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Season 1 Ep 44: Chat With a Card Maker: Carley Hussain of Parcel Island


This week on the xoxo, jess Podcast I’m talking to Carley Hussain of Parcel Island. Parcel Island is a stationery and lifestyle boutique based in Philadelphia. Carley has a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Graphic Design and almost a decade of experience in the print and design field. Her designs are contemporary, bright, and hilarious, and I can’t wait for you to meet the woman behind it all.Listen to the episode above, on iTunes HERE, or read the transcription below.


Episode Transcription:


Jessica Walker

Welcome back to xo xo Jess, where we dive deep into the world of greeting cards, the highs and lows of entrepreneurship and the mindset tools needed to start creating the business of your dreams today. I'm Jessica Walker, your host here with another Wednesday episode and this Wednesday I'm talking to Carly Hussain of parcel Island. parcel Island is a stationery and lifestyle boutique based in Philadelphia. And Carly has a Bachelor's of Fine Arts in graphic design and almost a decade of experience in the print and design field. Her cards and her designs across all of her products are contemporary, bright, and they're hilarious. And I cannot wait for you to meet the woman behind all of it. So welcome, Carly. Hi there. I'm so happy to be here. So happy to have you. I have been admiring your work from afar. And this is our first time actually virtually meeting and I'm really pumped to dive into all things parcel islands. So let's get started with kind of your background. I know you do have that design and art background. But what got you into the world of greeting cards?


Carley Hussain

Yeah, so I'll just kind of dive right in. So I am a graphic designer and I actually work both a full time job and balanced parcel islands. So I have been designing for about 10 years now and I goes by so quick, basically so when I first graduated college, I went to Montclair State. I graduated in 2013. I almost forget at this meeting. Oh, nice. There we go. So my first job out of college was a role in the stationery industry, I worked for a small stationery boutique out of Hoboken, New Jersey called perfectly invited and I was their wedding stationery designer. So as their designer, I really have first hand look into all the processes involved in owning and operating a stationery boutique. Everything from customer relations, vendor relations, printing processes, industry trends, and all of the above. So the knowledge and all the hands on experience that I ended up gaining while working in the stationary field is just ultimately what help me drive to the beginnings of horse Island. So like most positions that I'm sure most people have faced, while I loved my time there, I definitely felt this roadblock of being able to really express my creativity. And I'm guarantee most creatives felt this way.


So when working wedding stationery, there's typically like a lot of constraints that you may not think about. There's usually formal processes like wording, you need to only use certain fonts, certain colors, you also always need to adhere to a bridezilla, you do not want to make them angry. So there was definitely a lot of constraints kind of when working in the wedding field. And so I kind of felt this need of wanting to express my creativity while still honing in on stationery. And so between that and then my love of humor. Like I said, it's kind of just what drove me to start porcelain. I love that I feel like we actually have kind of a similar I mean, yours is much more like an in depth. Mine was more of a crash course. But I kind of got that sparked by working at a greeting card gift shop in my neighborhood as well. And seeing just the orders coming in how they communicated with customers. And it really was I was like, Oh my gosh, these are real people behind these brands. Wait, could I do this? Like that's, that's so cool.


Jessica Walker

So when did you have that? That moment that you decided to start doing your own thing kind of walk us through what that looked like? Did you just start doing your own designs and put them up on an Etsy shop? or How did you start printing your cars? Just what are those early steps like for parcel island?


