“Objects are different when created in small batches by artisans,” says Andrea Liss.
Liss walked the talk 20 years ago when she left her position as Creative Director at the Chicago Sun Times to launch her own handmade stationery company, Hannah Handmade, whose clients include the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the White House Social Office and the Art Institute of Chicago. Liss gave us the lowdown during a recent visit to her Evanston studio.
Why did you launch Hannah Handmade?
I was a creative person in the design world with a tremendous amount of passion and energy, and I wanted to strike out on my own.
Not many startup companies celebrate their 20-year anniversary. To what do you attribute your success?
I was already trained in marketing and advertising, which prepared me for running my own business, and I was willing to do whatever it took to serve the vision. Things evolve and grow. You have to be flexible, nimble and awake. It’s the whole balance of reacting to what’s happening and also hitting your own stride.
How do trends influence your work?
We’re always innovating and at the front end of new ideas, but one of the things that I’m most proud of is the variety of what’s here and the range of clients that appreciate the work and come back year after year. There’s a personal story behind each invitation.
Who are your clients?
People who are accustomed to excellence come to me: ambassadors, National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center. I don’t get every portion of anybody’s business, but I get all the important ones.
How has owning your own company changed you?
Your insight broadens, as does your ability to work with others. Hopefully, your work resonates with an ever-widening group of people, and you find ways to connect with people and get things done together.
What are your values in running the business?
It’s very important for me to create a warm welcoming, environment where people can be creative. I love working with excellent people, so I sort that way. Working with like minds is exciting as is sharing our work with the world.
How do you encourage that kind of environment?
It’s a very open society here. How can I create an environment where people can be creative and expressive?
What should people take into account when starting their own business?
The road is long, and it is a business. You’re going to have to wed your passion with the day-to-day details of running a company. Can you balance a checkbook? Can you give bad news? My driving force isn’t widgets and pennies, but I’ve had to learn how to count. I think of it as serving the gift. I know what to do and I get help. I understand my business, and I’m in the thick of it.
How has Hannah Handmade changed your life?
Doing this day after day for 20 years has changed who I am. I compare it to being a pebble in the river. The more the water flows, the smoother the stone gets. And I really know how to make fine things. I mean, I really know.