Atiliay is a line of paper goods specializing in hand lettered greeting cards for all occasions. With their products, Atiliay hopes to help each customer send love to the special people in their lives as well as those in need around the world. Each item is paired with a non-profit and a portion of proceeds is donated with every purchase. Atiliay’s goal is to make a lasting and meaningful impact through creativity and compassion.
Personally, I got to know Olivia, founder and creator of Atiliay, through Instagram, and we've been connecting online ever since. When I started this project, I had in mind that I would also be featuring international artists, so naturally I thought of Olivia. She is truly an amazing human being, and I am very honored to have had this chance to learn more about her, and share it with you!
*Fun fact: Olivia's parents are from Taiwan! Where I'm from!
Hi Olivia! Thank you for doing this interview. For those of us meeting you for the first time, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into what you do.
Olivia: Hi Deborah! Thank you for interviewing me:) My name is Olivia and I have a paper goods line specializing in hand lettered greeting cards for a cause called Atiliay. Throughout my life I have always loved anything having to do with arts, crafts, drawing, and writing and that love has led me on my creative journey! I majored in fashion design in college, completed a baking/pastry program and made custom cakes a few years later, had a little girl’s clothing line with my friend, and all of that has brought me to where I am now--creating hand lettered paper goods where I donate a portion of proceeds to non-profit organizations.
While I was working in the corporate fashion world, I realized that the cubicle work life wasn’t what I wanted and felt a lack of purpose in what I was doing. During that time, I was lucky to get the opportunity to go to South Africa with TOMS on a shoe drop. That is where I met Food4Africa, a non-profit with the mission of providing babies and toddlers with nutritious food so they can have a good start in life. I got to meet the little ones they fed and the schools they assisted and I knew I wanted to continue to support the important work they do. That was in 2007 and I am happy to say that since then, through different creative endeavors, I have been able to help them raise meals for the children they serve!
My hope is that my products help my customers send love to the special people in their lives as well as those in need around the world—send love and spread love. Each item is paired with one of the 4 non-profits Atiliay supports (The EEC Preschool + Nursery sponsored through Food4Africa, Kiva, Animal Place, and Chilis On Wheels) and a portion of proceeds is donated with every purchase. My goal with Atiliay is to make a lasting and meaningful impact through creativity and compassion.
How was Atiliay established? How did it grow as a business?
Olivia: Atiliay actually started out as a fundraiser and not a business! I was trying to think of a way to get people involved in supporting a preschool I started sponsoring in South Africa through Food4Africa, The Ebongalethu Educare Center. I thought if I could create something that people were going to buy anyway plus it gave back, it would be the perfect combo! It was late December so I decided to create Valentine’s Day grams for people to send to their loved ones. I sold handmade hand stamped cards for $5 with 100% going to provide meals for the preschool. I’d handwrite each customer’s message inside the card and send it directly to their recipient for them. I emailed and told everyone I knew and was also able to have my fundraiser published in an email newsletter that at the time had many subscribers. During that time I was freelancing in fashion and would come home and stamp cards, write messages, and address envelopes! I was able to raise enough funds for over a year’s worth of meals for the 60 children at the preschool. I loved doing the fundraiser and after it ended thought, what if I could do this for a living and continue to help the school as well as other non-profits? And that’s how Atiliay was born!
Olivia：Atiliay一開始是一個募資計畫，而不是我的個人事業。剛開始我單純想透過募捐的方式，資助一所我透過Food4Africa贊助的學齡前教育機構－The Ebongalethu Educare Center。
當時我心裡想的是，如果我可以設計一些大家反正本來就會買的東西，加上有回饋意義的話，那就太棒了！那時候正好快要情人節，所以我決定設計並販售用手刻章手印的情人節卡片，並替大家在卡片裡手寫他們想對收信人說的話。每張美金五元，且收入將100%捐至The Ebongalethu Educare Center。
Your hand lettering is always elegant and neat. How did you develop your style?
