A picture is worth a thousand words. It makes one relive the beautiful moments spent with loved ones, capturing emotions one cannot always express. Turning such memories into a personalized illustrated book to tell a picture-perfect story, Taaya Griffith adds her creative touch in versatile ways.
Taaya is an illustrator, innovative thinker with multi-disciplinary skills and founder of Swanky Portraits Limited. As the Creative Director, she holds ten years of experience in the graphics and designing industry. Her work continues to create opportunities in the design industry and charity projects, giving the world hope, optimistimism and a reason to live and smile.
How It All Started
Taaya started Swanky Portraits while working full-time as a Graphic and Marketing Designer for a Design company in London. The idea for the personalized books came to Taaya when she read a bedtime story to her two year-old-daughter. Taaya wanted her daughter to believe that the stories which put her to bed were about her, and that her daughter would see herself in those stories. After producing personalised books initially for family and friends, Taaya took the idea to the UK’s leading online retailer (Not On The High Street) for personalized gifts, where it got approved after several trials. The books have been retailing on their site since 2016.
The biggest challenge Taaya faced was ensuring every customer’s illustration was hand-drawn by a real illustrator. Although highly creative, Taaya had little experience in drawing people. She taught herself various techniques to speed up the process that has resulted in her illustrating over 5000 people todate. She has been training other illustrators to create these illustrations at speed.
The other initial challenge was starting the books at a higher price than the competitors. However, over the last six years, Swanky Portraits have established a high quality brand with a growing range of high-end personalized products to justify the price to a growing customer base.
An Innovative and Forward Thinker
Taaya was honored to be named in 2021 as one of the top 20 female entrepreneurs disrupting their industry (Disruptors Magazine). She would love to see more people from diverse backgrounds represented in this industry and in books generally. Swanky Portraits is cognizant of years spent talking about diversity, and it is now time to do diversity.
Taaya states that an inward-looking industry or enterprise that is not inclusive at the strategic and operational level risks missing out on the richness of ideas and vibrance that marginalized groups bring. It means a lot to her, to continue to inspire others, starting with school children who might not have imagined themselves taking lead roles in the industry.
Continues to Surprise with Creativity
Like any self-sustaining business Taaya and her team need to make a profit to invest in developing the products and justifying the premium price the customers respond to so positively. However, the primary motivation comes from the personal impact that the books have on individuals, as illustrated through some moving testimonies below; if one book makes a difference in one person’s life, that’s worth more than money:
One message was from a lady who received a personalized ‘Just Married’ book. She made contact to say that reading the quotes during challenging times, and seeing the images of her and her new partner together, had ‘literally saved the marriage.’
In another case, the family inserted the book in the casket because it had meant so much to their loved one. When Taaya heard their story, she decided to make a replica complimentary copy for the family, which they truly appreciated.
Individual and Community Contribution
Swanky Portraits is premised on listening to each customer and tailoring the product to their circumstances. Its illustrations match the individual’s features such that they are recognizable yet not replicable. Focusing on individual stories has enabled it to create books that handle fun and serious personal circumstances; therefore, the products have a deeper meaning and impact beyond off-the-shelf cards and other predesigned goods where one inserts a name. They are suitable for all ages and cultures, reflecting the diverse team behind the brand. It has put wheelchair children and children with Down syndrome into the amazing adventure books to make the character instantly recognizable, and looking just like them.
Change has been forced upon people by the pandemic. Taaya and her team created easy-read books to appreciate people like the NHS, teachers and Care Workers, and illustrated how we all embraced technology overnight. These changes, reflected in their books, have increased Swanky Portraits sales, particularly the past year, where more people than ever are shopping online for gifts. The books, Our Covid-19 Heroes, are available on Amazon. The firm continues to engage with the customers personally and is acutely aware of the growing need to express appreciation of one another, which its books do so well.
Expanding to Worldwide Destinations
Taaya notes, “Our books are bought by individuals, so it has the unusual benefit of getting direct feedback from customers. Generally, it is a ‘wow, WOW’! Human needs are universal; if the books trigger a ‘wow’ from English-speaking customers, they will do the same for others, and the book brand has tested this idea out.”
Swanky Portraits aims to translate its current range of books into French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Kiswahili, targeting various parts of the world where those languages are the dominant ones; that is the company’s way of conducting diversity.
On mentoring upcoming women entrepreneurs, Taaya says, “Do you have an idea you are passionate about? Talk it through with a small group of friends who know something about it, including those who don’t like the idea. Listen to them all, and then refine your idea. Start small; when you stumble, pick yourself up, again and again. Look at yourself as an entrepreneur, not a woman but, understand that as a woman, you will face extra-high hurdles, be prepared to jump higher rather than feel sorry for yourself. The best way to remain focused is to continue to celebrate every little milestone.”