Carley Hussain

Yeah. So when I first started I of course launch within Etsy, which most people launch with. But the way I started is definitely a little unconventional, I guess for in the stationery field. So at the time that I launched my Etsy shop, something that was really popular just amongst Etsy was digital downloads. And I don't really know if it's like that now just simply because they don't offer it. But at the time, it was a huge offering to be able to publish a design. And either somebody be able to download it right away or you customize it but then send them the printable file. So when I first launched my Etsy I literally had $0. But so I went into it with the idea of I'll just do digital downloads, and I'll commit my design time and that's one of the customers paying for. And it ended up doing really well I ended up getting it was like multiple orders a day, sometimes a couple of dozen in a week. And all of them involve me having to design something and then produce a digital file. And all of that had no overhead it was all digital. So all the profits I was making went right into an account. I didn't really notice the profits I was making because I was so busy trying to maintain the workload. But then it got to a point where I kind of looked at the revenue I was making an understanding like oh, I could definitely make more if now I offered printing services. So then kind of after a year of offering digital I then offered printed, but even with print it actually still didn't have overhead I ended up researching different vendors that I could simply do printing with, and then they could dropship the orders to the client. So even they're the only overhead was now the idea of like me working with a vendor, but still, I never actually had any tangible goods in my store or in my house, I should say. And then from there it every assumed like every step led me more and more into like, what led to the obviously, parcel Island. But it ended up becoming like most things in the wedding industry a little bit hard to balance, both working full time, and also balancing all the client work I was getting from the wedding stationery business. So I was really lucky where because the business did really well, I had a good enough kind of money saved away in the bank, basically, where I was able to kind of start and venture into something new. When I was doing research of what are the kind of stationary candidates, or what is something that I can do that maybe isn't so labor intensive, or so client focus. And then ultimately, just my research led me into greeting cards, I found out about it, you always knew about it, you always see them at stores. But you I didn't typically think that there was a whole industry behind it, I just found out by researching. And so once I saw that there was like such an untapped creative market for that, that really, I can kind of do what I want or have fun with it or do ideas that make me happy that ultimately would make the client happy. It's kind of how I stumbled into it. And so what I was lucky with, like I said was I had all this funds from all my digital wedding assets that I was creating in the past. And that really is what funded my first launch. And my first launch of greeting cards was six designs wasn't anything crazy. I also didn't know much about it. I did weird sizes, I was doing square sizes. At one point, I didn't know that. You needed to package them in plastic sleeves. There were so many things I didn't know I just jumped right into it. But I did it all through Etsy. And what's crazy about Etsy, which people may or may not know is that you get so much organic traffic from Etsy. It's unbelievable. So when I launched these cards, and just thinking I'll launch or for fun, like let's see what happens, the organic traffic was crazy. And I was I was selling goods right away, which I was really lucky about. So once I saw that there was a market people actually liked it, people were actually purchasing it. Ultimately, I just continued into the field, I failed a lot. I learned a lot but it's just I just kind of jumped in headfirst and went for it.


Jessica Walker

So many things that are so so great takeaways that I want people to hone in on before we move forward is that one you started with a lean business model, you didn't have to spend a ton of money to start and you're able to make those those larger investments in your business as you grew. So you were starting profitable to stay profitable, which is so so smart. And then to that you started before you felt ready with greeting cards because like you did learn as you went it's one of those things that like you could spend years trying to get to that point where you feel like you know everything and all your profit is your product is perfect. But it really you learn so much faster through action. And and I think that that's so smart that you did that so so just bring us back up to today. So we're parcel Island, and you are now you're wholesaling. You are selling to retailers and you're doing also direct to consumer I believe and and so do you have a lot of stock that you have personally do you have it in your home? Like just how does that work? logistically?


Carley Hussain

My fiance is gonna make fun of me. We're actually just talking about this this morning. But currently our basement is parcell ion HQ right now. We I literally just built more furniture to like get the whole space set up. But yeah, so right now we have a bunch of inventory. We keep it right now and just my home in Philadelphia, I'm actually looking into studio spaces just because it truly does take over the home. So definitely want to get that out of the house. But right now we keep inventory of all of our cards, we actually have over 130 skews in our line. Wow. And then typically we try and keep anywhere from 20 to 50 skews kept on hand to fulfill orders at all times. Both for the retail and the wholesale side, which is two different models. But yeah, it definitely takes over the house.


Jessica Walker

Absolutely. And I'd love to actually touch on that because wholesale something I'm now newly exploring. And it really is such a different ballgame. Do you find it like now? Just like with your business? Are you now more wholesale? Do you find it's kind of like half and half direct to consumer to wholesale? And and what did you have to learn? What was like the biggest thing you had to learn to be able to get into that wholesale world?


