People of Pepper Place
Each month we will be featuring one to two Pepper Place tenants! We will be sharing their stories to give you a look behind the curtain at their businesses, their upcoming projects, their goals, and more! For this month we interviewed Brett Forsyth (co-founder) and Mallory (manager) of Yellowhammer.
Check out our interview below:
Pepper Place: When did you all found Yellowhammer and what was your vision when you started?
Brett: Brandon and I started Yellowhammer Creative as a way to explore the art of screen-printing with an emphasis on creating concert posters. At the time (2008) we were fresh out of college and the 2008 Recession was in full swing. We were both lucky to get full time “creative” jobs, I worked as a designer and engraver at a local trophy/award shop, and Brandon started working at Ebsco doing layout for multiple magazines. Neither were our dream jobs but they gave us cover and stability to screw around with YHC on nights and weekends. I moved into a new house in 2009 which had a fully finished basement where we set up our first print studio and proceeded to teach ourselves how to screen print. Our first supporters and clients were truly special to us and allowed us the creative outlet we were looking for. Most were friends, or friends of friends in the local music scene and the ever legendary Bottletree Cafe was a huge catalyst for our growth. Bottletree was so great at fostering a creative community and engaging those around town who wanted to get involved. We started designing posters for shows at Bottletree and printing merch for our friends’ bands around town. For the next 3-4 years we focused solely on designing and printing band merch and getting settled in for the front row seat we would have to watch Birmingham’s full blown revitalization. During this time we initiated relationships with some up and coming bands that would go on to achieve great success, like printing the first screen printed poster for the Alabama Shakes and St. Paul & The Broken Bones, to working with local powerhouses Taylor Hollingsworth and his duo with wife Kate Taylor – Dead Fingers and Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires. Plus others from outside Birmingham started to call with the likes of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Just before his explosion into superstardom), Shovels & Rope, Justin Townes Earle, Wanda Jackson, Nada Surf, Willie Watson, Azure Ray, Band of Horses and many others. Around 2013 we were approached by a local architect in town named Bruce Lanier. Bruce had a dream of starting a coworking studio for creatives and makers. He invited us to be his test subjects for his new incubator and gave us the option to leave my basement and move into his beta-type Make Bhm in Avondale. Meeting Bruce was transformative and gave us a runway and opened our network up tremendously. Soon we were taking YHC in multiple new directions, taking on jobs outside the music industry and starting to sell at local markets and sidewalk sales with our civic themed retail goods centered around our version of “It’s Nice to have you in Birmingham.” We would absolutely not be where we are today without the support and encouragement of the Birmingham Creative Community. This spirit is one of the main things that drew us to Pepper Place when we were looking to expand our Retail Operations. The team at Sloss Real Estate and the community they have fostered at Pepper Place is head and shoulders above any other complex in town. They understand and value what we as creative individuals, entrepreneurs and dreamers need to be successful. It’s a family and one that we’re so proud to be a part of.
Pepper Place: What has been a favorite project that you all have worked on?
Brett: To date I’d say our favorite project was being the creative team for the development of the Pizitz Food Hall. We were in no way qualified for the job, but the Project Manager Tom Walker had seen our work around town and believed in us and gave us the opportunity of a lifetime. Brandon and I were thrown into meetings with contractors, architects and developers and I believe held our own and helped steer the project into a much more favorable landing than was originally planned. Originally the lead architect (from Atlanta, yuck) wanted to put 4-5 different corrugated metal textures all over the walls and make it feel “industrial”. Seeing pictures of this grand retail palace in it’s heyday and loving all things old, Brandon and I about fell out of our seats and went on a mission to make the Food Hall more reflective of it’s past and to embrace the love the community had for the former Pizitz stores. Being history buffs and archive nerds we went down the rabbit hole and learned everything we could about the Pitiz stores and the founder Louis Pizitz. Over the life of the project we were tasked with developing the logo/branding for the food hall, as well as 90% of it’s original tenants, developing wayfinding systems, signage and murals and operating social media and programming events. We clashed frequently with the architects on the project, but were blown away when they admitted at the ribbon cutting we had been right all along and done great work. Hearing those old dudes in suits say that still warms my heart, and encourages me to always follow my gut. The project also gave us the opportunity to open our first full-fledged retail shop and really take our brand to the next level. Sadly the Pizitz ended up being a bit of a corporate road block and we didn’t have the support and bandwidth that comes with being at Pepper Place, so our cool programming ideas and the sense of community among it’s tenants never solidified. Even so we’ll always cherish the time we spent working on this project, the skills it allowed us to hone and the platform it helped us build.
Pepper Place: What do you hope to accomplish with Yellowhammer in the future?
Brett: The future for YHC is bright. The pandemic was a challenging time for everyone and we fared better than most thanks to our network and the support of our community. Oddly enough 2022 was the roughest year we’ve ever experienced and it came with some hard choices in order to preserve and move forward. Over the last 15 years we’ve tried to be everything to everyone and took on all sorts of creative jobs from signage, murals, installations, furniture and more. Over the past 6 months we’ve been doing a lot of restructuring and refocusing on what our heart wants and what we’re best at. I feel like as a creative individual you can cripple yourself by having too many ideas or dreams and it can make it hard to focus on “the thing” that got you where you are and what brings you the most joy. For Brandon and I we are excited to be returning to our roots and focusing more on Concert Posters and producing cool products for our Retail Shop, while fostering new relationships within the community to showcase more local goods in our Pepper Place store. We’ve moved away from the grind of the turn and burn style of contract printing services, which will always be a soulless volume game. As a small manual screen print shop we’ll never be able to compete with the big boys, but that’s ok, we always wanted to follow our creative dreams, not operate a giant machine. We always had dreams of being that niche print house that people simply thought was cool. It’s where our heart lies and a place we’re eager to get back too.
Pepper Place: How long have you been with Yellowhammer?
Mallory: I’ve been with Yellowhammer since July 2019. My background in retail dates back to 2008. It’s what I know and love, and I knew I wanted to ground myself in small, local retail around 2017 and have found the epitome of that with the Yellowhammer Crew.
Pepper Place: Is there a project that Yellowhammer has done that you would say is your favorite?
Mallory: I definitely have a few favorite designs from The Vault Series – we only release a handful of those styles once a year or so! But I think our most important project and the one that we’re all extremely proud of is The Locals Series. We pivoted hard and somehow kept ourselves afloat in addition to being able to donate over $100,000 to fellow Birmingham businesses and organizations when the pandemic hit in 2020 thru 2021. We’ve since been able to adapt it to a collaborative program (the Campaign Series) for hopefully many years to come.
Pepper Place: What’s your favorite thing about being with Yellowhammer?
Mallory: Our small but mighty (and creative!) team. I think a lot of people assume since Brett and Brandon have kept Yellowhammer going for so long that we must have some huge team. There are only 7 of us in the whole company and we are all dedicated to seeing Yellowhammer succeed. Running a small business in general, but definitely a small retail business, comes with a slew of challenges and ups and downs. But everyone on our team believes in building community through the brand and knows that we work the best when we’re working together. It’s definitely something we will continue to hold tight to.