Creative Freedom

Molly Mae designer and director, Jude Kenney, shares her journey creating beautiful greeting cards, having this year become the sole owner of the company

three occassion cards in group with pastel colour paletter When did you start up and why? I think my journey to becoming a greeting card designer and starting up a business is not typical. I left art college with a degree in graphic design and my first job was working as an in-house Graphic Designer at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. This was an amazing first job, I learned so much and met so many fantastic people. At the time GOSH's website was a centred page of links in Times New Roman on a Microsoft cloud pattern background! I was keen to embrace any opportunity and took this challenge on, learning website design and coding, I created their first website, or what we might consider one to look like now. Working alongside WellChild charity, we then developed an animated children's website with interactive games helping children learn about their bodies and conditions. However, this was also before the culture of working from home and not having to live near the place you work. I moved and took a similar position at The University of Leicester for the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group. When I had my own children, I thought having my own business would give me flexibility and an ideal work/life balance – it's certainly given me flexibility, but I was maybe naive to think that owning a business would give me more time for the family!
We launched in 2009 at Home & Gift, armed with more than 100 digital samples on a tiny stand, a catalogue, website (obviously) and a tonne of enthusiasm.

What challenges have you overcome since the company's launch? You have challenges to overcome all the time when you are running a business. Naturally things change and I've learnt that you have to move and adapt to meet changes. Certainly, consumer demand is something that evolves and the change from cello-wrapped to a reduction in single-use plastics has been a challenge for us when the alternative options are not ideal. However, I now see change as an opportunity to do things better. 2023 brought a change of ownership and creative direction for Molly Mae, but this has brought a freshness in creativity and a new motivation to grow.

Tell us about your product offering. We are known for beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and patterns. We are also the go-to company for niche titles, many of our customers know we'll offer those hard-to-find titles alongside very strong occasion cards. Baby, Wedding, Sympathy and relations, we offer cards that the buyer is delighted to source, and the recipient is delighted to receive, for that very special occasion.

What are your most popular products? Sadly, sympathy are our bestselling cards, our stockists tell us that they struggle to keep their shelves stocked and that our cards strike the right note for one of the most difficult occasions to buy for.

Have any styles taken you by surprise with their popularity? Cards featuring pets or animals surprise us in their popularity, we certainly are a nation of animal lovers. Our social media posts that feature one of our pets, or one of the animals on the farm where our office is based, get more comments than others. We recently published a reel on Instagram where one of the chickens appeared to inspect the delivery, it made us smile and appeared to amuse our followers too.

How do you keep your designs fresh and current? Do you follow trends? Our designers work collaboratively, bringing in different influences and ideas, therefore keeping our designs innovative. We follow trends in fashion and homeware, mainly to influence our colours, but keep the focus of our design work on our target market. Molly Mae cards appeal to those who appreciate beautiful, hand-drawn designs.

two cards on a wooden table, in blue hues and bold design, birthday theme What sets you apart from your competitors? In this industry your designs are what make you unique but as well as that we also have a close relationship with our independent retailers. We fulfill our orders in-house and customers know that we will bend over backwards to meet their needs. We ship most orders the same day, sometimes throwing tasty treats in, we listen to requests of unique titles and value their feedback on how we can improve our services.

How are you finding the current climate in the UK? Is it affecting business? Our stockists tell us that they are facing some of the most challenging conditions that they have witnessed in their own trading times. Staff recruitment and retention is challenging, as well as energy costs. However, they say that whilst they are sourcing high quality, innovative products, they are meeting the needs of their loyal customer base and are confident about the future.

How do you view the future of independent retail? Buyers still enjoy the personal contact and buying experience that can only be delivered by independent retail. They are an asset to our communities and keep our market towns and villages alive. We support independent retail as much as possible by continually launching new designs, so they have fresh product to keep their customers coming back, engaging with their social media and being loyal to our stockists.

Are you active on social media? How is this important for the business? In the last year we have increased our social media activity. We enjoy adding reels on Instagram as a way of sharing some of the 'behind the scenes' moments and promoting our new products. We also enjoy engaging with our stockists through social media, seeing their shops, their staff and generally getting to know them better!

Do you have any advice for new businesses starting out in the world of gifts? Do something you enjoy, working for yourself is really hard work but doing something you enjoy makes the hard work easier and worthwhile. It's a friendly industry, don't be afraid to ask questions and take advice.

What can we expect in the future from the company? This is a very exciting year for me personally. In the spring my original business partner chose to move on, and I had the opportunity to buy the business to run on my own. Whilst it's been hard work and the hours put in feel similar to those in the early days, I have absolutely loved the creative freedom and feel immensely proud of what I, alongside the Molly Mae team, have achieved so far. We've just launched over 150 new designs and I was overwhelmed by the response, we think it's one of our strongest launches ever. We also visited the licensing show this year and have been following up on a couple of new contacts. We're hoping to launch some Molly Mae giftware later in the year.

MOLLY MAE T: +44 (0)1455 557 115

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