If you're like me, you may have a shoe box full of meaningful cards that you've gotten over the years. I don't mean those generic ones that coworkers give out at Christmas with the same repetitive message for everyone, (those usually end up in the recycling. Sorry to any former coworkers who may be reading this). I mean ones that are unique, say the right thing, have a personal message, are funny, and sometimes handmade. I also collect cards when I see interesting ones, because you never know when you might need them, so I loved sitting down with Koren Leung from Kokocards to talk about her custom card business.
Instead of tagging your friend in a meme, Kokocards wants to create products that millennials would actually want to buy and give to someone in real life. The goal is to make products that you see and instantly want to share and surprise someone with. And if nothing speaks to you, they have custom orders for that!
Card making has always been a passion of Koren's. It was the perfect gift for picky people and didn't cost her more than some art supplies and a little creative juice. Seeing her friends and family open her cards always got her so excited. She started Kokocards so that she could share her card making passion and help others create heartfelt moments with their loved ones too.
From there, she's branched out to prints and apparel. At the root of it all, she just want to make things that make people smile and connect with!
1. How did Kokocards start?
It started informally. Ever since I was really young, I always loved making cards for people. I would go all out and make these giant cards. As I grew older, I didn't have as much time to make such heartfelt gifts for my friends. I got back into it in University. Back when that song "Panda" was really popular, I drew this panda with Bengali jewelry for my friend. She was a model and was doing a photo shoot with a lot of Bengali jewelry, so I mixed the two, the jewelry and her favourite song at the time. I gave it to her and I posted it on my Facebook. Then someone messaged me and asked if they could commission a custom card for their brother’s graduation! I was surprised that someone was actually going to pay me for making cards, something I have such a strong passion for. I started an Instagram account around two years ago and I've been doing it ever since as my side hustle. Most of my orders come through Instagram and word of mouth. It happened over time, but it's always been a passion of mine. I haven't been taking it too seriously, but one of my goals this year is to start doing printed cards and get them into retail stores. I think cards are the best gifts ever. They don't cost a lot, but they mean so much.
2. What's your typical day like?
I get up and head over to my day job in Uptown Waterloo. I work at a small, but growing, start up called Kiite. I love working with my team at work. They give me so much energy and inspiration! I’m pretty focused on my job during the day and time flies with all of the calls, meetings and projects going on. My work is super supportive in having work life balance so when I’m done for the day, I get to go home and work on my cards for a couple of hours. At some point in the night I eat dinner, but I’ll be honest in that if my boyfriend didn’t cook dinner for me most nights, I don’t know what I would do because I’d probably forget to eat! Weekends are also a great time to work on my cards. Basically, any time I get. It doesn’t feel like work when I love it so much.
3. Do you aspire to do this full time?
This is an interesting question. I get asked this sometimes and I don't really know how to answer. I think I would love to do this as my focus, but at the same time it might lose its charm and magic if it were my career. I enjoy that it is a side thing right now where I can put in as much or as little time as I want. My creativity ebbs and flows and it's nice to have the flexibility to make cards when I feel like it. Plus, that means I’m not making cards that suit the masses and sell the most. I make cards I think are funny, even if no one wants to buy them! I’m not sure if I’d enjoy the pressure of having my creativity tied with my bills. Right now, I love what I do at my day job. I’m not in a place where I would ever want to give that up. One day though, maybe. Never say never!
4. Who or what inspires you?
Sounds cheesy, but my boyfriend inspires me! He is very dedicated to his work and has this ability to make goals and stick to them. Whether they’re work related or personal. I'm always struggling to think long term because I can be a reactive person. He's very good at taking a step back, refocusing and making sure he has a direction. He’s always able to be resilient, positive, and remind me of the bigger picture when I’m having a crummy day. Some people draw inspiration from historical figures or those in the media, but for me, inspiration always comes from people that are close to me because of the huge impact they have on my life.
5. What's your favourite card that you've designed so far?
My friend moved to England and was studying medicine. Her and I watch The Mindy Project religiously. I made a card for her with her in a pink dress similar to Mindy's, but I titled it The Tanya Project. I posted it on my Instagram and Mindy liked it and commented on it! Mindy Kaling’s eyes have seen that card, and therefore it is my favourite.
6. What is your creative process like?
I usually get ideas on the bus or before sleep. A lot of my cards are hip-hop or pop culture related, so kind of tuning in to what's going on and what's popular helps me come up with ideas. With custom cards, people will tell me a general idea of what they want. Sometimes they send me photos. I ask them for little tidbits and I try to incorporate those personal details. 80% of the time the ideas come to me while I'm lying in bed, on my left side. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t seem to come up with anything creative if I lie on my right side. I jot down notes on my Notepad app and in the morning, I’ll look at it to see if it still makes sense.
7. How long does it take you to complete a piece?
Not including the time that I'm thinking about an idea, about an hour to an hour and a half. The ones that I do digitally that I get printed, those take a little longer because of editing, so maybe two to three hours.
8. What's your dream project?
I would love to work with a really cool brand to help them launch a new product with custom cards. Anything you could buy as a gift, you could buy matching card. It would be cool to do a custom series for SEPHORA or a brand like Rihanna's Fenty line.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creatives?
Listen to podcasts. I listen to Jenna Kutcher's Goal Digger podcast. She's a photographer and has a big reach to creatives. I'm not a photographer but her content resonates and makes sense to me. I think that if you were to look at what everyone in your industry is doing, you run the risk of being like everyone else in the industry and also you run the risk of comparing yourself to other people. Listening to podcasts keeps me inspired. Sometimes people have an idea, they start working in it and then life gets in the way and they lose sight of what they envisioned for themselves. That side project could be a big thing, but if you don't put in the time, that project is going to dwindle away. It really only lives as long as you put in the effort and the time. Whatever inspires you and pumps up your motivation, do that, whatever it is. For me, listening to other creatives talk about their business keeps me on track. It helps me remember why I started this all in the first place.
10. What's next for you?
This year I really want to focus on getting my cards into retail stores and streamlining what I want my brand to me be. Over the last two years because it's been my side project, I've put time into it, but I haven't put time into making it a real brand or business. I've very much treated it as a hobby. I want to make it into a cohesive brand and be more deliberate in my next steps. A lot of it is believing in my own designs and reaching out to retail stores. So far, the stores that carry my cards have all been kind of coincidental. To be honest with myself, I haven't been hustling as hard as I can so the next step would be to get myself in gear and showcase my work to the world!