Since its launch in 2014, the #Girlboss Foundation has awarded a handful of women the opportunity to pursue their passion projects and take control of their futures. Out of hundreds of applications, letterpress artist Bekah Bohlen was chosen as the latest recipient of the $15,000 biannual grant. The Mississippi local started her own card company, Cat Call Collective, less than a year ago and wears all the hats, from graphic designer to printer to social media manager, while also working a nine to five at Thimblepress, a boutique stationer and design company. With the help of her neuroscientist husband and three cats, of course. To top it all off, they’ve managed to do everything completely debt-free, including her starting a company and him getting his PhD. Could she be any more of a #Girlboss? We talked to Bekah about her love for letterpress, how she balances her card business with a full-time job, and her plans for opening Tiny Shop, a mobile store made from a retrofitted garden shed, below.
When and how did you become interested in letterpress printing?
I’m from North Carolina but I moved to Jackson, Mississippi about five years ago with my husband. He’s in school here finishing his PhD. I worked for a company called Libby Story. It’s a fashion company and I used to take care of all the creative direction and event planning, and we did an event one time that was called Handmade Market. It was something I was really interested in, featuring local artists, and one of the people that we highlighted was Kristen Ley, who’s at Thimblepress, which is where I currently work. I met her and I just fell in love with her—her personally, spirit, and excitement for her craft and just everything about her. She’s so open and generous, and I just asked her, could I come learn about letterpress? Just out of curiosity, really. Because it had a lot to do with graphic design too, which is what I was doing for work. It’s just such a cool analog version of what I was doing digitally. Really, that’s how I got interested: making that connection with her, learning from her, and her becoming my mentor.
So you work at Thimblepress currently?
I do. I’ve been here almost a year and a half. I do their social media accounts, email blasts, photography, and a little bit of printing. I bought my own letterpress [last April], just a mini tabletop press.
SO cool, where did you find that?
Thank god for the internet. We found one on craigslist and drove to Alabama to pick it up. It was small enough to fit in the car. A few weeks ago, we bought a lot of letterpress and printing equipment from somebody in Kentucky who bought a printing shop and passed away. And they were selling everything that he had. That was on eBay. The internet has been an amazing tool for the renaissance of letterpress. I don’t know how else you would get connections and learn about parts and pieces if that wasn’t around.
Yeah, letterpress printing is pretty niche.
It’s coming back in this renaissance way. There’s so many women doing it now, which is really cool because it used to be all male-run print houses. And then it kinda died away for a while and you didn’t hear much about it at all. And now there are so many girls that are picking it up and thanks to digital technologies, the internet, you can find these things and you can order [letterpress] plates online. It’s really cool to see it coming back in this totally new way.
What inspired you to start your own card company?
In college, I worked for a gift shop and I really loved it. We sold a bunch of local, handmade goods, fair trade goods, and artisan work. I knew that that was something similar to what I wanted to do but it wasn’t 100%. I didn’t want to just jump in; I felt like there was something a little bit missing, and I think the missing part was that I wanted to be in on the making. I love supporting other makers, enjoying their craft, and hearing their story, but I think the missing link with that was that I wasn’t fully involved, and I really wanted to do something that was both. So, with Cat Call, we named it Cat Call Collective because I wanted it to be an umbrella [store] where I can sell my things and wholesale my line, but I can also carry other people’s things. So it’s kind of this blend of the careers that I’ve had and melding them into a way that fits me.
So you’re obviously juggling a lot. What does a semi-typical day look like for you?
I do like it that way. I really like to have my hands and my mind busy all the time. I get bored easily when things are too slow. Typically, Monday through Friday, I get up and get ready, help my husband get out the door, and then I’m at Thimblepress from nine to five. We do a lot of events, promotional activities, markets, and things like that, so I may be there [longer]. And then, hopefully when I get home, I have time to draw some. I really love reading, I find it super inspiring. I’ve been working recently on the website and just the print room material. That’s kind of the stage where I’m at now. Hopefully it will develop into a full-time job where I can really dedicate myself and lock down more hours daily to do it.
In your application, you said you live a completely debt-free life. Did this make starting your own company more daunting?
I think it could be challenging but it was just kind of the way that I was raised. We never had debt in my family. We never had a lot of money, either; we were very frugal, which I think just caused me to have a lot of creative solutions to problems. And that’s kind of why we wanted to do the Tiny Shop. I know it’s a small enough project that I can take it on, not have a lot of overhead, and not get myself into a lot of debt initially. So I think just taking baby steps is the key for me.
It’s obvious that you love working with paper but digital is such a big part of selling and having an online presence. What’s your relationship with paper vs. digital?
I think that’s what makes a business works these days—you have to have both. I love handmade [items] and I love the digital era that we live in now. It’s so much easier to promote yourself because you have Squarespace, you have Instagram, and you have so many ways to connect with people. I think that’s what’s really setting off handmade brands these days.
You live in Jackson, Mississippi. Does the Southern culture influence your work in any way?
Oh yeah, of course. And I think just moving around has influenced me a lot. Growing up I moved around quite a bit. I lived in North Carolina for a long time and we’re actually planning on moving back there in March. It’s so great because you learn to appreciate different kinds of people and different cultures and types of work. I feel like I grow the most when I’m in a new environment and have uncomfortable circumstances kind of pushing me forward to meet people or make relations or network.
Where were you when you heard the news about the grant and what did you do?
I was actually in the parking lot at our gym. I was going to a spin class. I had just parked and I was waiting for my husband; he rides his bike and we load it into the car before we go into class. I checked my email and I had to jump out of the car because I had too much energy in my body, I was so excited. So I did a little happy dance for everyone in the parking garage at the gym.
Haha, that’s amazing. With the #Girlboss grant, what do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
I would like to build out my shop. We’re calling it the Cat Call Tiny Shop. Basically, it’s real similar to the concept of a food truck or a mobile boutique. But I wanted to do it in a way that I haven’t seen before. I’ve seen some DIYs around online that are retrofitted garden sheds made into a studio for an artist or something different. So I just want to take that concept and put it on wheels, and retrofit a garden shed that you can get at Home Depot, and convert it into a shop and make it just the way that I want it. I would carry both my line and probably about 10 other lines to start. And then eventually, we hope to have a storefront location. But this is such a cool way to be able to figure out—we’re moving to a brand new city—where the people are who are going to be our market, without a lot of overhead.
That would be so cool, I love the idea of a mobile shop.
Thanks! I’m super excited.
For more about Bekah and to shop her cards, click here.