Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell

This next story is a really special one that Emily McDowell brought up with me when chatting about this column’s story. She’s been running her company – creative and business – for 5 years and is embarking on a huge change in her company structure. Kindly sharing some very honest details about the struggles she faced in her company’s rapid growth, Emily’s here to delve into how she’s overcoming and choosing what’s best for her business. – Megan

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I’m a writer and illustrator, and I started what became Emily McDowell Studio in 2011, as an Etsy shop selling illustrated prints. I had recently quit my full time job as a creative director/writer in advertising, and I was freelancing in that business and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Pinterest was just getting started at that time, and people were really responding to my work, repinning it all over the place. Lettering also wasn’t a huge trend yet and I’d always loved lettering – it was what I did in the margins of paper when I was bored all through school, and then in meetings once I started working – so people were really digging what I was doing there, too. For the first year and a half, I only sold prints (printed myself on a home Epson). I really wanted to make cards, but at first I thought it’d be too hard to make a profit on something that costs less than $5. I was very interested in the idea of making cards for the relationships we actually have, since so much of what was out there were traditional messages that I didn’t feel personally connected to. Cards also let me combine my writing and illustration skills, plus my love for psychology and human observations, in a really fun, interesting way.

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

In 2012, I had an idea for a Valentine card for the person you’re kind of dating, but not really, which was something I’d never seen before. I had 100 printed at a local printer and put it in my Etsy shop in late January of 2013. It went viral and I sold 1700 in a week before I had to cut off shipping. That experience helped me see that there was a real need for the thing I wanted to do.

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

In May 2013, I launched my wholesale stationery line at NSS with 45 cards. I wrote about 35 orders for boutiques and got a huge Urban Outfitters order, which allowed me to get a studio space in downtown Los Angeles (I had to, since the 96,000 cards I was having printed wouldn’t fit in our apartment!). The company grew really quickly; after a year in business, I had 6 employees and we were in about 1,000 stores and doing a big chunk of our sales online.

I have never had a business partner, so I’ve always run the business and done all the creative. This has been rewarding, but also tremendously challenging. As we continued to grow, I was spending about 85% of my time managing staff, infrastructure, production, finances, and putting out various fires. The creative got pushed to the bottom of the pile because it was the only thing I could do on my own, so I did it late at night and on weekends when emails weren’t coming in and people didn’t need me for anything

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

It had always been my vision to make all kinds of different products beyond stationery – as a creative person, my brain just works that way, and as a formerly naïve person to the world of business, I figured it couldn’t be THAT hard. (Famous last words!) In 2014, we introduced tote bags, mugs, dish towels, and about 4 other categories of gift products. The bigger we got, the more challenging it was to produce gift – the logistics alone are mind-boggling. After running into issues with quality, timeliness, and cost in the US the first year, we began sourcing overseas, which is of course risky in different ways. We had some major issues and financial hits along the way, like a shipment of 10,000 tote bags that arrived six weeks late with the handles falling off, that we had to figure out how to have re-sewn at a local sewing house, while fielding countless angry phone calls from stores due to the delay in shipping. I’m really proud of us for pushing through when we all wanted to give up, and figuring out so many things on our own.
Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

In May of 2015, we launched Empathy Cards, which took the business to a whole different level. This unexpected growth coincided with building out and staffing our own warehouse in Las Vegas last spring after outgrowing two spaces in Los Angeles due to the storage space requirements of gift products (stationery takes up a lot less room than anything else!). By last summer, we were in 1700 stores and I had 13 employees. The six full-time employees at our office in LA included our head of sales, two wholesale coordinators, head of operations, production/customer service manager, and communications manager. In Las Vegas, we had 5 fulltime/2 part-time employees, who managed inventory and fulfillment of all our wholesale and website orders.

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

My life was constant, unrelenting problem-solving, which is part of being an entrepreneur, but this was extreme. I was in the strange position of being incredibly grateful for our success, but simultaneously exhausted and stressed out all the time. Part of why I left my career in advertising was that I was tired of the stress and sacrifice of working 80-hour weeks for ten years, but I found that I’d traded one business in for another.

