Think you have what it takes to start your own business? Jetmag talks to Papier HQ founder Gabby MacDonald about life in the big seat. She fills us in on what it takes to run a business and how her schooling & job experience led her to where she is now.
When you were in school, did you know what you wanted to do?
At school I was always very interested in the artsy subjects. I took Graphic Design, Art, Fashion Design, Photography, English, Psychology and Maths. As much as I wanted to drop maths (my teachers wouldn’t let me) I’m so glad I didn’t because I now have to work with numbers everyday, for example figuring out sales margins and quoting customers. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to take my creativity after school and originally applied to study interior architecture at Massey university.
I applied and to my excitement I got in! The great thing about Massey University is that in your first year you get to dabble in all different areas of design which is what introduced me to Textile Design. I changed to Textiles because I realised I was more of a tactile person and it was colours, textures and patterns that I really loved about design. I was also torn between fashion and homewares and this meant I got the best of both worlds.
Throughout your time working and getting your experience what was the most valuable thing you learnt which helped you get your kick-start?
My previous position I was in before starting my own business was definitely a massive learning curve. My position was Textile Designer / Product Development but I had to be across all areas of the business such as quality control, account management, overseas buying, mill negotiations, design, marketing and graphic design.
This exposure to different areas of the business helped me feel more prepared when I did decide to go out on my own. With a new business you have to be across all areas and know what’s going on at all times.
How did the idea & concept of Papier HQ evolve? What were the major steps from finding the gap in the market to now?
I’m from a Textile design background and during my 9 years of industry experience I realised there was a gap. We found that there was a lack in the New Zealand market for affordable, on trend wall art made from high quality materials.
People don’t always have the spare funds to put personal touches in their homes and with my textile design experience I was able to apply this to my art and create on trend pieces. Our business idea is simple: Stylish wall art should be affordable for everyone whilst still being on trend, beautiful and putting life into one’s home.
We also offer custom made art which adds even more of a personal touch to our customers’ homes as well as capturing a special moment or memory for them.
How did you decide on the name Papier HQ?
My other business is Laine & Co. which is a textile design business contracting out to companies with textile design prints, graphic design and trend development. Laine is the French word for wool which we thought worked well because it’s a textile and we were a textile company. We wanted to keep the French theme going with Papier hq. Papier is the French word for paper and wall art is made from paper so it just worked!
What does your typical day look like?
No day is ever the same! I start my day off checking which orders need to be dispatched. Then I could be doing anything from designing, printing, framing, organising couriers, marketing, liaising with customer and working on the website..
What’s been the hardest part about starting and maintaining your business?
The hardest part would be having to be switched on every hour I’m awake. It can get tiring and I couldn’t even tell you how many all-nighters I have pulled to get orders out or to get new designs done and uploaded.
Anyone wanting to have their own business has to be willing to put in the hours, especially at the start!
I’m just starting to see my work pay off now. I have an awesome partner that helps a lot!
What’s the best part about being your own boss?
I can honestly say that I have the best job in the world. I can’t say that everyday is
easy because it definitely isn’t – (my partner can definitely agree with me on this one),
but I get to design collections that I have personally put together and I feel like they
are all a little piece of my personality and soul. I love seeing our collections come to
life after all of the planning and research that goes into it. The best part is receiving
feedback from our customers and seeing photos of how they have styled them in
I love the challenge of trying to grow the business – there’s not really any mindless work for the sake of work – I’m always trying to find the next thing I need to do which will have an impact.
What’s one piece of advice or your best tips and tricks for students thinking about going down this same track?
My biggest piece of advice to all students is to ask questions and talk to people in the fields you’re interesting in studying. I found that most people are willing to help if you reach out to them.
For students who are studying now or about to start, I’d say that design is a hard industry to get into so I would strongly recommend interning for design companies while you study. Real-world experience is so valuable when you interview for your first job, not to mention the contacts you make in the industry as an intern.
I ended up transferring up to Auckland for my last two years to AUT so that I was able to work closer with some of the designers based up there. Every day off I had at university I was trying to fill up with unpaid internships so that when I left university I felt prepared and as it turned out, this got me my first job!
We recently returned from a research trip in Europe where I was inspired by a whole
variety of people, places, homewares and street style. All of which will inspire our next
range so stay tuned! We frequently add new items to our range, in order to keep current
With the demand of custom A1 prints we have recently added this option to our website. We have also started a section “adorn your walls” which will be a variety of homewares designed or selected by me that can vary from macrame wall hangings to beautiful oak mirrors – anything that could hang next to a piece of artwork. We have a few other things in the pipeline too which we are really excited about – 2018 is hopefully going to be a really big year for us.
All print images & design can be found at PapierHQ