Well, welcome to the brand new Ashley Brooke Designs!
I have been writing this blog post in my head for months now, so I am over the moon to finally be able to share it with you here. But before I get started, buckle up, because it’s going to be a long (and exciting!) update. And in advance, I just want to say ‘thank you’! Thank you for following along, thank you for faithfully visiting ABD each day, and thank you for your incredible support… my hope is that this next season of ABD is just as exciting as the last!
Okay, so now that my thank-you’s are out of the way, I’m just going to dive right in. As many of you know, in 2008, when I started Ashley Brooke Designs, that very same day I started the ABD blog. I had no idea how to advertise my custom illustrated stationery at the time so I figured I’d start blogging (on blogspot.com, ha!) and talk about the things I love, along with my stationery… and that is exactly what I did. Who knew that buying this domain name in June 2008 would put something truly amazing into motion!
I have blogged nearly every day for the past nine years, which is quite literally insane to even type out. As my business changed, grew, and exploded the one thing that stayed constant was the blog. Day in and day out it was my very favorite place. I’m not a writer by nature. I spell most things wrong, I put WAY too many commas in my sentences, and the rest of my grammar is less than stellar. But for some reason the whole blogging habit stuck. I loved the ability to create and share things with you instantly. To brainstorm ideas and connect with my readers and clients in a way most businesses weren’t doing. The blog, to me, has always been the heartbeat of ABD. It’s where all my good ideas started.
In December 2012, after a particularly devastating year, I hand-made coffee mugs for my girlfriends as Christmas presents. Every year my girlfriends and I swap gifts and that year I was barely able to afford more than the $5 white mug from Target. So when I saw the Pinterest hack, “draw on a mug with a sharpie and bake it,” I figured I had my gift for the year. I made each of my girlfriends their very own mug with a saying that fit them the most, and they were a HIT… even if they were faulty.
I was shocked to find that each one of them loved their mug so very much. I honestly thought the gift screamed “handmade”, but they didn’t care. Although a few weeks later after the sharpie had worn off the mugs I decided to bite the bullet and remake them via an online print shop so that everyone could actually enjoy their Christmas gifts without fear of ink poisoning.
The very first ABD coffee mugs! | Left: made with sharpie | Right: first printed mug
Betsy, my BFF and original ABD partner in crime, Instagrammed her “let’s always be fancy” mug and a few people asked her where they could buy their own. She came into work later that week and said, “I think we should sell coffee mugs” and I said, “you are nuts!” A few short months later we had sold more than a thousand mugs.
Shelby shipping orders from my spare bedroom.
Those first few months in 2013 were like nothing I had ever witnessed. No one had seen handwritten sayings on coffee mugs. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we had started something truly spectacular… a real live trend and it was unfolding right in front of our eyes.
more than 3,000 coffee mugs in our garage!
In 2014, Ryan and I fell in love and got married. The year was full of romance, but also late nights trying to de-jam the shipping label printer and packing boxes. Our house became full of interns, bubble wrap, chaos, and excitement. In November of that year after receiving a shipment of 3,000 coffee mugs in our garage we decided it was time to move out. That month, two weeks before Black Friday, Ryan moved our precious cargo into a shiny new warehouse as I drove up to Charleston to welcome our newborn niece into the world. Life was thrilling and less than calm.
The first few days in our new warehouse.
When January of 2015 hit we sat down and decided that it was high-time the blog started shining on its own. Ryan had started a company with his brothers a few years before called Brother’s and Craft (which is still a thing by the way!), so he knew all the SEO and link things that I didn’t. Honestly, I had no idea you could make a living off of a blog so I was fairly shocked when he started putting some muscle behind my posts. I had started on Instagram in the early days, so it provided a lot of traction to start… and to my surprise, the blog grew. We were working with partners I had never dreamed of and each day was a new whirlwind of excitement.
I’m so thankful Ryan sat me down and told me the blog had potential of it’s own that day in 2015, because he was right. It was where I first fell in love with business and by late 2015 the blog was making a enough money to stand on it’s own two feet, apart from the coffee mugs. That’s when we knew it was time for Ryan to leave his fancy finance job and risk it all with me over at ABD.
Campaigns for the blog in 2015
In January 2016 we made the decision for Ryan to make the jump and gave ourselves three months to get our act together. It was terrifying and thrilling. I mean, honestly, who leaves investment wholesaling to sell coffee mugs that say “Every day I’m hustlin’” on them and edit blog posts about lipstick?! A crazy person. Ryan’s first official day at ABD was April 1, 2016, which seemed fitting. He traded in his suit, tie, and after work cocktails for jeans, sneakers, and late night coding… we were living the dream or what we thought was the dream! We slept very little, lived on espresso, and got high of the adrenalin of each sale.
Shooting Ryan’s headshot to add to our about page and getting in his new business cards.
We spent the better half of 2016 getting our supply chain in order. It was time to move production to China, which was great since we knew NOTHING about product development in China. Remember, this is all just a Pinterest hack gone wrong. We learned everything by Googling incessantly and asking questions to anyone who would answer. We were less than prepared. That same year I landed a 360 deal with L’Oreal and I knew we were officially running two businesses.
my first shoot in L.A. with L’Oreal
Our days were spent working on the blog, shooting content, going over contracts, brainstorming ideas, and learning how to be a real full-time blogger. And our nights were Skyping with our factories in China, prepping our warehouses, and writing out marketing plans for the online shop. We stopped for nothing.
