As You Sip is our content series where we chat to some of our favourite businesses: they might be local to us, friends of ours, or just businesses who we admire and want you to find out more about. We’ll be chatting to them about their work, their values and of course, their drinking habits. Today we’re talking to Mabel & Co, a letterpress shop and studio based in Thorpeness, Suffolk.
For those who don’t already know, tell us a bit about Mabel & Co?
We’re a husband, wife and pooch team, running a letterpress design studio on the Suffolk coast, with a focus on sustainability. Letterpress was the original method of printing, dating back in Europe to the mid-fifteenth century with Gutenberg etc and remained the primary way of printing books, pamphlets, posters and alike until the mid-twentieth century.
Our printing presses date from around 1860 through to 1959 and allow us to print a broad range of work.
We are unusual in that we design everything we print - this is the exciting part for us. The ability to think of an idea one morning and then work through the process of making it and stocking it in our shop. Most of our work is making our own products, which we sell here in Thorpeness, online and through galleries & shops from St Ives to Oban, but we also do personal stationery and projects for clients, as well as occasional work for other small businesses and craftspeople.
As fellow small business owners, we’d love to know what drives you every day, and what values are most important to Mabel & Co?
Sustainability & social responsibility are key to what we do - indeed they are the reason we started. After many years of concern about the impact of modern manufacturing practices we wanted, in a small way, to explore an alternative that could bring great design and a positive impact together.
We use recycled and British made materials, linseed oil ink and of course our presses have zero impact, having been made over 150 years ago and being purely human-powered. All our products are plastic-free and recyclable.
Our design inspiration is what we term British utilitarianism. Fully pared-back and absorbing all the typographic references we are used to seeing around us and which make up our national visual language.
What does a typical day look like at Mabel & Co, and what’s currently keeping you busy?
We work in our Thorpeness shop four days a week and then at our other studio on the fifth, usually cutting and preparing the paper and card for printing. Part of our sustainability commitment is ensuring that we focus and worry about the right things - in our case that’s quality, design and engaging with people - and that means we take a more relaxed approach to other things, like ensuring an enjoyable place to work and the flexibility that comes with it. What we're kind of saying in a very roundabout way is that although the sign on the door says we’ll be there at 9:30, it ain’t necessarily so!
The days themselves are a mix of designing, making, chatting to clients and visitors to the shop, as well as the usual admin that comes with running a small business - social media etc.
Our pooch Mabel is the boss of course, but is largely hands-off. She has a spot on the countertop, next to the till, and although she might look asleep, she keeps a sharp eye on there being enough going in to buy chews.
At the moment we are working on developing new products for autumn. These include notebooks, invitation cards and posters. We like to be working on new stuff (doesn’t every creative?), as this keeps it fresh. We’ll need to be thinking about Christmas cards soon though, as these are a big part of our year.
At the end of a long week, what’s your favourite drink to settle down to?
To be honest, neither of us are really drinkers. Katie once got stopped by armed police for driving a bit slowly, she was breathalyzed and asked when she last had a drink. She couldn’t really remember, but started to try and think back. At six months the police interrupted her and told her to try to drink a little more often.
So frankly it’s likely to be a coffee or cup of herbal.
Which is why it was so nice to be asked by Edmunds to try their cocktail pack, as we would never have thought of it ourselves!
On to cocktails then, do you like to experiment with new drinks or stick to the classics?
Right, so we need to get something embarrassing out the way. We haven’t had a cocktail since we were at university in the northwest in around 2005. They had names you wouldn’t say in front of your granny and looked day-glo. A few years ago we were at a rather fancy dinner party, when some achingly trendy dinner guests asked what our favourite cocktail was. We knew it was a test and we glared desperately at each other for something that would fit the bill. In the end, just to stop the silence Katie blurted out, ‘I used to like a Slippery Nipple!’. The looks on their faces meant that we knew we had confirmed their worst suspicions…
So we viewed this as a chance for redemption and the opportunity to see how cocktails have evolved and we were really impressed. James’ favourite was the classic Cosmopolitan and Katie loved the Pornstar Martini (you can take the girl out the town and all that…)
Where’s your favourite place to take a moment and savour a cocktail?
We actually enjoyed them in the garden, on deck chairs as the sun went down after work. It was such a nice way to round off the day, before heading in to cook. As we say, not something we would normally do, but definitely something we would do again from time to time.
Now, we’d love to know what you’re enjoying as you sip the perfect cocktail — firstly, what are you listening to?
There’s a Polish pianist called Hania Rani whose playing and composing is amazing and also at the moment we’re listening to Manchester based Matthew Halsall, both of whom are on Gondwana Records, which Matthew founded. No connection to them, but great work and you can listen to them both on YouTube.
And what are you reading?
Katie is currently reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which has been on her ‘to read’ list for ages. James is going through a phase of obsession with Japanese woodwork, so has just finished his second book on this. We both have a love of vintage Children’s books too, so Swallows & Amazons, Wind in the Willows, Moomins etc - the creative freedom you get within the genre is amazing.
Mabel takes the FT every morning.
And finally, what might you be watching?
We’re quite into Youtube and vlogs from people living very different, but inspiring lives. Martijn Doolaard is restoring an old alpine shepherds cottage in Italy, using local milled wood and the original stone. His videos are a slow meditation on his work and place, but very beautifully shot. It’s the perfect watch just before bed.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Holly Cafe Boat, where Vic & Jo cheekily wind their way around the canals of the midlands serving up cake and coffee. Both used to work in TV and it shows, with a fun and imaginative approach to their videos.