Ever since we stopped by the Papersmiths store in Clifton Village with photographer Karolina Wiśniowska back in December, we’ve been itching to find out more about this inspiring place, and one fine Saturday morning, as the town was waking up under the sun’s unbroken radiance, we had the chance to catch-up with its co-founder, Sidonie Warren, and get a first hand insight into what makes this place so special.
A gentle, generous and buoyant soul, Sidonie opened up about how she started Studio B – a design agency specialised in branding and interiors – with her business partner Kyle Clarke in 2011, and how Papersmiths was born 2 years later out of their obsession with print and paper, becoming over the years one of the leading independent stationery stores in the UK, offering a beautifully curated range of stationery and paper goods, as well as a smart selection of independent magazine publications form all around the world.
Sidonie also showed us upstairs, where only a few months ago she opened Two Palms, an immersive space imbued with spiritual energy specialised in selling apothecary, jewellery, crystals, tarot cards, homewares and books. We chatted about her daily routines and travels, her dreams, inspirations and plans for the future and her interest in tarot, crystal healing and meditation.
A playful, refreshing and engaging brand, Papersmiths have won at the end of April the 2018 Best Retailer award at the Bristol Life Awards and are in the process of opening store no.3 in Brighton.
For people who don’t know you, who is Sidonie Warren? Tell us a bit about your background.
I started out as a teacher and got some retail experience at the fashion brand American Apparel. This introduced me to colour blocking which, I later found out, would come in handy when it came to visual merchandising pens and pencils. I quit teaching to explore illustration, buying and selling vintage clothes and making jewellery and found myself starting a design studio with my business partner Kyle Clarke in 2011.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
When I was about ten, I built the most incredible Barbie house that took up my entire bedroom floor. I began on Friday evening after school and finished Sunday at 5pm. Then I started playing, and discovered that my Barbies weren’t happy in their new home so I turned my Mum’s three-level paper filing tray system (which was on wheels) into a camper van and took the Barbies on a round-the-world adventure. Perhaps it’s not the most vivid but it’s the most relevant to me right now because I’ve learned that I really love creating things but am not much of a maintainer and once something is created, I’ll be itching to move onto the next project.
What or who sparked your interest in design-led stationery and paper goods?
I’ve always loved stationery. I just didn’t use to have any taste. When I was a child I requested a selection of office supplies from the Viking catalogue for Christmas. My Mum used to get it for work supplies and I loved the idea of having 50 lever arch files and 200 plastic wallets. That was a strange Christmas.
How did the idea of Papersmiths come about and what made it worth pursuing?
Kyle and I had opened a little shop in one half of our design studio in Bristol. We needed to rely less on client work to pay the bills. We called it Something Else and we literally just sold the things we love ‒ magazines, prints, books and stationery. We’re both obsessed with print and paper and I sketch, doodle and write all the time. We were using these products in our own practice every day. Something Else didn’t turn a profit but it allowed us to have fun and experiment. Our studio started to do well and we outgrew the space so we decided to take the shop seriously and move to a more prominent location. We took a chance on it, it profits now and we opened our second location in May 2017.
You founded Papersmiths together with Kyle Clarke. How do you influence each other and what are your strengths as a team of creatives?
Kyle is more realistic and I’m more optimistic so we balance each other out there. We will go after what we love and believe in. We pep each other up in tough times and we’re very skilled at celebrating in the good.
We question each other’s opinions which is so important in business, because it means we’ll have to back-up our reasons for thinking something is the way to go. It means we make our decisions having explored the issue in detail.
I think the crucial element of our success is that we always stick together once we've decided on a route and we know that underneath all the challenging conversations about money and growth and our team we’re great friends and we respect each other.
How would you define the Papersmiths style?
I like to think it’s playful and honest and it doesn’t try too hard. I hope it’s engaging. And I hope people get the feeling I do when I buy a new notebook and pen in the store – like I’ve got some super stylish stationery and I can’t wait to start using it and planning for my new project! Sometimes on the tube I write pretend to-do lists of tasks that I’ve already done just to show it off.
