Maker Profile: Ampersand
Meet Carrie Kiefer and Morgan Georgie, the owners of the charming Ampersand design studio in Mission. Ampersand’s colorful patterned pieces bring a bright, cheerful vibe wherever they go. I had the opportunity to chat with them about the origins of their unique business here:
How did the power duo of Carrie and Morgan meet?
Carrie and Morgan first met at KU in a typography class, then decided to be roommates in an exchange program in England. They traveled all over Europe together.
Eventually they both ended up at Hallmark in the same gift wrap department, with desks not far from one another. There, they became BFF’s for life.
Hallmark seemed like such a great fit for you both, tell me about that.
“We loved products, and weren’t wanting to work in advertising, Hallmark was the ideal fit in Kansas City. We each ended up at Hallmark close to 10 years,” Morgan said.
Of all the possible roles and products to do at Hallmark both Morgan and Carrie were most passionate about pattern making in gift wrap. Gift wrap is similar to fabric in that it comes on a roll and repeats. Interiors and fashion were always a passion and influence. Morgan said, “You can see that early on in my portfolio.”
How was Ampersand born?
After two years at Hallmark together, Morgan and Carrie decided they wanted to work together independently of Hallmark. It started with the Ampersand blog. “It let us get in the habit of doing our own research and then blogging about it,” Carrie said, “Every week we gave ourselves a mini-assignment of trends and personal art. We were getting in the habit of creating for something other than Hallmark.”
One of the first products they created was painting, shellacking and sewing canvas purses. “This was before the days of Spoonflower,” they jokingly said regarding the custom fabric site.
Next came freelance designing wedding invites, baby shower invites and wall art for friends. “Our friends’ needs started our business,” Morgan said. “Those early days while we still had the corporate job we made all the possible mistakes you could make. We had no clue what we were doing.”
How did you come up with the name?
Ampersand represents the combination of Morgan and Carrie. They met in typography class and when a designer makes a font it’s the ampersand that the designer gets to have a little more fun and flourish with. The personality comes out a little more, that sealed the deal on the name.
What was a game-changer for your business?
A major goal for Ampersand when they first started out was to participate in Surtex, a surface pattern and illustration tradeshow. Large brands like Anthropologie, Crate and Barrel and paper plate companies shop this show to apply patterns to product. One of their first big clients, Blue Sky Planners, a company that provides planners to Target, Staples, Walgreens and premium lines, found them there.
They were the first ones who took a chance on Ampersand. Blue Sky is still one of their biggest clients, eight years in. Additionally, The Land of Nod collection inspired by retro rainbows composed of rugs, beddings and pillows was huge. One thing about Land of Nod that Morgan and Carrie especially appreciate is the way they call out the licensing partner. For example: Land of Nod places Ampersand’s logo on product. “Whenever we can, we look for licensing partnerships that feature our logo to promote the artist,” Carrie said, “which is beneficial to everyone so customers and clients can find additional products.”
“On a local Kansas City level, West Elm’s Shop Local section was so great to build local brand awareness in KC,” Morgan said. “They have a picture and write up, which helps local clients find us.” Lastly, when Made in KC owners Tyler and Thomas first came to talk to Morgan and Carrie about being a vendor in the first Made in KC store, Ampersand didn’t have a brick and mortar presence. This helped established a local presence and Made in KC pushed Morgan and Carrie to try products that weren’t on their radar, like glassware.
“Made in KC has such an amazing vision and have proven to be such great partners. We owe a lot to them,” Carrie and Morgan explained. When they were first approached about the Made in KC Marketplace, as nervous as they were about adding a second rent they knew Made in KC would make it successful. The marketplace has also allowed Ampersand to test new products, like the new line of fourteen greeting cards, the tote collaboration with Sandlot, as well as additional collaborative product.
What does Ampersand’s creative process look like?
Frequently Morgan and Carrie start with scissors and paper, ink, stamping, paint and then digitize the art. “Sometimes it feels stale when we start on the computer,” Carrie explained. Both Morgan and Carrie are the artists. They paint together, then they’ll digitize it and trade back and forth. Sometimes, Morgan says she’ll start something and can’t finish it, would want to throw it away and then Carrie will save it, or vice versa.
Although they have a similar aesthetic, once their talents are combined, it creates a much stronger design, finding that sweet spot that other people really love too.
Who or what inspires you both?
“Matisse! Especially at the end of his career with cut paper art, which started our obsession at a young age,” said Carrie. When they traveled abroad in England, they had a pilgrimage and took the train to France to go see his house (Let’s just ignore the fact that they mistakenly took the wrong train initially and ended up in Italy). Another consistent inspiration is Marimekko, a company that works with other designers, known for their big, bold pieces.
What are some current or future collaborations?
“Kansas City has so much talent, collaborations have been such a fun way to explore that,” Morgan explained. Some local collaborations include the Sandlot tote with Ampersand patterns available at the Made in KC Marketplace, Happy Habitat custom throw and a Coveted Home holiday candle with custom Ampersand scent.
Future collaborations include fabric by the yard to be found at the Made in KC Marketplace, the EB scarf, and a collection of kitchen accessories including aprons, dish towels and pillows.
What should we expect from Ampersand in the next few years?
“Over the next couple years Ampersand has some big goals,” Carrie explains, “We plan to grow our business by adding some awesome new members to our team and a larger space to create all these big ideas in! We want to continue to collaborate as much as possible with other like-minded people and companies and continue to put unique art on great products — whether it's home decor, stationery or textiles!”
So be sure to look for them at the Made in KC Marketplace, West Elm Local and follow them on their Instagram @ampersandstudio to keep with any new products or collaborations.