If you ask Taylor Hamilton to sum up her business, she’ll tell you that she specializes in belly laughs, secret jokes and keeping it real.
Hamilton, 32, is the owner and founder of greeting card company Tay Ham, which was started 5 years ago and is causing quite a stir, even grabbing the attention of celebrities from Snoop Dogg to Kim Kardashian.
“Snoop Dogg danced around with a card on stage at one of his shows and shared it on his Instagram. Kim Kardashian bought a couple hundred of the card I drew of her and also shared it on her Instagram, it popped up on her show and in Kylie’s Snapchat,” laughs Hamilton. “Ninja, from one of my favorite groups, Die Antwoord, was also held up on stage at a show and given a few words by the band. There’ve been a handful of other celebs that have bought cards and given them a shout out on social media.”
Throwing caution to the wind, at eighteen years old Hamilton decided to pack up and leave her hometown of East Hamilton, New York, pointed to a place on a map, packed her car and headed out. The place she pointed to was Wilmington, NC. On her fifth day in Wilmington her car was stolen and so she really had no choice but to stay.
She started out working in the film industry, working at one time as a special-effects purchaser for “Iron Man 3” before taking her lifelong passion – drawing personalized greeting cards for friends and family and turning it into a business. She started out with just three cards, hand drawn and illustrated and launched her greeting card company after her nickname, Tay Ham.
“I never really took it seriously, but things somehow just fell into place. The first card I did was a drawing of a lemon with the phrase “I could just squeeze you.” The second was a cool mid Century modern chair that said, “you may want to sit down for this” and the third one featured Snoop Dogg and said, “Just saying high”. All three reflected my top interests at the time,” laughs Hamilton.
With her quirky sense of humor, bold, pop-centric designs and an idea to make a range of cards for “every unoccasion” and life event with the byline “Really, we’re the best way to say whatever!” she set up a small studio on Market Street and began work on her collection.
Each of the cards is designed with a similar look and feel – each one features a central figure, hand-drawn by Hamilton, often featuring a pop-culture icon on a white background with a clever catchphrase across the top. From Freddie Mercury with the message “Yas Queen!”; to Kim Kardashian’s big butt with the message, “This Years Gonna Be Huge for You.” To one of her best-sellers, a drawing of Iris Apfel and the message, “Think big!” which she created after watching a documentary about the fashion figure known for her massive round eyeglasses.
In a digital age, putting pen to paper seems like a lost art, but as it turns out millennials are now buying more greeting cards than baby boomers, reports the industry’s trade association. Research firm IBISWorld’s research reveals that Americans of all ages still shell out between $7 billion and $8 billion on greeting cards each year.
“I think it’s on an upswing,” says Hamilton. “I’ve started noticing lots of new greeting card companies. There’s so much technology out there that a little paper card is special. We’ve also tried to do small things that separate us apart from other cards out there. Like something we call the ‘flipside’. We put old pictures of friends and family on the back of each card with a little speech bubble – it’s just a nice little end cap.”
Tay Ham’s range now consists of twelve categories and over 800 different cards covering everything from birthdays, and I Love You, to Thanks Dude, and Merry Whatever.
“It usually starts with an itch to draw a certain object or person, like if I see a cool texture or something that I think would be fun to draw, or sometimes it’s the opposite. I’ll have a phrase that really makes me laugh and have to come up with a matching image,” says Hamilton. “There’s also usually a sneaky inside joke or reference in each illustration or phrase.”
The witticisms and wry observations haven’t gone unnoticed by retailers from Urban Outfitters to Paper Source and most recently Nordstrom.
“Nordstrom reached out last year for Valentine’s Day. We did a few other spring occasions and now here we are at Christmas! They wanted nostalgia heavy holiday cards, which we are bursting with, so we made a boxed set out of the cards for them. It’s fun when a big store wants a boxed set because we don’t get to sell them regularly,” says Hamilton.
The greeting card company continues to grow year on year, and a year ago expanded into a new studio space and headquarters on North Fourth Street.
“It’s a big blue building that used to be an old grocery,” says Hamilton. “We love, love, love it! It has exposed brick walls, concrete floors, floor to ceiling barn doors and a loft with a little window. It’s a truly creative space.”
The team at Tay Ham has also expanded beyond just Hamilton and now includes several other members helping out with operations, shipping and marketing. “There’s Suzy Walter the operations queen. She runs a tight ship and we love her so much. Jay Workman is the word man and the best friend to all of our stores and also the funny behind our social media. Kathryn Kirk – Studio Elf. She has touched every card and has the quickest hands in all the land. Chili is the Emotions Monitor and she brings joy to everybody,” says Hamilton.
Hamilton believes that part of her success with Tay Ham has been living and creating in Wilmington, partly because of the creative community and partly because of the relaxed atmosphere. “Wilmington’s vibe has helped to keep things low key which has really helped keep the ideas flowing freely. “And when the team is off duty you can find them at the Fortunate Glass “hanging outside with a little snack and a glass of wine.”