Allison Brennan Stationer at The Social Type

Allison Brennan

Stationer at The Social Type  •  Los Angeles, California, USA


  • Interviewed by Emma Koi
  • Edited by Alissa Zimmerman-Exley

When Mother Maker was in it’s very early brainstorming phase, Allison Brennan was one of the first people on my list of women to interview. Allison and I went to high school together, and met as members of our competitive marching band (don’t laugh, marching band was cool at our school!). Allison was a couple grades older than me, and I always looked up to her. She was kind and focused, and oh so stylish. Realizing her dream of moving to Los Angeles after finishing art school, Allison teamed up with a friend and started The Social Type, a stationery company and paper goods store in Los Angeles, California. She lives with her husband and their (almost) three year old daughter Olympia, who they call "Pia". Thanks for reading. Love, Emma.

Where did you grow up, and how were the arts a part of your childhood? I grew up in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, which is right outside Madison, Wisconsin. From a very young age I always loved art; it’s what called me, what I was excited about. My art and music classes were the reason I was excited to go to school. I played the flute for several years, and the cello for one year. I also took dance classes after school from age three until I was 14, and was on the dance team in high school.

Allison Brennan, with her husband Sean, and daughter Pia. Photo: Stephanie Todaro

I know these days some kids aren’t as fortunate to be able to take art and music classes in public school, but those classes really helped shape who I was. I was always involved in the arts in some aspect, and my favorite teachers and professors were always art teachers.

I have now lived in California for 13 years, mostly in Los Angeles, but two of those years were spent in San Francisco.

“I know these days some kids aren’t as fortunate to be able to take art and music classes in public school, but those classes really helped shape who I was. I was always involved in the arts in some aspect, and my favorite teachers and professors were always art teachers.”

Can you tell us a little bit about your business? The Social Type is a greeting card company that I run with a close friend of mine. We technically launched the business in 2010, but we really launched our first collection in 2012. Up until last year we had been exclusively wholesale, selling greeting cards and paper products to boutiques across the country, and in Europe, Australia and Japan.

Then in December last year we opened our first retail location, which is kind of an extension of our wholesale brand. It’s a place where we can sell our own paper goods, but we also carry a lot of different other stationery brands and independent brands. We have a lot of friends in the industry so we try to buy a lot of their products, which really allows us to have a story behind everything we sell. It’s fun for us, and the customers really appreciate it too.

Allison at work in The Social Type's shop in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Stephanie Todaro

When and why did you decide to move to Los Angeles? Growing up, we had family in the Los Angeles area, so every spring break we would come to L.A. I just loved how different it was from Wisconsin. I also love Wisconsin, but there was something about the energy here, and obviously the sunshine.

I always wanted to go to school here, but I didn’t. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which has a great art program. And because I didn’t go to college here, as soon as I graduated I knew I needed to move out here and at least give it a try. I knew L.A., and always loved L.A., so that’s where I went and that’s where I’ve stayed.

“I knew L.A., and always loved L.A., so that’s where I went and that’s where I’ve stayed.”

How did motherhood come into the picture for you and your business? I always wanted to be a mom, but I wasn’t super psyched about having kids until I turned 30. And then the baby fever started. At that point we had established our business (which at the time was only wholesale), so we had figured out what we were doing. We were at a point where I felt like we had enough people on our team that it would be okay if I decided to get pregnant. We knew we could figure it out and make it work: have the business and be a mom.

It was definitely planned. I don’t know that any time is right to have kids; you kind of just go with it. But my husband and I just thought, let’s see what happens. And we felt confident enough that if I were to get pregnant we could make it work. My business partner knew that I wanted kids, and that it was inevitable.

The Social Type paper goods. Photo: Stephanie Todaro

What kinds of things did you want to make sure were in line for the business before you got pregnant? Personally I felt ready. Well, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was ready to just go for it. But with the business, because we were only operating a wholesale company, I was really managing the day-to-day operations. So we hired someone and they sort of moved up and took over some of the wholesale management duties for me.