What makes Clifton Village the perfect site for Papersmiths?
Our space is on the corner on a busy street in Clifton Village and has huge windows, so people passing by can see right in. Clifton attracts people who like to stroll around on the weekend so they’ll often pop into our store. It’s a great spot.
What was the biggest challenge you had to face as an entrepreneur?
It’s always cashflow. Managing overheads with what we need to spend to replenish the stores and balancing that with our projected sales figures. And when we don’t meet our targets, we need to be reactive and buy in less. Equally when we exceed targets, we purchase more, and fast, or the shops will look poorly stocked. When we were small and didn’t have such big responsibilities, we never fully sympathised with the oft-thrown around phrase ‘cashflow is king’. Now it’s like a daily mantra.
What have you found to be the best tools for success in your industry?
PR and marketing opportunities – they raise awareness of Papersmiths and increase our sales.
You live and work between London and Bristol. What do you love about these cities and which one is your favourite?
I love Bristol for its independent spirit and authenticity. Many of my great friends live there and Poco, my favourite restaurant, is there too. London is great for the excitement and the inspiration it provides. There are so many events going on which I enjoy like sound baths and theatre. I live in North London and I’m close to Clissold Park and Abney Park so I can get to green space easily. Business-wise, London is well connected for travelling abroad, it’s been useful for meeting more people in the retail industry and it’s cemented our reputation in the stationery industry.
What other local independent business do you admire?
Dig Haushizzle is a fantastic furniture store in Bristol. It has so much character and there’s always some curiosity to behold. In London, I’m a big fan of 42 Acres. It’s a retreat space in an old school hall in Shoreditch and it’s a haven in this often frenetic area.
What was the best advice you have ever been given?
To work on the business, not just in it.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
I go for a walk or do what I’ve recently discovered is called ‘stream of consciousness journaling’. I write all the crap in my head and after five or so minutes good ideas start to flow.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
We cannot control everything. Sometimes we just have to accept things as they are. I try to spend my time and efforts on what is working, rather than fighting what’s not.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
Choosing the stationery and the associated travel. I love change and newness so visiting a brand new city and scouring it for beautiful stationery is very enjoyable.
When it comes to your living space, how would you define your style?
I’d say it’s playful but considered. I share a house with two pals so our living space interior is a bit of a mixed bag. My bedroom is where most of my style shines through – a neutral backdrop with lots of bright pops of colour and texture from textiles, ceramics, crystals and prints. I have books everywhere.
What does a regular day look like for you?
It varies greatly. If I’m in London, I go to a yoga class or for a quick walk and then crack on with what needs to be done that day whether that’s shop visits, meetings, phone calls or something on my computer. Once a week I travel to Bristol so I leave my house at 6.15am and arrive at our store there for 11am. That’s a day packed with meetings and catching up with everyone. I’ve just spent two weeks in the States researching and studying and I’d start the day with yoga, breakfast and emails and then get out to explore. This kind of lifestyle suits me but I know it wouldn’t be for everyone. Before I go to sleep I update my to-do list and write in my journal.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
We plan to grow Papersmiths both digitally and with physical locations. We’re viewing spaces every week.
We launched Two Palms online store this spring and will start holding events in the space too. I’m working on a new project which will come to fruition later this year that I’m very excited about so watch this space.
And now a Yes/No Max Frisch question: If you had the power to put into effect things you consider right, would you do so against the wishes of the majority?
I wouldn’t and to explain why I’m going to come back at you with Alan Watts. “One could not be right without also being wrong.”
Can you recommend us:
This list compiles the last book I read, song I listened to, film I watched and dish I ate. I also rate all of them highly. It’s been a good month.
A book: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
A song: Roller Skates by Nick Hakim
A film: This Is Where We Live
A dish: Take a piece of rye bread. Smother with a layer of apple jelly followed by a layer of cashew caramel spread and top with sliced banana. Weird but wonderful. I invented it this afternoon and can assure you that it’s a dream snack.
Thank you, Sidonie for your warm welcome and lovely company.