Chatting with Holly Bohn of See Jane Work
I’m delighted to introduce you to Holly Bohn, Founder and Creative Director of See Jane Work. See Jane Work’s mission is to design products that help you stay organized– in style. Here’s the lowdown from the SJW team:
“Yes we are busy, but we can still have fun. And we can still express our individuality. That is why we started See Jane Work. We know you don’t have time to search every website that comes up on Google looking for a notebook that says a little more about you than, “I got a coupon in the mail from Office Mart.” You want something that says, “I am unique. I have style. I will not wear sweatpants to a meeting with a client ever again, no matter how late I am running.” We feel inspiration comes a little easier to those writing their thoughts in a pink leather journal rather than on the back of an envelope.”
Today, Holly chats with us about her own professional journey, what makes See Jane Work products unique, her favorite products for staying organized, and more. Enjoy!
After being dissatisfied by the selection of your local office supplies store, you decided to create your own line of organizing products that are decidedly more visually appealing. Why was it important for you to create your own line of products?
I spend a lot of time in my office. Call me crazy, but I’ve always loved to work. I’m a very visual person so I feel happier and more creative in a lovely and well organized office. With that said my office is not perfectly tidy, some days in the midst of a project it is a giant mess. It is organized so I can clean up quickly and more importantly I can later find those things that I put away.
What had you been doing prior to See Jane Work? Was it a natural progression from something else, or did you take a leap of faith in following a creative impulse?
I was in corporate accounting and my degree is in finance so although I’ve always loved design and had a creative side I didn’t see myself as a designer. I just knew that it needed to be easier to find cute office supplies. I didn’t think I would have to design so many items. My original concept was to become a retailer and just assemble these items in one place. Unfortunately, many of the items didn’t exist.
How long ago was “See Jane Work” created, and how has your vision or approach to the business developed along the way?
I started working on the concept in 2003. I launched the website in July of 2004. My vision and approach has changed many times throughout the years. A successful business is a journey, not a destination. Unfortunately for entrepreneurs personal and business lives can overlap. Some changes I made in my business model were a result of external events, like the economic downturn. Other changes were the result of personal events. The birth of my third child made me rethink being a CEO. The See Jane Work brand was acquired by a larger company in 2010 and now I am joyfully and simply a Creative Director.
How do you feel your products compare to what someone might find at Staples, for example? Is it just that your items are prettier, or is there some other quality that you think sets them apart?
My products, whether it is my See Jane Work line at Office Depot or the See Jane Work Basics on the website, are a labor of love. I put hours and hours of thought, time and consideration into each product I design. I consider the form, the pattern, the quality and materials. I visit factories. I create mock-ups and try them out to make sure that the forms are perfect down to the last inch. I’m constantly trying to improve my products so that they are the best quality at the best price. I really listen to and understand my customers, the colors they like, the way they live, the problems they face. I create products that fit their needs. There’s a real person behind See Jane Work products. I don’t always get it right, but it’s my goal to create products that are unique, stylish and functional.
Can you give us a little behind the scenes description of the production process?
I get ideas from customer requests and from my own needs. So for example the File/Letter Sorter I designed for Office Depot fits files or letters. As my projects at work changed I noticed that my organizational needs changed as well. One day I used a letter sorter for mail, but the next I needed something that would hold files. I get annoyed when I have to replace organizational supplies. I have to throw stuff out then buy more stuff, it just seems so wasteful. I decided that one product should do both. I created a mock-up out of foam board until I got the measurements right. It had to be stable and hold the intended items. We have an industrial designer who then creates engineering drawings that go to the factory.
Next I had to decide on patterns. I have a graphics person that I work with in-house. I usually provide some inspirational images and colors that I want to use. Then we play with scale and placement till we get it right. I’m sure she is very annoyed because I often sit at her desk throughout the process. The dot/stripe collection at Office Depot was inspired by fashion. Dots and stripes were everywhere and still are, plus they are simple enough that you won’t tire of them.
Beyond the bottom line of creating profits for your company, what do you hope to provide or achieve for your consumers?
I want functional style to be available at every price point. With that said I don’t want to create anything so expensive it’s insulting or so cheap it’s disposable, maybe I should say almost every price point. I love that in Europe you’ll see a broom or mop outside the door and it doesn’t look junky because it’s well made and actually beautiful. I want to create products that people can have for many years.
I also want to make people’s lives easier. I put myself through college and in my career worked from the ground up. I was always envious of people that had such amazing beautiful homes and workspaces. Once I could afford nicer things I still didn’t have time to shop for them! I want my customers to be inspired by our LOOK desks, educated by our LEARN page and then able to easily shop and find what they want at a price they can afford.
Your collection includes bags and totes, pens and pencils, agendas and portfolios. What items do you think are most helpful or crucial for people to have in order to stay organized?
That’s a toss-up between a nice bag and storage boxes. I love having a great work bag. With so little time I often carry my laptop bag as my purse so having something that looks nice and is well organized inside keeps me from looking like a bag lady. As for storage boxes I hate clutter so little things all go into boxes. On my bookshelves, whether at home or work, I keep smaller books, periodicals, manuals, etc. in magazine files or letter boxes.
Someone who spends her time designing and producing organizing products must have a distinct love of them, herself. What are some of your favorite items from the See Jane Work line? How do you use them in your own life or home?
I’m hesitant to say, because we are currently sold out, but I love my Penelope & Parker laptop bag. I can’t live without my See Jane Work Basic Storage Boxes, Stacking Letter Trays (try my Office Depot line), project envelopes and Le Pens.
I recently started a new brand called Instant Office. The tag line is “Your Office Organized in an Instant.” It’s all about quick, but stylish solutions to organizing challenges. I rebranded my Financial Organizer and Project Organizer under this brand. Those are two items I can’t live without and was thrilled to bring back under this very relevant brand name.
Many thanks to Holly, and I hope you all enjoyed reading!
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