You can have it all.
As twin sisters Edmarie Marcos and Elmarie Jara have proven, you can manage a full time day job, families, and your own blossoming paper goods business all in this lifetime. All it takes sisterly support, the love for your craft, and some darn yummy doughnuts to help achieve your entrepreneurial dreams.
Two years ago, they featured me as a guest on their website, and it’s about damn time I feature them on mine.
This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed and El about the rewarding and challenging aspects of running their business. Ed designs your environment while El is a print designer. Together, they are Say Hello Creatives who own an online paper goods shop called Smile Lifestyle Boutique. Ed is a mom to two young kiddos and had her second child just this past October. El just had her first child in April. So they are busy, to say the very least. Ever since I met them over 10 years ago, I’ve been in awe of their talent, discipline, and creativity. They are also a couple of the sweetest and smartest ladies I know. I’m honored they call me a friend.
Tomorrow, Ed and El will be at the DIY Trunk Show at Broadway Armory Park 5917 North Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60660, where they will be selling their latest collection.
The DIY Trunk Show is a diverse gathering of creative talent to showcase, sell and promote handmade arts, crafts, goods, and endeavors of all kinds. Yours Truly will be there to support all of Chicago’s local artists, so stop by the show!
One of infinite reasons why I admire these sisters is that they not only talk about their goals and dreams, but they get it done. Ed and El share their secrets to success with us below:
1.) The DIY Trunk Show is coming up fast this Saturday. How have preparations been going?
ED: I’ve been preparing differently from my sister this time around. This show will be the first time I’m leaving my newborn for that long. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be good to go back and be in “Smile” mode.
EL: With babies and our busy schedules at our day jobs, we had to take a break from some shows this year. We really enjoyed the DIY last year and decided it was important for us to do it again. It took a lot of careful planning, lack of sleep and other sacrifices to really prepare for the show without taking too much time away from our growing families.
2.) The Trunk Show isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve been in showcases all around the Chicagoland area. How do you prepare for these shows?
ED: Preparing for shows can get really stressful, but we love going to them. We do procrastinate at times, but I think that’s also the fun of it. Let’s just say, sometimes we get even more creative when under pressure… what artist doesn’t?
EL: I agree. We come up with our best ideas towards the end when we really should be finalizing everything. We’ve been in local shows in the south and west suburbs, the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, and The 2011 DIY Trunk Show.
3.) Tell us about your latest collection.
ED: We decided to concentrate and expand our signature line. We have received so many great compliments on them, and we really saw how much people really enjoyed them. We loved creating them, so it wasn’t a hard decision going in this direction.
EL: I think one of the most gratifying parts of doing this is really hearing our customers’ feedback. They really are the inspiration behind the creative decisions we’ve made. Their feedback drove us to focus on our signature collection. We both enjoy designing our patterned cards and coming up with those puns. We didn’t think anyone aside from our families would find them entertaining until the collection started selling!
4.) Did you ever see yourselves working together in this capacity? How did you both decide to go into business together? Sometimes it makes sense to go into business with someone you know very well, but as you might know, there are pitfalls. As the old adage goes, “Never go into business with a friend…” ;P
ED: El and I have always worked well together in the past. We are one of those who always have to have a project going, whether its going to be a dance crew (don’t ask) or a magazine. The paper goods line was El’s idea. I, however, didn’t know anything about the paper industry, but as she brought me along, I began to love the industry and am currently learning more about it.
EL: You don’t wanna know half of the business ventures we come up with, but luckily, our families and closest friends have always been supportive. We knew eventually we’ll end up with one big hit. Smile isn’t there yet, but we like where it’s going and are very hopeful things will work out in the end. I think business works with us because we both have the same aspirations. We’re both hardworking and determined. We do it for ourselves. We do it for our families.
5.) Have you two always gelled aesthetically?
ED: We’ve always had our own individual style. Our individual style was more prominent in our first collection. But the more we work together, I think our individual style is starting mesh together.
EL: I also think that we have our own strengths which is very beneficial to our partnership. We learn from each other. Art comes easy for me on screen, where as with my sister, she’s very good with her paintbrush or pencil. In the end, you get two different styles, but we work together on how we can marry the two into one brand.
6.) You’re both twins. I don’t know many twins, but I can imagine there’s that desire, as there would be in any sibling dynamic, to separate yourselves from each other and form your own identities. I think you’ve done that well in your bio. (On your blog, you say, “ELMARIE IS A PRINT DESIGNER; EDMARIE DESIGNS YOUR ENVIRONMENT.”) How did you decide to use your being twins as a selling point in your business?
ED: We never meant to focus on being twins as a selling point, however, the more shows we do, customers who have followed our shops and our shows have been intrigued with how well we work together and have just gotten to know us not just as designers but as sisters.
