We Design: People. Practice. Progress.
Owner & Artist • Kwohtations Cards
Janine Kwoh owns, creates, and operates a handmade stationery company and letterpress print and design studio called Kwohtations.
Photos courtesy of Janine Kwoh
There is this notion that successful entrepreneurs and businesses are overnight successes, and that huge risks and investments are involved. Luckily it is just one of many paths. I built up my business on the side while working full-time for seven years before taking the leap; this is the way that worked for me. Remember that it’s never an all-or-nothing situation—there is always room for creativity and entrepreneurial endeavors, and you should feel empowered to right-size and evolve them to fit your circumstances, and nobody else’s.
Janine Kwoh is the owner, artist, and one-person assembly line behind Kwohtations, a handmade stationery company and letterpress print and design studio, based in Brooklyn, NY. Kwohtations is a collection of greeting cards, art prints, and other curiosities that reflect and celebrate a diversity of identities and life experiences, and always includes some humor and whimsy. Janine heads up operations and finance, the creative division, the production team, and customer service all at once. A self-described introvert, Janine spent her childhood engaged in solo activities like reading and making art, which sparked her lifelong appreciation for having a rich inner world. She graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in business economics.
Ten years ago, I was working in finance with a hobby. Five years ago, I was working at a nonprofit with a side business. Now I make art full-time.
While working in finance, Janine began making greeting cards as a creative outlet. While this first job gave her valuable professional experience, she realized that it was not the right environment for her and left to work at a venture philanthropy non-profit that was more aligned with her values, and also allowed her more time to make cards. Over the next few years, she evolved her greeting card hobby into a side business, Kwohtations, while working full-time.
Seven years after making her first greeting card, she transitioned to being a full-time artist. This decade-long career shift from finance to art allowed Janine to build up her business on the side while working to remain financially stable. Kwohtations has given her the freedom to work for herself, experiment with the creative aspects of the business, and spend more time with loved ones. While happy with her business, she is open to the fact that it may not be her last job.
Photo courtesy of Janine Kwoh
Photo by Matt Coch Photography
Letterpressed: A Craft Maker Celebrates the Messy and the Beautiful
Janine Kwoh is the founder of Kwohtations, a handmade stationery company and letterpress print & design studio, based in Brooklyn, NY. Janine discusses how she transitioned from working in finance and making cards on the side as a creative outlet to running her small business full time.
Video produced by Opalite Media
Photo courtesy of Janine Kwoh
Endless Possibilities in Art
“I’ve always been quiet, introverted, and somewhat anxiety-ridden—as a child, I gravitated toward solo activities that engaged my imagination,” Janine said. “I really loved to draw and craft, and could entertain myself for hours on end with all of the possibilities presented by a stack of paper, markers, scissors, and glue.”
I don’t remember when I first decided that being an artist wasn’t a viable option as a career, but middle school art class was the last formal art class that I took, and I graduated college with a business economics degree for no other reason than it seemed practical. I’m glad that I proved myself wrong.
Leading as a “Model Minority”
“As a Chinese woman who is quiet, studious, organized, hardworking, and generally a rule-follower, I’m painfully aware that I fit the image of the ‘model minority,’ and the assumptions that others may have, in terms of how they may perceive me as a valuable individual contributor but not as a leader, as well as reinforcing harmful stereotypes about Asians and other minority groups,” Janine said. “It has taken me many years to see, embrace, and advocate for a quieter—but no less powerful—form of leadership that centers more around listening, doing the work, and building close, one-on-one connections over time.”
“We need to do a better job supporting storytellers—whether it’s artists, filmmakers, musicians, or authors,” Janine said. “The reality is that the ‘utility’ of artists is still not as widely seen or acknowledged as other professions, and so it’s difficult to make a living from being an artist. As a result, many people keep their art on the side or stop making art entirely out of necessity, and we lose the opportunity to hear voices that need to be heard.”
Photo courtesy of Janine Kwoh
Freedom to Grow
“I design, produce, and sell my line of greeting cards and gifts through an online storefront, independent retail shops, and craft fairs, and I also do custom design and printing work,” Janine said. “I love the freedom of working for myself, in terms of being able to freely experiment with and evolve the direction of my business and art, being able to determine my day-to-day work schedule, and also being able to spend time on myself and others. It is such a privilege to be able to make art for a living, and to be able to work on projects that I both enjoy and think are important ideas to bring to life.”
On the Road to Success
“There is this notion that successful entrepreneurs and businesses are overnight successes, and that huge risks and investments are involved,” Janine said. “Luckily it is just one of many paths. I built up my business on the side while working full-time for seven years before taking the leap. This is the way that worked for me. Remember that it’s never an all-or-nothing situation – there is always room for creativity and entrepreneurial endeavors, and you should feel empowered to adjust and evolve them to fit your circumstances, and nobody else’s.”
“Today, some likenesses, voices, and stories are well-represented in meaningful and multifaceted ways. Historically, these are typically centered around White, privileged, straight, able-bodied, cisgender men,” Janine said. “Conversely, those who are part of marginalized communities are often reduced to flat characterizations or even non-existence. As a result, many of the images and narratives that we regularly engage with distort or erase the complexity and diversity of our lived experiences. The danger of this is that our unfamiliarity with or mischaracterization of others can turn into fear and even hatred once we start to see others as more different than similar to us.”