Carley Hussain

Yeah, so like retail, I did just kind of dive into wholesale of not knowing much about it for sure. And I was lucky enough to work with vendors that specialize really in working with small startup independent businesses. So they are grateful for them have allowed me to fail through them to learn what I have known. For example, things like how to properly build a client how to properly package your products to ship whatever. If you ship a product and you're missing an item or things like that i've definitely you know failed jumping right into it but essentially the way i got into it was i actually had one or two stores independently reach out to me saying i really like your cards i can even have them in our store and for a while i just assumed it was just me sending them my cards but obviously wholesale is a whole ballgame in itself so right now i'm in about 15 stores but my goal actually for 2021 is to expand into the wholesale market more so right now i balanced both retail and wholesale both are pretty even right now but actually recently we just talked about this earlier i attended the proof to product paper camp e-course so it's that online course where you can learn about selling wholesale exhibiting at trade shows it's an online program all about selling wholesale specifically in the greeting card market i learned literally so much and even though i've been selling wholesale for a while now i faced a kind of a wall of how do i expand more into this market and this course literally opened up my eyes to all the things i was doing right and also not right everything from like honing down on your design style which i didn't even really think about i just assumed i had a style until katie was just like you should really pay attention to make sure you have a style, understand cost of goods all of that and now honestly being part of that digital community is really nice too for resources but i've got my plan for this year is to take all that i've learned and to really expand it to wholesale and that's gonna be my goal moving forward right now and then about like i said 15 stores my goal is to get to 50 by the end of the year what i love about selling wholesale is one of the relationships you get to develop with your clients but the opportunity for long term success so for retail i always feel it's very top of mind it's very urgent it's very kind of when you're balancing a full time job and your parcel island on side hustle it's a lot of drop or you're doing to get to the client right which sometimes is fine other times you know can obviously get chaotic whereas wholesale there's a lot more of like a rapport that you have with your clients and follows much more of a structure and a schedule and if you build strong relationships with those clients the reorders and the long term success is going to be there and so i found that with balancing a full time role and personal island that the wholesale model is ultimately what's going to lead me to success for my business so that's why we're focusing on it for this year


Jessica Walker

I love that so many things that i want to touch on with what you just shared one i think that that's actually such a great point i feel like people think that they that wholesale is like this beast that they have to figure out and it's like so much harder but you're so right there are it can feel a lot more laid back in that it's it's not like the holiday rush with retails like around christmas when it's just like it's wild a wild ride trying to get all of your orders out the next day to all of your customers like yeah wholesale you've sent those months ahead of time and it's it's good to go and you've had time to sort out any issues and and that's such a such a great point and again failing through your first your first stores is is such a great reminder because i did the same thing and i even my first store that reached out about wholesale i was like i'm gonna be honest i haven't done this before can you can you kind of walk me through like how do you want to be invoiced or like how do people typically send line sheets and they were so gracious and i've had truly so many experiences like that where people have been really helpful so if you if you're someone listening and you're like i that is crazy i can't imagine just know that people really are there to help and they and if they have time they will answer your questions if you have some but yes oh my gosh katie hunts proved a product i also did this alongside carly and it was a great resource if you're interested in just like the crash course of wholesale okay so i want to pivot a little bit so you have a diverse product line like you mentioned you started with digital downloads but currently you still you have stickers you have prints you have greeting cards and how did you expand into these categories did you was it kind of like you just like learned as you went or like i feel like people are nervous to try new products because they're worried that those get spread too thin but how did you how did you navigate expanding your product line so this was again before COVID


Carley Hussain

i like to say bc before COVID actually tended a lot of industry trade shows and that's why one had met a lot of people and to learn about what is new what is trending between product categories product design so a popular one is the national stationery show which actually i believe this year merged with a company called new york now so now the whole show is called new york now and then there is a stationery section within it but for years i would walk the show at the national stationery show and it was just such a like all in one way to just learn so much about the industry it's also how i got connected with different vendors who also offer different printing and production methods that also helped me in ways to expand my line so as an example stickers um when i attended the show there's a company called sticker meal which is a very popular company for printing stickers a lot of people in our industry typically use them


