Two decades ago, fresh out of university Heidi and Dom Early launched a card stall in Spitalfields Market.
In those days Dom was also the drummer in a band, his brother ran the Blue Legume and they were regulars in Stoke Newington (his band sometimes performed at Stokey’s legendary festival). So, when a lease became available for a shop unit, they leapt at the chance.
Today, Earlybird has a shop on Stoke Newington Church Street and runs a thriving wholesale business, supplying cards to the likes of Oliver Bonas, Scribbler, Postmark, Card Zone and a range of independents in the UK, America, Australia, Germany and Finland.
As the business celebrates its 20th anniversary, Heidi has been reflecting on the journey.
“Dom and I met in halls of residence. I was at London College of Printing and he was at Central St Martins. We’ve been together for 28 years!
“When Dom first started designing and selling cards, I was working as a journalist and helping him in my spare time. We did that for a while and, when we heard Spitalfields was relocating the market, we started looking at other locations. We’d always loved Stoke Newington.
“As a journalist, I wrote about the government initiatives coming in and how they impacted small businesses – I quickly realised I didn’t want to write about it anymore, I wanted to do it! I love going into the shop, talking to people and doing the trade-shows. We get to make really wonderful connections.
“When we opened our first shop, I was pregnant with Oliver. Our customers always asked about the pregnancy and especially loved our ridiculous and scary birth story (I had a two-hour labour and Dom delivered the baby at home because the midwife couldn’t get there).
“While other mums I knew were taking time off, Oliver came to work with me most days – we had a baby-bouncer on the door and a cot in the back. As he got bigger, he was constantly trying to get in the till! Over the years he and our daughter Amelia have spent a fair bit of time helping in the shop.
“We didn’t really start selling cards to wholesale until my mum retired and was able to help look after the children. Getting into Paperchase was a real high point for us and though they sadly closed, we’ve been lucky enough to get other new exciting contracts.”
Earlybird later moved to a new shop unit closer to the High Street (opposite the Three Crowns). Heidi and Dom play a central role in community life – helping to organise many of the area’s events – from the Halloween trail to the Constellations Christmas light initiative.
As well as the highs, the Earlybird team have encountered plenty of lows – Covid, the cost-of-living crisis and the price hikes brought about by Brexit have all had an impact.
The business won two RETA awards - one for best independent greeting card retailer in London and one for their Thinking of You week retailer initiative. This year one of their card ranges was shortlisted for a Henries Award – they’ll find out if they’ve won in October.
Heidi added: “Stoke Newington is so unique and cutting edge. We love our customers; they’re so on it in in terms of the environment and the community here is amazing.
“The future is really exciting – the dream is to make Earlybird Cards a known brand nationally and internationally. We’re also determined to work with trade organisations like the east end Trades Guild, the British Independent Retailers Association and the Greetings Card Association to ensure that retail and our high streets remain relevant in the future. I truly believe that our high streets are the backbone of our communities and society so it's our job as small business owners to make sure customers still want to come to them.
In another 20 years, I'll be 67 and Dom 68, and I think we will still be working in some form. Earlybird is our baby, it's entwined in our whole life and we love it, so I think it will be a part of us in some form or another until the day we die!”