This past year, I began to feel like the quality of my creative work was really suffering, and even though I’d delegated so much to my fantastic team, it felt like an impossible task to continue doing the kind of innovative creative work required to keep the business afloat while I was also running the business. I was also having to say no to a lot of creative opportunities that I really wanted to do, like writing and speaking, because I just didn’t have time.

At the end of 2015, in looking at our numbers, we realized that the wholesale arm of our business was bringing in slightly more than half of our revenue, but took ten times the resources and effort to run than our website, which accounted for the rest of our revenue. We had a lot of internal conversations about the best way forward, and it was clear that we needed to make some changes.

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

At NYNOW in January, I had a meeting with the folks at Madison Park Group about doing a special licensed collection with them, featuring products that we would never be able to make ourselves. A close friend and mentor of mine, Margo Tantau, had just come on board as MPG’s head of product development and creative, and she and I had been trying to figure out how to work together for a couple of years. I also knew two of MPG’s artists fairly well, and had always heard fantastic things about them as a company.

I came out of that meeting realizing that working with MPG might be a bigger opportunity than a licensed collection, and we started talking about what it might look like to enter into a partnership. We ended up negotiating a licensing contract in which Madison Park took over our production and fulfillment for wholesale, which means that about 80% of my daily responsibilities have been absorbed by their team. I still own and have complete creative control of the brand, and we are continuing to run our website and that half of the business ourselves.

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

The way it works now is that I come up with ideas, writing, and art for new products, and work with Margo and MPG’s product development team to get them made. Madison Park handles all the logistics and finances of production, and all our products destined for wholesale are stored in their warehouse in Seattle. We are able to buy inventory from them to store at our warehouse in Las Vegas and sell on our website.

Two of my three wholesale employees became Madison Park employees doing their same jobs on our brand, so when retailers call the same person answers the phone. Our sales reps and showrooms are remaining the same, and we’re keeping our own trade show booths and wholesale catalogs; those things are just managed by MPG now. Our wholesale orders are all shipped out of MPG’s warehouse and retailers submit payment to them.

This new system allows me to focus on doing what I started this business to be able to do: write and design products! We’ll still be making as many cards as we always have, but we’ll be adding so many new gift categories that we never could have figured out on our own. Between October and January, we’re going to be adding six new categories, which basically doubles our gift offering.

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

In some ways, this was a tough decision because it felt a bit like throwing in the towel on a thing we had worked so hard to build for three years. But in looking at the long-term health of the brand, thinking about my upcoming 40th birthday and the badly needed changes to my personal life, we all agreed that this was a great solution for the company. I feel really grateful to have been given this opportunity, and for the first time in a while, I feel excited about ideas instead of just feeling stressed about not having the time to come up with them.

The vast majority of our retailers have been thrilled about this shift (hey, more stuff to sell!). I wasn’t sure how other designers in the indie community would react, given that we basically sold out, but the reality is that 95% of the people in this industry are incredibly kind and supportive, which is really a special thing. All our paths are different, and there are a ton of different ways to build a business. I have the utmost respect for artisans and letterpress printers, but it was never my intention to be a maker; I’m personally more drawn to the creative idea part of making stuff. Ultimately, our businesses have to serve our lives, and as entrepreneurs, it’s all too easy to forget this and make your life about serving your business.

Behind the Stationery: Emily McDowell / Oh So Beautiful Paper

All photos courtesy of Emily McDowell.

Interested in participating in Behind the Stationery? Email Megan at megan (at) ohsobeautifulpaper (dot) com for more details.

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon

The National Stationery Show is right around the corner and I’m here with London-based designer, Katie Leamon, who’s sharing about balancing designing versus managing staff as her business has grown to be an extension of her family. Katie takes us through her business’ journey, explaining everything from her sketching process to her first debut, straddling studio spaces and more. –Megan

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Welcome to our little world at Katie Leamon. Firstly, can I say a big thank you to Nole and Megan for sharing our story. I’m Katie, creative director at the company – we are a family run card and stationery business based in London, UK.

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

The company grew organically from relatively humble beginnings as I spent my weekends and evenings sketching ideas, building a website and pulling together designs alongside a full time job in fashion. It wasn’t until Spring 2011 that I had a collection together and was ready to launch myself into the world of stationery design and production more seriously.