But I had never heard of them until I attended the stationery show, they had a booth, they had samples, the booth, first of all was super colorful and engaging, the people were super friendly. And then just from there, they're able to give me their pricings show me their structure, show me all their paper samples. And that's literally how I instruct the idea of Oh, maybe I can get into stickers. And it's ultimately how I led into launching the line, but everything to from products that I ultimately tried and kind of failed in. So when I first launched parcell Island, I jumped in a little too quickly, as I usually do, to coffee mugs. And what started me with coffee mugs was because I found a vendor at the National stationery show I worked with the mo Q's ended up being a little too high for what I was looking for, especially because I wanted to have a line of like six or seven designs, I couldn't wait for two.


So it really but it's still ultimately a good resource, we will see everything in one place. Until we get to that point where you know, we can go to trade shows again, I definitely rely pretty heavily on the internet, but also my community. So I've met so many people from trade shows from craft fairs, from makers markets, on site events. And just like the internet, social media has really connected me to a lot of people. And so from that, I can kind of see the categories that they're expanding into, maybe there's ones you don't even necessarily think about. But ultimately where I'm at is making sure that it makes sense within my design style, make sure I can produce it at the quality that I want to produce it at. And just make sure that I have fun doing it too. So while things like the greeting cards and prints and some of my evergreen items I've learned from trade shows and things like that, I'm still playing into all sorts of different avenues like apparel is a really big one for me that I'm trying to expand into. I'm ultimately working on candles and tow bags right now. But yeah, all of it right now. It's just kind of trial and error. I'm in the r&d phase for a lot of them.


Jessica Walker

That's I think that's such a great point that you don't have, like, I know that a lot of people come to me and they're like, well, I want to do this and I will have this product and this product or this product. And it's like you don't have to start with all of them, you can explore and grow into all of them. And I also love that you tried and ended up not going with products that you tried, I had the same experience. I've I've tried different different products that ended up not being really scalable for me, or it was just like it wasn't conducive to my style. And it's okay to like I love the term fail fast. Just be like, you know what, that's not for me moving on to the next night.


Carley Hussain

Exactly. And to kind of go off of that to not to not to cut you off or anything. But I learned that I'm a big fan of like flooding the market in a sense, but like to where you're not breaking the bank and going broke over your business. So when I first started parcel Island, I was definitely struggling to find my style. And I still feel like I am. But I flooded the market with all sorts of different greeting card designs just to understand what fit for me, right. And luckily, my overhead for greeting cards wasn't crazy. So I was able to like fail extensively without breaking.


I would produce all sorts of different kinds of styles was it designs, were they super colorful, or very monochromatic? Was it a lot of type or a lot of illustration. So I like dabbled in what worked for my market, what I really liked, what ultimately was my style until I kind of fell into where I'm at now. And so I try and use that model. And what I'm doing now when expanding into categories, I want to stay true to what I feel is my style. But I'm also not afraid right now to introduce little bits to the market to see if there's traction or sees if there's engagement. And then if there is then ultimately jump into it. When I launched my stickers, I only had like two and I just launched them on my Etsy seeing how it went. And those two stickers are literally my best sellers. So um, yeah, it's just a lot of like trial and error playing around. And ultimately not being afraid to fail. Like like you mentioned.


Jessica Walker

Absolutely. And I just I love your mindset about this. I feel like we aligned in a lot of what you're saying that it's just tinkering and like, it's just playing it's trying to see like, how can I adjust this or change this or try this and just like seeing what what one resonates with the market and with your customers but also what feels good and what you enjoy doing and it's finding that balance that's when you find that sweet spot of your style and what what works for your business. So I'd actually love to talk about your design stuff like your design process. How do you design what you do? Is everything digitally? Do you things on iPads like what what design apps do you use? Just tell us all the things?


