Swell Press: Identité Insider

Letterpress has always been this illustrious, unattainable benchmark of success to me. When 99% of what I design lives in a digital format – letterpress is so tactile, luxurious and refreshing. A few months ago I began digging through Instagram in search of the perfect letterpress shop to partner with. As soon as I found Swell Press, I knew I’d found who I was looking for.

Britt Rohr, the magic behind Swell Press, has built a cult following on her Instagram, and it’s the first account I check each morning. After completing this interview with her, I fell even harder for her. Britt just has this fire inside her – the kind of fire you are so attracted to you can’t look away. Her work ethic, wit, grace and style are infectious.

Dirty Details

Location:   Manhattan Beach, California

What Do You Do?:   Letterpress Printer / Designer / Slight Mad Scientist. Color Lover + Limit Pusher.

How Can We Purchase Your Work?:   Swelllpresspaper.com or Etsy

Favorite song lyric:    “Too young to hold on, too old to just break free and run.” – Jeff Buckley

Favorite taco:   Fish Tacos. Corn tortilla, cabbage topping, some kind of sauce… sign me up. I’m constantly on the hunt for the best fish taco in LA. BrewCo by my house has a pretty good one. Recommendations welcome.

Current Netflix binge:   Nothing, because I don’t have time. But I have fantasies about finally finishing Breaking Bad, or getting to see what this Stranger Things is all about. Maybe one day.

Pet peeve:   People being so used to information at their fingertips that they have become too lazy to dig a little bit for the answer. Its an epidemic.

Afternoon snack:   Peanut butter, I live for peanut butter.   

Favorite color combo for an invitation suite:  NEON! Or I’m really feelin’ peach and mint these days.

Fave Instagram Accounts:

@designlovefest (no explanation needed), @kaylaladams (she is SUCH a branding wizard, I’m totally fangirling on her and she will send a restraining order soon, I’m sure of it), @kittymccall ( love her patterns and color), @beautifulpaper (the holy grail of all paper goods), @alison_wu (she makes me want to eat chia and other healthy crap which I’d otherwise never even entertain ingesting.

Started from The Bottom…

What was your formal education or past career experience in? How do you translate that past experience into Swell Press?

I’ve always been fascinated with design, art, crafts, anything tactile… all of it. I was super artistic (read: a little weird) when I was little… and I loved drawing and painting, but was told it wouldn’t get me anywhere (womp.)  I went to college (UGA / Go Dawgs!) for Film and Advertising- Right after graduation, I moved to LA to get any kind of experience I could making movies. Honestly, it was 99% because of Lord of the Rings- (thanks Peter Jackson). I was fascinated with it all, and HAD to experience making that on-screen magic happen. I wanted to be an Art Director.

Since you can’t walk right into those jobs, I got the second best thing- a receptionist at a commercial production company (ha). It was actually perfect for me at the time- my two worlds of advertising and film collided into this one perfect company that took a chance on a girl from Georgia whose resume looked decent but was really full of lies. Mac Proficient? Yes / (nope, never touched one). Admin experience before? Yes / (nope, I’ve only bartended). Do you have a car? Yes / (nope, I’ll figure that part out). Not that I’m proud of locking down my first real job with an *enhanced* resume, but in retrospect that tells me a lot about who I am…  I’m adaptive, and if I decide to do something, I generally work backwards from what I want the finished project to be, figuring it out as I go along.

During downtime as receptionist, I taught myself Adobe Illustrator, and devoured graphic design and wedding blogs. I’d make wedding invitations for my friends after hours at work, flat printing them on the company’s printers. After I worked my way up the ladder at the production company for 6 years, I took a letterpress class on whim. I feel in love immediately. It sounds cheesy, but it’s honestly as if the heavens parted and a beam of light shone down on me and was like ‘HEY YOU! THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD DO!

In early 2014 I left the company to go freelance in the production industry, to allow myself more time to further pursue my dreams of having a letterpress company. Oh, and I spent a big chunk of my savings on a letterpress machine, deciding that I’d start that company out of my garage and enroll in weekend letterpress classes at OTIS (an art school near me).

Remember what I said about figuring it out as I go? Production taught me a TON- I can multi-task like no ones business, stay super organized and on top of it, work off very little sleep, and so on. All of these qualities proved essential when starting a new business. If I had worked so hard to make cinematic dreams happen, why couldn’t I work equally as hard at making my own press dreams happen?

So starting Swell Press was really a stock of luck?

It wasn’t a master plan. And big secret… I’m still figuring it out as I go. I suppose it was a stroke of luck that I decided to take a letterpress class, but everything beyond that has (literally) been blood, sweat, and tears.

Who is your dream client? What kind of project do you complete together?

My dream client is a couple who is planning an incredible wedding, and knows that the first impression for the entire experience is the save the date and invitations. They value paper goods, love and understand letterpress, and trust my vision. They’d also want to package it in a beautiful hand-addressed envelope. Maybe even with vintage stamps… am I pushing it?​

We really like the term “My New Normal” as business starts to take off + exciting things start happening. What was your most exciting “New Normal” or “Big Win” moment?

Wow… I’ve had ton of Big Wins (and also a ton of Big Losses. But I try to stay grateful and optimistic). I remember the first time a wedding suite of mine made it onto So Beautiful Paper’s blog. I cried with joy. I had admired that blog for YEARS, and to see my own work on there was surreal. Moving into a studio was also huge for me- space in LA is expensive, so finding a place that worked for me in my budget was huge.

