Since leaving Causeway, a Tennessee-based nonprofit that helps people turn their ideas into community endeavors, Chelsea Conrad ’20 (Illustration MA) has learned to never say never.
“I worked there before graduate school as their creative director. And I witnessed tons of people starting businesses. I would joke that my biggest takeaway was that I would never start a business myself,” Conrad said.
But a recent search for unique presents, the memory of an earlier job, and a burst of inspiration changed that.
As she explained, “Giving gifts is an interesting process for me, because I want them to be meaningful, but I never know what to get people. So for Christmas, I ended up drawing family portraits, but with flowers—with each flower representing a person’s birth month. I worked at a flower shop in college, so I was familiar with those, and the idea just came to me.”
Conrad drew the one-of-a-kind portraits for her mother, stepmother, and grandmother, who each raved about the gifts to their friends. Those friends requested portraits of their own, and by January, Conrad was in business, setting up Garden Party Press on Etsy.
Within eight weeks, she sold over 50 prints and made enough revenue that an application to the 2021 UP/Start Venture Competition made sense as a next step.
“Between launching Garden Party Press and applying to UP/Start, I’ve done a lot of research,” Conrad said. "And I found out that customized products, especially in the gifting market, are really exploding."
After Garden Party Press was named an UP/Start finalist, Conrad began working with a mentor, MICA alum Andy Mangold ’11 (Graphic Design BFA), co-founder of the successful digital design firm, Friends of the Web. Mangold’s experience as a web developer and experience as a business owner has been invaluable.
“My idea is one thousand times better because of Andy,” Conrad noted. “I was making prints by hand, and doing all of the shipping myself, and I had some ideas about how I could scale it and systemize my process. Andy suggested building a program to automate it all.”
She continued, “I was reluctant at first, but after talking it through, I realized we could build it in a way that still feels true to my work. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities about what this could be.”
Conrad hopes to put UP/Start funding toward a custom website that will allow customers to build a unique print and preview it before purchase, as well as put social media’s powerful marketing capabilities to use with targeted advertising.
“I hope that will free me up to make more art on the same theme, using flowers to examine personal relationships. I love the idea of building on that concept,”