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I was fortunate enough to be accepted to compete in Liberty of London’s Open Call Day – a day which will remain one of the most significant of my career, and one so filled with fear and elation in equal measure! My brand had been born and the summer of 2011 I launched into the world of trade shows by exhibiting at Pulse London, and landed a few incredible new stockists including high profile stores Paperchase and Selfridges.

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Before long, I needed another pair of hands and my mum and sister began helping to pack cards and fulfill orders to allow more time to design and drive the business forward. Since then we have gone on to build a production studio in the garden of my family home in the Essex countryside just outside of London, where they both continue to run our production studio. I am still in London where I work from another studio in an old train depot. There are four of us here including my partner, Ruairi, who joined the company a couple of years ago to help me with sales and business development. Being spread across two studios sometimes poses a logistical problem, but generally speaking it works really well and allows us to concentrate on our roles. I think if the production was being done around me I would never get anything done as I still love being hands on with the cards and wouldn’t leave the warehouse!

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I was sharing a studio with my brother for the first couple of years and he was a huge inspiration in helping me find my method that we still use today. Our rubber stamp technique was born the Autumn of 2010. We brought a stamp making kit made a series of hand made stamps which, although I don’t make the stamps anymore, the process remains the same and each card is individually hand printed. This is something that I think helps to stand us apart and maintain the tangible, personal touch that goes into our products.

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Photo by Laura Hutchinson

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Our style is quite minimal with a muted colour palette and simple typographical and illustrative designs. I combine this playful nature with repetitive geometric patterns, which adds a bit of structure to our collections. I keep a close eye on trends and like to know whats happening in fashion, architecture, and interior design trends as they tend to filter down to the stationery world – and it’s good to be ahead of the game in such a competitive industry with so many amazing brands. They key is to adopt trends but make them your own, with your stamp on them to ensure the integrity and heart of the brand is always prevalent.

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Photo by Laura Hutchinson

A typical day for me starts by checking emails and updating our Instagram account whilst making a smoothie. Ruairi and I walk to work most days and spend the journey catching up with things for the day ahead. Once everyone is else in at about 9 – 9:30am we run through various ideas and projects that are going on at the time. We also catch up with the production team every morning – Facetime has been incredible at easing the distance between the studios. I go out there once a week, but we are able to catch up with them multiple times a day and visually see samples and deal with issues, which has proved really helpful. There are generally four people out in Essex including my mum and sister, and another four of us in London.

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Georgia was my first full-time intern and deals with all our marketing and press as well as helping out with everything in between! Olivia is the latest person to join us full time and she helps Ruairi with wholesale accounts and manages production demands. Our team is incredible; they are an extension of the family, and all invaluable in helping to run the company. We have had a steady growth since I started out in 2010, and it’s lovely to have people to share the highs and lows with. I’m very lucky to be doing something I love for a living and sharing what I do with my partner and my family is such a bonus!

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Photo by Laura Hutchinson

For me personally, it can be difficult to juggle my design time and the responsibilities that come from running your own business. There is endless paperwork, forms and logistics that need to be organized, not to mention the managing of everyone in the team and ensuring they are all working as well as possible. I am in the process of restructuring the way I work and making time to get away from my computer to design. It’s a constant battle – one in which I am taking steps to improve but is probably my biggest challenge.

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

The time I do take to design and brainstorm is lovely. I love to get away from my desk with a sketchbook and pencil and start jotting down ideas, whether its phrases I want to add to a card, people I want to collaborate with, new products I want to explore, or new colours of things that are selling well. My sketchbook has everything in it; it’s a bible of everything going on in my mind and I’d be lost without it. I scan drawings in, send things off for colour matching, print ideas out, and collage them together to see if an idea has any legs to grow. More often than not, I visualize the end product and work backwards to make that come alive. I piece it all together by sourcing the right stock, getting the right shade, and ensuring a very fine detail comes out as I want. I’m a perfectionist, so getting it quite right can sometimes take some time, but it’s worth it. I love nothing more than the day new samples arrive on our doorstep and I get to see my designs come to life.