Olivia: Thank you so much, that is so kind of you to say! Practicing as much as I can and seeing all the different styles out there really helped me learn what I like and develop my own style. I would—and still do--practice one word over and over again and try different ways of writing the letters or putting the word together until I liked how it looked! It’s interesting to look back at older pieces and see where I am now. (I highly suggest keeping your lettering projects in a box then look through it from time to time!) I feel like I have laid down the ground work for my style but am still developing it and that it will continue to evolve as I learn and get inspired by news things!
What has been a challenge that you’ve faced as you were establishing Atiliay, and how have you overcome that?
Olivia: Since Atiliay started as a fundraiser, there were a lot of things I had to figure out throughout the years to make sure it was sustainable as a business and I am still learning as I go. I started out hand carving stamps and stamping all cards individually but soon realized this was not feasible and I could not mass produce this way! That is actually how I started lettering—lettering felt like it was the perfect way to combine my love for drawing with my love for words. I also had to figure out pricing and how I could scale Atiliay so I could offer wholesale to retailers. It’s taken about 3-4 years for me to iron out all the details and now I feel like I can take Atiliay from hobby/side business to a full-time job. I’m not quite there yet but I will continue to work hard to make it happen!
I would say the other big challenge is how to get your work in front of potential customers!
To overcome the things I mentioned above, I did a ton of research and tried to learn as much as I could—there are so many resources these days that are at our fingertips! I looked up articles to try to find answers to the questions I had, joined online groups for makers, followed blogs that give advice to creative businesses, etc. I think part of being an entrepreneur is having that drive to solve your problems and not get deterred by them. Sometimes it’s hard—I would definitely define myself as an artist and creator first and then an entrepreneur by default because we need money to survive in this world! Having a small business and trying to grow it is not easy—there will be good days and there will be bad ones but I think it’s important to remember to not give up! You will get there if you keep going.
I also wanted to mention that Etsy REALLY helped me get my work out there! Customers, shops, and bloggers have found my work through Etsy and one of my cards was included in a Huff Post article which was super exciting! As long as you do your part (have good photos and clear listings, optimize your listing for their search, etc.) they do help put your product in front of hundreds of people. I also really love Instagram as another platform to share my work.
How did you reach out to retailers or how did they reach you? Can you share with us some of your experience?
Olivia: One of my main goals for this year was to really focus on the wholesale side of my business. At the end of last year I concentrated on creating a cohesive product line and line sheet that I could send out to potential retailers. When I first started Atiliay--even when I wasn’t ready to wholesale—I started a spreadsheet of any/every store I thought could be a possible fit. At the beginning of the year, I went through all the shops I had collected, researched more to see if my cards/aesthetic would be a good fit, and started to contact ones I thought could possibly carry my line. I typically reach out via email and have also sent small packages with card samples.
I’ve had shops respond with orders, that they weren’t ordering or wasn’t a good fit, and I’ve also had no responses at all. I’ve learned from each of those interactions and I think it’s important to not get discouraged or give up and keep going!
Retailers have found me through Etsy, Etsy Wholesale, and Instagram.
There are many resources online—even articles and posts written by buyers—that provide very useful information on how to reach out, when to reach out, etc. Keep an eye out, browse articles on Etsy, and continually do internet searches on the topic.
If you could give one piece of advice to the ones who are starting out on a creative business, what would it be?
Olivia: Jump in, do your best, keep creating as much as possible, don’t compare yourself with others, learn and research as much as possible, share your knowledge with others, don’t be too hard on yourself, and keep going! You can do this!
I also wanted to share one of my favorite quotes that I refer back to often about creativity from the inspiring Ira Glass (watch the video HERE).
Images provided by Olivia of Atiliay
I've always admired Olivia and her beautiful works, and I adore her more than ever, after learning so much about her through this interview. She is such a beautiful soul, and I really hope that one day, we'll get to see each other in person, either in Taiwan or sunny California:)
*I hand-lettered a quote which Olivia reminded me of, as a token of gratitude: "What's done in love is done well."