Posted 27 November 2017
Interview by Marianne Hanoun

A passion for paper: We go inside G . F Smith’s Show Space

In an increasingly digital landscape, the team at G . F Smith are proving that paper still very much has a place. Founded in 1885 by intrepid paper merchant, George Frederick Smith, G . F Smith is now a household name in the design world. Starting out over 130 years ago as an office and warehouse in both London and Hull, Smith travelled the world in search of the finest papers. Last year the company opened the doors of its newest location: the G . F Smith Show Space in Fitzrovia, West London. Part product showroom and collaborative event space, part working office, it’s a place for potential clients to meet with the team. Here, students and professionals alike tap into an unrivalled catalogue of paper and seek out specialist knowledge on everything from portfolios and books to envelopes and invites. As brand patrons and supporters of Lecture in Progress, the G . F Smith team invited us in, where we spoke to director of business development Margaret Sweeney, who explained why people will always remain at the heart of everything they do.

The team’s Ellen Baillie Carter at work inside the Show Space


We opened the G . F Smith Show Space January 2017 so that people could come and experience the personal side of our business, and understand how unique we are as a company.

We are a team of six based in the heart of Fitzrovia in London. The area is central to our clients, has good transport links and is a really inspirational place; full of colour and texture. The space embodies the passion the team have for the brand and delivering the best possible service. Visitors are taken on a personal tour, where they can immerse themselves in our proud history, innovative products and bespoke services. Since opening our doors, we have had over 7,000 visitors and are committed to our space continuing to be a source of inspiration to existing and new clients alike.

“We put the client’s needs at the heart of everything we do – it’s only by truly understanding their vision that we can help them to bring it to life.”

We put our clients’ needs at the heart of everything we do – it’s only by truly understanding their vision that we can help them bring it to life. Our team of expert consultants work with our clients to help them navigate G . F Smith’s portfolio of unique products. In some cases confidentiality is necessary, and we’ll need to sign NDAs. Clients can also use our Show Space to host their own clients or team sessions.

Inside the G . F Smith Show Space
Brand production manager Jo Pitts, director of business development Margaret Sweeney and Show Space supervisor Beth Powell
Part of the display at the Show Space

The Work

At G . F Smith we are always embarking on amazing journeys. We take on groundbreaking collaborations with some of the most inspiring British and global brands, and the Show Space allows us to showcase this work.

Our first collaboration was with Mulberry, and showcased our bespoke colour-making service. ‘The Mulberry Green’ was central to their rebrand under the leadership of creative director, Johnny Coca. We also got to preview ‘The Making Of Mulberry Green’ – a film showing how the colour evolved from an idea to a fully fledged product. To date, this has been one of my favourite client projects. To deliver Mulberry’s innovative and exacting vision was one of the most technically challenging projects I have ever worked on.

“Our first collaboration was with Mulberry, and showcased our bespoke colour-making service. To date, this has been one of my favourite client projects.”

Collaborative work with Mulberry
A Show Space window display entitled ‘Turbulence’ during the ‘Tidal’ show
A shoot depicting the World’s Favourite Colour, Marrs Green, created together with Made Thought

Our latest collaboration, with Selfridges, is about sustainability in a world increasingly aware of its environmental responsibilities. Our new pioneering paper product, Extract, is at the heart of this. Extract is made from recycled coffee cups, and is a symbol of how the cost of busy modern life on-the-go can be turned into a positive. We worked with creative agency Made Thought to help execute this vision and, as always, they did not disappoint. In other work, we also launched the ‘World’s Favourite Colour’, named Marrs Green, which also far exceeded our expectations.

We are lucky to have so many brands who want to work with us. We’ve been inundated with requests from different creative sectors looking to collaborate and host their events at the Show Space. Due to the sheer number of these requests, we now ask our paper consultants to present these to us as a team for discussion and selection. The calendar for the year ahead is almost full – so we’re looking ahead to a year every bit as exciting and busy as the last!

An ocean-themed installation, entitled ‘Tidal’ by Made Thought, in the downstairs White Space gallery in Show Space
G . F Smith’s recent collaboration with Selfridges in the Show Space

The Team

At G . F Smith it’s our people who make the company what it is. As director of business development, I lead on all things to do with the Show Space and have a wonderful team of three around me. Beth, our Show Space supervisor supports me in the day-to-day running of the space. Ellen offers administrative support and a personality to meet and greet people that chimes with our commitment to excellent customer service.

Our brand team is led by our director of brand, Emily [Axten], who is full of ideas and an infectious passion about how to bring our brand to life in the Show Space. The vital job of taking the vision and translating it into reality falls to our brand production manager Jo, who never fails to deliver. And our digital brand coordinator, Charlotte [Haslam], has made a remarkable impact in driving awareness of our brand online, in ever more creative and innovative ways.

Team members Jane Crowther and Vanessa Fletcher at work
Brand production manager Jo Pitts
Inside the G . F Smith Show Space

Charlotte also somehow finds the time to lend a helping hand to everyone in the team. This epitomises what we’re about – clear on our own roles, committed to delivering but, vitally, close and there for each other. Whatever comes up we all help – no task too big or too small, regardless of job title. When recruiting, we look for a team player with great passion for customer service, a commitment to deliver, a hunger to learn and the confidence to share their ideas.

We currently have our first intern, who has been with us for almost three months. Her name is Carlotta and is an employee from one of our global partners in Milan. She has been a wonderful addition to our team and has brought another dimension with her insight into the international scene; we will be sorry to see her go!

As a company we invest in our people, giving them the support they need to realise their potential, in what we hope will be a long and rewarding career with us. We treat everyone fairly, offering benefits across a range of areas. We value loyalty and great service, and recognise that in the benefits we offer our people as their time with us grows.

Inside the Show Space
The team at work inside the G . F Smith Show Space
Jo Pitts and Margaret Sweeney

Photography by Sophie Stafford
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
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