Leslie Robb of Swell Made Co holding a stack of blankets

Meet the Makers: Swell Made Co. Keeps It Simple, Significant, and Stylish

What is good design? Swell Made Co. founder and designer Lesley Robb takes a beat before she answers. “I think primarily it’s something that looks effortless and is very simple, which you’ll see in a lot of my work. It looks effortless because it’s actually quite complicated to make it look so.” Case in point, Robb has distilled this ethos into a slogan that sums up her goal with Swell Made Co.: “Keep it simple, but significant.”

For the past seven years Robb has been growing her small business, drawing on experience as a freelance graphic designer and art director. After helping other companies and agencies develop their own aesthetic, the unique look of Swell Made Co. stationery, home decor, and gifts reflects Robb’s own artistry. “I guess for me, mostly because I’d been working with a number of clients over the years, I wanted to design something and share it with the world with my take on things, my style.”

Robb moved to Peterborough shortly after starting Swell Made Co. and has since developed a network of likeminded entrepreneurs. “All of my products are made by other small businesses in primarily Canada, and the blankets are made in the USA by a small manufacturer,” she says. “Blankets took actually a couple of years to get right because it was just a bigger part of the business, and it takes a long time to iron out the manufacturing and get the quality just right.” A stack of blankets besides her shows the fruits of those labours—they’re soft with pleasing weight, featuring designs that incorporate natural motifs.

Screen-printing of products like tote bags, meanwhile, is done right at home by Peterborough’s Nish Tees. Robb sees a range of benefits from her approach. “It definitely develops into better working relationships because there’s just a lot more supportive camaraderie and community in that, and that’s really important to me,” she says. “It’s nice to have relationships where I know what the impact of our little economy is having on people’s actual lives, like their families and their ability to grow and expand their businesses.”

The local connection extends not just to suppliers, but brick-and-mortar retail in the Peterborough area. “You can find all of my stuff on my website, but you can also find it in local shops. Kit Coffee, they sell the key tags, which is really fun, and some greeting cards. Watson & Lou, I often work with them,” Robb says. “I’ve had some different items at Plant Goals and Living Local… We often work together to have custom-made products.”

Many of the benefits of close working relationships are self-evident, but Robb is currently deepening her understanding of sustainable business by pursuing a Masters in sustainability at Trent University. She hopes her studies will help Swell Made Co. and other brands she works with navigate the uncertainties of the future and become more resilient. The strategy seems to be working so far: “People are happy with the products, they’re good quality and well-made and I think that they—my customers— have the same values that I have. I try to align with them, and they support not only my brand but other brands that share those values as well.”

The products may be simple—an eye-catching greeting card, or a jigsaw puzzle of a serene landscape—but it seems Robb has kept the “significant” part of the Swell Made Co. ethos top of mind as well.

Are you enjoying our Meet the Makers series? Please consider supporting the small businesses in your community this winter, as they rely on our support now more than ever. Reinvesting in our communities allows our hard-working artisans continue doing what they love – and allows us to continue enjoying the beauty they create.

Read Kawarthas Northumberland’s coverage of Watson & Lou, mentioned in this article, here.

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