Our special guest today, Alicia holds a special place in the Polka Dot world. Not only does she run her own beautiful stationery business Akimbo, but she is also the contributing editor for our DIY Weddings blog Polka Dot Made. I’m always blown away by what Alicia produces and it’s an honour to have her join us today on Polka Dot Wisdom!
Tell me a little about yourself?
I’m the owner and designer behind Akimbo, specialising in quirky wedding invitations. I also have a blog Atypical Type A, where I share pretty and practical ideas for home, parties and weddings.
As our contributing editor to Polka Dot Made, you obviously love making things. Where do you find your inspiration for the varied projects you present?
I find many mainstream wedding accessories to be unimaginative at best, tacky at worst, so it can be incredibly difficult to find alternatives if you’re looking for something a bit different. This is certainly improving (hooray!) with the rise of the handmade movement and sites like Etsy, but it’s immensely satisfying to create something with your own hands.
Sometimes I’ll see something in a shop or magazine and think “that would be cool for a wedding, I’ll have a go at making it”. Other times I’ll be designing an invitation suite and want to show brides how the theme could be taken through to the decorations.
Do your ‘design and craft’ ideas permeate most areas of your life e.g. your home for instance?
Oh yes. It’s not just a job, it’s the way I live. I’m always finding ways of surrounding myself with beautiful things, whether they be bought or made myself. It drives my husband crazy actually, as soon as I’ve finished a project I’m immediately thinking “what’s next?”.
How did your interest in designing stationery come about?
Even before the start of my design career, I always loved planning parties and designing invitations for myself, friends and family, and eventually a few clients. However it wasn’t until I started planning my own wedding stationery that I realised how passionate I am about it. I love the human side of stationery; it’s simply about personal communication and making someone’s day a bit brighter.
What was the catalyst for setting up the Akimbo website?
Working on our engagement and wedding invitations sparked a new range of possibilities for me and I soon dragged out the paintbox and began experimenting with shapes and patterns which I then refined into products.
I launched in May last year, intending it to be a side project to my day job in advertising, but within a month I’d decided to quit my job and take it full time. A year on, I’m still excited to get up in the morning and start work.
How do you keep your designs fresh and different? Where do you get your design inspiration from?
Inspiration can come from anywhere: art, nature, even song lyrics. Just the other day I was visiting a wedding venue in Adelaide and thought wow, their Tudor leadlight windows would make a great pattern for an invitation.
For my bespoke jobs, it’s easy to keep it fresh because the inspiration comes directly from the couple themselves. So sometimes if I’m struggling with designing a new product that’s not for a specific client, I will make one up and imagine all the things she would like.
How do stay inspired?
Being bombarded by over 100 design, stationery and wedding related blogs in my daily reader, it’s definitely a challenge to prevent the numbness that comes with over saturation. It’s easy to only look inside your own niche for inspiration, but it usually won’t result in your best work. Sometimes you need to switch off, do other things and allow your mind to breathe so new ideas have room to grow. (Note to self: take own advice and book holiday.)
How do you keep on learning and growing?
I read a lot of books and blogs on business, design and marketing. I love reading interviews and behind-the-scenes views from other creative types. I work closely with people like my printing gurus and am always asking questions and wanting to learn more about printing and paper so I can serve my clients better.
Recently I decided I’d love to get to know other wedding vendors in my area (Adelaide), so I started The Wedding Ring, a monthly social meetup where we can share our experiences and learn from each other in a relaxed environment. (It’s also open to wedding professionals visiting from interstate, so perhaps one day I will get to meet Ms Polka and friends?)
What are your aims for your business? Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
By then we plan to have moved to a larger home, where I’ll be able to have a nice big studio instead of the poky second bedroom in our unit where I currently work. I’d love to have a second pair of hands to do things like admin and shipping so I can concentrate on designing for clients and developing new products.
What sets you apart from others?
