Weezie Hype Girl: Jennifer Hunt

Our latest Hype Girl has us putting pen to paper. Meet Jennifer Hunt, accountant-turned-founder of Dogwood Hill. Whimsical designs, colorful illustrations, and a stellar lineup of artists are just part of what makes Dogwood Hill a delight. Here, Jennifer dishes on careers, creativity, community and more.

Tell us a bit about yourself! How did you go from being an accountant to running a thriving stationery company? Are you an artist yourself, or do you have any other creative outlets you enjoy?

I definitely haven’t taken the typical accountant’s career path! I love analyzing numbers and utilizing my business acumen, but it became clear to me in my very first job that I needed a creative outlet to keep balanced. That translated initially into a passion for photography and then slowly progressed into art and eventually all things paper related. It happened over a number of years and wasn’t something I recognized quickly. I laugh now at what a nightmare wedding invitation customer I was fifteen years ago – I made the printer reprint my invitations three times. I didn’t realize that desire for the perfect paper would lead me to own a stationery company one day!

 

"My search for custom-looking, art-driven, well-priced cards online proved futile and I spent the next several weeks thinking through how I could create a business around that need."

 

The idea for Dogwood Hill came out of personal necessity and a gap you saw in the market for customizable art-driven holiday cards. (A story not unlike our own! ;) ) Can you tell us more about the early days? What did your team look like at launch, and how has it evolved since?

Sometimes you don’t realize you need something until you can’t find it! I had been designing my holiday cards with a local stationery shop, but I was behind in 2014 and needed to find cards I loved quickly. My search for custom-looking, art-driven, well-priced cards online proved futile and I spent the next several weeks thinking through how I could create a business around that need. 

Once I decided to move forward, I immediately hired our first Creative Director, Holly Hollon, and we worked tirelessly over the next few months to source all the necessary business components, including our artists. We started in May and launched our first holiday collection in October. My head spins when I think about how much we accomplished in such a short amount of time! There were a lot of super late nights (sometimes all-night!) and creative work schedules (my boys were ages 2 and 5 at the time), but we made it happen and I was thrilled with the result. 

A significant early pivot from my initial business plan involved creating an in-house graphic design team. We realized quickly that most of our artists were not trained in graphic design, so we moved to licensing just the artwork and then creating the products in-house using their artwork. With that move, we are now able to create a cohesive look across all our products. Even though all the artwork is different, it has a “Dogwood look” because we are controlling the product production. It’s a better model, but it took working through our initial concept to realize that. Five years into the business, we have 20 in-house staff members and we recently launched our wholesale division. In addition to shopping on our e-commerce site, you can find our products in over 200 retail shops.

Now, five years later, Dogwood has an artist collective that includes over thirty creatives. Can you tell us a bit more about this community? How are artists identified and selected to work with Dogwood?

We love our artists and how each one brings their own unique art style to the table. That’s what we especially look for when inviting new artists to be a part of the collective. We want to protect our current artists by making sure that new artists have a distinctive look and that no one is in direct competition from a style and aesthetic standpoint. We love for people to submit their portfolios if they are interested in becoming a Dogwood artist. And Instagram is an amazing tool for discovering new artists!

We have to know, do you always write a handwritten thank you note?! What are your etiquette rules of thumb? When is it appropriate to follow up with a text and when is it best to take the time to send snail mail? (PS - we’d love to see some of your favorite stationery picks from the Dogwood collection!)

I try to always write thank you notes, but I must admit that I’m not always timely with them. My husband and sister-in-law are the best note writers. I need them to answer this question! My husband will even send a thank you note to my friends if they’ve done something kind for me. I love how he’s thoughtful that way and it will be something people always remember about him. Taking the time to write a quick note to someone can bring so much joy, especially right now when we can’t be together. 

Along those lines, we have a few blog posts on our website that offer some tips on note writing. And for my personal note writing, I love Dogwood’s flat notecards. I’m traditional but I love a bit of modern mixed in, so I like for the back of my notecards to include art. It helps me be succinct with my writing too! One of my favorite notecards is from our Garden Tea Collection, which features Inslee Fariss’ art. Our new Summer Collection includes a Parisian suite by Lucy Young that I adore. I think I’ll be adding every piece to my personal collection!

 

"Taking the time to write a quick note to someone can bring so much joy, especially right now when we can’t be together."

 

With the Dogwood Hill team spread across multiple locations, do you have any tips and tricks to share for those of us who are new to working remotely? 

Thankfully Dogwood has always been a remote working company. It’s how I structured the company initially based on the need to work from home while having small children. We’ve been successful with this model because we are diligent about our creative calendar and meeting deadlines for our four collection launches each year. For orders, we have parameters set up around processing to make sure they move through production timely.  

We also have weekly team calls with our Creative Director, Design Director, Operations Director, and Project Communications Manager to go through that week’s agenda. We work several months out in advance of a project or collection launch and we make sure we’re not adding too much to our plates so we can meet our goals. We’ve had to navigate how to best work remotely, but we’ve found that being organized and staying on track with deadlines is key. We also utilize Slack and our text messages are going off all day!

How do you make sure you are enjoying your stay on the daily? 

Spending time outside has been a game-changer! Beautiful spring weather and perfect temps have meant moving my home office to the back porch, eating dinners on the deck, reading, and enjoying a cocktail while getting fresh air. I’ve even thought about moving a TV out there! I know the southern summer heat isn’t too far away, so I’m enjoying our mild weather while it lasts!

A great #enjoythestay idea is Dogwood's Free Activity Printables. We currently have 16 activities families can do with their children to keep them creatively engaged. We even have a few that adults enjoy! All the activities can be found on our blog here.

Quick Fire:

Tell us about your towel time! Pick one:

Jennifer's Weezie Pick: A Women's Long Robe with Navy piping.

On the hunt for another interview with a female creative? Check out our interview with artist Dorothy Shain!