Fortunately, I had a pretty normal pregnancy, so we had those nine months to make the transition as easy as possible. I didn’t really take a super long maternity leave, but I was able to take some time and not feel pressure that I needed to be working. I was fortunate to be able to decide my own maternity leave. The unfortunate thing is that you can never completely turn off when you own your own business.

“I thought, “I’ll bring the Pack n’ Play to work, and Pia will just be able to play while I’m working. I’ll have energy. I’ll be able to work when she’s napping.” And to this day, she’s never napped by herself. So throw that out the window!”

Did you find that reality matched your expectations? I had some silly ideas of how it would be once I had Pia. I definitely thought I’d be able to get way more work done. I’m sure a lot of moms can relate, but I thought, “I’ll bring the Pack n’ Play to work, and Pia will just be able to play while I’m working. I’ll have energy. I’ll be able to work when she’s napping.” And to this day, she’s never napped by herself. So throw that out the window! So much of what I thought I’d be able to do is just not true. Adjusting those expectations was probably the hardest thing.

I can relate! I knew that I would be busy. I knew that things would change, but somehow I didn’t account for the fact that I’d be tired all the time. I just thought, well, he’s gonna sleep like 16 hours a day, right? So why don’t I just get things done then? For starters, I did not anticipate the anxiety of  making sure they’re still breathing while they’re sleeping, so it’s impossible to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I just didn’t have any energy to do my work. I did not anticipate that. That initial “first time mom” fear of everything, too. I’ll probably never get over it. I still have it and she’s three now. I think it gets a little easier, but I was just like afraid all the time: “Is she breathing? Is she breathing?”

Scorpio Zodaic Matchbox by The Social Type.

What is your artistic role for the business now? Are you still doing most of the designing? Yes. When we started out, it was really just us: my business partner and I designing and wanting to do something creative. Now our business is growing, so we both have to wear multiple hats: creative and non-creative. We still design the line together for the most part, but that’s just a tiny part of the business at this point.

Our designs are what sell and what make us money ultimately, but there are so many other little things that have to be done now that we have the store: buying and curating a store selection, merchandising it, keeping our wholesale afloat, working with our sales reps. Every day we are doing something different for the business. Fortunately we were just able to hire another person, so we are growing and adding to the team.

Does Pia show any interest in art yet? Yeah. She really does. I don’t feel like I’m pushing it on her, but she sees me enjoy it, so she loves it. She really loves to color and paint. She just started ballet. She loves singing and dancing, all of that. It’s really exciting to see.

Pia, Sean and Allison.

What inspires you in your creative work? I feel most inspired when I travel, and we love traveling as a family when we can. Traveling with a child is really exciting because you see things a little bit differently. You see things that your child sees that you wouldn’t necessarily see. We love traveling together, but I do love traveling by myself too.

Where have you gone with Pia? She’s been to Hawaii, New York, New Orleans, Wisconsin and Washington. 

“I feel most inspired when I travel, and we love traveling as a family when we can. Traveling with a child is really exciting because you see things a little bit differently.”

I think some people are afraid to travel with kids, but maybe it’s not that hard. I think so too. Every May, The Social Type goes to New York for the National Stationery Show. With setup and the show, it’s a week long trip. So after Pia was born and I had the show, Sean had to bring her because I was still nursing her. She was five months at the time, and having the trade show, having to have Sean bring her to me to nurse, that wasn’t super easy. But, we learned she does great on planes. That was the first time we traveled with her.

On our second trip to Hawaii, we flew back in the evening and it was a five hour flight, and she scream-cried the entire way back. But that was several trips in, so we weren’t scared away by it, because we knew at that point that she was a great flier. She’s pretty great traveling.

Allison, Pia and Sean.

What are some of the challenges you faced when you went back to work? I was completely off for about a month, and I kind of eased back into work. I think one of the most challenging things was trying to figure out a balance. I don’t think I had postpartum depression, but I definitely went through a wide range of emotions right after Pia was born. There were moments when I was like, “Ah, I can’t do this anymore!” And those were brief, but people talk about that a lot. They talk about severe postpartum depression, but those are normal things that I think almost a lot of women go through. It’s not just roses all the time, where you you pop out a baby, and you’re like “woohoo!”

