Port and Lemon is a design studio based in Titchfield, a little village not far from the sea near Southampton, in Hampshire. Started 8 years ago by Tracy Evans and Kate Cooke they produce cards, prints and homeware which are influenced by their coastal surroundings. Tracy now runs Port and Lemon as a solo venture and in 2018 Port and Lemon became a fundraising partner to Sea-Changers. Earlier this month Sea-Changers Co-Founder, Helen Webb, chatted to Tracy at Port and Lemon and asked why she decided to work with Sea-Changers.
Helen: Tell me how you started up Port and Lemon with Kate?
Tracy: We met at an art show where we were both exhibiting, had a mutual appreciation of each other’s work. We started to do a few events together like Open Studios and craft fairs and that let to discussions about how we could pool our talents and put together something more commercial. Kate had done a couple of designs for her husband’s stand at the boat show, Salty Sea Dog and Hello Sailor, which got some attention so we decided to use these as a starting point. We both added a few more designs to the collection and with 12 ready we began selling them as cards and prints. We literally just turned up on shop doorsteps with a bag full of cards and prints to pitch ourselves.
We did the first trade show in 2013, it was quite a small affair and we didn’t really know what we were doing! Despite this we got quite a few orders and it just grew from there really as we started doing more and more trade shows. We are now selling to about seventy shops around the country. We also sell overseas in the USA and New Zealand as well as many places around the coast of England. We've also had great opportunities to work with other people and we do quite a lot of bespoke work. It's kind of evolved and we have added more and more designs, and more and more products.
Helen: Lots of your designs are inspired by the sea. So what's your connection?
Tracy: I live on the coast but also I’m an ex Navy girl so that's my connection. It's difficult not to be inspired isn't it, when it's on your doorstep? And we are a nation of seafarers aren’t we? Everybody loves the sea. We have diversified over the years into some country associated designs but it tends to be the nautical stuff that's our real constant. It doesn't ever seem to go out of fashion. And I think we've got a way of doing it rather differently than others.
Helen: So when you and Kate were working together, how did you decide what you were going to focus on? Did it just kind of evolve when you saw this really good idea and Kate said "Okay, so I've done this", or did you work quite independently and come together and go, it kind of looks good together.
Tracy: The blue and white range is the one that people love the most but for all the designs we would both come up with our own set of individual ideas and strap lines and then work around that. We were working independently I suppose from an ideas perspective, but there's always that common theme. With most of the designs that we do we would try them first on cards, and if they work as cards then we think about putting them on a product. I still sell some of Kate’s designs under licence but I own the company now and so I'm continuing to push designs down that route but also use other designers to help. We will continue down the coastal route I think, just try and put the Port and Lemon spin on things as usual. It was always the case that we came up with ideas which we would mesh together, and occasionally that didn't work. But you know, we had six years of it doing okay. People always say our designs are very recognisable, people love the whole kind of boldness of them. It's a very competitive market so it's quite difficult to come up with something that’s a bit different but I think people like the humour, it is certainly risqué. I think that is a thing that has appeal.
And many ideas start with a glass of wine. I spend lots of time coming up with straplines once I've had a drink!
Helen: Tracy I really like the idea of a business that works in that way!!
Tracy: My sketchbook is full of innuendo that I really can't use - I might bring out a top shelf collection one day!
Helen: You might find that the biggest seller, you never know.
Helen: So we came across Port and Lemon around two years ago at Southampton Boat Show and we had a conversation with Kate at that time. We had a really good chat then and it was gradually a relationship that developed and we've obviously been working really successfully for a good year and a half now. I wondered what inspired Port and Lemon to think about getting involved in marine conservation? Was it a growing awareness of that issue?
Tracy: I think for many years we had been thinking that we wanted to work with a charity at some point or work in partnership with a cause. We were looking at something that was a bit smaller, maybe that obviously had a connection with the coast. And, there had been a lot of press about pollution and all that kind of thing. So when you approached, it seems like a perfect fit really. You obviously engage people that have an affiliation with the sea and that's where your audience is, and that ties in really well with the kind of people that we appeal to so it just seemed like a natural fit. We had worked with the RNLI for three years designing ranges for them. And obviously, they're huge, which was great, because it gave us a platform so that people could see us and see what we were capable of. So when you approached us it seemed like a natural progression really to sit down and actually create a partnership with a smaller charity.