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Photo by Laura Hutchinson

Behind the Stationery: Katie Leamon / Oh So Beautiful Paper

My goal is to create beautiful stationery that people buy and almost don’t want to use, to ignite excitement in our customers when a beautiful package arrives, and to make things I would not only use but am also proud of. As a company, I am incredibly proud of how far we have come and that we continue to savor and pay homage to the beauty of hand printed, hand written letter, all the while having a wonderful working life with close family and friends.

Thanks again to Nole and Megan for having us! See you in New York!

Photos by Katie Leamon except where noted.

Interested in being featured in this column? Reach out to Megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com.

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative

We’re headed down south for today’s Behind the Stationery feature. Melissa of Atheneum Creative is a rockstar at custom invitations and pretty event trinkets of all kinds! Working with and beyond the paper medium, Melissa collaborates with other vendors and artists to create something special and unique for her clients. Take it away, Melissa! –Megan
Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Hello! I’m Melissa, creative director and owner of Atheneum Creative in Charlotte, North Carolina. Atheneum was established in 2011 with the idea of bringing stories to life through a unique branded experience. I have always had a passion for pretty things, paper, and pushing the envelope. With my background in branding, it was a natural fit to bring that process into the wedding world.

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Prior to the start of Atheneum, I was working for a small boutique design shop based in Chicago. Over the years, I had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most challenging and inspiring industries in the field, creating nationally recognized work and truly building a love for this profession. Working with a lot of non-profits, educational institutions and hospitals, my everyday was filled with annual reports, branding and promotional collateral. Don’t get me wrong, I love working on all of that especially with the non-profits who have such great stories to tell, but it was always the special invitations and events that would grace our door that really light the fire in me. Picking papers, materials, and thinking about unique ways to mail always got me excited and I knew where my heart was.

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

So from there, Atheneum was born. I love a challenge. It is always a little scary to be experimental (I never tell the clients I’m scared), but I love when a client comes in for a meeting and says, “I want something no one has ever seen before.” It makes my heart race a little, but that’s the fun part, right?

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I incorporate almost all printing methods into our work: digital, offset, letterpress, foil, engraving, screen, vinyl, etc. I especially love when a client wants to bring in something more three dimensional — bowties on a stick, keys, or wood blocks — or when we push the materials and print on wood, glass, metal, copper, leather, silk, etc. I think that is what makes Atheneum Creative a bit more unique: I love to challenge myself to make something really unique and help tell the story of our clients.

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I recently sat down with a client to brainstorm a birth announcement / baptism announcement and she showed me the bible verse she wanted to use, but didn’t know how to tie it all together to tell her story. I came up with the idea of exploration and adventure to pull you through his birth and life moments to the baptism. We even brought in a real compass to include in the announcement, which we printed on the inside cover. I am hoping to shoot this soon so we will have some photos to share, but for now, I included some iPhone process shots.

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful PaperBehind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I am the creative director for all of the work, but we do have a great team we collaborate with including graphic designers, calligraphers, illustrators and photographers. Collaborating is one of the best parts of being a designer. My typical day is usually broken up by a few hours of design work and a few hours of assembly.

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

There is almost always a trip to some of the local printers we use for a press check or pick-up. Everyone at the post office knows me! I call that my second home as I spend so much time there! For example, this morning, after dropping the kids off, I was on a foil press check at 8:30 am with the client, approved a digital sheet at another printer at 9:15 am, dropped off envelopes to a calligrapher at 10 am and then wrapped up my morning at the post office to purchase 920 stamps for an assembly job tomorrow. I don’t have a set schedule as every day is different, but I am usually in the office from 8am – 6pm (with my dog sitting by my side all day long). My kids also love to visit me when I am working!

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

A lot of our clients are not local and a good handful of them are overseas. I typically start every project with a call or in person meeting to discuss the look of the wedding day. Sometimes brides have a good idea of what they are after and others have no idea—which is not a problem! We take the look and feel of the day and carry it over into their stationery. We might start with a logo or monogram, or just colors and patterns that will pull everything together.

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful Paper

From there we work on various design options to give clients a nice range to choose from. We also work with creative language to ensure a wedding brand fully expresses the client’s personality. Once we go a few rounds of revisions, we are off to print. We are usually assembling in about three weeks. Then we shoot it and submit it to OSBP 🙂

I know everyone always says this, but our clients are truly the best! They trust us and allow us to get creative and unique with their work and if it was not for clients like that, we would not have the super fun portfolio we do today!