When 2016 came to a close we were exhausted to our core… and a little strung out on coffee. We loved what we were doing and we were FINALLY gaining real traction on both fronts. In January of 2017 we decided it would be the year of expanding in every direction. Our team grew, our product line up grew, our sku count grew, and our efforts behind the blog grew ten fold.
Launching new SKUs & Showing in Atlanta at the Daniel*Richards Showroom
By July 2017 ABD was sold in over 700 stores nation wide and our blog was picking up speed so much that we were barely able to keep up with it. We were on the road for what felt like 100% of the time, bouncing from wholesale markets to blog travel. We lived in the Delta Sky Club lounge and would do just about anything for free wifi. It felt like we were in a very fast very exciting, movie that I never wanted to end!
the view from 30,000 ft
In early August were getting the aching feeling that something big needed to change. Everything was going so well, we were busting at the seems on all fronts. We needed more space and a bigger team. We had grown our business on cash, only ordering what we could afford and hired the same way, which worked for us for a while. But we were at a crossroads. It was time to scale and scale up big. The blog was rockin’ and rollin’ yet the products demanded more, more, more!
We needed investment dollars to scale up and we were ready with pitch in hand. We met with potential investors, walked through retail spaces, and dreamed big but at every turn we both had a pit in our stomach. It didn’t feel right. But how could it not be right? We were confused, frustrated, and honestly I was downright mad. Everything was going so well, but why did we both feel so uneasy about our next steps?
That’s when we decided it was time to push the pause button and ask for God for some serious clarity. Doors started opening fast and furiously with the blog that month and while the products were still doing well, we continued to feel uneasy. We were beginning to place our holiday orders with China and I had new designs out for production. All signs pointed to go, but we knew it wasn’t the right decision.
After months of deliberation, prayer, and seeking wise counsel we decided it was time to wind down the product business and focus 100% of our attention on the blog that we had built together. We realized when we finally paused that we were in desperate need of rest and the freedom to focus on one thing. For years we were running two overly fulltime businesses. We knew it was time to stop, take a deep breath, and get back to the basics; the blog, the thing that started it all.
In NYC late September
We made this decision in the first week of October and we’ve been racing against the clock to re-launch our website before Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Have you ever built a website from scratch in a month?! Honestly I wouldn’t recommend it… but it has been one of the most fun months we’ve had in a long time. We are so excited and energized about this next season that we have barely been able to wait to get this out into the real world. Our branding, development, and overall look came to us so easily when we started re-designing and we knew, without a doubt, that we were doing the right thing.
So here we are, present day, with an all new but still very much the same ABD. Our hope is to take some time to really focus on this space and to be able to give you the very best of me here. To create content that is thoughtful, fun, interesting, and inspiring. And in the midst of it all get re-inspired myself. We are hopeful that this time will give us space to get refreshed and come back to create something new with fresh eyes and hearts. We have loved this crazy wild product ride but are far more excited about what we will be able to create together for you here on our new home. Our hearts are incredibly optimistic about the future and we already see God’s fingerprints all over this decision.
My hope is that you are just as excited as we are and will follow along on this next adventure!!
Below are a few questions that I thought I’d answer for you that I’ve already gotten this past month while telling friends and family about out exciting new business change. But if you have more questions feel free to comment below. I’m happy to answer as many as I can!
You’re pregnant, aren’t you!?
HA! No. I am not, although that would be a very sweet ending to this blog post! One of these days I promise, but for right now we’re still pretending we are newlyweds. 😉
Are you saying I can’t buy any ABD for Christmas?!
Actually you can! We won’t be bringing any new SKUs out this year or for the foreseeable future as of now, but we do have limited quantities of a few things left! The majority of our stock is completely sold out.
*Update* We are now completely sold out and will no longer be linking to the shop. If you ‘re looking for something in particular, you may find it at these retailers online or in stores: Waiting on Martha, Amazon, My Kind of Lovely, or Swoozies.
So you are going to be a full time blogger?
Yes! Actually, I always have been! So really not much is changing there. The only thing that you can expect to see is better content from me since it will have my 100% focus.
Are you sad? Do you miss the products?!
Oh my gosh, yes and no! I have already had the time to process, so more than anything I am so excited for the future. The future for the blog and what we will create next. Of course, I’m nostalgic, but change is good and I think this change will be great!
What can we expect from you?
Well, my hope is that you will get a more consistent ‘me’ across the board. I will be sharing my favorite things, beauty and style tips along with Ryan’s amazing home DIYs. I’m planning on using this time to get re-inspired, refocused, and refine my design-craft. So hopefully you can expect to see some really REALLY good stuff.
Are you still designing things?
Yes! I have a few studio clients that I am taking on each month. Right now I am in the middle of designing coffee mugs for a new coffee shop that will be opening later next year. So exciting, right?!
Did you decide this because you were burnt out?
Yes and no. We joke that I could keep going forever and ever. I’m like the energizer bunny and I’m happy as long as I’m moving. But once we paused I realized that yes, I needed some time to get re-inspired. So a little bit of yes and a little bit of no…
How excited are you about this next season for ABD?