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These are the phrases that appear on the best greeting cards in the universe. Vicky Simmons, the founder of Mean Mail, the greeting card service that makes cards for "those you love and those you love to hate," is changing the game when it comes to aesthetically-appealing paper gifts by disrupting the industry with her rude cards for any time, not just occasions. You know her from the "Millennial Pink. Yawn." tote bag, which is a best seller.
I chatted with Vicky about Mean Mail, a company less than a year old that is filling massive wholesale and individual orders from her living room, and how she got started, what's next, and her inspirations and sisterhoods created on Instagram.
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me about Mean Mail! Who are you and what’s your background?
Vicky Simmons: I'm an art director by trade, I studied design at UAL. Throughout my career I’ve always had side projects on the go as they keep the day projects fresh. I recently left Apple’s ad agency, Media Arts Lab, to go freelance and set up Mean Mail – it’s my biggest project to date.
Vicky Simmons, Founder of Mean Mail
Pink Things: So what is Mean Mail?
Vicky Simmons: Mean Mail makes greetings cards for those you love and love to hate. I’m inspired by the way we actually talk to each other, not how greetings cards companies think we do. There are so many cards out there that cheerleader for you, but hardly any that tell it like it is.
Pink Things: Why did you start it? What inspired the project?
Vicky Simmons: My boyfriend once came home from a night out and collapsed on top of me on the sofa, in a warm, beery hug. I said ‘I love you, now get off me.’ This ended up becoming one of the first cards.
Pink Things: What about the name? How did you come up with that?
Vicky Simmons: I only landed on the name Mean Mail in the last 18 months, before that it was called something completely different. I hesitated loads before launching as the name / branding / design wasn’t right. I’m so glad I waited. If I’m brutally honest, it’s not all 100% how I want it to be, but there’s a lot to be said in the phrase, “done is better than perfect.” Mean Mail felt right for what I was up to. It hints slightly at Mean Girls but isn’t too spiteful. I came up with it after reading Don’t Call It That: A Naming WorkBook by Eli Altman.
Pink Things: What are these cards for?
Vicky Simmons: These cards are for every occasion and non-occasion. I don’t think cards should always be saved for occasions - they’re for the everyday, to celebrate, and to laugh at moments that become special. I’ve had some feedback from people that they want to keep them rather than send them, so a print series is in the works.
Pink Things: How do you come up with the phrases?! Do you have specific instances in mind for using specific cards? Do you have any examples?
Vicky Simmons: The phrases come from conversations with friends. I’m constantly writing them down in notebooks and on my iPhone.
Pink Things: What has the process been like, conceptualizing the project and then actually bringing it to fruition?
Vicky Simmons: It’s been hardest, but most enjoyable project I’ve worked on. The weekend I shot the cards with the photographer, Stephanie Ross, was one of the best weekends I’ve had in ages! Ten hour days in the studio, making, directing, crafting, and getting the result at the end. I’ve done lots of branding projects – it’s even harder when it comes to your own. It’s important that the branding works when blown up to 2 meters wide on a gallery window for the launch, right down to the 16px by 16px favicon on the website.
Pink Things: It says on your website, “Mean Mail’s ethos is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s words: ‘True friends stab you in the front.’” Can you elaborate on this? What does this phrase mean to you?
Vicky Simmons: Your good friends tell your the truth – they don’t let you make a fool of yourself, and they call you out when you talk about yourself too much. I hope Mean Mail can help facilitate this and get us to laugh at ourselves, and each other, a little more. The entire British psyche is built on a foundation of sarcasm and piss taking. Personally, I can’t bear the insipid sweetness that people feel the need to layer on to inspire and give confidence in everyday situations. True friends call you out on stuff that’s not a good idea.
Pink Things: How are they printed? I think I read on your Instagram that they’re embossed with colored foil?
Vicky Simmons: They’re hot foil embossed by hand. I went on a course to learn how to hot-foil and bought a reconditioned machine from a manufacturer on the east coast of England. My mum, Mo, actually heads up the Mean Mail print studio (which is located in a corner of her living room!). Both my parents started out in life as illustrators and inspired me to always be drawing / learning / doing. She came out of retirement to work on it with me and it’s been great working together.
Pink Things: I ask everyone I interview about Pink. Does Pink play a role in Mean Mail? What about you? Do you identify with Pink? What are your personal thoughts on the color?
Vicky Simmons: Pink is integral to the branding of Mean Mail – it contrasts perfectly with the black, blocky logo and hints at the saccharine undertones. I use pink and candy colors in an ironic way as they are at odds with the messages. I eye roll at how much pink is used nowadays. The ‘Millennial pink. Yawn.’ tote is a best seller. I think the next big color will be a sunshine yellow, which I’m tentatively naming (Generation Y)ellow even though trend reports are saying it’s avocado green. *Eye roll*
Pink Things: If you had some advice for someone wanting to send one of your cards, what would it be?
Vicky Simmons: If in doubt, send it. Life is too short to have bad friends. If they don’t speak to you afterwards they weren’t worth being friends with in the first place.
Pink Things: How can we get a hold of some Mean Mail?
Vicky Simmons: You can buy them at www.meanmail.co and they’ll soon be stocked in bricks and mortar shops internationally. For updates follow Mean Mail on Instagram @meanmail or sign up to our mailing list.
Pink Things: What’s next for Mean Mail? For you in particular?
Vicky Simmons: My plan is to expand the Mean Mail product offering into other countries and grow beyond cards. I’ve just got confirmation of wholesale for my first dream retailer in London. I’ll be moving into Second Home in Shoreditch in August as I won a six-month office space as part of the Cosmopolitan Magazine Self Made Summit. I’ll be launching a new product at the Art Car Boot Fair in London in July and have some exciting collaborations in the works.
Pink Things: Is there anything you would like to add that we didn’t touch on in the interview?
Vicky Simmons: The Instagram community has been amazing at supporting the growth of Mean Mail. I’ve met many great people through the platform such as @charlottedisciple @theflowerarranger @deloresdaywear @thepinkerprint and you! Also I’ve found online and IRL female collectives so helpful when building Mean Mail. Special shout out to @thewwwclub who I’ve been a member of since the start. I’ve found the meet ups and online resources from @futuregirlcorp and talks from @womenwho super useful too.
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This interview was conducted via email and has been edited.
Images courtesy of Mean Mail.