Brick + Mortar Q + A: Is my line too one-note?

Dear Emily,

I’m wondering if my line is too “one note.” Long story short, the Louie finalists came out last week, and the last two years in a row I have been a finalist for a Rising Star. This year (the final year I could enter) I was not. Not a huge deal (ok, a bit of a blow to my confidence), but it opened up a conversation with my husband (which is probably never a good idea relating to design), about how my line, cards especially, are “all the same.” As a retailer, do you find that to be true, and if so, is it an issue? I feel like I have somewhat successfully been able to create a full breadth of a collection across multiple product categories, however at the same time, I see what he is saying.

I would just love to hear your perspective on this line of thinking… the good, bad, and ugly!

Thank you!

Meg, Belle & Union Co.


 Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

Dear Meg,

This is the stuff. This question is my favorite blend of all of my favorite parts of small business ownership: recognition, self-evaluation and how on earth do I talk to my partner about my work?

I’ll answer your main question so we can move on. Is your line too one note? No. I mean, yes, it is one-note, in the sense that your voice is clear. Your cards are always recognizable as yours. Your style is consistent. Your colors are varied within a complimentary palate. Your sentiments are part of a conversation that customers are comfortable stepping into. You have a great line: strong cards, great wrap and a growing batch of extras. As a vendor I order based on the sentiments that resonate in my region. But my customers? They buy your ‘I love you a bushel and a peck’ card in, well, bushels. I’m not a stationery designer, so I can’t speak to exactly what your end game should be, but I think it’s the look I see the look on my customers faces when they read your cards.

As for the Louie Awards; awards are great aren’t they? It feels good when you win them. Winning them may affect your business and it may not, but it always feels good. I have absolutely no insight as to why you weren’t nominated as a finalist. But my take is this: Your line doesn’t seem like something rising, it seems like something that has already established itself. This wasn’t your award to win.

As for partners, and work, and how do you talk about one about the other? When I figure out how to give advice in this area, I am going to charge all of the money and save all of the marriages. Your husband isn’t wrong, he’s touched on something real and I’ve reinterpreted it. He’s touched on something you should return to each time you design a new card: Have I already said this? But ultimately, it’s your line, and your job is to make what you make, to edit when it’s time to edit, and to keep going.

All the stars,


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  1. It’s hard to show our vulnerable sides for the world to see… but I’m learning to let go, and I’m so glad I did. Thank you for your beautifully written answer, Emily. You brought forward a perspective I never considered, and it certainly gives comfort, peace, and encouragement. XOXO

  2. This is lovely! I’ve *just* launched my stationery shop and in designing my inspiration was to-ing and fro-ing, trying to be relevant and on-trend but doing what came natural. I love Meg’s range of cards and they are very much recognizable, and I have been feeling the opposite thinking I need to be more “one note”! And after talking to my partner about it, his advice was to see what sells and do more of that. Time will tell, I’m only a week in. Thanks for this advice.

  3. This was great to read! I’m in the process of creating my first stationery to sell and it’s really helpful to read stuff like this.

  4. Given that Belle & Union is one of the companies doing things I aspire to, it feels so nice to hear the same doubts and questions that resonate with me. Not to say that I’m glad you feel vulnerable, Meg, so much as I’m glad my vulnerability isn’t single. It has company. 🙂

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