Designer duo’s flair fuels Ampersand studio
Morgan Georgie and Carrie Kiefer are best friends and business partners
A friendship that first bloomed during a semester of study abroad has grown into a thriving creative partnership, Ampersand Design Studio, a Kansas City-based company led by Morgan Shaw Georgie and Carrie Giffen Kiefer. Together they produce colorful, contemporary stationery, home decor and accessories for sale in local shops and nationally through Free People, Target, Crate & Kids, West Elm and other retailers.
Georgie and Kiefer were senior visual design majors at KU when the department launched an exchange program with students from Stoke-on-Trent, England. “We ended up living together while we were there, so we got to know each other really well,” recalls Georgie, f’00. “We went to school and traveled all over, to Italy and France. It was just a wild adventure.”
After graduation, the two worked as designers for Hallmark. As they created gift wrap and partyware, they were drawn to surface pattern design for paper and fabrics. “Learning the craft, we fell in love with it,” says Kiefer, f’00. Soon they began dreaming of their own joint venture. While still at Hallmark, they started a blog “to collect our trend research and get in the habit of creating for ourselves,” Kiefer says.
In 2010, the blog became Ampersand. For one of their first big clients, Land of Nod (now part of Crate & Kids), the partners created children’s room decor, including rugs, bedding, wall art, pillows and lamps.
No matter the product, their style is bold, bright and whimsical, recalling the cut-paper creations of their favorite artist, Henri Matisse, whose home in Nice, France, the two visited during their semester abroad. “His house was small, but it was so cool to see, to gaze out his window,” Kiefer says. “And just to walk the streets where he had walked was inspiring.”
These days they draw inspiration closer to home, from visits to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, galleries, restaurants, magazines and even their own children’s drawings. They started their families as they started their business, so those early years were “busy and blurry,” says Georgie, whose sons are 11 and 8. Kiefer’s two sons and daughter are 11, 8 and 5.
For Ampersand, the two share design duties and divvy up the more practical aspects of the business with two additional employees and one contractor. A Kauffman Foundation program for entrepreneurs and several trusted mentors also provided guidance. While they work with national distributors to produce some items as part of selected brands, Georgie and Kiefer
seek local firms to produce Ampersand’s glassware, T-shirts, greeting cards and new line of tote bags. In Kansas City, their goods are sold at three Made in KC Marketplace locations and other local stores; they also hope to move and expand their studio to include their own retail space. While they pursue that goal, “Our focus right now is expanding our own personal line that we’re selling to wholesalers and little boutiques across the country,” Kiefer says, “and doing more stationery, more homeware.”
Also on their list are more textiles, and perhaps games, puzzles or a children’s book. Georgie and Kiefer are confident that the friendship that began at KU—and the partnership that blossomed from their shared talents and tastes—will continue to grow.
“People often ask, ‘Should I go into business with my best friend?’ And we say, ‘Well, probably not,’” Georgie says. “We don’t know that it will work for anyone else, but it has been the most amazing relationship for us. We get to work with our best friend every day.
“We’ve had lots of ups and downs and all kinds of stuff in our lives, but this has always been the constant. We’re really fortunate.”
Photograph by Steve Puppe