Susan Hazel Rich


Susan Hazel Rich


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After graduating from Kent State University in 2005 with a degree in Visual Communication Design, Susan Hazel Rich worked her way across the design spectrum—from non-profit, to boutique firm, to corporate agency, to publishing company—before eventually taking on design clients of her own. “It was at this point that I realized owning my own business and taking on those entrepreneurial challenges was something that I really love.” While working with small businesses, Susan realized she would like to try her hand at creating her own products. In 2018, after four years of simultaneously working with clients and developing her own line of products, Susan transitioned to working full time as the sole owner and illustrator of Hazelmade. 
When Susan first began Hazelmade (a combination of her great aunt’s first name—as well as her own middle name—and handmade) she was creating every card by hand. “I didn’t think about packaging or cost margins. I wasn’t distracted by industry standards. And truthfully, I didn’t know what wholesale meant.” She began to invest slowly in the business, starting with a home printer and later building up partnerships with small businesses that allowed her to expand her product line. “From the start I made loads of mistakes, and looking back at some of my first designs is hard. But, I feel so proud that I jumped in, didn’t hold back, and of how hard I’ve worked on building Hazelmade. I tried and failed—and failed pretty miserably at times—but I kept going and pushing and getting better all the time striving for a product that I was proud to call my own. I couldn’t be where I am today without that first hand-drawn card and all the growth that happened over the last 6 years.” Hazelmade is now a thriving line of hand illustrated, Midwest made, paper, gift, and home goods, available to customers online or at local events, as well as in 300+ stores worldwide. 
Public Utility: How have you seen Hazelmade grow and change since its start?

Susan Hazel Rich: Despite my background in branding and design, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to balance being both the client and designer for Hazelmade. Within the last few years I’ve felt like I’ve established enough understanding of the production and business side of things that I was able to focus more on the brand to better communicate the core values of Hazelmade—USA/Midwest made, quality details, and everyday beauty—through refined packaging and marketing materials. Additionally, this year I launched 4 collection sets to create cohesion and flow from one product category to another through shared design elements, color, and patterns. I’m trying to focus on really sharing the values of Hazelmade through every post, product, and piece of this company.


What’s a typical day like? 

I start early, usually around 7am. After a few chores around the house and plenty of coffee I move to my home-based office to start my day. I begin by catching up on filling orders, emails, and bookkeeping. I usually spend the afternoon at my desk following up with shop owners who’ve recently received a shipment, have a question, or are looking for more information on my products. I’ll also spend some part of every day on one or more of the following: website updates, taxes, invoices, eNewsletters, meetings, social media, banking, post office runs, selling, promoting, making calls, answering emails, scheduling etc.

Before I wrap up for the day I usually try to clean and organize both my office and studio spaces. This also allows me a minute to catch up on what supplies we’re running low on and what I need to order. I also usually end each day with a hot yoga class, trip to the gym, or walk around my neighborhood.

In general, I spend very little time illustrating and creating new work. I typically illustrate in my “free” time outside of that 9-5 mentality—so in the evenings while I sit on my couch or porch, or on the weekends in a coffee shop or at the library. I know this often sounds sad to people, but truly I enjoy the process of building this business just as much as I do creating.


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“From the start I made loads of mistakes and looking back at some of my first designs is hard, but I feel so proud that I jumped in and didn’t hold back.”

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Where do you typically do your work? What do you like about your space?

Hazelmade occupies one floor of my house so there’s space for the studio which is where all the product is stored, packaged and shipments are fulfilled. I love the amount of space I have now. Early on I had very little room to store products and was constantly hauling bins from one room to another—nothing had its place. Of course, I dream of a large space that would be outside of my home and even more organized, but for now I’m extremely grateful that I have a few rooms to spread out in.


What do you listen to while you work?

My go-to is usually a podcast. 

Any podcasts you recommend?

Invisiblia, Hidden Brain, Throughline, Radio Lab, Heavyweight, Reveal, and Serial.

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“I’m trying to focus on really sharing the values of Hazelmade through every post, product, and piece of this company.”

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Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

My inspiration often comes from a mix of places. I gather a lot of inspiration from the outdoors. When I’m walking on the paths near our house or in the nearby parks I take a lot of pictures of leaves, trees, flowers, and foliage. I also am lucky to have incredible gardens surrounding our house.

I try to travel internationally as often as possible which presents a range of inspirations. Hiking new landscapes I can find new plants and flowers to photograph and archive for reference. A recent trip to the remote Dingle Peninsula in Ireland was full of plant material and natural textures I’d never seen before. I also really enjoy pattern work in architecture and interiors, so I’m always photographing tile or other architectural features when we explore new cities. A few years ago, I was very lucky to visit Morocco and I’m still soaking in all the less obvious neutral, yet intense, color palettes in the more “everyday” or simple structures in the cities there.

