Author Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
In other words, if you want to find inspiration, you have to look for it, and one place you’re sure to find inspiration in Birmingham is at Pepper Place. This popular Magic City destination has art, entertainment, food, and more, and it’s also rich in history.
We talked to three creatives with businesses in the Pepper Place district about how they find inspiration for their work and what they find most inspiring about the city. Meet Derick Belden, Alexandra Stone Flowers and Brett Forsyth.
President of FRED Communication by Design
For Derick Belden, inspiration begins with storytelling. As president of FRED Communication by Design, Belden and his team are responsible for helping businesses build their brands. This might include website design, ad design, and more — whatever it takes to help a company tell its story and engage its audience.
“For me, the inspiration comes out of the story that we want to tell and how that story relates to the company, place, or product,” Belden says. It’s the story that helps the visual elements of a brand come alive. “I feel that you create a more sticky brand when it has some sort of relation to something that someone can become emotionally connected to,” Belden says.
Belden and his team have done branding work for Pepper Place, which is where the FRED offices are located. To make the Pepper Place magazines, newsletters and other materials come alive, Belden draws on his experience in publishing. For years he served as executive editor of Southern Living magazine.
“For the consumer to be engaged, [the materials] must read and feel like editorial rather than some ad,” he says. FRED does a lot of real estate branding. With these jobs, the story often comes from the history of the place. That’s why Belden turns to maps and historic photos found at the Birmingham Public Library for inspiration. “Old photography of places and old maps are incredible sources of information,” Belden says. “The names of places on maps begin to tell a story.” FRED turned to history when working on branding for Pepper Place.
“While it predates us, the name of the place is pulled directly from what the first building in the complex was – a Dr Pepper syrup plant – that was defunct when Sloss Real Estate purchased it around 1988,” Belden says. “The buildings around Pepper Place are named for their historical use like Martin Biscuit. With that as a base, our work has been informed more by Sloss’ history as a steel and iron producer. Our colors, materials, and design details are all derived from the company’s important part of the city’s growth. They help to create a visual story that supports our verbal one.”
“You can’t live in history,” Belden says. “You’ve got to figure out how to relate it to today.” When it comes to inspiration, he looks back and then moves forward.
Collaboration is key, too. Belden and his team partner with Callan Childs and Liz Holloway of Pepper Place when working on branding materials. “Callan is an architect and when you are doing place-based branding, it’s important that graphic design and architectural design blend seamlessly,” Belden says. “By merging architecture with graphic design, we will always have a more successful result.”
Branding communications that FRED created for the Denham Building were rooted in the story of the architecture firm Denham, Van Keuren & Denham that originally designed the building in 1927 when it served as the Merchants and Manufacturers Terminal Building.
Additionally, branding for The Switch innovation district was inspired by the historic 14th Street Switchyard. The messaging embraces the city’s past but invites entrepreneurs and innovators to make “the switch” to new ways of thinking needed to take the city to higher heights.
What do you find most inspiring about Birmingham?
“I love Birmingham because it’s got such a rich history. Birmingham is a post-civil war city that really grew out of what has made America America — entrepreneurial people. Even when you think about civil rights — that was entrepreneurs making change in our society in a different way than it had historically been done. From manufacturing new ways to make steel to radically changing the social fabric of the country through the civil rights movement, anything can happen here,” says Derick.
Alexandra Stone Flowers
Co-Founder of FarmStand by Stone Hollow Farmstead
When Alexandra Stone Flowers is looking for inspiration, she often takes cues from Mother Nature.
Alexandra is the co-founder of Stone Hollow Farmstead and also runs the FarmStand at Pepper Place, a retail space that carries Stone Hollow Farms products as well as goods from other Alabama farmers and makers. For Alexandra, the seasons spark her creativity. “The beauty of what I do is that no day is ever the same,” she says. “It’s often changing, just like the seasons. Having the ability to change and be creative in that space is what keeps it fresh and new for me.”
Customers go to FarmStand for fresh eggs, milk, and cheeses. They go for beautiful bouquets of flowers, skincare products, and hostess gifts. And they go for seasonal favorites like corn relish, perfect for summer cookouts, or root vegetables, perfect for fall. With each season comes an opportunity to grow something new at the farm, create a new product for FarmStand, or develop a new recipe to share with customers.
The pandemic has also forced Alexandra to get creative. When FarmStand had to temporarily close to the public, Alexandra and her team turned the retail space into a warehouse and their website into an online grocery store. Customers could then pick up their goods or have them delivered.
During the shift, FarmStand continued to offer products from other farmers as well. Alexandra says her fellow farmers are one of her biggest inspirations of all. “They keep me motivated,” she says. “Farming can be exhausting but having a community of like-minded individuals continues to light that fire to keep you going.”
The ability to cross paths and interact with so many different people is what inspires Alexandra. “Living in a city where it is easy to connect is really special,” she says. “When you look around – the chef community, the farming community, the design community – there are so many things that are beautiful and that are inspiring. It creates a community that is excited, and when you’re excited about something, you stick around. I know so many people, including myself, who have moved away and then decided that Birmingham is the best-kept secret.”
Co-Owner of Yellowhammer Creative
Creatives know that inspiration is all around, but Brett Forsyth knows it’s also found within.
Brett founded the design studio Yellowhammer Creative with his friend Brandon Watkins over a decade ago. They opened their first print shop in 2013 and quickly became a Birmingham favorite. “I think the thing that sets Yellowhammer Creative apart from other retailers or creative agencies is us,” Brett says of himself and Brandon. “Our output comes from our own personal well more than trying to follow whatever design fads might be occurring.”
Brett wishes he could spend all of his time designing. But running a business means wearing many hats. “The day to day will wear you down, and the mental toll of just making company decisions all day can really crush your creative spirit,” he says. “The upside is Brandon and I are both creative sponges. We’re constantly inspired by all aspects of our lives and are always absorbing things along the way.”
Brett has been inspired by music for as long as he can remember. “I never was a good musician but was always drawn to the visual elements of music that accompanied albums, labels, and brands,” he says. “When I teamed up with Brandon, the thing we bonded over was concert posters, music, and design.”
Brett and Brandon began designing posters for local bands and for businesses like Bottletree, Communicating Vessels, and Make Bhm. Eventually, they would design posters for big names like the Alabama Shakes, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, and Jason Isbell and for the Alabama Theatre’s summer film series. “We pride ourselves on being able to achieve whatever style is needed for the project at hand,” Brett says, “but I do think we have a recognizable yet eclectic wheelhouse to draw from.”
In terms of how Birmingham inspires him, Brett says, “In the last 10 years, Brandon and I have had a front-row seat to see the city explode with new growth and new business. We still think there’s plenty of work to do, but the progressive nature of the city is so encouraging. Our generation has come in with a bang and really shaken things up. We have such a rich history of change and progression that makes us so proud to be from Birmingham. Birmingham has had its fair share of hate and negative energy, but our citizens are steadfast to keep moving forward and advancing to build a better Birmingham for everyone. Our city is much more collaborative than competitive, making sure a rising tide floats all boats.”
When you’re ready to fill your creative cup, head to Pepper Place to visit these three creatives and many others. Pepper Place is located at 1130 22nd Street South, Suite 3500, Birmingham, AL 35205. Learn more at pepperplace.com.
This article is sponsored by Pepper Place. All photography by Christine Prichard/viewtopiapictures.