For bespoke jobs, I spend a lot of time getting to know the couple, finding out about them and their dream day. I love creating invitations that don’t just look pretty, but truly reflect the couple.
I also have very high production standards, so Akimbo invitations are professionally printed on the highest quality paper. Outsourcing the production means I can offer customers a range of printing methods and recommend the one that’s best suited to their job. Whereas if you go to a letterpress printer, that’s all they’ll offer even if it’s not right for you, and some stationers only do in-house printing so you’re limited to inkjet invitations.
What inspires you about Australian brides?
There’s a lot less strict tradition to adhere to for weddings in Australia, so brides tend to be more laid back and willing to try something unexpected and less formal, which I love!
What is your number one tip for brides?
Don’t do something just because it’s ‘the done thing’ at weddings. Go with your gut and do what makes you and your fiancé happy. If that means wearing a coloured dress, or not having a bridal party or having a cocktail reception so you can mingle, go for it!
What are your favourite wedding invitation ideas?
My taste is really diverse so I can’t pin down any one idea that I love above all others. Generally my favourite invitations are those that capture something about the couple, tie in with the style of the wedding day and have carefully considered design and typography
What bridal stationery trends do you see in the future?
The letterpress revival continues, which is great to see as its beautiful pillow-y depth can really take a great design into knock-your-socks-off amazing. I’m also trying to incorporate other traditional methods such as foiling and embossing. (Not sure what any of that means? Read this.)
Eco-friendly options have gone beyond flecky paper, and now some suppliers are offering carbon-neutral products, soy-based inks and paper alternatives (I’m excited to say I’ve just launched my first wood invitation!).
What should brides start with when they’re planning their stationery needs?
The first thing to work out is the quantity of invitations you require: count up the singles, couples and families on your guest list (it will probably be roughly half the total number of guests), then add 10% to allow for addressing mistakes, lost invitations and keepsakes. Then calculate your budget, making sure to allocate not just for the invitation itself, but the information cards, thank you notes, save the dates and day-of stationery.
Then comes the fun part! Research invitation designers, find one whose style you love and who you ‘click’ with. You’ll want to give them an idea of your preferences of course, but don’t worry about specifying everything exactly, that’s what your designer is for.
(If you’d like to find out everything you need to know about ordering wedding stationery, you might like my free e-book on just that topic.)
Cleverest ideas you’ve seen?
There are so many clever ideas you can incorporate into your wedding stationery: visual puns and wordplays, scratch off panels, designs requiring 3D glasses and non-tacky themes (yes, it’s possible!).
Could you give us 5 tips and tricks for the bride?
- 1. Leave enough time
Many brides don’t order their invitations early enough, meaning it’s a stressful chore instead of the fun experience it should be, not to mention there may be rush fees involved and compromises to be made.
- 2. Order extra invitations
Auntie Sally’s invitation got lost in the post, or maybe (oops!) you forgot to add her to the guest list. Perhaps you’ve had lots of ‘no’ RSVPs and you can invite a few more people in their place. If you haven’t ordered spare invitations it will be extremely costly to print a handful of extras at the last minute.
3. Remember wedding stationery is more than just invitations
A lot of brides run into trouble when they have spent their stationery budget on their invitations but later realise they haven’t factored in the day-of stationery or postage.
4. Know where to spend and where to save
There are some aspects of your stationery (like the graphic design and invitation printing) where it will really show if you try to save a few dollars, but other items you can do inexpensively yet effectively (such as table numbers, place cards and mailing labels). Understanding the process and having good communication with your stationer will make this simple.
5. Don’t think everything has to match exactly
So you’ve decided on a seashell as the illustration on your invitations. Great, but now you want to add it to the RSVPs, the save the dates, the thank you cards, the programs, the place cards, the menu… eek, seashell overload! Instead, mix things up and carry through only certain elements to other stationery items, like just the colour, or just the font. It will create a more sophisticated and interesting look.