In a world dominated by bouncy, bridal calligraphy, Mirthos Paper’s greeting cards are most often splashed with a signature bold, unruly cursive lettering, the dots of “i”s adorned as imperfect stars.
“My handwriting is the edgy wild child that’s still beautiful,” said Mirthos owner Hilary Meehan.
Playing alongside a popularized minimalism-heavy design realm, Meehan’s maximalist, yes-frills approach-easily distinguishes her cards on the rack.
Last October, Meehan moved into a space provided by Brunswick Community College’s Business and Industry Incubator program in the Leland Industrial Park, and earlier this year she fully rebranded Mirthos as its own entity apart from her other art ventures.
The move to the Leland studio was prompted by a need to escape an over-filling spare bedroom that housed greeting card inventory, envelopes, packing supplies, art tools and of course, paper.
“I was busting out of a spare bedroom,” 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 at a rate that moderately increases annually, and a team of business mentors regularly checks in to aid in her growth.
Although she said she had long felt called to make the jump to start her own business, Mirthos’ launch may be better described as a push… off a ledge. When the pandemic hit, Meehan was let go from her corporate, official “jobby job,” as she called it, at an architectural firm in Virginia.
“This is a pandemic love story here,” she said. As an artist, architect and interior designer, Meehan said the circumstances prompted a “lightbulb moment” while surrounded by art supplies in her Richmond apartment and nowhere to go.
“It was just too heavy of a time to do a lot of really serious fine art and I just needed to do something loose and wild,” she said.
She started crafting abstract pieces that she then made into one-of-a-kind cards to connect with family and friends, and later began selling the cards as originals out of her family’s Southport store, Lantana’s Gallery & Fine Gifts.
“I always made art, I’ve always tried to sell it and market it, and I also adore greeting cards and sending letters and mail to people,” she said. “I’ve had pen pals all of my life, so it was just this immediate like, ‘Wait a second. This is my business!’”
For nine years, Meehan ran Lantana’s, acting as the general manager, buyer and merchandiser to support about 80 local artists the gallery sources from. There, she had experience attending trade shows as a buyer –– the same venues she now attends as a seller, seeking to get her cards in the hands of more wholesale clients across the country.
“My time at Lantana’s taught me innumerable things about small business operations, marketing and also wholesaling,” she said. “I knew I wanted to get into the wholesale markets and be the person offering my work.”
Today, Meehan fashions originals in her studio using a variety of materials, then scans or uploads photographs of them into Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, where she digitizes and tweaks them further. From there, she sends the designs to printers, selecting each production venue based on the specific needs of each card. One printer bought neon ink just for her; another specializes in metallic printing.
“The metallic just changes the color. It is just gorgeous. You’ve got to see it in person,” she said. “I’m adding a lot of specialty techniques and print techniques to it.”
So far, her key print partners are located in Wilmington, Florida, Maryland, Idaho and Minnesota.
Most of her greeting card designs are text-heavy –– sprinkled with the occasional expletive –– often carrying uplifting or cheeky messages. One bare-bones, earnest black-and-white card that reads, “the world needs all of your wild and free spirit,” was recently awarded at a San Fransico trade show under a “just because” art category, Meehan said. Receiving the recognition was gratifying, she said, and placed her work in several trade magazines to help increase the fledgling company’s exposure.
Many of her designs come with a hot-pink envelope. Plenty have doodles or abstract coloring, with a handful of seasonal collections already in tow.
“You’ve got to keep putting [designs] out there to see what does resonate. I can’t design in a bubble of course because I do need to share this with the world, which is selling it to stores and getting it out there,” she said. “So there’s a balance between what is exactly right for me and what is exactly right for the world.”
Meehan draws inspiration from imagining a card for a specific person (whether it be a real-life friend, or design icons like Iris Apfel or Betsey Johnson). “What kind of card do those people need?” she said.
“Greeting cards are the jewelry of the mailbox. And it is a completely affordable luxurious surprise that you can send to a friend. It always makes somebody smile,” she said. “I love mail. You’ve got a hot pink envelope in your mailbox all of a sudden – you know it’s not a bill.”
Though she still dabbles in periodic architecture or interior design gigs, Meehan is focused on scaling up Mirthos and expanding her product line. With more than 100 stock keeping units (SKUs), Meehan is adding more card designs and will soon introduce new stickers, notepads and more.
As she grows the business and gains more wholesale traction, Meehan hopes to show other female creators that forging their own path is possible.
She said, “I love the idea of being an inspiration for other creative, and especially with young women in the area, that you can make your own business.”
8581 Trade Street NE
Number of employees:
Top local officials:
Hilary Meehan, owner
Mirthos Paper is a stationery and greeting card design company
Products made locally:
Meehan crafts greeting cards that are “lavish, eccentric and earnest.” She sends final designs to printers, relying on partners in Wilmington, Florida, Maryland, Idaho and Minnesota, each chosen for their unique print capabilities depending on card design.
Product distribution: The greeting card company sells online and has made wholesale deals with stores in Southport, Raleigh, Charlotte, Portland, Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, Oklahoma City and more.
What made the company decide to make its goods locally?
Technically, Meehan said she started the line in Richmond, Virginia, because that’s where she was living before she was laid off in the pandemic. She later moved to Leland to live near family and gear up the business.
What’s your target market?
Meehan: “Fancy weirdos. People that need encouragement to be their own crazy, wild and creative selves and keep doing that.”
What’s planned next?
Meehan has plans to unveil new products, including notepads, a letter-writing pad, stickers, flat-box notecards, star-shaped gift tags and more.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To be considered for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s MADE feature, contact [email protected].