EL: People really appreciate the relationship we have. When we highlight each of our talents or interests, we are doing so to enhance our partnership. The more skills or ideas we offer to the business, the stronger this partnership becomes.
7.) Edmarie has beautiful illustrations on your cards, as well as wonderfully abstract paintings on canvas. Elmarie focuses on print and graphic design. Have you two ever thought of switching roles for a collection? Edmarie doing some graphic work and Elmarie doing a painting or illustration?
ED: Oh, we’ve had sessions of me in front of a computer learning to lay out something on the screen. I’m still learning, but I can’t say that I’m a graphic designer yet.
EL: I tried to paint and draw. I’ve got paintings and sketches hidden in storage to prove that it just isn’t my greatest skill. If I can’t UNDO something by pressing a button, it really drives me crazy (Aireen, you probably know what I’m talking about). I like working on the computer and I really think my sister could be a phenomenal graphic designer. The only thing I do with our illustrative collection is some color adjusting and making sure the art is centered on paper.
8.) You’re both mothers of your own beautiful young children now. How do you manage a day job, Smile Lifestyle Boutique, mommyhood, and your families without losing your minds? Do you get negative hours of sleep a night? Is coffee your friend? Do your husbands do a lot of heavy lifting as well?
ED: Ha, I think it comes down to losing your mind once in awhile. But for me, it’s just about breaking things down one at a time. Being a mommy and a wifey are my number one job. Everything else depends on what is a priority and what comes next. Smile is something I’m always willing to sacrifice sleep for, because I love it. I love it not just because it’s ours, but it’s what defines me as well, besides being a mom and a wife.
EL: My sister probably manages better than I do since I’m a new mom. I remembered making a list of tasks I wanted to do while on parental leave. I’m happy to report that nothing on that list got done. A child really changes you. Sacrificing the small stuff isn’t hard. I don’t really need 6 hours of sleep. Being a parent makes me want this business to succeed even more. Right now, my schedule is a blur. I love being a mom, and I also love my day job, Smile, and growing my own design studio. Doughnut and coffee have become really good friends of mine. It’s not healthy at all, but my husband, who is always promoting healthy living, encourages me to workout and to eat healthier. I don’t always listen, but it’s good to always have that reminder. And, he knows there’s no stopping me once I have my mind set on a doughnut. My sister and I have always shared the goings-on with Smile to our husbands. They know almost every detail—the good, the bad, and the ugly!
9.) How does your creative process go? Is it always linear, or perhaps you have a certain number of items you know you want to launch for next season and you try to hit that? Or perhaps you decide on a theme and run with it?
ED: Since our products are celebratory, it’s easier to determine what comes next for the upcoming season.
EL: We actually should have a schedule of when items are launching. We’re still learning to hold off launching some great ideas until the best and most opportune times. Scheduling is still a learning process for both of us. We know it’s important. We really just need to fit in “scheduling” projects and launch dates into our annual schedule.
10.) Your Patterns ‘n’ Puns greeting cards (not sure if you have a name for that yet, but I figured that made the most sense! ^_^) and gift wrap have become a signature design for Smile. How do you come up with those ingenius puns? Also, do you ever have fans suggest ideas for you? I know sometimes I’ll be folding laundry (oh yeah, glamourous!) and then a pun will hit me, and I’ll think, “Ooh, maybe El and Ed would like this one!”
ED: Just like you, our ideas come from anywhere. It could be while I’m tucking my son into bed with his robot PJs, and all of a sudden, “Ha…ppy…Bot…day” is created. Really random. Any ideas we get, we text it right away to each other followed by, “Did you get it? Does it make sense?” because sometimes our sense of humor may be different from others.
EL: I’m constantly thinking of ideas. I do a lot of conceptual designs at work, so I’m used to brainstorming on my own wherever and whenever I can be by myself. We’ve had friends and families suggest ideas, and we love hearing them. It’s nice to witness them having fun with our wordplay, too. Yes, my sister and I are constantly texting, and usually I’d ask my husband for his feedback right away. There was one pun that just didn’t jive with anyone but me—it was something with “oregano.”
11.) Your colorful insect collection from Spring 2011 was very inspired and one of my favorites. (One of your prints is hanging on my inspiration wall!) Marrying insects and bold colors and patterns isn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill trend. What inspired that collection?
EL: That was sort of a personal experiment that actually turned out well. Again, I’m not an illustrator, but I’m very good on the computer. That whole collection was done on the computer, from the initial sketch to the final piece. I wanted something fun, whimsical and graphic, yet incorporating simple patterns such as lines and dots. When we brainstormed about the insect collection, we wanted to merge these critters in a bizzare environment of patterns. It didn’t work so well with the complexity of some of our pattern designs. In the end, the simple line pattern was enough to create an illusion of these critters crawling over and under these bold lines. I think I spent weeks illustrating the collection when my sister could’ve done them in a matter of minutes.
