Cute and charming, the stationery line, Efrances brings fun characters and witty sayings to some of our favorite products. Greeting cards, notepads, and wrapping paper are all items that have made their way into Rare Device over the years, always earning a spot as a staff and customer favorite. Built entirely from the ground up, we talked to Jenni who is 1/3 of the founding force behind the brand. She gave us an inside look into building a small business and keeping the creative juices flowing over the years.
KC: EFrances was formed by 2 sisters and a cousin who each brought their own unique talents to the business. Can you tell me a little about the history of EFrances, how you all came to be in the same location as adults, and why you gravitated towards paper goods?
Well, this is Jenni and it’s my sister’s artwork so I don’t have to be modest! Ha! We started by thinking of a way to exploit, er, share Ali’s talents as a painter and illustrator, and cards seemed to be a great first product. We call her art ‘prute’... somewhat of a gross word combining pretty and cute :) We all highly favor a cocktail on the beach after work in the summer, so we live where that is easy! We also say that we each have one-third of a brain, and they only work when they’re put together, so living close was a no-brainer. Literally.
KC: How do you divide up or collaborate on all the work of running a business between the three of you? Do you also have staff? What are their roles?
When we started, it seemed impossible to not all do everything. So at first, aside from the actual art, we were all blurred together doing everything. Now after a few years of trying to divide and conquer, we’re settling more into individual roles. Pippi, for instance, is always on snack buying. She's so gooood in the break room. But we do have staff, right now 5 full time and 2 part time, ranging from production to shipping and bookkeeping. We have an incredible staff and are thankful on a daily basis for them oh my goodness, so thankful.
Can you tell us the story behind the name, EFrances?
Coming up with a business name is hard, man! Almost harder than naming a new human. We decided on a combo of our two Grandmother’s names, Elizabeth and Frances, which we all have for our middle names.
Your designs are all adorable watercolor illustrations that are suited to specific occasions. Do all three of you contribute to brainstorming new illustration ideas?
Ali’s art is unique and so freaking charming, it’s hard not to stare at her characters to take in all the details. So she does all the paintings and we work together to make them into the best end products. It's fun - we usually start with an idea and then come up with some horrible, then hilarious drafts. Sometimes Ali does the art first and we think of the perfect words after. Sometimes we tell her exactly what to paint and she rolls her eyes but then does it perfectly. (Can you paint a turkey, from behind, running and sweating and glancing over his shoulder? Ya, just do that.) We really try hard to make our words not so… expected. We like them to be a little bit clever, even if that means not everyone loves them as much as we do!
KC: Your business started out as a small operation in a bedroom and has now grown to a full line of products and a warehouse production space. For those that are aspiring to have a successful small business, what were some monumental steps and ideas that helped contribute to your growth?
We have always felt very fortunate because Ali’s artwork is so unique and pleasing… we have experienced growth with just a few products. We have always been careful? paranoid? about saving and not spending too much, so we have purposefully kept a very small core line of products. Cards, notepads, and our exclusive Little Notes, and tried to grow by really selling the crap out of them without spending more capital on a new product. I think this has really helped us focus on making them as good as possible and not spreading our brain and funds too thin. Also, when you work for yourself, you want to kick ass and make yourself proud. Not to mention sisters! You never want to let each other down.
So we would say don’t be discouraged if you’re working from your bed! We went from that bedroom to an attic, to a basement, and then a huge upgrade to a self-storage unit where we had to go into the hallway and wave an arm every 60 seconds to turn the lights back on. But you keep laughing and rolling with it and the pipe dream of an actual office can really happen! Last year our wildest dreams became reality when we purchased an old garage and fixed it up. Certainly, we will never take this place for granted, it’s AWESOME to come to work here!
KC: How have you seen your line, both aesthetically and functionally, change over the years?
I distinctly remember sitting in a Panera, trying to pretend they were out of those cinnamon crunch bagel things, and coming up with our first cards. Ali had these awesome watercolor washes that were at the time, totally different. And we were trying to figure out how to keep them simple but add words, and she said we could do some crazy thing with foil and just emboss the word on top of the color. It’s now common but it really wasn’t back then. So as watercolors have become more mainstream, we’ve had to update those plain washes and evolve them into more interesting, clever paintings. And we’ve always tried to blend her watercolors with the illustrating, which sets us apart, and I think we’re doing that really well now.
KC: EFrances has a mission to spread happiness and joy into the world - through handwritten notes, kind gestures, and maybe a smile or two. I love this! Our mission at Rare Device is always to bring people together as well. Can you tell me about a time you gave or received a handwritten note, and what that meant to you?
Even speaking for all three of us, I can comfortably say we have never said goodbye to our mothers without some sort of special handwritten note involved. When we were little, it was in our lunches or in our pockets, and now after a visit, there’s always a hidden note tucked into our bags. We would never leave one of our houses without leaving a happy face left on the counter, or a pillow note of love. So I guess our moms made these little efforts seem so special, and we felt so loved. Ha, while talking about this I realize that our Little Notes have some deep roots! They’re so PERF and FUN to leave for people!
KC: Where do you get inspiration from and how do you keep the ideas flowing in order to have new designs each season?
Deep in Ali’s brain is a natural hot spring of new, creative amazingness. She has always, always been ahead of design trends, it’s like she can time travel and just know what’s coming. So we have that going for us, which is nice.
KC: What’s a dream product would you love to create, but haven’t had the time to see come to fruition?
Oh gah, SO many things! Tissue boxes that are actually cute. Wedding dresses that are hot pink. A car shaped like a whale!
You can find a variety of Efrances products at our brick and mortar location at 600 Divisadero Street.