HerKentucky Business: Mellen Designs

Today, we're so excited to spotlight Mary Ellen Harden of Mellen Designs as our July HerKentucky Businesswoman.  Mary Ellen's whimsical, iconic cards and gifts have a distinctively "Lexington" feel, with vibrant drawings of local landmarks, horsey themes, and bright colors.  I first noticed Mary Ellen's work when she designed a custom character for Junior League of Lexington's Holly Day Market. Since then, I've found myself absolutely smitten with her work.  The KY Lady Flat cards are just calling my name (juleps, horseshoes and silks? Yes, please!) and I'm simply obsessed with the Map Cards, the cutest and most unique way to tell a couple's story on a save-the date! -- HCW

Mary Ellen Harden is committed to providing the South's spunkiest, most sophisticated line of cards and gifts. Born in Lexington, Kentucky and graduate of the University of Kentucky Harden is most proud of her local success. Awarded a Trendy Finalist at the National Stationery Show in 2011 is one of the company's greatest achievements. The Mellen line includes greeting cards, invitations, correspondence card sets, gift items, and custom illustration for weddings and large celebrations. Harden says, "The opportunity to give customers exactly what they imagined, or sometimes, better than they imagined makes this very fulfilling work!"

Mary Ellen graciously agreed to answer our questions starting her business and about life in Lexington.  We were thrilled to find that she's as lovely as her artwork!

Have you always lived in Kentucky? 
Yes, I have always lived in Lexington. I went to SCAPA for elementary and middle school and graduated from Lafayette High School.
When did you start drawing/ designing? 
Mellen Designs Horse Shoe Tray
I was always crafting something! I was a young aunt in 6th grade and my sister decorated my neice's room in Winnie the Pooh, I did a series of colored pencil drawings based on the Winnie the Pooh series for the baby's room. I guess I consider this my first large project! I worked at Peggy's Gifts on Clay Avenue in college and she was kind enough to use my art for custom order requests, etc. This was when I produced my first simple line of cards and created custom invitations. I can't remember when I first picked up a marker, but I do remember visiting Disney World in the third grade with my family and walking through MGM studios when artist were still sitting over desks drawing characters for the films. It hit me that I would really enjoy a career where I could do the same.
What made you decide to start your own business?
Save the Date map cards
I was very fortunate to find a job out of college at a successful greeting card company. This gave me the opportunity to learn the industry and build my skills. The owners pushed me to start my own line on the side, so January 2008, only a semester out of school, I opened Mellen Designs. I have always had a goal of owning a stationery business, I just thought it would occur much farther in the future.  
What do you wish someone had told you before you started MEllen Designs?
That there are a LOT of stationery companies out there! Just a joke, but it does raise the topic of comparison and competition. My business model is to do my best, and stand out as myself - not to worry about the "others." I find as a woman and in my business, comparison sneaks up. Although watching industry trends is very important, comparison can make you lose sight of yourself!

What advice do you have for women who want to start their own business?
 I believe that if you are doing what you love and cannot imagine yourself doing anything different you will achieve success. It is very hard work, not to be brushed over, but if your heart is in it, the hard work is so very fulfilling.
Mary Ellen also answered a few fun get-to-know-you questions for us:
What is your favorite drink?
I hold dearest my morning coffee with a bit of milk and sweetener, but more exciting is an ice cold beer on a hot day at the lake!
What is your favorite spot in Lexington?
I'll have to name a few - Merrick Inn for a celebratory dinner with my husband, the Arboretum for a run with my dog, Keeneland with friends, Old Cassidy Ave. where we are moving in a week, UK campus which brings back so many great memories, Graeter's Ice Cream Parlor with a black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream cone in hand!
Jeans or a skirt?  
Definitely skirt! I can't ever get jeans to fit me right, I'm short!
Cats or Cards?  
Cats - always! We named our sweet beagle puppy, Cali after Coach Cal.
Summer or Winter? 
Summer! Hot summer days lift my spirits and bring inspiration - of course, it's always harder to get to work in the summer!

 For more Mellen, visit the company website and blog, or follow Mellen on Twitter and Facebook. For the remainder of July, Mary Ellen is running a 10% off offer for all online orders.