Ask the Retailer: Sarah Whittley of Red Hare Publishing

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Sarah Whittley and Chukchuk
Sarah Whittley and Chukchuk

Your CV in a nutshell.

I left home at 17 and, although it’s a cliché, I ran away to London to seek my fortune. I knew it would be in publishing, and after a brief stint at the BBC I managed to get a job with a major publisher then work my way up to be a Commissioning Editor.

Tell us about Red Hare Publishing and its sister business Pinkfoot Gallery. How do they work together?

Realising that working in an office in central London wasn’t my thing, I left publishing for the wilds of Norfolk to set up my own company supplying illustration and design to publishers. I’ve always enjoyed working with creative people. There are always ups and downs, but maybe that’s why I like it. Gradually I realised I was working with more artists than illustrators. Temperamentally they were far more suited to painting whatever they wanted, without the deadlines and strict rules of illustration, so I sold the Wildlife Art Agency to concentrate on working with fine artists, hence Pinkfoot Gallery was born.


But, I missed publishing! I’m old fashioned - the smell of a freshly printed book and the feel of linen book cloth on board was just too irresistible. We’ll never compete with the major publishing houses, so we concentrate on small-run books with artists and photographers. I work closely with the artist Rachel Lockwood. Rachel is my partner and has worked with both companies – walking into her studio I feel like a child walking into a sweetie shop. From her stacks of sketchbooks and piles of canvases, I’m always looking for greeting card ideas and ranges for Red Hare Publishing. We started with Rachel’s work but now we’re working with other Pinkfoot artists to come up with new ideas.

What’s in store for the next 12 months?
I’m an enthusiastic advocate of William Morris’s way of thinking, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Although I love making books and stationery, weirdly I’m getting as much satisfaction from putting beautiful art on everyday objects. We’re working with renowned print-maker, Robert Gillmor MBE, PPSWLA on a new range of Notepadcards (my personal favourite, as I hate throwing away cards I’ve been sent) and homewares, including tableware, trays and trivets.

We’re working on a new card range of very stylish and colourful bird paintings by artist Daniel Cole – we may even make them into a book.


How are you facing some of the challenges presented by the current retail climate?

Even though I think politicians have made one of the biggest errors in recent history, I feel very positive about the future. I set up my first company in 1992 during a major recession and that went ok. I was told people were happy spending small amounts on luxuries, like books and stationery, to cheer themselves up. This makes perfect sense. I’ve just given a friend who’s going through a tough time one of our cards, “Now where did I put my Keys?” And watching her break into laughter was a joy! That’s what cards can do. Bring on the changes, as long as your product is good and your ideas are fresh, we’ll all be ok.


What are you proudest of in your career so far?

Keeping Red Hare Publishing in the black!

How do you see analogue and digital working together in retail over the coming years?

I love technology but when it comes to books and cards – no thank you! I just can’t get excited about a digital card.


What are your desk essentials?

At the moment an overweight and grumpy tortoiseshell, otherwise a mug of tea.

What do you use notebooks for?

Everything. I love finding an old one and flicking through to find ideas for projects that still excite me.


Do you have a favourite pen?

Yes, and I’ve lost it. It was a fountain pen. I’m sure it will surface as it never leaves the house. Love and hate it – always get covered in ink when refilling.

Why do you think stationery continues to sell in the digital age?

Human instinct – we’re sensory beings; touch, sight, smell and even sound – senses you’ll never experience with a digital product.

Who is your typical customer?

Impossible to say –they range from children to one of our regular customers who is 93!

Sitting hare sketch notecard by Rachel Lockwood
Sitting hare sketch notecard by Rachel Lockwood
Little matters notelets
Little matters notelets
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