Women Working It: Kristen and Lindsey Archer on risk, balance, and giving back

What happens when you combine original photography, vibrant designs, and reclaimed wood from restored homes in Midtown Memphis? In the hands of small business owners Kristen and Lindsey Archer, you get ARCHd—a line of handcrafted home decor inspired by the sisters’ shared principles and deep love for their hometown.

Today, the line includes more than 300 products featuring city skylines, quotes from powerful women, and retro graphics that combine Kristen’s skill in photography with Lindsey’s talent for graphic design.

The duo can still recall the Pinterest inspiration that started them on their entrepreneurial path. 

“I remember seeing this beautiful image of an airplane that was transferred across a few pieces of wood,” said Kristen. “And I was obsessed. There was a blog post about how [the original artist] did it and one Saturday we decided to try and recreate it with some of our photography and designs.”

And so, the seed for Archers’ Recycled Creative Home Decor—or ARCHd, as it was later shortened—was firmly planted.  

“When we started with those wood pieces, we would go ‘curb shopping’ around Midtown,” Kristen said. “We would just get wood from the side of the road from people flipping houses and that was our practice ground to getting started.”

The idea quickly blossomed into a feminism-inspired brand that's now sold in more than 70 shops throughout the United States and Canada. 

Kristen and Lindsey Archer spoke to High Ground recently about finding support in Memphis’ diverse and growing community of small businesses, scaling up after COVID, and letting go of the fear that keeps so many entrepreneurs from success. 

I can imagine quite a few pros and cons of running a business with your sibling. What made you guys decide to team up on this?

Lindsey: It started with our family; they’ve always been very encouraging. Growing up, our mother always encouraged us to enter creative fields. Dad’s a photographer, we're both in a creative field, and our older brother's an architect. So all three of us ended up in some type of creative industry. Our mother and her best friend used to say that they started us on our path, because they were the first to tell us that we needed to start selling our work. And so that's when we started with Cooper-Young Festival in 2013. 

Let’s talk about that. You went from working full time in graphic design and photography to selling your own works at the biggest arts festival in Memphis. Is that how ARCHd came to be?

Lindsey: We just dove right in and we're like, yeah, we can do this. It's fine. That first year, we shared a booth, but I had my stuff and Kristen had her stuff. And it did really well. We said, “Okay, we're gonna do this again next year.” And as we worked over that next 12 months, things started to come together. We realized that Kristen is better at transferring images, but I'm better at sanding and painting. So we decided to throw everything together and do it as a duo. By the time the next Cooper-Young Festival came around, we’d formed ARCHd and were working together on our business. 

The complement of your skill sets is certainly clear in your products; how do your personalities complement each other when it comes to actually managing your business?

Kristen: We do kind of balance each other out. I tend to look at the big picture, where we're going to be in a year or five years. And Lindsey is much more focused on our production schedule. Those two opposites, I think, have really helped us get to where we are. 

Lindsey: And I think it comes back to our relationship as sisters, and that we grew up together. We're family. So we trust each other and respect each other's talents and opinions. That makes this process work more smoothly.

Have you found, like many other business owners, that the pandemic has tested your original vision? Have you had to adjust your plans for ARCHd since COVID hit? 

Kristen: Before the pandemic, we had lots of in-person wholesale and retail events on our schedule for 2020. And of course those all got canceled. Which was hard because events were not only a large source of income for us, but also a way for us to introduce ourselves and our brand to audiences in different cities. We had to figure out how to supplement that loss of income and visibility. So, we ramped up plans to build out our own website and expand our e-commerce. When we launched, we partnered with the American Cancer Society ResearcHers campaign and donated part of our online sales to support women-led cancer research. That’s when we realized that this is way more fun when there’s a purpose. 

Lindsey: That campaign sparked our focus on what we want to do to give back. Now, each month we give a percentage of our sales to different organizations that are important to us and that align with our values.

How do you identify and decide on which organizations to support?

Kristen: We have a full list of organizations we’ve supported on our website. But basically, we look at three different categories: the organization has to either empower women, positively impact the black community, or support the arts. Or do any combination of those three things. 

Lindsey: This month, we’re pledging 5% of sales to Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi. But we’ve also given to Emerge, the National Organization for Women, ArtsMemphis, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and TONE here in Memphis. There are just so many great organizations here in Memphis and around the country, it can be hard to decide sometimes.

What advice would you give to other women who are thinking about stepping out into their own businesses or growing a business?

Lindsey: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or for help. We’ve asked people who we knew well for advice and some who we didn’t know all that well. You'd be surprised at how supportive the local Memphis community is, how much they want other businesses to succeed, and how they kind of live that value of “community over competition.”

Kristen: I’m not as afraid of risk as I used to be. I feel like a lot of people when starting businesses, or transition their side hustle into a full time business, pay attention to the advice out there that says you need to save two years of your salary, for example. And you don't have to do that. We didn't do that. So many people out there will tell you the steps you need to take. But you don't have to follow everyone else's path. You can make your own path. And don't be afraid to just do it.
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Read more articles by Tiffany Thomas-Turner.