Carley Hussain

Yeah, no. So for a while at the beginning, I was actually doing just mix videos. So I would either hand lead or something. I would literally take watercolor swatches that would paint myself and apply that towards my designs. I would do very manual work in order to create my designs. Now I actually just got myself a new iPad. So I've been doing a lot of work on the iPad, but really it's between that illustrator Photoshop, it's a lot of my digital work is done through online.


Jessica Walker

Just the fact that you are now you are running your business. You have so many different product lines, you have different revenue streams, you're on different platforms like it can look to someone who is just starting that it's like such a far off goal that like, how did you possibly get to that point? What what are the top couple tips that you would have that have helped you get to where you are that are maybe kind of unattainable, tangible? Something that they can grasp onto?


Carley Hussain

Hmm, I would say, there's so many, right, because yes, I know, no question. Depends, like, what mindset you're coming into, are you coming in from like, the creative side, the financial side, the business side, whatever it may be, I would say the most important thing is not being afraid to, like lean on your community, or like reach out to the community for resources. One thing I always say is like, so when you start off with like, anything to there always tends to be this feeling, right? Either it's, I need to know everything going into it, so I don't fail. Or it's this idea that it's, you know, I don't want to expose my ideas, I need to go into this solo, or I need to be better than the competition. When really, at least in the stationary field, I've noticed 100% that it is community over competition 1,000% The more we learn from each other, the more we're going to help each other grow. We're all going to benefit from it. And maybe other industries are different, but at least in ours, for sure. We're such a strong, resourceful group of entrepreneurs. But basically, yeah, not being afraid to really reach out and don't confuse advice for information, write love. Oh, advice being, like, what inspires you? Or what gets you through the day? versus Where do you get your ideas from? What website do you get your ideas from? Or even like? Are there general printing methods you recommend versus what printer Do you use. So when you're reaching out to your community, while it is nice, and we are resourceful to not burn any bridges by trying to pull too much, because ultimately, your business is going to be different from every other business out there, how you structure how you run your day to day. So it's hard for you to like just pull these arbitrary lines of information, when you don't necessarily need to, ultimately, you should try and fail within your business, because it's showing that you are learning and you're going to grow from it. But don't be afraid to like lean on your like minded community of business owners to power you through any of the struggles you may have.


Jessica Walker

A lot of what you're sharing is the strategy and the mindset behind what you're doing behind the actions. And I don't know if you found this, but I feel like especially as what people call like, solopreneurs, I know you work with your husband, but like people who have very small teams, our mindset and our personal organization and our personal personal development really impacts our business like our business can only be as organized as we are our business can only be as, as energized as we are. And I'm wondering like, have you experienced this? Or like how have you navigated just growing yourself with your business?


