Suffolk designer launches online print shop amid Covid uncertainty
PUBLISHED: 14:00 18 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:57 18 September 2020
Gemma Titmarsh explains why she feels the wedding sector has been left behind during the pandemic – and how she’s managed to salvage her business.
Coronavirus has undoubtedly affected everyone this year, in one way or another. With many people having to take furlough, leave their jobs, or diverse their businesses, it’s been one of the toughest years on record. Especially for those whose main source of income relies on big annual events such as weddings.
Gemma Titmarsh, of Melton, would certainly agree. The Suffolk-based designer, like many others who dedicate their lives to the wedding trade, saw her life turned upside-down when 2020 proved to be a year of no weddings.
Gemma runs Polly Pickle, an award-winning design studio that specialises in crafting bespoke wedding stationery for couples. She shares her devastation at how 2020 has panned out for married couples-to-be and the wedding industry as a whole, how she feels her sector has been left behind – and how she’s managed to diversify her offering for the future.
With a background in graphic design, Gemma quickly made a name for herself in design circles - and it wasn’t too long before she fell into the world of weddings.
“I’ve always been a super creative person - my only A* in school was Art. I later studied Graphic Design and Photography at the University of Lincoln, and was then offered an internship at Elle magazine when I graduated. It felt like my lucky break. I then got my first job as a designer at You & Your Wedding magazine, which is where I fell in love with the wedding industry and all things wedding.”
Fast forward to 2017 however, and Gemma was now working as a marketing manager at a recruitment company in Ipswich – and longed for the creativity that came with working in the wedding business.
“It’s the dream, isn’t it? Being your own boss and running your own business, doing something that you love and are passionate about, while working flexible hours that fit around your lifestyle. When I had my first child back in 2017, I took the plunge to just go for it and set up Polly Pickle - and haven’t looked back since. It was the best decision I ever made.”
With a steady stream of happy customers, wedding season after wedding season, things were going great for the one-woman-business.
But when coronavirus hit back in spring, Gemma’s hard work that she’d spent all of winter working all seemed to be for nothing.
“As a stationer, I’m busiest in the winter, producing wedding invitations for the upcoming summer ceremonies, so fortunately I had just had my best few months in business when lockdown hit us. Unfortunately I then had to have a week of heartbreaking conversations with couples whose stationery was then wasted due to postponing their date for a year or more, and all of my imminent work was cancelled. I also produce matching day stationery, such as table plans, placename tags and order of services, so of course, all of this work was cancelled for the entire summer as well.
“It was devastating to see my business go from doing its absolute best, to all of a sudden grinding to a halt with all of my work cancelled so quickly. I panicked about whether the business would survive.”
Luckily for Gemma, she was quickly able to diversify her skills to tide her over, and was especially thankful for the supportive network of fellow independent wedding suppliers here in Suffolk.
“Like all businesses, I’ve had to adapt to survive the situation. With a design history in agency work and marketing, I took on projects with other small businesses to redesign their logos and branding, as well as create websites. I also used the time to give my own company a rebrand.
“Locally, wedding suppliers in the region are such a tight, wonderful community. The support has been absolutely amazing, and everyone is doing what they can to make sure voices are heard and we all come out the other side together.”
With no one anticipating lockdown to go on for as long as it has, coupled with the fact that the wedding industry didn’t receive a government bailout to help salvage it, Gemma feels the sector as a whole has unfairly been left behind, considering how much it contributes yearly to the nation’s economy.
“It has felt like a forgotten and ignored industry by the government throughout much of this time. The total spend on weddings annually is £14.7bn. That’s £9.4bn on the day itself, £3.2bn spend on retail and £2.1bn on travel and pre-wedding events.
“This means that weddings contribute more to the economy than live sports events, and three times that of live arts and cultural events.”
While tens of thousands of couples remain uncertain on whether their big day will even go ahead in 2021, Gemma has a back-up plan and has begun the second phase of her business – by opening up an online print shop. This will ensure she will always have design work lined up, regardless of lockdown.
“I do hand-drawn ink illustrations of wedding venues and ceremony churches for some of my wedding stationery designs, which are really popular, but I have gone beyond this to create unique prints for the home using my bespoke illustrations. They’re a combination of freehand illustration, typography and graphic design - inspired by my love of Scandinavian design and simple Nordic home interiors. The print shop will be launching in October, with 15 designs in the opening collection.
“I started my business with a few wedding invitation designs, so it’s great to be offering full wedding stationery, marketing and design services, as well as a print shop now. I feel like people are more conscious of shopping small and supporting local businesses - so here’s hoping it’s a success.”
If there’s one thing people have still been able to enjoy during lockdown without fail, it’s interiors. As people spend more time at home, and with many working remotely, people have been spending more of their disposable income on colourful stationery and prints to brighten up their home offices.
Similarly, throughout 2020, Gemma also noticed how a number of couples were opting for custom-made paper gifts, as paper is the traditional one-year anniversary gift, in lieu of going away this year due to lockdown restrictions. “Bespoke prints featuring a drawing of their wedding venue is popular - it makes the perfect gift for a ‘paper’ theme.”
As an entrepreneur who’s had to quickly diversify her business and expand her skillset under such sudden circumstances, how confident does Gemma feel about the future of the wedding industry, going forwards?
“I’m very happy to say wedding work has really picked up for me, back to full capacity in recent weeks. 2021 couples seem to be more organised than ever as it’s earlier than usual for me to be producing invitations for the following summer.
“I’m staying very hopeful for a fabulous year of weddings in 2021 - for the sake of all of the wonderful couples looking to tie the knot, and the suppliers whose livelihoods depend on it.”
Visit www.pollypickledesign.com to see Gemma’s designs.