The Plain Dealer: Business is Purely Personal for Creative Pair

"We found there was a niche that wasn't being filled. . . We decided to design the kind of invitations we would like to receive."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006ROXANNE WASHINGTON
Plain Dealer Reporter

As Jennifer Sharp Gorman planned her wedding, it was important that the garden theme of her big day be reflected in her invitations. But she was having no luck.

"I wanted special and unique invitations that incorporated flowers in some way," remembers Gorman, who married Labor Day weekend last year. "I looked at a bunch of invitations, but I didn't find anything that popped out."

Gorman got what she wanted when she found Invite Design, a small custom-invitation company run by two young moms from their homes in Berea.

Nicole Bismark Wilson and Genevieve Kenney, both 28, were college buddies at Miami University, and launched Invite Design about two years ago.

For Gorman, Wilson and Kenney came up with big invitations combining bold blocks of happy colors such as pink, yellow, orange and purple and adorned with a colorful pop-up silk flower. The flower was so big, that the invitations had to be sent in rectangular boxes instead of envelopes.

"For my wedding shower," Gorman remembers, "my mom's friends took the flowers off of the invitations and wore them. I was surprised, and it was a great idea because it made the shower that much more colorful."

With Invite Design, Wilson and Kenney make custom invitations for weddings, bridal and baby showers, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, graduations, fund-raisers -- any personal or corporate occasion. Their emphasis is on heavyweight paper stocks, unusual textures, detailed craftsmanship and calligraphy, and luxurious details like satin ribbons, beading and silk flowers.

"There seems to be a trend toward personalized themes, especially wedding themes," Wilson says. "People want their own personalities in invitations."

There was one client, a stylish young woman celebrating her bat mitzvah, who wanted boas as part of her theme. For her, Wilson and Kenney came up with a monogrammed red card enclosed in a violet organza bag with a red boa trim. The invitation was mailed in a red box.

Another customer wanted peacock feathers, and the design duo made it work.

But not all Invite Design invitations are over the top. For a chic wedding in Chicago, the invitations and envelopes were a shimmering chocolate brown with cream-colored lettering, and the accompanying cocktail party invitations and response cards were cocoa brown lettering on shimmering ivory paper.

After graduating from Miami in 2000 with bachelor degrees in fine art, Kenney and Wilson went to work at American Greetings in Cleveland, as did Wilson's husband, Scott. A few years later, the two women decided to step out on their own. Invite Design will be two years old in October.

"We found there was a niche that wasn't being filled," Kenney recalls. "Everything out there seemed to be the same. A lot of it is nice, but it doesn't have a lot of personality. We basically decided to design the kind of invitations we would like to receive."

Invite Design is an umbrella for two lines, Select Design and Elite Custom Design. On the interactive Web site (www.invite-design.com), Select Design clients can choose from a variety of paper and ribbon colors for about $8-$13 per invitation for 100. Prices drop slightly with higher quantities.

Also on the Web site are Elite Design invitations, which are completely custom, starting at $2,500 for 100 invitations.

The decision to start their own home-based business timed nicely as the two women became moms. Wilson has a 3-month-old son, Jude. Kenney's daughter Elise is 11 months.

Says Wilson, who also has an MBA from Baldwin-Wallace, "We just have such a good time helping people put their personality into an event."

Their clients appreciate it, too.

Amy Pausche, campaign manager for the Northern Ohio Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, asked Wilson and Kenney to design the invitation for a recent fund-raiser. The result was a rich red envelope in the shape of a pocket, with the invitation card inserted inside, and tied up with a black blow. Guests loved it.

"Our response rate to that increased about 40 percent over the previous year, which is very unusual, especially in the nonprofit world," Pausche remembers. "They were really able to create a buzz just with those invitations, which was wonderful for us."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: rwashington@plaind.com, 216-999-4427

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