Printing has always been a family business for Elizabeth Rees. Growing up, she watched her father and his brothers run their large-format printing company, Kubin-Nicholson Corporation. But ten years ago, she had an idea that would take her career in an unexpected direction: design-conscious removable wallpaper.
With a passion for design and home décor, Elizabeth considered the potential of selling a peel-and-stick wallpaper product directly to the consumer by doing the manufacturing at home.
She launched her company Chasing Paper in 2013 and began printing and manufacturing the product in her family’s printing shop. Five years ago, her brother Michael Rees came on as a co-owner to run the business with her, keeping the family tradition going.
Today, Elizabeth Rees runs her family printing business.
Why did you decide to start Chasing Paper?
“I got the idea 11 years ago when I had done a project for a friend in New York. They had just gotten their Series A funding with these young, cool women working there. However the office was super stark and sterile.
Hot pink was their signature color, so we decided to wrap all the office support beams in hot pink, hand-drawn birch trees. This immediately transformed the workspace. Women said it changed the way they felt at work.
I realized there was something exciting here!
I started thinking, maybe, if our business used the equipment to manufacture a product that sold directly to a consumers versus buying through an agency – and if the branding was right and cool – there’s a lot of possibility."
What do you love most about your job?
“It's hard to pick one. I love the creative side – working with artists and designers to create new collections.
I also love seeing something go from an idea to physical prints that live in someone's home – creating memories within a room.
And I love the business side of things. Chasing Paper will be 10 this March and my brother and I have gotten here because of our Midwestern grit and hard-working sensibility.”
What is your favorite part of the manufacturing process?
"I love doing research to find the newest and best technology that’s also the right investment for the company.
Our sector of digital printing and manufacturing changes probably every six months to a year. Because things are constantly changing, you have to look at what’s working, adapt and make improvements.
We've come a long way, especially in the last year, creating thresholds and benchmarking across the board so that our team really knows what the expectations are from every part of the process. Whether they're printing, packing, designing, or laying things out, we're all communicating in a way that allows us to get the best product to our customer.”
How important is it to feel safe and confident at work?
"Safety is an important and necessary part of the job. I remember visiting a vendor early on in my career and I did not know to bring safety shoes. I felt so stupid when I took the tour. But there was a lack of information out in the world. I didn’t even know where to look for steel toe shoes for women.
Being a woman in print design and manufacturing, it's also important to feel confident in your day-to-day. I feel that I do my best work when I'm dressed up and put together. It makes me feel more comfortable and empowered.
Having cute and stylish work boots from Xena Workwear is a game-changer. The second you open that box, you feel excited, you feel empowered, you feel like you're really part of something.”
What helps you to stay creative? What is your inspiration?
“Traveling has always been a huge point of inspiration. My brother and I were really lucky to be invited to Spain for a work trip to look at some technology. While there, we took a trip to Portugal. Turns out Portugal has all these amazing tiles so we created a whole collection from the things we found.
It became one of our bestselling collections and we received a lot of press. I think it was a success because it came from a very organic place and nothing felt forced about it.
I travel a lot less now to spend time with my two little girls who are two and three years old. So I started turning to magazines for inspiration.
Traveling is something that I really hope to get back to. It's a dream of mine to be able to take my girls to places that are special to me to create new memories with them."
What advice would you give women who are thinking of starting a business in manufacturing?
"Be prepared to make a million mistakes. Be a sponge for learning and understanding. Eleven years ago when I was just starting, I spent three months on the manufacturing floor every day learning all the different things – even learning about all the equipment that we weren't using.
With manufacturing, there’s so much more transparency now than there was even one year ago. There are all these websites that show where things come from and how they are made. We have almost any information at our fingertips.
Most anything is possible."
Learn more about Chasing Paper at www.chasingpaper.com