Helen: What works with Sea-Changers is that we are not exclusive. So a business that wants to work with a number of charities and support a range of causes can do so.I wondered Tracy what are your concerns or thoughts around the oceans and what's happening to them?
Tracy: Obviously, I'm aware of the many issues having a negative impact on our oceans. It's an area I would like to see more publicised. I suppose that's why we want to be involved with you. I like being on the sea, I'm a paddle boarder and I swim in the sea. I don't like swimming around with bits and pieces of litter around me. So, I'm aware of what's going on. Recently I've seen pictures of disposable face masks washing up everywhere which is making me think that I want to get involved in that. Maybe that's making Face masks reusable - maybe that's an opportunity we can work with you on again. It's very much in the news isn't it? You have to take responsibility I think.
Helen: I’m a diver, and there was a moment for me about 15 years ago. I'd been diving for a few years and had really fallen in love with being underwater. I had bought myself a very nice, new wetsuit. I'd moved on from a bright orange and purple one, to a very cool wetsuit. I came out of the water and I had oil all down my shoulder, all down my new wetsuit. That was a moment for me when I sort of thought, things aren't quite as they should be. And then I guess it was almost like that light switch went on. And just exactly as you said Tracy, it's that realisation that it is not just someone else's responsibility, it's something I should do something about and I started to think about marine conservation.
It's easy to step back and think someone else will deal with it isn't it? If everyone did that, nobody would do anything. We're all responsible.
Helen: And even if it's picking a face mask up off a beach, all of that collectively makes a difference. And businesses taking a stand and making a statement. And all of that has a real awareness raising aspect to it. So our relationship is not just about raising money but actually much more about that. If it's raising awareness with a customer base, that it's something that you care about, and it makes them think, "we'll find out about it as well". So there definitely is that kind of knock on effect.
Helen: So Tracy can you describe, for those who don’t know , how our partnership works.
Tracy: We have a coupon code which people can put into our website, which is Seachangers, and when that comes through, it means that customers get 10% off what they order, but also we will donate 10% of that order to Sea-Changers so that's one way that people can help raise money. And then also I've designed an image which is called 'Beneath the Waves' and that sells as an art print and also a greetings card. We donate a percentage of profits, as well as money from the coupon code if that is used as well. That design is also available to our wholesalers. Prior to lockdown the first outing of this was in our January catalogue and people were starting to order but obviously since then shops have been shut but hopefully in the future it will become one of the staples.
Since lockdown online retail kind of went up and people were buying lots of cards across our whole range, because it's a great way to communicate with people when they couldn’t see them. And we did sell quite a few of the 'Beneath the Waves' cards. I think people like the message, it seemed to kind of resonate with how people were feeling.
Helen: It's a really beautiful print. It's fantastic that we have your ongoing support, and we hope that it continues to be a growing success. It's a great relationship and it's good to have people on board who are keen, enthusiastic, and also very creative in how they want to support us.
Tracy: We like the fact that it's a partnership. We like the fact that every project you support is very community based, is small and very educational. I think it's really because your audience is the same as ours. There is a two way thing, isn't there? So it's nice to be involved with people that work with smaller projects that otherwise would not always qualify for grants.
You're just very easy to work with, you're very open. It's been a really smooth ride. Calm seas all the way!!
Helen: One of the things that we wanted right from the beginning of Sea-Changers is the idea that we have mutually beneficial relationships with our business partners. And so it's great to hear you say that it creates a bit of traffic. For us that is a really good outcome.
Tracy: The other thing I have to say is that you don’t put lots of pressure on us to give you lots of money. We don't raise lots of money for you. I'd love to be able to say we do, but we don’t. But it's little and often.
Helen: It's great to have businesses who might want to give us thousands of pounds, but actually, equally important is all of our partners who contribute to that pot, so the small amounts all mount up to a big amount. And we know that because, through lots of larger and smaller amounts, we've given out over £100,000 pounds in grants over the last eight to nine years. We absolutely know those small contributions do make a difference. And we also know that we don't have to give out large grants for them to have a really big impact. Some of the most effective grants I think we have given have been small, and yet we've seen real lasting change from that money.
Thanks Tracy and long may our relationship continue.