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Behind the scenes at Earlybird

Dominic Early is glued to his sketchbook! He’s constantly on the lookout for inspiration and is always taking photos. The designer runs Earlybird Cards on Church Street with his wife Heidi. Though they started from humble beginnings (on a market stall in Spitalfields), they now produce around 100,000 cards per year and supply Oliver Bonus, Scribbler and Paperchase. We took a look at the behind the scenes production process.

Dominic’s studio is at the couple’s home in Canterbury. It’s full of sketchbooks and paints and old printers’ trays full of knick-knacks. There’s a snooker table that doubles up as a worksurface, loads of books and magazines and a dartboard.

Heidi said: “It’s rather messy!  Often when Dominic is at home with the kids I’ll come home to find paint everywhere and stuff all over the table – the three of them will be there designing cards.

“Dominic sketches all the time, he takes inspiration from things he sees in everyday life and keeps a close eye on what’s trending. He tends to get an idea for a card range, brings his initial designs to me and we’ll talk them through from a commercial point of view. We battle it out! Then he’ll develop the idea further and come up with a finished product.

“His designs are all hand-drawn and he uses bright, bold paints – then he’ll scan them in and do the finishing touches on the computer. Type is always integral to his designs, he gets really cross when he sees cards that just have the type slapped on!”

The cards are printed by a trusted company on the outskirts of London they’ve worked with for a long time and they’re sent to a specialist warehouse for storing and packing.

Heidi added: “There’s nothing better than when the box arrives with a new batch of cards – though it’s always a little scary to see how they’ve turned out.”

For each new design the print run is small (around 100 of each) and they’re sold in the Church Street shop to test the market before Heidi and Dominic commit to a bigger run of 1,000.

The business, which has been in Stoke Newington for over 14 years, reached a major milestone last year when, following a successful series of tradeshows and with the help of their agent,  they were signed to supply three major retailers.

Heidi said: “At the beginning it was fairly tricky to fulfil such big orders. We’d have to pay for the print and packers up-front and would wait around 90 days to receive payment. But once you get into the flow you start to see the trends and can plan ordering so it’s less stressful.”

The couple have two children Oliver, 11, and Amelia, 9, who are a key part of the design and feedback process.

Earlybird also produces cards by other designers, all of whom have lived in Hackney.  In total they print around 150 new designs (including Dominic’s) each year.

The shop is one of more than 120 local businesses to offer discounts to members of the Local Buyers Club.


    It’s full of sketchbooks and paints and old printers’ trays full of knick-knacks.

    Posted 31st May 2018