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,
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
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?
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
desks drawing characters for the films. It hit me that I would really
career where I could do the same.
What made you decide to start your own business?
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
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?
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?
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 - 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.