There is something incredibly comforting — and reassuringly nostalgic — about physical stationery products in a world that has become increasingly digital.
“I love the tactility of working with physical material,” Pith co-founder Liam Goward tells me. “If I’m ever stuck on a creative problem, whether that is visual or verbal, I always pull out my notebook or sketchbook. Technology doesn’t allow my brain to flow; it’s filled with too many distractions.”
Based in Northumberland, in the market town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Pith designs and manufactures considered high-quality stationery products. Established in early 2020 by Andrew Hardie and Liam Goward, the brand has a mission to elevate creatives through community, exposure and affordable materials. They firmly believe that quality products shouldn’t cost the earth, and they certainly shouldn’t damage it – which is a sentiment we wholeheartedly agree with here at Fabric of the North.
“In the beginning, we were designing books for ourselves,” Liam says. “Andrew and I were both frustrated with the lack of quality and attention to detail available on the market. I was using dot grid notebooks and the print quality was never very good, and the dots for me were always too big. What should be a guide to drawing was instead a distraction!”
“I’ve worked in the bookbinding and print industry for many years,” Andrew says, “and have a huge passion for craftsmanship and fine materials. Variations in qualities of the paper intrigue me; so much can be achieved with different applications and finishes.”
In setting up Pith, the pair were adamant they be able to design, print, bind and finish everything in-house, so as to allow them to touch and finesse every part of the process and ultimately create the most beautiful physical object.
I had never seen a book open flat like that; it was a complete revelation and has become the signature to our success.
“The first pages I designed were the dot grid,” says Liam. “Andrew tested lots of different papers and print weights to get the dots as crisp and fine as possible. After that, we experimented with how they should be bound. Andrew showed me lots of different techniques and we both fell in love with the exposed spine, from a visual and practical point of view. I had never seen a book open flat like that; it was a complete revelation and has become the signature to our success.”
Being planet-friendly was a primary consideration for Liam and Andrew in developing the Pith brand and incorporated in all processes, suppliers and materials right from the start. “Sustainability was never even a question for us,” says Liam. “From the very beginning we were naturally selecting materials that had a minimal environmental impact. We didn’t want to put something out into the world that would cause harm. The brand was built around sustainability, and is enveloped in everything we do.”
Pith use materials that are sustainable, recyclable, biodegradable and vegan wherever possible, and save all waste from their production process to be integrated into future products.“We always question ourselves,” says Andrew. “Why are we ordering from that supplier? Why are we using that material? There’s always a better alternative; it’s about the continual gains and improvements. It’s very difficult to have zero impact, but that has to be the goal we will forever be striving for. We are in no way perfect, but by holding ourselves accountable we can make progress in every area of our business.”
Pith’s first collection incorporates a refined selection of Sketchbooks, Notebooks, Planners and Pads, designed in collaboration with artists, illustrators and designers spanning multiple fields of expertise, including painter Dave Watson. “Community collaboration is at the centre of processes at Pith, and an element that will continue with every new product introduced to the collection,” Liam says.
Naturally, every day starts with coffee. “We are a small team, and all slightly coffee mad,” says Andrew, “so we make a big pot on the Moccamaster, and make our plans for the day. All our sketchbooks and notebooks are finished to order, so daily there is a lot of activity: making, wrapping and packing orders.”
Every Pith product begins with the finest sheets of paper they can source, which are then printed on an off-set litho press. These sheets are then folded into 16-page booklets, known as signatures. These are then collated and sewn to create book blocks, which are then clamped together to compress the signatures and hand-glued. The back cover board is then debossed with the Pith logo, before a fabric tab is applied to the inside of the back cover. The book blocks are then passed through glue rollers and the covers applied by hand. To achieve their crisp edges, the books are trimmed to size using a guillotine. Finally, the book is signed by its maker, wrapped and packed, ready to be shipped.
“The office is a hive of daily activity too,” says Liam, “We manage all design, marketing and communications in-house, so we are constantly working on campaigns, website development and our customer journey and experience.”
The pair relish their location in England’s most northerly town. “We are very lucky to be located right on the Northumberland coastline in Berwick upon Tweed. The landscape here is just incredible all year round. I think you can go anywhere along the East Coast, South or North into Scotland and you won’t be disappointed!”
When it comes to thinking about the future, they tell me they prefer to keep their focus in the here and now. “Right now we are enjoying the process of building Pith and creating products to reflect the needs of our creative community. We have a zestful year ahead of us already, with new collaborations, new partners, new products and new team members in the works… watch this space!”
All photography © Pith Supply / Lolafilm, used with permission.
Kate is the founder and editor of Fabric of the North, borne out of her passion for supporting mindful, aesthetic and sustainable small businesses. Based in the North West, by day she helps thoughtful small brands and solo business owners achieve meaningful growth through 1-2-1 guidance, intentional strategy and considered content creation. She is also a veteran blogger, having launched her award-winning interior lifestyle blog Fabric of my Life back in 2009.