Better by Farr

In a small business in Columbia’s Vista arts and entertainment district, an ancient electric motor purrs steadily, spinning the curved spokes of a cast iron flywheel in a kaleidoscope of slow motion. The flywheel conducts a tightly choreographed ballet of mechanical arms, ink rollers, pistons and rotating metal plates. Accompanied by a rhythmic chorus of clacks and clangs, the machine’s operator plucks a swatch of paper from the bowels of the device and quickly inserts another.

The mechanical marvel is an antique letterpress, and it’s the heart and soul of ByFarr, a company that’s one-part boutique printer, one-part branding specialist and 100 percent focused on personal service and quality.

Brynley Farr launched the business 10 years ago while still an art student at Carolina. Now with a small team of Carolina graduates including her husband, Chris, ByFarr has quietly built a reputation as Columbia’s go-to place for branding, design and distinctive letterpress printing.

“We work with a lot of entrepreneurs here, and we’re grateful that they’re coming to us for help with branding or creating a logo or design,” says Brynley, a 2007 graduate in graphic design. “They’re letting us put a fingerprint on the businesses they’ve poured their hearts and souls into.”

That’s an apt description of what she and Chris have done with ByFarr. It’s a business rooted in hard work, lots of it, and a determination to do things the right way ­— no matter what.

“My dad always instilled in me the value of hard work,” Brynley says. “Now Chris and I live by this: If we want it, work will get it for us.”

Brynley’s first freelance assignment in college, to design a book cover and typeset the text, led to more projects, and her home-grown business was born. A job at a communications firm in Lexington after graduation exposed her to commercial printing, and a subsequent position at an indoor sports center honed her entrepreneurial vision.

“My application of marketing isn’t traditional. I was able to test and apply certain methods to see what worked and what didn’t,” she says. “After that job I had this crazy desire to share what I’d been learning.”

That motivation took Brynley to the Columbia branch of ITT Technical Institute and its School of Drafting and Design.

“I did a practice lecture, and they said they would stop me after five minutes, whether I was doing well or bombing it,” she says. “I started the lecture and kept talking for 17 minutes. When they finally stopped me, they offered me a full-time position, not the adjunct position I was interviewing for.”

The folks at ITT had immediately recognized a natural teacher. She was soon teaching six courses per quarter and leading workshops for other instructors — all the while continuing to run ByFarr in her spare time. Chris, a 2007 USC mechanical engineering graduate, was working for a large construction management firm, but both of them were talking about pursuing graduate degrees — an MBA for him and an MFA for her.

The turning point came when Brynley attended a two-week design course in Rome with artists from around the world. “Soul searching was the goal of the Italy trip, and I came back from that course with the realization that I was more interested in the business side of art and design than in pursuing an MFA,” she says.

Chris picked her up at the airport upon her return and remembers more: “As soon as she got off the plane, she told me she wanted a dog — everyone she saw in Italy seemed to have one — and a letterpress.” As part of the course, Brynley had been using antique letterpress machines, the precursor to modern offset printing equipment and a coveted device for creating printed items with a hand-crafted feel.

The notion of finding and acquiring a letter press prompted an important conversation. Brynley was still working full time at ITT and single-handedly running ByFarr on nights and weekends.

“Chris said, ‘You know, you’re working a lot — 80 or 90 hours a week — you should consider choosing one job or the other,’” she says. “It wasn’t an ultimatum, but that conversation helped make things clear for me. I said immediately, ‘I can’t quit ByFarr.’

It was never a hobby business for me.” The decision made, she taught her last course at the end of 2011. In early 2012 she devoted herself fully to ByFarr, and what had been a part-time business quickly scaled up.

Chris soon joined her to focus on operating and maintaining their first antique letterpress (they now have three). “I went from managing bricks and blocks in construction to managing print and pixels,” he says.

In the past two years, the ByFarr team has added two more Carolina graduates — web and print designer Laura Windham and social media and stationery/invitation specialist Bailee Allred. Their collective talents have earned praise from their clients, who range from small businesses in need of branding solutions to brides-to-be in search of the perfect invitation.

Windham, a 2012 graduate of USC’s visual communications program, attributes the company’s success to its core strengths.

“One company’s DNA will be wildly different from another’s — so every branding strategy or design is unique — but Brynley and Chris know small businesses,” she says. “They’ve built a business themselves and have a way of relating to clients in a way that feels very natural. The personal attention each client gets and the interest in their story, mission and dreams is what sets ByFarr apart.”

Looking ahead, the Farrs have ambitious plans: launching an exclusive line of stationery carried in stores, achieving a bigger share of the branding market and recruiting a larger staff to manage the work. But no matter how much ByFarr grows, they vow to hold fast to personal detail, giving clients a “wow” factor while keeping project costs affordable.

"We want to be a well-oiled machine," says Brynley. "Just like that letterpress."

Learn more

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 Carolinian magazine. Visit the My Carolina Alumni Association website to learn how you can get Carolinian delivered to your door. 

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about