I also reference a lot from food and cooking. I love to cook at home, with friends, and even when I’m traveling. I never pass up a chance to visit a market or grocery store when I’m somewhere new. There’s a lot of detail in the food we eat as far as texture, shape, and color; and the ways in which we combine those elements together.

“There’s just something about the colors, shapes, and textures of food that I really love.”

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Describe the process of creating a new product. 

I never start with a product in mind but instead allow myself to draw more freely. I don’t want to put limitations on my creative process and when I sit down to make a “Birthday Card,” inevitably that’s the last thing I can seem to create.

When I sit down to sketch I usually reference books or photos. I try to have very little digital distraction in my way. I like hand making an inspiration board ahead of time with a few reference photos, some color palette or texture options, and other pieces to draw from so that I’m not flipping through my phone while I’m trying to create.

Once a sketch develops enough I’ll begin to see a certain type of product. I’ll then refine the sketch thinking more specifically about the dimensions and print process for that product. It takes about 10 to 50 hand drawn sketches for an artwork to form into the space of a product. After those hand drawn sketches are complete I’ll move to the computer to clean the artwork up, add color, and prepare the file for print. Generally, I run at least 1 sample of each product before moving into a full production.


Do you have a favorite product? Is there a product people can’t seem to get enough of?

I would say that the tea towels are an all around favorite. I love creating them because they are a solid design challenge in their size and color restrictions. My tea towels are screen printed which means each color in the design has to have a separate screen made for the ink to be applied. In order to keep the cost down, I’m limited to 2–3 ink colors. Additionally, the maximum screen size for applying the inks is 14 x 16” and working so tightly in a square sometimes proves difficult with the organic nature of my designs.

I’m also extremely proud of the materials and process I worked so hard to source for these with 100% cotton flour sack and Midwest sewn towels and printing. It’s incredibly difficult to find a USA made towel that is actually absorbent and lint free, so these are a real win for me. I think because of all those details and the passion I put into each design these have become the top selling product for me and are enjoyed by customers all over the world. 

What are some future goals for Hazelmade?

This year I hope to find a space outside of my home that we can build out into a real true studio for Hazelmade. I dream of lots of space for shelving and storage, a packaging area, and standing height tables for processing materials. I hope to travel to NYC in February 2021 to exhibit for the 3rd time at the NYNow gift show and debut my 7th collection there in some new and exciting ways. Mostly, I want to continue to grow in more physical ways like my space, team, and products.  

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“I’ve met so many people through my work. People reach out to say how much they love a product, how something I’m making reminds them of something their grandmother had or how they loved the excuse to send a card in the mail.”

Outside of your business, what is art’s role in your life? In what other ways are you an artist?

In addition to design and illustration I also enjoy printmaking. I took a few classes in my undergrad, but more recently I was able to take several studio MFA classes at KSU. I love working with screen printing, cyanotypes, and monotype printing. My printmaking work moves away from the precision of design or illustration and I tend to work more freely using plant material and natural found objects to “block out” my print areas and create more forms and shapes with a focus on texture and color. I’ve found that I love the relative speed of printmaking in contrast to my illustration and design work. I also love that by using found objects to “block out” my print areas, I’m able to work without the computer and I very much enjoy the hands on aspect. I also love that printmaking can be an opportunity to embrace imperfections; if an ink doesn’t lay down perfectly I need to find a way to problem solve  or work with the imperfection—there’s no “delete” button which I love. What’s nice about design, illustration, and printmaking is that together they all support the same ideas. I can explore color, texture, and composition through each, but in very different ways. I tend to allow myself to be more bold with color in printmaking which ultimately will in some way inform my color palettes in my illustration work. I can also lean into experience in one area to help as I learn a new skill in another. For example, after years of working with print production through graphic design I had a solid base of understanding to pull into my printmaking when I was getting started. 


What’s your favorite thing to do in Kent?

I live close to downtown, so whatever I’m doing usually involves a walk to town. Coffee at Bent Tree is always top of my list. In the spring and summer I look forward to walks along the river or through the empty campus. In the fall I love Beckwith’s Orchard and taking walks in Towner’s Woods.

How do you feel art is useful to your community?

Art brings people together and creates connections. Walking around Kent there are so many murals, sculptures, and events that bring people together or define what’s unique about our community. Looking specifically at something like Kent Art in the Park, I’m blown away every year how many people come to this event and are so proud of the artists, makers, and designers within their community.

From my personal perspective I’ve met so many people through my work. People reach out to say how much they love a product, how something I’m making reminds them of something their grandmother had or how they loved the excuse to send a card in the mail. These are connections and conversations I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

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To respect social distancing guidelines, all photos were provided by Susan Hazel Rich.