In a world dominated by bold bridal calligraphy, Mirthos Paper’s greeting cards are most often dotted with a distinctive bold, unruly cursive script, with the dots of ‘i’ adorned as imperfect stars.
“My signature is the edgy, wild child that’s still beautiful,” said Mirthos owner Hilary Meehan.
Meehan’s maximalist, no-frills approach plays alongside a popular minimalism-heavy design area, slightly setting her cards apart on the stand.
Last October, Meehan moved into a space made available by Brunswick Community College’s Business and Industry Incubator program at Leland Industrial Park, and earlier this year she completely rebranded Mirthos as a separate entity apart from her other art projects.
The move to the Leland studio was prompted by a need to escape a crowded guest room that housed greeting cards, envelopes, packaging supplies, art tools and, of course, paper.
“I just stormed out of a guest room,” she said. “This is a great opportunity because this is a huge space.”
The Brunswick Community College program (open to non-students like Meehan) gives startups three years to rent space, with the rate increasing moderately each year, and a team of business mentors visit regularly to support their growth.
Although she said she has long felt called to take the plunge to start her own business, Mirthos’ start could be better described as a push… off a ledge. When the pandemic hit, Meehan was fired from what she called her official “jobby job” at an architecture firm in Virginia.
“This is a pandemic love story right here,” she said. As an artist, architect and interior designer, Meehan said the circumstances created an “aha moment” while she was surrounded by art in her Richmond apartment with nowhere to go.
“It was just too exhausting to do a lot of really serious art, and I just needed to do something loose and wild,” she said.
She began making abstract pieces which she then fashioned into unique cards to bond with family and friends and later began selling the cards as originals from her family’s Southport shop, Lantana’s Gallery & Fine Gifts.
“I’ve always made art, I’ve always tried to sell and market it, and I also love greeting cards and sending letters and mail,” she said. “I’ve had pen pals my whole life, so it was as immediate as, ‘Wait a minute. This is my business!'”
For nine years, Meehan ran Lantana’s, serving as general manager, buyer and merchandiser to support approximately 80 local artists from whom the gallery sources. There she had experience attending trade shows as a buyer – the same venues she now visits as a seller to get her cards into the hands of more wholesale customers across the country.
“My time at Lantana has taught me countless things about running small businesses, marketing and also wholesale,” she said. “I knew I wanted to get into the wholesale markets and be the person offering my work.”
Today, Meehan creates originals in her studio using a variety of materials, then scans them or uploads photos into Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, where she digitizes and further enhances them. From there, she sends the designs to the printers, choosing each production site based on the specific needs of each card. A printer bought neon ink just for her; another specializes in metallic printing.
“The metallic just changes color. It’s just beautiful. You have to see it in person,” she said. “I add a lot of special techniques and printing techniques.”
So far, their main printing partners are in Wilmington, Florida, Maryland, Idaho and Minnesota.
Most of their greeting card designs are text-heavy — sprinkled with the occasional expletive — and often contain uplifting or cheeky messages. A simple, serious, black-and-white card that reads “The world needs all your wild and free spirit” won the “Just Because” art category at a recent San Francisco fair, Meehan said. It is gratifying to receive the recognition, she said, and has placed her work in several trade journals to help spread the word about the fledgling company.
Many of their designs come with a pink envelope. Many feature doodles or abstract colorways, with a handful of seasonal collections already in tow.
“You have to keep putting [designs] out there to see what resonates. I obviously can’t design in a bubble because I have to share this with the world who sells it to stores and puts it on the market,” she said. “So there’s a balance between what’s just right for me and what’s just right for the world.”
Meehan is inspired by imagining a card for a specific person (be it a true friend or design icons like Iris Apfel or Betsey Johnson). “What kind of map do these people need?” she said.
“Greeting cards are the decoration of the mailbox. And it’s a totally affordable luxury surprise to send to a friend. It always makes someone smile,” she said. “I love mail. You suddenly have a bright pink envelope in your mailbox – you know it’s not a bill.”
While still engaging in regular appearances in architecture or interior design, Meehan is focused on growing Mirthos and expanding her product line. With more than 100 Stock Keeping Units (SKUs), Meehan is adding more card designs and will be introducing new stickers, notepads and more soon.
As she grows the business and gains more traction, Meehan hopes to show other creators that it’s possible to forge your own path.
She said: “I love the idea of being an inspiration to other creatives, and especially young women in the area, so you can start your own business.”
8581 trade street NE
Number of employees: 1
Founding year: 2020
Top local officials: Hilary Meehan, owner
Company description: Mirthos Paper is a stationery and greeting card design company
Regionally made products: Meehan crafts greeting cards that are “elaborate, eccentric, and serious.” It sends the final designs to printers, relying on partners in Wilmington, Florida, Maryland, Idaho and Minnesota who are chosen for their unique printing capabilities depending on the card design.
Product Distribution: The greeting card company sells online and has wholesale deals with stores in Southport, Raleigh, Charlotte, Portland, Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, Oklahoma City and others.
What prompted the company to manufacture its goods locally? Technically, Meehan said she started the line in Richmond, Virginia because that’s where she lived before she was laid off during the pandemic. She later moved to Leland to be close to her family and to build the business.
What is your target market? Meehan: “Fantastic crazy people. People who need encouragement to be their own crazy, wild and creative selves and to keep doing it.”
What’s next? Meehan plans to introduce new products including notepads, a letter pad, stickers, flat box note cards, star gift tags and more.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To be considered for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal MADE feature, contact [email protected].