Maker City KC

The self-taught KC designer behind Black Lab Studio sells quirky cards in 185+ stores

A lifelong Kansas Citian, Stephanie Given grew up in Shawnee.

“My family still lives in the same house I was raised in,” she says, “which is awesome and means I get to see them at least once a week.”

She credits her family with her quirky and not-too-serious attitude about life.

“I have a weird family. We are all really awkward,” she says. Her self-deprecating sense of humor definitely comes out in her fun lifestyle brand, Black Lab Studio.

Given’s mother is from Korea and met her American father in the 1970s when he was stationed there as a translator with the Navy. They quickly fell in love and moved to America once he had served his time. Once he was back home, Given’s father enjoyed a long career at The United States Post Office and retired last year. Given recalls her father instilling the values of always being loyal and working hard.

Given attended Shawnee Mission North High School and did a brief stint studying graphic design at KU. She quickly realized that the big college experience was not for her and left KU before completing a full semester.

“I absolutely hated the feel of a large classroom and being in a sea of people,” she says. “I’m an introvert.”

Given decided to take matters into her own hands and taught herself how to use design software by watching YouTube videos and other online tutorials.

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Given started Black Lab Studio in 2013.

“I obsessed for weeks over what my business name would be,” she says. “I kept overthinking it and couldn’t come up with anything I really liked. I happened to look down at one of my puppies and thought, ‘Hey! It should be something sweet and simple.’”

Inspired by pop culture and her family’s quirkiness, her very first products, “were these terrible greeting cards based on four movies,” she says.

One card had Ron Burgundy from “Anchorman.” Another featured Kristin Wiig from “Bridesmaids” and said, “Help me, I’m poor.” Zack Galifianakis was on another that said, “You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

This four-pack of cards, her first online product, was sent to customers in a bubble mailer with no protection. Fast forward to 2019, and Given has sold her greeting cards, prints, notepads, keychains, coffee mugs, pint glasses and pouches in more than 185 stores all over the United States.

Her best-sellers are her “Hot Mess” pouches, “I Came to Get Down” keychains, and “Expert in Bad Decisions” pint glass. Another hot item is her romantic greeting card that features a hand and the message “High Five! We haven’t killed each other yet.”

When asked how she comes up with her designs, Given says, “I’m weird. I eavesdrop a lot and pay attention to what people are saying and then make cards as if you were talking to your best friend.”

Her prints are inspired by plants, pop culture, and trends.

“I’m kind of like a cat; I lose my attention very quickly, so I change things a lot and ping-pong around,” she says.

Given says the maker community, especially in Kansas City, is such an amazing mix of people from all different walks of life and with very different perspectives.

“I’ve always had such amazing interactions with the other makers,” she says. “They’re constantly willing to be vulnerable and brutally honest about their own experiences and challenges as fellow business owners. It’s really incredible to feel so much love and support rather than competition.”

Her advice to up-and-coming makers is to never be afraid of failure; it’s a necessary step that will happen over and over again as you find your path.

Given says,“There are so many times that you’ll think to yourself ‘What am I doing? Do I have any talent at all?’ but things eventually work out the way they’re supposed to. Be patient with the process and make sure to continue checking in with yourself. Most of all, do what makes you happy, challenges you to grow and gives you purpose in your life.”

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You can find Black Lab Studio in person at RiverfestKC from 3 to 10 p.m. July 4 at Berkley Riverfront Park and at The 9th Annual Summer Swing in August. Her products are sold at local stores such as Mid Coast Modern, Coco, West Elm and more.