The seeds of Designed With Meaning were planted in 2015 shortly after our son was born. We had been toying around with the idea of starting our own business for a few years but now the stakes were high. As a family of three with long, corporate work days ahead of us, we knew we had to make some drastic changes to thrive as a family and live a life that nourished our souls. After starting a pickling business (true story!) and a wedding day kit business, we knew we wanted to create a product that made people happy. But what could we do?
A family place!
Below are big events in the journey to grow our small family business.
Ashley, Eric, and their newborn son. Christmas 2014
As a new mom, I struggled to go back to work after our son was born. While I was too tired to think clearly, Eric had a greater vision for our family. He dreamed of a day when we could have the freedom and flexibility to do work people loved while living a life we loved. And a lightbulb went off! What if we could help other people celebrate the people they loved and feel inspired to do the things in life that brought them joy?
Our First Sale
After work every night, Eric taught himself graphic design once our son and I went to bed. He began honing his design eye and tried again and again until he made his first design: a long distance map meant to symbolize the love between two people who live far away from each other. He listed several iterations of this design in our Sole Studio Etsy Shop, and then on February 22, 2015, Eric’s phone went “Ding!” It was a notification that someone purchased one of his designs. I remember he ran over to the computer and started personalizing the customer’s design right away.
Eric sold his first design on Etsy.com on February 22, 2015
Renting our first studio space in Louisville, KY. January 2016.
Moving Out and Up
Being blessed with a wonderful 2015 Christmas sales season, we reinvested our profits back into the business and bought a large scale printer to make our travel Push Pin Maps. Funny story - when it was delivered, we realized it wouldn’t fit in our basement studio. We took that as a sign to take a leap of faith and rent our first studio space in 2016.
Full Time Business
In 2016, Eric and I both quit our jobs and worked our design business full time. At this point we didn't have our own website and relied exclusively on Etsy to market our designs.
Ashley prepping paper for printing
Anthony and Eric in our Henderson, KY print shop. October 2016.
A Team of Three
Realizing we needed more help to grow our business, Eric's dad retired from his career at the local hospital to become our print shop manager/design manager/jack of all trades. We moved our studio to our hometown of Henderson, Kentucky where Anthony printed and packaged 100% of our artwork and he still works with us today.
Inspired by Nature
Trusting Eric's Dad with the print shop, we sold our house and all of our belongings and packed up our SUV in search of adventure. We moved to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and spent our weekends hiking and camping while rediscovering our love of nature. While it was hard to be away from our Kentucky family, our year living on the Peninsula was a pivotal moment for our family.
The Gibbons Family in their new home in Port Angeles, WA. 2017.
Our designs featured on The Today Show. May 2018.
Today Show Feature
After finding us on Etsy, Lori Bergemotto of Good Housekeeping featured four of our Night Sky Star Maps on her Mother's Day Gift Guide segment with Hoda Kotb on The Today Show. This was such a surreal moment, seeing our designs on national television. This feature helped boost the visibility of our Etsy Shop and we were more than happy to work around the clock answering a new influx of customer messages.
Fun in the Sun as a Family of Four
In Summer of 2018, our daughter was born and we moved to Florida to learn and grown as a family of four. At this time we had two kids with us full-time plus Eric was pulling long days on the computer continuing to grow our Etsy Shops. We began partnering with a print shop in Pennsylvania to help us fulfill our orders, and Anthony was managing our small team of designers.
The Gibbons Family in St. Petersburg, FL. April 2019.
Our Night Sky Star Map featured by Etsy on The View. May 2019.
The View Feature
For Mother's Day 2019, we were thrilled to have our Night Sky Star Map included in Etsy's Mother Day Gift segment on The View. As a small business, we didn't do any social media marketing because, with two young kids, I couldn't make the time. Being featured by Etsy was a huge boost to the visibility of our business and helped solidify Mother's Day as one of our biggest holidays.
The Journey is the Destination - Van Life
4 years of around the clock work can take a toll on a person (or couple) and we knew we needed to simplify our life even more if we wanted to make full-time kid life and full-time business life sustainable. The answer? Move our family into a van and experience as many National Parks as possible. By this time, we felt comfortable being "off-grid" for a few days at a time because we had a small, trusted team of customer service representatives who could help our customers with any issue. And with our printing partner printing and shipping our designs, we couldn't find any other excuse not to go for this dream. We were able to live full-time in the van for 9 months before 2020 coronavirus closures closed national and state park campgrounds. While not always easy, this experience brought us closer as a family and gave us so many new design ideas.
Living full-time in our van. Guadalupe Mountains N.P. 2019.
Living on a 100 acre farm in Tennessee. Christmas 2020.
Finally, Our Own Website from the Hills of Tennessee
In a time of uncertainty, we rented a farm house in Tennessee and set up shop to weather the 2020-21 coronavirus. I began homeschooling the kids more, but without hiking and camping to fill our days, we needed a bigger project. It was finally time to build (and market!) our own website. We knew we had designs people loved - now the test was to see if we could build a website and get them there.
Today - Back in Kentucky
Our move from Kentucky, and then back again, has been one of growth and a greater love for our family and the days we spend together. It's these life experiences that help shape the designs we create for our customers to do the same - celebrate the people and experiences in life they cherish the most. From Washington, to Florida, to the Van, to Tennessee, we were ready to have a Kentucky homebase in the hometown were our parents still live. Eric and his Dad have been hard at work building our dream photography studio and, pretty soon, I won't have anything (but myself) getting in the way of making Designed With Meaning a household name when you think of a simple way to shop for meaningful gifts and decor.