These days, when you can print thousands of items at a mile a minute on automated machines, you might wonder why anyone would want to wrestle with a mechanical 19th-century press, slowly producing small runs of stationery. For Alischa Herrmann, founder and owner of Bespoke Letterpress, it was that back-to-basics, hands-on process that drew her to letterpress. This traditional form of printing, which involves feeding in single sheets of paper and ‘pressing’ on an inked design, has changed little in technique since its invention in the 15th century. “As a graphic designer, I used to design all these amazing things with so many different print finishes, but you’d mock it up on a computer, send it off and a couple of weeks later, get the finished product back,” explains Alischa. “I just wanted to do something a bit more inky, and go back to the origins of design.”
Alischa first began to experiment with the process as a hobby, having found ‘Charlie’, an 1893 Chandler & Price press, gathering dust in a bookbinder’s in Canberra. “My husband Hayden and I hired a ute, picked it up and had the slowest drive home ever with this thing strapped to the back,” she says. “That was dedication!”
In 2007, when Hayden’s job dictated a move for the couple to Brisbane, Alischa saw her opportunity. “I thought, this is my time to reinvent myself and do what I really want to do,” she recalls. The following year, she took on her first commercial project – a wedding invitation. “I’d been printing for a few years, but when someone’s actually paying you for it, you want every little thing to be perfect – and with letterpress, it’s such a craft that it takes a long time to learn how to get things perfect,” she says. “I probably spent weeks on it!
Since that first project, the business hasn’t looked back. Besides Alischa and Hayden – “He gets to do all the fun stuff: pay the bills, pay the staff, oil the presses!” jokes Alischa – there are now six employees and two more presses in the Bespoke Letterpress ‘family’, now based in the NSW Southern Highlands with shops in Bowral and a pop up for Christmas in Sydney’s The Strand Arcade.
See 'Charlie' in action here.
“People love to give presents and wrap things beautifully” ~ Alischa
Wedding stationery is still a key element of the business, but Christmas is huge. “The first six months of the year is focused on it – we go through all the designs, concepts and ideas, and start to print in May,” she explains. For this year’s collection, Alischa turned to Australian flora and in a collaboration with artist Edith Rewa has produced a range of double sided gift wrap, greeting cards and gift tags.
As if Alischa’s day job didn’t keep her busy enough, the designer, who’s also a mum, is the national events manager for The Finders Keepers markets (thefinderskeepers.com). Back in the day, selling her own products at the markets became the launching pad for expanding Bespoke Letterpress with a wholesale range, which is now sold through over 150 retailers. “I love doing Finders Keepers,” she says. “It was amazing for us when we started to have that type of platform, and now I love watching other designers and helping them grow. It’s kind of my way of giving back a bit.”
ALISCHA’S TIPS FOR GIFT-WRAPPING
1. “We have a huge holly bush so I cut off bits of it and tuck them into the ribbon. Or, if it’s a gift I’m just about to give to someone – not something that’s going to sit under the tree for days – a little sprig of gardenia and a letterpress tag are always beautiful.”
2. “I like good quality ribbon – it makes for a lovely result. At the moment, I’m a big fan of
calico, which we stock and sell. It’s heavy duty so it ties well – when you can tie a really beautiful bow it makes such a difference.”
3. “I’ve been to Japan quite a few times because they have some amazing stationery. There’s a type of fabric called furoshiki which works wonderfully for wrapping. If you have a square-shaped gift, you can wrap it in origami style.”