Behind the Stationery: Atheneum Creative / Oh So Beautiful PaperThanks, Nole and Megan!

Photos by Allison Kuhn (office), Chelsea Davis (new work), and Melissa Broderick (compass work).

Interested in participating in this column? Email Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com.

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co.

I remember meeting Sara back at Tradeshow Bootcamp in 2013! Her aesthetic and authenticity caught my eye and I have been a fan ever since. I’m honored to feature this new mother, entrepreneur, and friend on OSBP today. Sharing about her (mostly) family powered business and how she’s adapted her business since becoming a mom, here’s Sara from Constellation & Co.Megan

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Constellation & Co. is located in Seattle, Washington. Our storefront studio and shop is in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle in the historic Fishermen’s Terminal. The Fishermen’€™s Terminal is home to the Northwest fishing fleet – giant fishing vessels that spend fall through spring in Seattle and head to Alaska for the summer. We’re right on the water, and that’s been a huge part of what has inspired me this past year. There is nothing better than a mid-day walk on the docks, breathing the fresh air and letting the water calm me.

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Our space is naturally bright, with huge windows, pale blue walls and light wood floors. It has soaring high ceilings and a romantic spiral staircase up to our loft office. I remember the first time I saw the space, the way it made me feel. It was ripe with possibility, hopeful and beautiful. It was new and exciting, but also felt like home. It’s a gift.

It’s a creative space and I feel inspired when I’m there. It’s full of beautiful things – antique equipment, lovely people, and amazing products made by fellow artists and designers. When we moved in I wasn’t sure how it would work having retail, office, and production all in one space. We get to share the practical craft letterpress with the public, and connect with the people who buy our cards in a real way. One of my favorite perks is using our shop to do product testing. I can put a brand new card out on the rack as soon as I print it, and get feedback right away.

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Our loft office is all about practical storage. It’s a small space and it’s home to all of our paper and envelopes, including in-process and packaged cards. We’ve worked hard to keep the storefront space inviting to customers as well as practical for a working letterpress shop. It’s a daily challenge, but I think we balance it well. Knowing that the general public sees everything is a great way to stay organized!

The shop is open six days a week, with my beautiful team keeping the doors open and greeting customers. Our team consists of myself (owner/designer/printer), Chelsa (wholesale manager), Brooke (letterpress printer), as well as Meredith, Dorothy and Sam who keep the shop running and online orders going out (plus a lot of other things!). My mom, Suzi, is our bookkeeper extraordinaire. My husband Brad, dad Chuck, and sister Beth chip in too.

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I became a mom a year ago, and spent the first six months at the shop every day. When my very sweet, very active son started crawling at six months, the plan had to change. Now I work from home four days a week, and have one full day of child care. I also work a lot of nights and weekends. I’ve found that being a mom and an entrepreneur is possible, but it is not simple. It takes a lot of planning, flexibility, sense of humor, and grace for myself and others.

None of my days are really typical, but these are some of my daily work from home rituals. I make and eat breakfast in the kitchen with my son. We listen to music and I do silly dances to make him laugh. He takes a morning nap, and I spend time answering e-mails and planning my tasks for the day. I listen to a podcast and work on creative tasks, like linoleum cuts for a project, designs for new cards, client work, etc. My little one wakes up and we eat lunch. If the weather is nice, we go for a walk or play in the yard. When he’s ready for his afternoon nap, I get started on necessary tasks – ordering paper, social media marketing, planning upcoming events and trade shows, jotting down product ideas, doing dishes or laundry, etc.