12.) How far in advance do you start planning your collections? You just launched your Christmas items. Are you now planning your Spring 2013 collection for Smile?
EL: We actually decided to move some of our finished new designs for the Spring collection. We’re currently working on adding to it with other celebratory cards fitting for the upcoming holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, etc. Look out for those in January.
13.) Where do you find inspiration for your collections in general?
EL: I love going to Paper Source or even just perusing the web. Looking at some of the best collections in the market helps us come up with ideas that haven’t been done before. Competition inspires us.
14.) Who would you say has been your biggest influence in art and design?
EL: I love the design philosophy of John Maeda. I’m a smarter designer now than 5 years ago, and part of this professional growth was due to his teachings. There are other creatives I admire for their designs and business-sense like Jessica Hische and Margo Chase.
15.) What are your favorite types of projects to work on?
ED: Definitely the pun cards. The creative process from beginning to end just makes me ‘smile.’
EL: I love working on our collection from beginning to end, whether it’s our signature collection or new designs. It’s a high-pressure position we’re in, but we enjoy the thrill of it.
16.) What has been the most challenging aspect of running your own business?
ED: The most challenging part is [deciding] what is more important to invest on. From the beginning, I think we decided on a lot of stuff too fast, because we were so excited. Now, we are more conservative on our decision-making and making sure that any decision we make aligns with our long term goals.
EL: We are definitely more conservative now than before—maybe too conservative sometimes. We are still learning how everything works. There is always a decision to make and risks to take. It’s very challenging juggling the logistics and the creative, but that’s part of being a business owner. You have to wear many hats.
17.) What has been the most rewarding aspect of running your own business?
ED: Definitely meeting some of our online customers in person and also seeing some of them in every show!
EL: I agree! Meeting with our Etsy customers and interacting with new customers in person is definitely my favorite.
18.) What kind of future aspirations do you have for Smile? Do you see yourselves opening a brick-and-mortar shop?
ED: I hope that Smile can expand to home goods. We have already started to talk about that, and I will be super thrilled when that finally happens. But lots of work still needs to be done. As far as an actual store, I’d like to stay as an online business, but El can tell you otherwise on her wishes.
EL: This goes back to us constantly thinking of new ideas. It’s just a matter of getting them done. We WILL definitely add home goods to our collection and even going into baby products. Even before Smile came about, my sister and I knew expanding beyond paper was something we wanted to pursue. We still want to stay small, but opening a shop someday is definitely something I always have in mind. We both enjoy interacting with our customers, and a shop will allow us to do more of that.
19.) On your blog, it says that together, you are Say Hello Creatives. We’re pretty familiar with your online shop, Smile Lifestyle Boutique. Does Say Hello Creatives have any other projects in the works, outside of Smile?
ED: I’ve done a few interior design projects outside of Say Hello Creatives, however, with our busy schedules, it’s hard to include that part into my projects right now. Not that I don’t enjoy interior design, but Smile is currently something I enjoy more.
EL: I love working on Smile, but I started out as a commercial designer working for small businesses. To do both is definitely a goal of mine. I took a break from Say Hello Creatives this past year to focus on growing my family. Now that my little one is over 6-months old, my schedule is getting a little better. I’m at a good place right now to be bold and chase after my ambitions. By next year, you might see more of Say Hello projects on the blog.
20.) What kind of advice do you have for aspiring creative entrepreneurs?
ED: Just go for it. Your talent could be a one-of-a-kind treasure to someone else.
EL: Only you can define your success. Listen to your heart, and do what makes you happy.
Thank you both so much for taking the time to tell us all about your latest collection and the brilliance behind Smile Lifestyle Boutique!
Find them on Etsy here.
Like them on Facebook here.
Follow them on Twitter here.
Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Aaaaand don’t forget to say hello to them tomorrow at the DIY Trunk Show, November 17 from 10AM to 5PM! I’ll be visiting them myself (and doing most of my Christmas shopping there), so meet me there!
All photos courtesy of Say Hello Creatives.
UPDATE 031316: Edmarie and Elmarie are still doing wonderful, creative projects in their day jobs and have since moved on from Say Hello Creatives. You can still contact them through their Etsy shop. Also, sadly, in 2014, the DIY Trunk Show ended its 11-year-run, which they explain in their post here. It’s a bummer, but as they say in their post, the DIY Trunk Show was a labor of love, and “love doesn’t pay the bills.” However, I’ll always fondly remember seeing the spark of excitement in the vending artisans’ eyes and love of supporting local.