At the time I was working four days a week in a local housing association call centre. I'd been doing my illustrations as a hobby, and had been selling greetings cards and prints online for around 18 months, which had started to become more of a reliable supplementary income - it had meant I could drop a day at work, and I was really enjoying having Fridays as my dedicated "drawing day".
It was that funny bit between Christmas and New Year, I had a bit of time on my hands and I was thinking up some ideas for Valentine's cards. I'd drawn an "Alphabet of Cheese" and I simply pulled some of the little cheese drawings together and added the line "this was the cheesiest Valentine's card I could find".
Full disclosure; I'd also played with the idea of "the sweetest Valentine..." with some little cake illustrations, and "the fruitiest Valentine..." with little apples and bananas. For some reason these didn't end up having the same pull as the cheesy monster!
I posted my ideas on Facebook - at the time my only social media platform - and the response was incredible. A few people were asking if they could buy a Cheesy Valentine already. I got them listed on Etsy and Notonthehighstreet, and they started to sell right away. My account manager at NOTHS emailed to say that the concept was great, and she anticipated I'd sell a lot.
Great, I thought. I clearly remember sitting in my little spare bedroom and printing off twenty (yes, twenty!) cards, carefully packaging them, and thinking I was really prepared.
How wrong I was.
By late January I was getting 50-60 orders a day for Cheesy Valentine’s Cards. It was incredible, unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was just about managing, but juggling this with an almost full-time job was starting to prove tricky. On 31st January 2014 (fortunately a designated "drawing day") I woke up to a full inbox – bulging with new notonthehighstreet.com orders.
I rushed to my computer, still in my pyjamas, and started work. The orders kept coming. And coming. I’d never seen anything like it. I had to shut my emails because the pinging of new orders was becoming quite overwhelming. By teatime I’d had over 400 orders; I’d run out of card and envelopes already. I just kept packing as best I could, while calling suppliers to arrange express delivery of the stock I needed, and work to arrange some annual leave. I was so unprepared for this!
My spare room was so full that I had to store the full mail sacks in my bedroom. I remember at one point becoming so overwhelmed by I was sobbing – while still packing orders. That evening I took piles of orders downstairs so I could carry on packing in front of the TV.
By the end of that day I’d had a record 565 orders through notonthehighstreet.com. I found out out they’d shared a link to the Cheesy Valentine's Card on their Facebook page and it had gone viral.
That Monday I had a call from my NOTHS account manager to check if I was okay. The volume of orders for this one product, meant I'd been discussed in the NOTHS Monday morning meeting, and they wanted to check I was okay, and able to continue fulfilling orders.
The following weeks the sales continued – looking back now it’s a blur of sheer exhaustion, with not enough food or sleep, being held together by the unwavering support of my amazing friends, who were coming to help me in shifts – two in the morning and two in the afternoon. We sat and folded and packed in my little spare room, and there are little pockets of that time that I remember being really lovely. But mostly – if I’m honest – I just remember the sheer exhaustion.
On 9th February that year my first niece was born. I couldn't travel the 2 hours to go and meet her right away, as I was buried in piles of orders. I had also made a lot of money - more than I'd ever had before - and these two things emboldened me to hand my notice in at the call centre. I sent the email on the 10th February, and worked my last shift on the 10th March.
The Cheesy Valentine gave way to the Cheesy Mother's Day card, followed by the Cheesy Father's Day, Birthday, Wedding, Engagement, Anniversary and Christmas cards... I was unsure at first, but the figures spoke for themselves. People were loving them - but none were as popular as the Valentine's original.
By the Valentine's 2015 I was in a shared studio space. I had my studiomates and friends helping again, and it was even busier - breaking even more records for the number of daily orders. It was just as incredible, and just as exhausting (but at least this time I was a little more prepared, and I had a bit of separation between my work and home).
2016 was another busy one - and over the subsequent years the Cheesy range of cards has continued to be popular. It's been copied so many times, including by one huge high street retailer (urgh), but the original continues to sell - although Valentine's season is nowhere near as crazy for me any more. I worked out recently that this one design has made me over £100K over the past ten years - not bad going really!
It was such a lucky combination - coming up with the right card at the right time, being seen by the right person - but then being able to get my head down and doing the hard work of fulfilling all those orders. I'd never have been able to do it without the help of my friends either, and for that I'm so grateful.