Kooky cutie Catherine Polacek is the founder and head designer of Printerette Press, a Minneapolis-based letter-press company. Her brightly colored, personality-filled hand-pressed cards will charm your pant(ie)s off, and you'll never want to send -or receive!- any other card ever again. Better yet, she can do all custom errthang for all your paper needs, including wedding invites (mine!), stationary, business cards and anything else you can dream up in 2-D.
Check out my interview with the darling designer herself below in which she reveals her path from fashion design school to running a company...and all the question marks, fateful emails, and hard work in between ♥
Hey there, Catherine! I am thrilled to have such an ambitious, talented babe as our first interview- thank you! I am fascinated by your story because you didn’t just transition from a desk job into a creative business owner… you were already in a solid creative position, designing clothing at a large retail corporation, and left to start your printing press company. Can you walk me through this transition in five(ish) bullet points?
- Felt burnt-out, uncreative, and under stimulated at work
- Was offered a 100-year old press by a friend and turned it down (sort of weirded out why I was offered such a thing?)
- Went back to my miserable cubicle and got back to work
- Started researching letterpress printing over lunch one day
- Fell hardcore for it
That’s the super simplified version! Of course there were lots of tears shed and tough decisions to be made. And it wasn’t a quick transition. I stuck with my job for a year or so while I got the hang of everything and carved out a business plan (on post-its… oy).
You went to four years of school for fashion design. Have a BFA in fashion design. Had a steady job, with benefits, in fashion design. Simple logic (and most parents) might say, "why leave?" So allow me to speak for logical elders everywhere when I ask, why leave?
I had a solid gut feeling that it was time to go when a bunch of small personal factors all came to a head. I was feeling ready for something more challenging and also more independent but I could feel a promotion on the horizon. The corporation that I worked for was super good to their employees and raises were abundant and frequent. Surprisingly, I didn’t want the promotion headed my way because I was afraid it would only make it harder to leave down the road to do my own thing. I just felt that now was the time. (And I was young enough where I didn’t have very far to fall!) And, on the side, I was working on some really fantastic design and print project for friends and was finding that there was a place in the world for my illustrations and design and that paired with letterpress printing, there was a real market for it.
I think of my corporate job as my grad school education because it filled in so much of what my under grad education didn’t. Where in school I learned to rouche and applique and work with tulle, at work I learned the technicalities of textiles, how to merchandise for mass markets, and how to deal with margins, margins, margins. It may be surprising that while I run a tiny print and design shop, I tap into my Big Box Retailer knowledge absolutely every day.
If 100 = ready to take the leap from salaried job to starting your own business, can you tell us what percentage was genuine preparedness, and what percentage was just big bad balls? (Feel free to include any other factors in your pie chart that might be necessary!)
I spent my nights and weekends doing Printerette on the side for almost a year. So I really felt like I knew what I was doing and where I wanted to go with it before I quit. I kept saying “if I only had more time to do this….”. So I would say 33% of my drive was preparedness.
I also was newly married and felt somewhat financially stable with my savings and with my husband’s job. He wasn’t ALL about me leaving my job but he was pretty darn supportive eventually and has been ever since. So, 33% great support system.
The other 33% is big bad balls, I guess.
Can you speak a little further on this balance? I think a lot of people don’t allow their dream job to be anything but a dream because it’s terrifying to leave what is safe, even if it isn’t making us happy.
I had a back up plan in place which helped with my sanity. I gave myself one year to “experiment” and see if this would work. I created a product line and took it to a trade show and hit the pavement really hard. But, I had the option of going back to my job if it didn’t work out which was really helpful to my sanity.
Thankfully, at the end of the year, I felt still very rocky but I felt sure that Printerette was going to work. It felt positive.
Ok so. Why a printing press?
In college I took some printmaking and letterpress printing and I really loved it. Like a lot more than what I was actually studying. But, I was nearly through my education and my one-track mind wasn’t allowing myself to pursue the interest any further than just dabbling. The stars aligned later when I was working at my big job. I was starting to get the itch to try something a little more creative and independent and a family friend contacted me as she was helping her aging dad sell off his hobby print shop, as I mentioned earlier. I think she reached out to me only because she knew I was a creative type. She planted the seed and the rest is history. Now I have a few presses and seeing my work come to life on them is what makes my day.
You went from being one of many designers at a giant corporation in fancy offices, to being the boss/ assistant /cleaning staff/ intern in your basement. Can you tell us if and how this allowed you to learn more about yourself?
