Exchanging Gifts Jumpstarted Our Business!

In this first blog I will share with you:

  1. How we met!
  2. The inspiration behind our Company
  3. Dye Sublimation explained
  4. How we came up with a brand name
  5. How we developed a logo
  6. Designing our first plaques
  7. Equipment and Tools
  8. Summary

  1. How we met!

    Kelly and I met whilst working for Royal Caribbean International and spent the first 2 years of our relationship travelling the world, working on some of the most luxurious cruise ships you can imagine! I am a Musician and Music Director and she is the ‘triple threat’ a Singer, Dance and Actress. In spite of the enormous amount of fun we’d been having we decided, in 2015, that it was time to settle down a little! We decided that we should focus on NYC and try and break into the Broadway scene. Easier said than done!!

    1. The inspiration behind our Company

    In December 2015 Kelly and I were celebrating our first Xmas in the U.S together! That first Christmas was spent with her extended family and I’d thought long and hard about the perfect gift. I wanted something personal and unique and eventually found a shop that would print a b/w picture onto a piece of slate. I chose a lovely photo of the two of us on the day we got engaged in St Marks Square in Venice, Italy….. yes, I took her to Italy to get engaged but, to be fair, we were living in the UK at the time, in between contracts, and so the journey wasn’t nearly as difficult (or expensive) as you’d immediately assumed!

    To be completely honest, I wasn’t expecting much, but I thought the gift would be personal and unique, so I knew she would love it! Giving it to her on Christmas day was as great as I could have hoped and, to top things off, she also gave me a personal gift, a wallet engraved with my initials and a little quote inside.

    First, let’s deal with the slate! It was beautiful! The picture was perfect and the slate had that look and feel that only stone can give. It came with a hanging leather strap and a couple of plastic stands to put it on.

    The wallet Kelly got me was also of great quality and came from her cousin who, it turns out, runs his own business!

    Well, this slate got the brain ticking over and within days I was doing research, trying to find out how someone could print on stone! I also started looking at Kelly’s cousin’s business, which he ran from Etsy. It turns out he was doing rather well!

    1. Dye Sublimation explained

    We spent the next two months brainstorming. I had decided that the best way to print onto slate was to use a process called dye sublimation. This involves printing with specialized inks onto a transfer paper, and then super heating that paper under compression onto slate covered with a polymer coating. The actual act of sublimation is, apparently, when ink turns from a solid state to a gas state without passing through liquid. The polymer coating effectively traps the gas and, hey presto, you have a beautiful print!

    Dye sublimation is actually more common than you might realize! Many products from mugs, to coasters, to key rings are sublimated and the results can be excellent.

    We researched Etsy, how to run your own business in the States, Photoshop – for designs, and a million other things!


    1. How we came up with a brand name

    We came up with, and discarded dozens of names (the one unchanging factor was that it had to have squirrel in the name because Kelly LOVES squirrels!!) Her cousin’s company is called Swanky Badger, which we thought was a totally awesome name! So we started working around alliterative words and checked them with google to see if they were claimed….. You wouldn’t believe how many people have squirrel in their company name!!! Eventually we came up with Sassy Squirrel Ink! It wasn’t trade marked, it wasn’t used by anyone on Etsy, or Shopify and, when we googled it, there were no names exactly the same anywhere! 

    1. How we developed a logo

    For this we went to the internet. There are loads of companies out there that have a community of designers who will bid for your work. We sent out a brief and, in no time, had dozens of logos to look at. We narrowed it down very quickly to two designers and gave them further pointers as to what we had envisaged. Within a week we had our logo and couldn’t have been happier. 

    1. Designing our first plaques

    Now came the hard work. Designs. I wanted to sell photo plaques but, having only stumbled on this by accident, I didn’t imagine there was much of a market out there so we needed something else to draw people to our site.

    We both did a crash course in Photoshop, mostly by needing to do something and finding a YouTube video that told us how to do it! Sometimes it was incredibly frustrating and we spent hours trying to work out how to add something to our designs but, eventually we had enough knowledge to get by!

    We came up with our first house plaque designs and we weren’t terribly original!! Obviously we trawled the web for ideas. Google, Etsy, Pinterest, all gave us a notion of what was out there and we started adapting ideas to fit our slate ‘product’. We also decided that coasters would be good to sell and so we hunted around for a good material to sublimate on to. We found some beautiful marble blanks, which we could sublimate on to and the designs kept on coming!

    1. Equipment and Tools

    The equipment you need to sublimate is actually relatively cheap! We bought a heat press machine, a fancy sublimation printer and some transfer paper. That was it! The difficult thing is actually getting the whole sublimation process right!

    We spent weeks wasting slates as we researched time vs temperature in an attempt to get the perfect picture. Over the last 2 years we have changed equipment and constantly adjusted cooking times to perfect our product. It seems to be an ever evolving process, but that’s a topic for a separate post!

    1. Summary

    By the beginning of March 2016 we had enough designs to open a shop. We started with Etsy (and to be honest had no intention, at the time, of branching out!) and within days had our first sale! We were beyond excited!

    So that was how we gave birth to Sassy Squirrel Ink. Two years on we have learnt so much and have now completely changed the way in which we make our product. I intend to bring out a post each week showing our successes and failures and, hopefully, if you are traveling down the same road we navigated, I can help you avoid some of the pitfalls in this E-Commerce business.

    If you’ve got to the end, then thank you for reading! 

    If you’d like to ask questions or know more about anything specific that I’ve mentioned please don’t hesitate to contact me: simon@sassysquirrelink.com