Envelopes, tea cups, flowers, houses. When Ashley Steiner went to London this past January, English charm inspired her. She studied abroad with Samford University, living in their housing in Kensington and getting a chance to walk through the streets of Notting Hill lined with little shops (and a wintery chill). Here she gathered ideas for her drawings that she’s incorporated as designs for notecards, calendars and notebooks for her new company she launched in August— Winnefred Austin.
Though bringing a new name to her company, Ashley is not new to the business world. The Samford senior has run her paper company for five years, previously called Ashley Ink & Paperie. But even with this new branding, her designs are still the same classic style. Her go-to colors are gold and blush, followed by rich reds and greens that make her drawings pop and just carry joy in their brightness.
The name holds the essence of what she seeks in her business, and that too ties to her love for traveling in London. Before Ashley left, her mom did a little research and found that the link to their British heritage to their American roots was Winnefred Austin, Ashley’s grandmother from 13 generations ago. “We don’t have a photo of her or anything other than where she lived in London and then Virginia, but it’s been cool to write the story around her and how that connects to my family,” she says. “We like to think of her as a London lady turned American pioneer.”
And her spirit, or the spirit they imagine in Winnefred, is what Ashley seeks to achieve in her work, though of course sticking to what she’s always done. Since the day she could hold a crayon, Ashley reflects, she was drawing, getting that artistic gene from her mom who’s loved to draw and paint.
Then, that initial love turned into notecards, a kind of gift-giving. “For a long time, I’d made handmade greeting cards for friends and family just as a hobby,” she says, remembering the cupcakes she first drew for her classmates in Arkansas, where she and her family lived before she left for Samford and they moved to Birmingham shortly after. As she made cards for friend after friend, her mom suggested she make reproductions of her original drawings and begin to sell them, leading to the creation of Ashley Ink & Paperie the summer before her junior year of high school. “I never thought that people could be overjoyed by something so simple like a greeting card,” she says.
With a blend of marker and colored pencil along with an ink outline, Ashley creates vibrant drawings for her products, photographs them and formats the card or page on her iPad. “The most technical part of the process, our secret sauce, is the drawings,” she says. “It’s so relaxing, it doesn’t feel like work. I draw the things that inspire me and that I like to see.” The pencil blends seamlessly into the marker, and her work almost looks like watercolor. There’s a softness mixed with her bright color to create the whimsy of her designs to bring a smile to someone’s face.
Her paper goods will always be the foundation of her company, but Ashley has brought some new products to the table under the Winnefred story, too. She’s starting a bridal line with wedding gift and shower notebooks to keep everything organized, laced with Ashley’s designs from colorful gift boxes to a classic white cake. With her launch, she also introduced the Austin Tall Tote, her first lifestyle product. It’s “something functional, simple and goes with everything” in her words, and she’s loving the range of people who are using the gray tote, from her grandmother’s best friend (who ordered the bag in the first week of her launch) to her own friends.
Ashley and her mom do everything, from the shipping and orders to the social media and drawings, with some business tips here and there from Samford. Through her entrepreneurship major, Ashley has been able to grow her business and rebrand it as a part of her school curriculum, getting to draw and color new designs in her dorm room. She’s been a part of the Brock School of Business Student Incubator, giving students like Ashley a desk in the school to run their own businesses. “I have a really strong community surrounding me, whether it’s going to business competitions or having a question and walking down the hall to a professor’s office.”
But behind all she’s learning about business, she’s sticking true to this story of Winnefred. “It’s been neat to write a story around her. I believe that entrepreneurs are some of the best storytellers, and the name is giving us the chance to tell the story of our company,” Ashley says. And the colorful charm of her London inspiration has made her designs perfect for the Homewood community where she’s thriving. Though not even a college graduate, Ashley’s been asked to speak at her elementary and middle schools in Arkansas. “I love going and talking to kids because when I was that age, I was making greeting cards in my art room at home,” she says. “It’s such a neat thing to say, ‘You never know what you can accomplish if you really set out and do it.’”
To see more of Ashley’s designs, follow her company on Instagram @winnefredaustin or visit her website at winnefredaustin.com. Find Ashley’s products in Homewood at O’Henry’s on Lakeshore Drive, Alabama Goods and the Samford University Bookstore.