Women in Business: Bluegrass Bookbinding
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Words by Tess Lindsey
Bluegrass Bookbinding was started on the cusp of my post-undergrad life. I was still working the same retail job I’d had throughout college, unsure of what the next step would be. If my painting degree had taught me anything, it was that I didn’t want to be the sort of artist that hung their work in a gallery and attended stiff networking events. And if my current job had taught me anything, it was that I couldn’t spend every day doing something that left me feeling meaningless and unfulfilled. Sometimes life after graduation made me feel like I was floundering without any idea what direction I was supposed to be taking, and there wasn’t any road map to point me in the right direction.
By this point, I had been binding books for about a year. After taking a few classes within my fine arts program, I had gained an appreciation for the process and created a few custom books for my friends and family. It was the first art form that I had been exposed to that had such an ability to be both beautiful and functional. It was near the end of one of these courses that my professor suggested that I try selling my books. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good way to continue working creatively and to make some money while I figured out what I wanted to do in the long-term. I started slowly, opening an Etsy shop and an Instagram account, still convinced that some traditional career in the arts would present itself to me. It didn’t. But the more I devoted myself to my business, the more potential it revealed itself to have.
So I quit my job in retail and jumped head first into bookbinding. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who didn’t think this was completely insane and looking back, I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities it brought. To their credit, the community of craftsmen and artists in Kentucky is thriving and is astoundingly welcoming and supportive. The people that I’ve met throughout this journey who are living creative and fulfilling lives are nothing short of inspiring. From our hometown of Louisville, to the rural corners of the state, we’ve found people working to create and innovate.
Starting a small business is quite an undertaking. For a 22-year-old with no experience, it seemed nearly insurmountable, but I wouldn’t want anyone to be along for the ride more than my lifelong friend, Ben, and so we became business partners. He’s constant source of motivation and confidence in our company. Our partnership is much like our books, a combination of creativity and practicality and above all, durability. We knew that if we were going to run a small business together, it had to reflect our ideals. If we were going to dedicate our efforts to this, we would give it our best, keeping quality and function at the forefront. We take the time to sew each book together by hand, with artist-grade paper and durable leather, because each one is meant to last a lifetime. We know that the way we conduct our business has an effect on those around us, which is why we choose to create our books with materials sold by other local, small businesses and to donate a portion of our sales to causes that positively impact our region.
In the end, the thing that is most fulfilling about what we do is the opportunity for our work to facilitate and provide a space for the creativity of others. Each book we make becomes a blank slate for the work of those living in our community and across the country. We’ve given a portable work space to artists, community activists, poets, fellow business owners and those just seeking a more creative lifestyle. Our philosophy is that every great thought needs a blank page to give it life and we put care into every page and stitch with the hope that our books accompany you wherever life may lead.
A journal isn’t just paper and a cover; it’s memories sewn and bound into the narrative of your life.
Bluegrass Bookbinding began in 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. After graduating college with degrees in Chemistry and Fine Arts, Tess and Ben wanted to create something that was as functional as it was beautiful. Lifelong friends, they became business partners with the goal of making art that would in turn inspire others to make their own art.