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

On my in-shop days, my dad comes in the morning to care for my son. I run an errand or two and head into the studio. I love those mornings when it’s just me in the shop. I play loud music and sing my heart out. I open the mail, tidy the print shop, prepare my projects for the day, and start up the Windmill. My Heidelberg Windmill has been with me less than a year, but she’s become my special friend. Learning to print on a new press is a scary and rewarding endeavor! Brooke prints nearly every day on our platen press, and now with two production presses we can be really efficient.
Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

By lunchtime, there’s usually four of us working in the shop: Brooke and I printing, Chelsa and Dorothy (depending on the schedule) filling wholesale orders, packaging cards, and checking out shop customers. At some point throughout the day, I take a break to visit the boats. I print more or less all day, while answering questions, saying hello to visitors and trying to take enough Instagrammable photos to get me through the week (haha!). At the end of the day I’m missing my boy, and I head home tired but happy. I love my inky hands, tired feet and sense of accomplishment.
Most of our products start with a line of text scribbled in my notebook. I write everything down, and eventually come back to it. If it speaks truth to me the next time I see it, I’ll make it into something. If it feels lame when I come back to it, I let it stay in my notebook.

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Before becoming a mom, most of our products were designed by setting lead or wood type. Many of our products are still (and always will be) printed that way, with hand-set type and wood engravings. Now that I’m working remotely most of the time, I’ve had to change tactics for new products. I’ve returned to my roots as a graphic designer, working in Adobe Illustrator and setting type digitally. I order the designs as photopolymer plates and letterpress print them. One of my favorite parts of designing new products is choosing the paper and envelope colors for each design. Once the card is finished, matched with an envelope and packaged in a clear sleeve, it all feels very official!
Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Our line is focused on universal truths and simple beauty. Our process is simple because our products are simple! I want the words to shine, and for nothing to distract from the emotional honesty. Whether it’s silliness, expressions of love, or being there for someone dealing with tragedy and grief, it’s the connections between people that are important. If words from my heart and pieces of paper that have been lovingly printed in shop make a difference in people’s relationships, I’m a success.

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

One of my favorite new skills with the Windmill is die cutting. I’d never tried it before, but I was emboldened after taking the Windmill Workshop at Flywheel Press, and now I love it! I’ve ordered a few dies for cutting and scoring our A7 and 4bar cards, and I’m totally hooked. I’m thinking in shapes all of a sudden. It’s fun to see how my thinking changes with new skills and equipment. It’s an encouragement to keep learning, keep growing, and being open to try new things.

This year I’ve been working on a large series of linoleum cuts that will launch as a product in May. I’ve enjoyed having a physical component that I can work on from home. The design for that series still started as a digital design, and was transferred by hand to the blocks with carbon paper. A new trick that Sam from my team introduced me to is using a heating pad to keep the linoleum blocks warm so they carve more smoothly. I put 3 or 4 small blocks under the pad and swap them out with they start cooling down. What have I been doing all this time without this trick!?

Behind the Stationery: Constellation & Co. / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Photos by Meredith McKee.

Interested in participating in the Behind the Stationery column? Email Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautiful paper [dot] com.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type

I’m beyond thrilled to bring y’all our next stationer, Allison from The Social Type! Allison and Jess have created some of my favorite foil pieces and matchboxes and they are a hoot to be around. The Social Type is a creative manifestation of their friendship and they have been at it since working separate day jobs and being long distance business partners. From working together on designs to adjusting to being a parent, Allison is here to take us through their stationery business story! –Megan

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Hello from sunny Los Angeles! I’m Allison Brennan, co-founder of The Social Type. Jessica Tree and I are thrilled to be featured on Oh So Beautiful Paper, our go-to for all things paper related! Jessica and I founded The Social Type in 2009. We were already good friends and decided we wanted to do something creative together. Both eager to be our own bosses and business partners, we were excited by the idea of creating cards and products that we loved and wanted to buy. I had previously worked as a buyer for Jonathan Wright and Company and Minted.com. I was immersed in the stationery and gift industry, and there was no place I’d rather be. I had a desire to launch a wholesale line and Jessica was on board.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

We really kicked things off in 2010 when we launched our mini-collection of letterpress and foil greeting cards at the Renegade Craft Fair in LA. Urbanic, in Venice, CA was our very first store. We dropped off some samples for Audrey right after Renegade and I think she purchased the entire line for her boutique. We were thrilled; that gave us the boost of confidence to keep going and grow our line further. Over the next year, we figured out how to fund a collection that was big enough to show at the National Stationery Show. Our first show in 2012 was a great success and this May 2016 will mark our fifth NSS. We are always excited to travel to New York City to be part of such an amazing show.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

The Social Type is a paper goods and gift company; we sell wholesale to boutiques and stores across the United States, Canada, and beyond. We also have a retail site where customers can purchase directly. We outsource all of our printing and most of our manufacturing primarily in the United States, and we ship all of our products from Los Angeles.