Hitting 25k followers on Instagram for Swell Press was also crazy. I know it’s not all about followers, believe me. I see the letterpress community filled with far more talented people than me with less social media recognition, there’s no doubt about that. But just the fact that thousands of people have deemed what I’m doing as worth keeping up with is incredible. The New Normal, that I still try to embrace, is that while being a small business owner literally means I work 18 hour days, I make my own schedule. So if I want to take a random Tuesday off to go to Disney because I worked the past 5 weekends, I can dammit!

Now You’re Here…

Tell us a little about your studio – how long you’ve had it + why you love it. Future studio plans?

I moved from my tiny 1 car garage into a 900 SF foot studio in April. With the move, I also expanded by acquiring 2 more presses and another paper cutter. As my business was growing, getting more square footage was essential. Also, I was really pushing my luck with my husband with how much of our house I had covered in paper goods. My ultimate goal is to have a brick and mortar storefront where I can sell my own stationery as well as others, with a studio in the back. 

What is your team like at Swell Press? Are you totally solo or do you delegate some tasks out – if so, which ones?

For the majority of Swell Press, it’s been just me. Designing, Printing, Emailing Clients, handing Social Media, Driving to FedEx to ship up invites. When I moved into the studio I took on 2 interns that have shown me how much another set of hands can change things- they’re amazing. Recently my husband joined Swell Press full time- he’s going to take over all initial inquiry emails, invoicing, e-commerce order fulfillment, and a boatload of other stuff.

Everything you create is so identifiably YOU! How do you keep your brand, social, and work so streamlined with your signature details?

I feel like my ‘brand’ has developed over time, as I’ve had the freedom to explore doing things that are more ‘me’… Some of my best work is when I’m designing for myself, or no one in particular. I think that is where my brand has become evident. I’m really particular with what I post on Instagram, making sure the palette overall looks uniform and consistent.

How has social media fueled your business?

At the moment I don’t advertise, every client is either from referral or Instagram. I owe the success of my business to Instagram- I love that company.

Allowing people to see the letterpress process on Instagram stories has been a GAME CHANGER. It allows for a deeper appreciation of the process, piqued curiosity for an art form that was at once close to being lost, and so on. It’s also been such a huge community for me- I’ve made friends through Instagram that I’ve never met- which sounds weird to say, but I know it’s so common now. Other printers have helped me troubleshoot things, and vice versa.

In a sea of talented letterpress artists – what makes Swell Press stand out?

I think the fact that I design AND print has helped me develop a unique style, because I tend to design backwards- I think about new press methods, new ways to print, etc, and the design from there with the finished product in mind. I think I stand out because I’m lucky enough to have the printing capabilities in house, thus giving me the freedom to play around with a lot of new and experimental methods I might not otherwise be able to.

What does your morning routine look like? Do you stick to a schedule?

I try, but it’s difficult. Now that my husband, Brian, is on board, we’re trying to stick to a more consistent schedule so we have some normalcy. Usually I wake up around 6:45am, drink coffee, answer emails, go for a run on the beach, and then head to the studio from around 10 until 6. Then I’ll come home and answer more emails + do design work. I try to shut my computer by 9:30 every night- sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

Who have you LOVED collaborating with? 

I love working with the various calligraphers I’m lucky enough to work with. It’s all so surreal bringing their work to life, because I’ve admired them all long before I ever got behind a press. 

One of my favorite wedding suites is this one. The bride really trusted me to do whatever, and I had so much fun playing around with overprinting and various textures. It’s a bit wild and I know a lot of brides can’t go in that direction for a wedding – which I’m totally great with, I love printing more formal invitations as well- but it was a really fun experiment with an end result I’m really proud of, and the bride loved.

How do you leverage competition to keep getting better?

There are a ton of designers and letterpressers out there, so honestly I try not to let myself get too sucked in to what everyone else is doing. I’m constantly bogged down by feeling like I’m not good enough, could be doing more, and so on. I’m constantly having to remind myself that ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’ I also want to make sure my inspiration stays true to myself and to external things- nature, colors of the ocean, etc- and not other people’s work.

If you could redo one step in building your business – what would it be + how would you change it?

I’d have a distinct brand, a developed line of stationery and wedding invitations, and a business plan. So- everything basically. But such is life.

How do you manage a work life balance with Swell Press? Do you set any specific boundaries?

Balance? Huh? Haha but really… I have a really difficult time with that. I’m a bit of a workaholic. But starting a small business, you kind of have to be. I have a lovely husband who basically didn’t see me the first two years of Swell Press when I was juggling that with my job, and some great friends who have accepted they don’t see me much. Now that I’m trying to be better at it, I live by putting EVERYthing in my calendar. And I take plans seriously- I won’t flippantly make plans or say yes to something, I have to really consider if I’m going to be able to make it and enjoy it. If I’m in the middle of a crazy print deadline, there is no sense in me committing to anything, because I know I either won’t make it or I’ll be too stressed to enjoy what we’re doing. My new rule is to try to take one day off every 2 weeks. Sometimes I’ll get to take a full weekend off and be reminded of what it’s like to have a life, which is a dangerous game to play, ha.

Instagram  /  Website  /  Facebook

Britt- I can’t thank you enough for taking on my branding project. Having you do my business cards and notecards is essentially my “Big Win” so far. You are literally, making dreams come true, and I can’t wait to follow all the amazing success of Swell Press.

The Identité Collective is a full service creative studio for boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help small businesses elevate their digital presence to become industry experts. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here. 

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