“It’s not just roses all the time, where you you pop out a baby, and you’re like ‘woohoo!’”

I think so too, and I think the fact that we have a label for it: Postpartum Depression, makes it more difficult to talk about. It’s hard to admit that you have a “thing.” But I think, how can you not struggle? This is such a dramatic shift of life and perspective. One of the biggest challenges for me was figuring out nursing and pumping being back at work. I think a lot of moms who are nursing face this challenge. I fortunately have my own company, so I went back to work at 25 days, and not full time, but a day week, and then 2 days, but having to keep pumping while I was at work was hard. We just have an open studio, so I’d make a big announcement to everyone: “I’m going to the bathroom to nurse for 20 minutes. Anyone need to use it?!” And I probably could have done it at my desk, and no one would have cared. Everyone that was part of The Social Type team was like, “You can do it at your desk. We do not care.” and I’m like, “I know, I’m just a little prudish.” So I’d always go pump in the bathroom.

Keeping up with the nursing is exhausting. It’s amazing, but exhausting. That was a big challenge, and I did not anticipate all of the work involved in just pumping and nursing. I nursed just past Pia’s first birthday, and it definitely got easier over time.

Allison at work at The Social Type. Photo: Stephanie Todaro

What did you do for childcare while you were at work? Pia has a nanny who has been like a second mom for our family. She has been with us since Pia was 25 days old. 

The Social Type shop in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Stephanie Todaro

Did you decide to hire a nanny before you had Pia? We did. We met her through a family that she was with for 18 years; she started with their oldest son on his 25th day, which is funny. They have three boys, so she was with them through everything. Their youngest was old enough that they no longer needed constant care, so they wanted to help find a good place for her to continue nannying. We just hit it off. She’s amazing, and we couldn’t live without her.

That is incredible. I wish I had had the foresight to know we needed outside care, because that was one of the biggest struggles for me. We were kind of doing it on our own. Even though we have family close by, we didn’t have a lot of help. And I wish I had known, because as soon as we got childcare everything changed. We have a couple family members out here, but not any really close immediate family. My sister was here when Pia was born, but we knew that they would be moving. So I think knowing that, we anticipated that we would probably need a little time, whether it was for work or personal time. Our nanny started with us at 25 days, for about eight hours a week, and then 16 hours a week, and then over the last almost three years, that time has increased, and now she’s here five days a week.  Some of that will change a little bit when Pia starts going to preschool, but we’re not sending her to preschool quite yet.

Sean, Pia and Allison on Pia's first birthday. Photo: Stephanie Todaro

What do you see for the future, for your business and for your family? We are still growing the business. Our store still feels really new, even though it’s almost a year old. We are working on growing our customer base, and growing to a point where I could step back a little bit. I kind of did step back when Pia was born, and then we opened the store on the two year anniversary of her due date. She was born December 20, 2014, and we opened the store December 18, 2016.

“It kind of felt like the store was a second baby. I’ve been working my butt off, trying to grow it to a point where I can step back a little bit and focus more on family, simplifying things, trying to make life a little bit less stressful.”

It kind of felt like the store was a second baby. I’ve been working my butt off, trying to grow it to a point where I can step back a little bit and focus more on family, simplifying things, trying to make life a little bit less stressful.

I would like another baby at some point, but who knows. I’m not getting any younger! I’m not going to put that pressure on myself either. I would love it if it happened, but at the same time there’s 10 percent of me that is like, “Whoa, that was a lot of work.” So we’ll see.

“Find a network of moms that supports you, and cut yourself some slack!”

What advice would you give to other Mother Makers? Women who are trying to make a career in the creative arts, and also have a family? Don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself. Really, it takes a village—as so many people say—but it really does. Pia is almost three years old, and I don’t feel that I have found the balance yet.

Find a network of moms that supports you, and cut yourself some slack! The mom guilt is real, and I think all moms feel that way. We all need to be supportive of ourselves and each other!

  • Published October 27, 2017
  • Interviewed by Emma Koi on October 16, 2017
  • Edited by Alissa Zimmerman-Exley
  • Photography from: