Happy trails for Graphic Design grad

Some people while away the workday daydreaming about their happy place. Not Kristin McPherson. The founder of Happyland Print Shop mixes business with pleasure — day and night.

As communications manager at urban nature preserve FortWhyte Alive, the 2004 Graphic Design grad spends her weekdays where other people like to spend their weekends. When she goes home after work, Happyland is there waiting for her.

Since 2012, the 33-year-old entrepreneur has been increasingly successful at minding her own business, designing and selling prints, tote bags, pins and patches that celebrate Winnipeg’s quirks and customs — socials and salami shoulder, perogies and “majestic” Transcona’s pink flamingos, to name a few.

But McPherson doesn’t want to give up her day job.

“It’s a great gig. The role I’m in now I’m kind of like a one-person marketing department,” she says.

“I run the social media accounts, so every so often I get to go out and take photos of seasons changing or the wildlife that’s out there. It’s really nice; it’s nice to start my day with a walk on our trails with my camera. It’s a pretty incredible place to work — I like to go to work every day. It’s like going to a cabin in the woods, basically.”

There’s also the satisfaction of knowing she’s had a positive impact, helping to guide programming and beefing up the non-profit’s social media presence to attract more young adults — and keep them coming back for repeat visits.

“We see people coming out as students in elementary school, and then we don’t see them again until they have families of their own or are retired, so there’s this whole group of people who just want to get out there and have all these experiences and spend time in nature,” she says.

“We see young people wandering around with cameras all the time now, whereas five years ago when I started it would be rare I think to see that.”

Her dual roles are due to a combination of hard work and serendipity. After graduating from Graphic Design, McPherson took an entry-level position with McDiarmid Lumber before joining Price Industries, which supported her professional development by funding a series of RRC Continuing Education courses in Marketing Management from 2007 to 2010.

“That was great because it gave me an opportunity to study anything related to managing a brand, which was super helpful. At that point in my life I didn’t really even know what I wanted to do next, I just knew I wanted another challenge,” she says.

She found that new challenge in December 2011, when her well-rounded skill set helped land the job at FortWhyte Alive.

“Design school was obviously very important. It gave me skills that I still use, but equally important was learning about marketing and how to manage your brand,” she says.

“It’s helped me in every facet of my career. It’s led me to where I am today, basically. I think just the knowledge and all the practical skills that come with design, as well as marketing, just allow me to do my job at FortWhyte; like I’m handling everything from budgets, planning, the conceptualization and crafting the messaging, as well as doing all the design work, so all my schooling plays into my role here, and of course in Happyland also.”

The home-based business got off the ground after she designed and screen printed tongue-in-cheek travel posters to donate as prizes for a friend’s wedding social in Charleswood – “land of a thousand urban ditches.”

The posters were a hit, and good-natured homages to the North End (People before Profits), classy Tuxedo, granola-loving Wolseley and sunny St. James (Sounds Like Planes), followed, along with Cheap Like Borscht tote bags and pins shaped like perogies, pickles, “gotch or gitch” underwear, garbage mitts and the Caesar cocktail, which is extremely popular with customers across Canada.

She sells her goods to buyers as far away as Australia, online through her Etsy page, at local pop-up markets and in retail outlets including The Forks Trading Company, Margot and Maude on Academy Road, and Fraser Sneath Coffee in Brandon.

While she has a small office space at home, sales are far too robust to manufacture Happyland goods herself. She contracts out production of totes and prints to local businesses and her pins are made in China. One of her latest creations is a pin in support of pet rescue organization Manitoba Mutts, developed with friends who run Pop Cart, a mobile pushcart packed with hand-made ice treats for people and dogs.

Her Happyland designs have also drawn interest from clients who contract her to work on freelance marketing projects, creating logos, labels and postcards. And she sees plenty of potential to keep expanding her original product line.

“I feel like there are endless things about Winnipeg I could use. I’ve got some things I’m sure I’ll be working on in the next little while.”

— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)