve what I set out to.
18.   Are you planning to get any bigger?  Well, not you, but Akimbo? (Hello, I need better business cards. Wrapping paper is also good.)
Yes yes yes! At the moment I am focusing on adding a whole bunch of new invitation designs. I’ve also just added art prints to my range, which I’d love to expand on.
Regency Alphabet Print from Akimbo
 I have bazillion ideas of products I’d love to release (yes, including wrapping paper and more business cards) but as only one person I need to be wary of spreading myself too thin and losing sight of Akimbo’s main focus, which is event stationery.
19.   For which celebrity would you like to design invitations?
I’ve never been particularly interested in celebrities. But if someone in the wedding industry, who was well respected and had fabulous taste, commissioned me to do her own wedding invitations? Now THAT would be an honour!
Want to know more about Alicia? I don't blame you.  In addition to the links at the top of the page, you can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, or by e-mail

Thank you so much Alicia for putting up with my fawning and then taking the time to answer my questions.  You are a total gem!

1 comment:

Alicia Parsons | Akimbo said...

You are too kind, Janice!

Thanks so much for having me.