Originally featured here on tmrw Magazine.
“Mean Mail is the side project that would never go away,” explains Vicky Simmons, founder of the eponymous quirky card company.
We’ve all been there, standing in the card shop, a serious occasion looming, staring with a blank and uninterested expression at all the shit cards that stand before you – often with mismatch envelopes, and always covered in words that don’t say exactly what you wanted to say. That’s where Mean Mail shines bright like a beacon, with their beautiful cards and brutal words. With their most popular cards reading, “Stay. You’ll never make new friends”, “Fantastic. Great. Congratulations. Whatever.”, and “It’s always about you.” you get a sense of the brutality they employ.
Having worked as an art director in advertising for the last 9 years, Vicky left in March to go full-time freelance and launch Mean Mail. What made her take the plunge? “Fear. Fear that I’d be forever working for someone else full time,” she says. “Also fear that someone else would make Mean Mail before I did.”
But why cards? They are, after all, a pretty niche market. They’re essentially folded bits of paper. But, for Vicky, it was the intimacy that drew her in. “Cards make people feel special. You’ve had to go out of your way to find a card that suits them, find a pen, write something inside and either make the effort and turn up in person to hand it over or post it to them.”
“It’s not another Facebook wall post and it’s not another bill. The cards are inspired by the words of Oscar Wilde: ‘True friends stab you in the front.’ I think if you can apply this to your friendships as much as possible you’re doing good.”
All the cards are made on a hot foil press in London by Vicky’s mum, and inspired by conversations with friends, strangers, and originally, her boyfriend. One night, he came home from a night out and collapsed on top of her, attempting a warm, beery hug. Vicky replied, ‘“I love you, but get off me.” That ended up becoming one of the first cards.
Primarily, though, Vicky is intrigued by communication, “I’m interested in the way we talk to each other. 95% of communication is non-verbal. Most of my conversations are just back and forth tagging each other in memes all day,” she says.
“With Mean Mail I’ve learnt that lots of people feel the same way about similar things, they’re just often unspoken. I’ve been asked to do personalised cards – so, for instance, instead of ‘it’s always about you’, it’d be, ‘it’s always about you, Eliza’ – but this gets way too mean. I think people find joy in finding a card that speaks to them, even though it’s not literally personalised.”
“It’s important to be nice, but when it’s surrounded by artifice it gets a little grating. I’m constantly trying to avoid using the words ‘nice’ and ‘lovely’ in my vocabulary as they’re just so beige. ”
Mean Mail are there for everlasting friendship, but also a good laugh. As a result, they can speak for relationships in a universal way, tapping into the love-hate dialogue upon which the best ones are built. They’re for everyone.
“When I’m selling the cards in real life people often come over and say, ‘these cards are exactly my sense of humour,’” she says. Maybe we all have a much darker sense of humour than we let on.
“Megan Fox once said, ‘sarcasm doesn’t translate in print at all.’ I keep meaning to send her a card…”