Carley Hussain

Yeah, so I've always been a kind of self starter. I've always been super independent, super wanting to like, do my own thing. And like, be that kind of business. Have that business owner mentality, even from like a young age? Honestly, I was definitely always like, I want I don't want to say hustling. But I was always like, what's the thing I could do what I could sell, whatever, how do I make a profit. So I've always been this way. So being able to tie in the business aspect to the creative side, I love it. I could work on personally on things all day at night. And my fiance knows way too much about it. But definitely the struggle is finding that balance. And that divide of your personal time and your business side first, as as most things are, especially now that we're in COVID. And kind of in quarantine, I've noticed that it is a fact that porcelain has taken over our household is not only in our basement, but if I'm packaging an order, I will bring it to the living room. And while we're watching TV all packaged in order, and there it is, it's everywhere. So one thing I'm actively working on and my goal for this year is to have much more of a clear divide. Part of it is you know, finding a studio space, if you're lucky enough, we're able to find one part of it is having like a strict like Do not leave the basement protocol of like, if you are going to do porcelain work, it has to stay in one location. So that way, there's a clear divide amongst it. But also the timing of it too. So recently, I'm looking at my calendar. Recently, I attended the paper camp e-course. And it really just sparked so much like motivation for me to redo my wholesale catalog, get all of that in line. And so I would say for about a month or so I really was up until midnight working on my line and working on force Island. And it got to me definitely personally and so while you do have to mentally prepare yourself to make those type of commitments because when you are owning a business, things like that will happen as long as you can stay true to the fact that like you have to set yourself an end time. So I made myself a goal of like I want to get this done by the actually by May. And I got it done before that which was awesome. But my goal was to get it done by May so there was an end in sight and then we can kind of I can focus my personal attention towards that too. Otherwise, I always try to give myself breaks when I can. So it is hard when so I work full time, like I said, so I'm designing nine to five, and then also working on parcel Island after that. So there are days where like, I may not leave this little office. So try to hold myself to getting outside and leaving and doing hobbies that I enjoy outside design, also mentally helps me to that was so helpful. I know that there's so many bits of that, that people are going to be like scribbling notes, because that's, I mean, truly it is. It is that commitment. But it also you have to have those boundaries. But you have to know that there are going to be moments where you have to stretch yourself. And it's just navigating that and just feeling into what feels right for you and your business. So one thing I rely on too, and there's plenty of tools out there, but I use a project management software tool called Asana say it's very similar. Why not have a sauna? I could get nothing done. I think my travel Yeah, exactly. So besides like your mental commitment, don't be afraid to ride on the digital tools that are out there, too. I live and breathe through Asana, I use Basecamp to Trello all the ones that I need to like I'll use, but that really helps me to a really, as a business owner, especially when you're independent, it could feel like you have 1000 different ideas going on. On top of balancing you know, your work or getting projects done, or even remembering to keep track your finances, there are definitely a lot of moving parts in a business and a digital tool will definitely help out. One thing I can work on though, is I always set my due dates for like two days in the future. So like, all my tasks will be in the red all the time. So definitely make sure you're properly balancing out your task, though it stressed me out so that I actually like I feel like I do the same thing. But I cheat them so that then I make them all green, like I shift them. So it looks like it really should be there. But I just like you have to use it. You're so right about these tools that I mean, it took to hold an entire business in your head, all of the different aspects that go into it, the marketing, the processing, the design, the schedules, like it would be insane. So having taken advantage of these tools, getting started with these tools early, implementing them at the beginning so that they can grow with you as opposed to using them to play catch up once you're like up and running.


Jessica Walker

I think is such a good reminder. And I'm glad you brought that up. So I know you mentioned a few of your upcoming goals. You said you wanted to be in 50 stores this year and you wanted to work on time boundaries was that?


Carley Hussain

What was that? Definitely that's an ongoing goal every year my goal is balance work life. Same on goalie I love I heard someone say that instead of work like life balance, we should be seeking work work life integration, which somehow resonated with me a little bit better. I was like I could seek integration like that's I don't know even what that would possibly look like. But just if that is helpful for anyone listening, export integration versus balance. So what are your other upcoming goals? What are you reaching towards right now? What are you most excited about moving forward with parcel Island. So besides selling in a wholesale, I would say my next goal is to get that kind of studio space, or some sort of space in which whether I could sell goods directly from there like a brick and mortar store or just simply a studio in which I could produce my work at have my inventory and things like that. I'm right now based out of Philadelphia, so I am looking in this area, it'd be an awesome opportunity if the studio space I found was also a brick and mortar space to so I could kind of have both. But ultimately, yeah, getting porcelain out of the house and into a studio is my goal for this year.


Jessica Walker

I love that I'm so excited to watch that journey for you. And if you want to watch Carly's journey and learn more about her business, you can follow her over on Instagram at personal Island or on her website. Personal Island calm, Carly, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you so much. This is a lot of fun. I really did enjoy, you know, telling you all about my little island. I'm glad you all listened. And I definitely want to do this again. This is a blast. Absolutely. I'm so glad we've connected much more to come for five posts by parcel Island.


Well, we'll talk to you guys next week. Thank you so much, Carly.



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