get to know the makers of JW Design Studio Gifts, the makers of the best anniversary gifts

The makers of the best anniversary gifts

Get to know JW Design Studio Gifts. The makers of the best anniversary gifts you’ll ever find.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

When I started JW Design Studio back in 2013, from the basement of our 925 square foot home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I had no idea that it would become what it is today. A successful small business that both my husband Mike and I operate full time. We design, craft and ship our handmade art all over the world. Our gifts are created to help couples celebrate the love they share and we’re proud to know that our art is on display showcasing love in homes all over the world.

In October 2022, we moved our business and our lives from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a population of 2.35 million people to the small historic town of Luray, Virginia, population 4,794. Our work shop now sits at the base of the Blue Ridge mountains near Shenandoah National park and is part of our home. So we never have to go far to get in design and craft mode and inspiration surrounds us at every view.

It’s a dream come true. But not one that didn’t come without A LOT of hard work, long hours, sleepless nights and an ever obsession about creating, crafting and serving our customers to the best of our ability. Looking back over the past — almost 10 years— we have come a really long way.

So, you may be wondering, how did we get started?

How did JW Design Studio Gifts become the best place to buy a custom and personalized anniversary gift or keepsake travel map?

It all started because I wanted to fulfill a need that I couldn’t find elsewhere. In this case, it was to find the perfect gift for my husband for our 2nd wedding anniversary. The cotton anniversary.

We had a small destination wedding at the Beaches Resort in Turks and Caicos (with just two friends and their daughter). The experience was amazing and Mike and I both wanted a way to cherish our little slice of heaven forever. After searching days and nights to find a cotton gift for him, I came to the conclusion that I would have to make my own.

The result of that 2nd anniversary gift – seen below – became the start of a new chapter in my life, which then completely changed our collective lives for the past decade. You can read the original blog post about that pivotal moment here.

The first map Jess created on cotton was a map for Mike on their 2nd wedding anniversary of the place they married, Turks and Caicos Islands.
The very first map created in May of 2013 for Mike, to celebrate Mike and Jess’ 2nd wedding anniversary, the cotton anniversary. This map started our business.

Now, with 10 years of experience making custom maps, art and keepsakes for couples all over the world, we have learned a lot. We not only know how to take the smallest bit of information and turn it into a lovely piece of art, but we also know that customer service, packaging and being Eco-conscious are important parts of serving our customers.

Every design we do is hand illustrated by Jess. It is never generated by computers or programs and absolutely never stock art. Our craft is a labor of love and one that we are proud of.

What makes JW Design Studio Gifts the best choice for your personalized gift?

  • We may be small, however we own and operate commercial grade, professional printers.
  • We source the highest grade media for our paper and 100% cotton canvas, both museum quality and archival.
  • Our inks are pigment based and waterproof with lifespans far longer than the average human. (150+ years fade resistant!)
  • Our design and craft on leather and wood is refined and we only use an Epilog Laser. “The world’s leading laser engraving and cutting systems, proudly made in the USA.”
  • Every design we do is hand illustrated by Jess. It is never generated by computers or programs and absolutely never stock art. Our craft is a labor of love and one that we are proud of.
  • We know picking a custom and handmade gift on the internet can be scary. That is why we go out of our way to ensure we have the best customer service. Mike answers every message received in less than 24 hours, often just a few hours. (Unless of course he is sleeping. He does need to sleep.)
  • A portion of every single sale goes to help animals in need. We make giving back a big part of who we are as a small business. We also donate throughout the year to local organizations to help various programs locally and nation-wide, during major national disasters, hurricanes, floods and anything in between.
  • Eco-Friendly and Eco-Conscious – We have reduced our dependency on plastic for packing and shipping. We use recycled papers and packaging for the bulk of our shipping. We also re-use packing materials and upcycle much of our raw materials into new smaller products instead of creating waste.

Timeline of JW Design Studio Gifts from 2013 to 2023

May 29, 2013 :: I designed and created a cotton anniversary map of the place Mike and I married. I cut the cotton fabric, ironed it on wax paper, cut it again to 11×14 and hand fed it through a standard printer. The result is still hanging proudly in our home!

May 30, 2013 :: I posted my design of our cotton wedding anniversary map on Etsy and within a few hours — even before I gave Mike his gift for our anniversary — I landed my first order! Imagine how hard it was to keep his gift a secret after that excitement!

June 2, 2013 :: We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary, I gave Mike his keepsake map gift AND I told him the amazing news. I then designed and shipped off my first order that following Monday, which was an anniversary map of Cancun, Mexico.

June 3-30, 2013 :: Amazingly I received another order…. and another. In the first week of launching, I had 11 orders. By the end of that 1st month I had 66 orders and knew I had to quit my 9-5 job. I was faced with the decision to continue working for someone else, or take a chance at what the universe was handing me. So, without much thought, I handed in my 2 week notice. “What was the best that could happen?”

July – December 2013 :: I began a full time career in designing prints for weddings and anniversaries for couples all over the world. I quickly found that running a small business was a ton of work and I had a lot to learn! I spent hours and days and all night reading, learning and building my little business.

January 2014 :: Purchased a professional large format printer capable of printing on 100% cotton canvas and opening up the ability to create large keepsake maps for customers.

Summer 2014 :: I was no longer able to do the work alone and I hired a part-time employee to help with designing the orders. Each month following that original month, the orders increased and my skills at presenting my custom anniversary gifts, packaging and making them a true gift to the receiver developed exponentially.

September 2015 :: We bought an Epilog Laser machine giving us the ability to design and craft on leather and wood. At the same time, Mike quit his long time financial career to come on board with JW Design Studio, officially making us a husband and wife team in all of the things.

— Interlude —
Our business completely took over our little house. It started in the office space of the basement. Expanded to the entire basement, the laundry room, the garage, the dining room. We could no longer function living in our home with the business. The only option was to move the business out of our house.

2016 :: We rented our first business space. A 650 square foot work shop. We also purchased a second large format, professional printer to help us fulfill orders faster for our customers.

2017 :: Expanding and growing our stocked supplies and equipment, we moved again and rented a 800 square foot store front.

2018 :: We were hit with a major flood, not once, but twice. It ravaged our space and wiped out a lot of our material. Officially, we knew we needed to get into our own space that we had full control over.

2019 :: We purchased a foreclosed house and put our business in it. The space was perfect for our growing business and gave us an opportunity to be more efficient with how we designed our gifts and served our customers. Jess was SO happy to have a dedicated space for product photography and Mike had the perfect room for crafting and shipping.

— Interlude —

We spent 22 months completely remodeling the house from top to bottom, while also using the space for our business. The goal at the time of purchase was to stay there 10 years….

2020 :: The pandemic happened. And thankfully, because we worked from our own space, we were able to stay open and help spread love and cheer in such a difficult time for many. The experience opened our eyes to needing to make a big change in how we managed our time. Like many other people, 2020 brought the idea that a big shift needed to happen For us it was important that it not only benefit us personally, but also our customers.

2021 :: We lost our beloved dog and realized it was now or never. Time wasn’t stopping for us. So we took a huge leap of faith and bought land, sold our now renovated business space and moved our shop back into our small home in Pittsburgh PA, while we built our new home and dream business space.

2022 :: We moved our lives and business to Luray, Virginia and are excited about what the next 10 years are going to bring. We know this new space and location is going to be a major inspiration to our work and we can’t wait to share new designs and ideas with you!

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