I learned really quickly that structure doesn’t come easy to me and that I need it really badly and that I’d have to create it for myself now that I was striking out on my own. So, creating deadlines and sticking to a calendar has become really crucial in my productivity. Task management software (like Asana) is my everything now.
Now you have a large office space, multiple vintage presses, a team of employees and interns, and are well known (and sold!) throughout the country. What have you learned through achieving such success, completely on your own?
I’ve learned that if I’m true to who I am, aesthetically and personally, the realness will draw people and business in. It’s so easy to compare and contrast what I’ve got to other similar businesses and it’s easily the most harmful thing to do. So I practice authenticity as much as possible and work off of my own weirdness rather than criticize it. It’s an every day challenge, for sure.
I’m sure everyone always says “your job is so cool!” or “man I’m so jealous you get to do what you love!” But owning and being responsible for a business is tough stuff!! Without sounding like a Negative Nancy asking you to be a Negative Nancy, can you address some struggles you face, or moments when you ask yourself “what the hell have I gotten myself into?” just in the name of realness?
I’ve found that when it rains, it pours. In both a good way and a bad way. And it’s been difficult getting used to that. Either we are out of our mind busy or we have zero jobs. Either we have a bunch of really rad clients and fun projects, or we are working with the most dismal stinkers ever. At times I feel like a rich happy success story and at other times, a miserable failure. I hope to get better at expecting, anticipating, and riding through the highs and lows.
Pretend current you could go back to pre-Printerette you. What words of wisdom would you give yourself? Are there any significant changes you would encourage her to make in her journey?
Learning that I don’t have to say yes to every project or proposal that comes through the door has been important. I think the insecurities of being new and young at something brings up the feeling of desperation and needing to please all the people all the time. But, as I became more comfortable with only taking on jobs that seem like a good fit, I’ve been able to be more focused and inspired, spread less thin, and ultimately more profitable.
Now let's put business aside and I'd love to ask you some other personal odds and ends.
Can you share some favorite fashion discoveries- perhaps a new brand, a perfect fit, a bargain item that looks like you is rich?
I love our local Parc Boutique! (parcboutique.com) Everytime I walk out of there I think I look like I is rich. She carries small brands with a minimal esthetic and keeps a tightly curated assortment in her shop. I think everything I pick up there is a winner.
Do you have any non-work related goals/ endeavors currently? If so, how’s that goin?
I recently completed Whole 30 and can’t stop chirping about it. All the body crap I’ve complained about for years is as good as gone and I feel awesome and SO proud for completing it. My skin cleared up, making smart food decisions became so much easier, I lost a decent amount of weight, and my energy feels abundant and good.
You've got 7.5 minutes and have to look cute- what do you do?
I just got my long straight hair cut to a chin-length bob and it is SO MUCH easier to look pulled together. 5 minutes with a curling iron and Josie Maran’s Argan Oil lip and cheek tint in “Honey” and I feel half decent.
Is there any kind of obnoxious stain that you have a special trick for removing that you could enlighten us with?
I squirt everything with lemon juice and lay it out in the sun for the afternoon! It seems to work on everything.
What is the best book you’ve read lately?
The Luminaries! It was so fantastic and I can’t quit talking about it. It’s a murder mystery that takes place during the gold rush in New Zealand. It interweaves the stories of twelve characters and their twelve astrological signs. It’s complicated (and a commitment – I think it’s 800 pages) but seriously amazing.
I read tons of wedding magazines for work, but rarely read them for my own pleasure! But I scroll through my blog roll every morning. I hoard blogs but am always sure to catch up on Cup of Jo, Garance Dore, Wit & Delight, The City Sage, Smitten Kitchen, and the Little Green Notebook.
What are you listening to? It doesn’t have to be the new hip thing that sounds cool to tell people you’re listening to. If you’re listening to Reel Big Fish or like The Little Mermaid soundtrack, I wanna know.
I’ve been listening to two great local musicians/bands from Minneapolis. One is Sam Cassidy – really great road trip music that I think has a little Neil Young sound to it. The other: Hippo Campus. A band of super young guys that have a sort of Vampire Weekend sound.
You work in an intimate studio space with a small staff. What’s your game plan if you gotta fart? You don’t have to answer this. But I mostly just asked all the other questions so I could ask this. But like. You don’t HAVE to answer it.
I love and respect our little Printerette team and I strive to pay them as much as I can and respect their lives and passions and ambitions and I think they’re quite happy to be working here. So, I figure they can deal with a fart here and there.
Plus, we have a shop dog that I can blame it on.
Just Add White Tee
Black and White
Black&White + Baby Blue
The New Tied Waist
Plaid + Polka Dot
Sequins + Stripes
The Mini Jumpsuit