Woman in Progress: Sidonie Warren from Papersmiths and Two Palms

At the latest count, I think I owned approximately 493 notebooks, and I still don't have enough.  My stationery habit has been mentioned before, and it's given free reign to go crazy in the business of this week's Woman in Progress, Sidonie Warren.  Sidonie founded Papersmiths, home of beautiful stationery, in 2012.  We've been huge fans of Papersmiths for a while, and are thrilled that not only has Sidonie agreed to be our Woman in Progress, but also that she's now launching a new business, Two Palms, selling homewares and 'goods for the soul'.  I feel some spending coming on...

Photo (and thumbnail photo on homepage) by  Mark Ashbee

Photo (and thumbnail photo on homepage) by Mark Ashbee

Hi, I’m Sidonie Warren and I live in Stoke Newington in London. I spend my time between London and Bristol and travel a lot too. In 2011 my business partner Kyle Clarke and I started an interiors and branding studio, Studio B, and in 2013 we set up the stationery brand. We now have stores in Bristol, Shoreditch and a pop up in White City. This autumn I launched Two Palms, a new retail concept selling homewares and goods for the soul that I’ve discovered on my stationery sourcing travels. It’s housed above Papersmiths in Bristol. 

What’s the one thing in your life that makes things easier?

Acceptance. Of myself, of things being as they should, of situations. I used to struggle against situations. Now I try to accept them as they are.

What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?

I couldn’t be without solo time. I love making connections with people and I have so much love for my friends, and family but equally I love to chill out in a park or a field with a book and a blanket.  

What’s one thing that you would stop if you could?

Judgement. It isn’t helpful. But that’s me judging other people for judging and now I’m lost in a spiral of thoughts!

What one piece of advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?

Delegate the tasks that you’re not good at and the tasks that you don’t enjoy. For the right person they’ll bring great satisfaction, and delegation will help the business move forward more quickly. 

What one piece of advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?

I wouldn’t change a thing because the way things have turned out is exactly as they should. I’m very happy. But I would encourage my 20 year old self to follow her heart, to spend more time in nature, to trust her instincts and to read, read and read some more. I have stacks of books in my bedroom that I keep adding to.

What are you most proud of?

I took a solo road trip in California in October. I drove 1000 miles, came up with the idea for Two Palms on day three, wrote the business plan that morning and then opened up and started to trade a few weeks after I returned. I feel proud of myself for having the courage to do it and sticking at it. 

I was a little afraid of sharing my interest in energy with people who didn’t know this about me. I felt so nervous presenting the idea to our design team! I’m so grateful for all the support I had from friends, family and my colleagues which helped no end. 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at work?

You’ve got to take care of yourself in order to be on top form for your team. I‘m still mastering the art of saying no. 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at home?

I haven’t learned a lesson exactly but my housemate Penny has been a constant sounding board and support throughout what has been an incredible, transformative year. She understands and sympathises and I guess I’ve learned from her how valuable it is to have friends who listen and advise with unconditional love.   

Did you expect to be doing what you’re doing right now?

Not at all! I studied education at University.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

A mixture of tragedies, chance encounters, calculated risks, recklessness and hard graft have all played a part in how I got to where I am today. I didn’t enjoy teaching so I moved back in with my parents after University and took a full time job as a receptionist at my Mum’s business while I figured out what to do. 

I learned the basics of running a business from her (without realising that I was going to start a business!) and have been hugely inspired by her independent spirit and generous nature. I also witnessed first hand her balancing act of being the person who holds responsibility for the whole team’s security, and the commercial mind-set and firmness that’s required there, with an inherent desire to establish good relationships. 

I therefore knew going into business wasn’t going to be easy and that I wouldn’t always be ‘liked’. I saw how hard she worked, and saw her balancing a very successful business whilst raising four daughters with my Dad who was also working full time. She was also painting in her spare time and selling her work in galleries and at exhibitions. This drive, determination and risk taking had a massive impact on me and I think my colleagues would agree that I believe anything is possible and I really struggle to take no for an answer!

I met Kyle through my cousin and we started collaborating on graphic design jobs for local businesses. We rented a space in an old rope making factory in Bridport and built up a small client base. 

Both of us missed living in the city (I’d been in Brighton and Kyle in New York) so we relocated the business to Bristol, taking on a small shop unit with cheap rent that we made into our studio. We had a very quiet patch in client work in January 2013 and decided we needed a source of income besides design work, so we turned half the space into a shop. We had £500 for stock and a huge amount of help from Kyle’s brother, Ross Clarke, who clad the walls with wood and built shelving. We made sales and gradually the studio landed new work. 

In late 2013 we relocated to a four storey building in Clifton Village and the shop, now called Papersmiths, took off. Clifton Village is a high footfall location in an affluent area and we have a beautiful corner unit with huge windows. Things ticked along nicely for a few years. Kyle and I travelled extensively during this time sourcing new brands for the store and researching for our design business. We visited Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Copenhagen, Berlin, Lisbon, Barcelona, New York, Antwerp, Madrid, Paris. We built up the studio and found our niche in branding and commercial interiors. 

In January 2017, I had what you might call an itch and I needed a change of scene. I wanted to grow Papersmiths outside of Bristol and I’d always felt drawn to London. We secured premises at Boxpark in Shoreditch and I moved in March 2017. We opened the store in May and we’ve been received well by London. Westfield mall in White City approached us in October and invited us to do a Christmas pop up there. We’re there until mid February and have created a kaleidoscopic kiosk of stationery.  

What top tip would you pass on to other women in progress reading this?

Trust your instincts. I’ve found myself worrying so much about what other people think and ignored what my gut and heart are physically telling me with their little leaps, flips or jolts. These reactions in our body can save us so much time and strain. Listen to yourself. 

Can I give one more? Keep a journal; use it as a tool for emptying your brain and processing but also for recording all the good things that happen. It’s a positive thing to revisit if you need a boost.

Are you done yet?  What’s next?

Oh no, I’m just beginning! 2017 was a year of learning and trying things out. We’re looking for a prominent London location for Papersmiths and I’m working out where to take Two Palms in 2018. I’d like to spend more time in the USA and am going there in January to research and study for a week.