We are really crazy about foil printing. When we were conceptualizing our first collection, foil wasn’t a prominent printing method in the stationery industry. We love letterpress but knew we wanted our cards to have a little more sparkle, and foil was the perfect detail. It was a bit of a risk because the trend hadn’t taken off yet, but we were confident that it would catch on. Everything we print today, from cards to matchboxes, all involve some sort of foil printing. We haven’t met a foil we didn’t like. Right now we are mad for hologram; we really can’t get enough of it.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Our studio is in Echo Park, Los Angeles, which is just a short jaunt from hip Silver Lake and booming Downtown. Jessica and I love LA, and it suits us both quite well. We are two midwestern transplants that can’t get enough sunny skies. Some days we head to the Echo Park Boathouse for lunch meetings to enjoy the lake or we’ll have a happy hour brainstorming session at L&E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake. Our surrounding neighborhoods serve as constant inspiration as they are home to many artists, entrepreneurs, and creatives like us. Los Angeles is such an exciting place to grow our company; we have lots of good friends that have their own companies here, too. We are lucky to have such a great support group.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Our studio has a lot of natural light and great outdoor space, and we take our meetings in the courtyard whenever possible. About a quarter of the studio is dedicated to our own offices and the rest of the studio is comprised of fulfillment space and inventory, though the inventory is really taking over. We moved to the studio in August 2014 and are already outgrowing it. We are currently looking for space in the area where we might one day be able to have a retail shop, which is a dream of mine, as well as our warehouse and design studio.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Our work day typically starts around 9-9:30 for the team. I usually sneak in at about 10 so I can spend a few morning hours with my daughter (and I’m grateful to have a partner who allows me to do so). Monday mornings we have a team meeting to discuss projects and schedules for the week ahead. Jess and I usually meet on our own and split up tasks for the week. Jess often focuses on design, deliverables for our licensing partners, and answering inquiries we receive through our website. I focus on some design, sourcing, and general operations. Our awesome fulfillment team handles everything else from order processing and packing to rep correspondence, processing payments, and shipping wholesale and web orders. From time to time, we bring in extra fulfillment help during busier seasons and for large key account orders.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Jess and I concept and design together. When I get stuck on an initial idea or design, I pass it off to Jess and she figures out what to do with it, and vice versa. We have worked that way since the very beginning, even when we were in different cities. Occasionally we license art from other artists too, and we really appreciate those partnerships.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Once a design is ready to be manufactured, I usually prep the design files to send to our printer and Jess will create or update our catalog and sell sheets for our reps and stores. Our products often go through several rounds of proofing before we sign off on them. Once we receive inventory at our studio, our accounts coordinator and fulfillment team handle the rest. They stock product, sleeve and label cards, pull and pack orders, and ship samples to our reps. Our team is small but growing, and that means we all wear a lot of hats – it’s a group effort. We work hard, but like to have a good time. It’s not unusual to find us blasting music, dancing about the studio, or cracking jokes.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

About a year and a half ago we started designing die cut cards and they’ve been really successful. We have fun designing them, too. Expect to see more die cuts, lots of hologram foil, and new matchboxes in May at NSS. We have some other goodies planned for 2016, including a line of candles and other party and gift items. Our biggest release comes in May of each year when we show off new product at NSS. We have two other smaller releases in early Fall and mid-Winter, though this year we will have a more sizable release in August since we will have our first solo booth at NY NOW. We love owning and operating our own business, but it’s not always cut and dry. As we grow, we occasionally run into obstacles but try to learn from our mistakes, which makes our partnerships and business stronger.

Behind the Stationery: The Social Type / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Thanks to Nole and Megan for letting us share a little glimpse of our company with you. We love what we do and are very fortunate to be part of an amazing network of talented businesses and individuals. We look forward to expanding our business this year and sharing new products with you. Don’t be a stranger, please keep in touch!

Photos by Stephanie Todaro

Interested in participating in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to me at Megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com.