This week on WHITEBALLOON INSIGHTS we talk to Suzie about her passion for creating beautiful, bespoke funeral stationery.
Q: We love your unique and uplifting designs. You started Suzie White stationery in order to give people the option of something a little more bespoke and personal than the traditional order of service? When did you first notice this need?
The idea was actually given to me by a friend of mine, back in the autumn of 2016. She had very sadly needed to go to three funerals in the space of three weeks, all for relatively young people – and felt that on each occasion the dated, traditional and sombre stationery did nothing at all to reflect their lives or personalities, or do them justice. She sent me an email, with the frustrated feelings of “There needs to be a better option. Can you do something?”.
I remember exactly where I was when I read it – my daughter was about 6 weeks old and we’d taken her to Exmouth for her first visit to the seaside. It was a cold October day and I was sat by the window feeding her, blustery sea behind me, and as soon as I read it I just knew instantly that she was absolutely right and my mind was flooded with ideas. With a newborn it took a while for me to pull all of my ideas together so it was about 2 years later that I actually launched the range. But from that very first moment, the passion was there.
Q: Did you train as an artist or designer and how did you translate those skills to what you do now?
Definitely not an artist – I actually can’t draw for toffee haha! But yes, I’ve worked for many years as a graphic designer, working on a huge range of commercial design projects such as branding, product launches, marketing materials etc, from local to international brands and organisations. Whilst in many ways corporate work is a million miles from funerals, so many of the skills are actually the same – for example finding creative ways to convey the uniqueness of each individual business, valuing how important that individual identity is, having a solid understanding of the technical aspects of artworking and print and of course the creativity to design something totally new and unique – these are all the same skills that I use every day.
I think it is this background that differentiates me from the other providers in the market. Almost all of others approach Orders of Service from a print perspective – they have a printing business and add a funeral range into that, to be able to produce them themselves in the fast turnarounds required. I approach it from completely the other angle – my stationery is fully design-led. I then outsource my print to a highly trusted printing house to ensure that both elements are fulfilled by specialists. Because as much as I prioritise design, printing is undeniably important – I choose different specs and finishing processes to suit each individual design and it is this that really offers the icing on the cake in terms of giving everything a wow factor.
Q: Are people becoming more confident and adventurous when choosing styles and designs for funeral stationery?
Yes, definitely! I think it is taking people a while to realise that there are other options out there as whilst there have been wider choices in coffins, urns and hearses for many years now, stationery has stayed very traditional. When people find me, their first comment is often to say how relieved they are to find something new! It is fair to say that the simpler, contemporary designs are still my bestsellers but the themed ones are increasingly more and more popular. I do a lot of bespoke designs too, for people wanting something really unique. From farming to BIBA fashion and from the beautiful Malvern Hills to Disney, I have had briefs of all shapes and sizes to allow families to truly capture the essence of their loved one in a lasting tribute.
Q: You also produce a range of other beautiful products, including memory and tribute books. Which are your most popular items?
Orders of Service are by far the thing I do the most of, but photo boards were incredibly popular last year. Especially during the first half of the year I had a lot of orders from people planning memorial services for family members who had died during the lockdowns, when covid regulations restricted attendance at funerals. Lots of families chose to hold a memorial service or party either to mark an anniversary of their death, or on what would have been the person’s birthday, to give them the send off they weren’t able to at the time. It has been a real privilege to help with these – it made me feel so incredibly sad that families weren’t able to hold the funerals they wanted as I am a big believer in the comfort and healing power that a meaningful funeral can give. So to be able to help in this way afterwards really did feel an honour to be involved in.
Q: How do you see your business evolving over the coming years? I am sure that you are brimming with new ideas?
Yes – always! In fact I am working on something really exciting at the moment which I can’t wait to show to you.
I’m going to be offering a templated option for lots of my designs very soon which will open them up hugely to a wider market. I’ve been very conscious lately of the extra financial pressures that everyone is under and wanted to find a way to make them as affordable as possible. So, by offering downloadable templates it will enable families who are happy to input the content themselves to access them very inexpensively and then print or distribute them in whatever way they please. They could use a local or online printer, some may use their printer at home – some may even skip the print altogether and just send them by email! Whatever suits their needs and budget.
I’m really excited to be able to offer it so do watch this space over the coming weeks! And the usual full-service option will of course still be there exactly as it is at the moment, for families who want someone to take care of it all for them, or want bespoke design and/or super high quality print.
In terms of other ideas, I always have the longest list of designs I want to add to my current product ranges, which I gradually chip away at whenever I get a few spare minutes. The more choice I can offer, the better! I do have ideas for new products altogether too, but currently my focus is on making sure that I do a few core things really, really well – I am far more about quality than quantity!
Q: Getting the personal touches right for a funeral or celebration of life can really help to make the service a more positive and uplifting experience. Have you found this to be the case?
Yes, absolutely – and to be honest this is one of the main drivers for what I do! I am a huge advocate for personalising funerals to the greatest extent possible – about making that service a real celebration of that person and expressing all of the things that were unique and wonderful about them. Not just in terms of the music and eulogy as is traditionally the case, but holistically – from the venue to the coffin, from the transport to the stationery, the flowers, the format – these days the sky is the limit – and this doesn’t have to be expensive. Some of the simplest touches make the biggest difference – for example having family and friends carrying the coffin instead of professional bearers – completely free but such a profound mark of love and respect that would always be held dear by those doing it and those observing.
No matter how devastating the death, I truly believe that giving that special, meaningful send off can be incredibly healing and uplifting – everyone coming together in the shared love and wonder of exactly what it is about that person that they loved and will miss so much. From a stationery perspective I get the loveliest feedback from the families I work with which I am always so grateful for – talking about the comfort and joy the stationery has brought to themselves and others – the finished product itself and also the actual process of choosing the photos and working on it, which they often describe as being very therapeutic.
One of the nicest letters I’ve read, however, which I will always, always remember, was a lady who was arranging a funeral for her dad and said “You have actually helped me view the funeral as more of a celebration of my dad’s life. Thank you”. What greater reward could anyone have from a job than to help facilitate feelings such as this.
Q: And finally, when you are not busy designing and running your business, do you have a favourite place to visit in your beautiful home town of Worcester?
Oooooh, this is a tricky one! I’ve lived in Worcester for about 15 years now and since moving here the city has blossomed so much. Not so much in terms of size but in terms of culture and amenities to make it a great place to live and visit. There are always lots of festivals and things happening and we have some great restaurants and coffee shops – but I have to say that my favourite thing is something really simple – its setting! I live about 1.5 miles from the city centre and my daughter’s school is right in the city centre, tucked behind the Cathedral which is on the banks of the river Severn.
As I look out of my front windows I can see the gorgeous Malvern Hills in the distance – and as Tiegan and I go to school – she cycles whilst I run alongside her – we almost solely pass through lovely parks and footpaths and then through a little marina down onto the river path, where we run along with the beautiful Cathedral towering majestically ahead of us. Without exception, every day we turn onto that river path I look up and feel so lucky to live here. The fact that, living so close to the city centre, we can have so much green space and traffic-free paths to get right into the heart of our city, and to have such iconic landmarks stood shoulder to shoulder with natural and tranquil beauty, feels very unique and special. Come and visit, whiteballoon team – I’d love to show you around!
Thank you Suzie for sharing these insights
If you would like to find out more, visit Suzie White Stationery.