Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

For this installment of Behind the Stationery, I’m thrilled to bring you a former fellow Brooklynite, Katie Gastley of Idlewild Co. on the blog sharing about her first wholesale order, what prompted a transition to a Florida office, and how she hand paints every design (!) that Idlewild produces. Cheers and take it away, Katie! –Megan

katie_painting

Ever since I can remember, I have always loved making things. Anything. Be it paintings, jewelry, ceramics, recipes, I’m in my prime when I’m creating. I moved from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn in 2002 to attend Pratt Institute, an Art and Architecture school focused on building a core fine art foundation; quite literally the perfect school for me! While refining all of my technical design skills that I use today to manufacture Idlewild Co.’s various products, I was also able to keep painting; something I found as more of a necessity to how I function rather than a hobby.

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

Upon graduation, I worked in various print and web design fields and built a small Etsy business on the side selling prints of my original paintings. I exhibited in my free time, selling my art prints in cafes and at various NYC craft festivals. One of my friends from college invited me to see her booth at the National Stationery Show; when I walked into the Javits Center and saw rows and rows of mega-creative-talent, and they were predominantly women-owned business… I was hyped! I knew I had found something special, and all of a sudden the direction of my side-business became a very focused goal. I was going to form a small collection of greeting cards, and apply for next year’s show.

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

At the time, I was working as a designer at Martha Stewart, another business run by smart and creative women (there’s a theme here…) and my nights were spent painting, printing, and packaging a small range of greeting cards and hand-bound notebooks to debut at the show. I knew a bit about selling through my experience at the local shows in New York, but figuring out my pricing and policies took quite a lot of work at the beginning.

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

I started the first batch of production with the only savings I had, and away I went to my first National Stationery Show booth built with the help of family and friends. My literal first sale was almost a disaster as I unknowingly applied NY State sales tax to a wholesale order. (Disclaimer: That is NOT how it works, but I was so thoroughly traumatized by the process of applying for a State Tax ID and wrapping my brain around its rules and guidelines, I was more than willing to hand over more than my fair share of taxes. Well, times have changed on that matter, my friend!) My buyer looked at me like I was an idiot and shared words that will probably forever echo in my mind: “Um, wholesale orders DO NOT pay tax.” Yeah, ok. Very shaky, but I had made my first sale, and it was quite a large one. Thankfully she looked past my rookie mistake – and they are still a current reseller of ours!

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

Running my business during the weekends out of my Brooklyn apartment became more and more difficult to manage during my already 50-hour long work week. I knew a change was in sight. It wasn’t possible to manage quitting my full-time job and running a hardly-profitable small business in the most expensive/greatest city in America, so my fiancé and I moved to the next-best place: the beach. He grew up in a small town on the Atlantic coast in Florida, and I was able to focus entirely on building my business.

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

Progress was slow but steady and I was eventually able to afford a separate studio, then part time employees, and finally a full-time manager to oversee our wholesale partnerships, and studio manager to oversee our order fulfillment and inventory. With each step of growth I was able to allocate a little bit of the day-to-day “business” responsibilities to my employees, and devote more of my own time to creating new designs and prototyping new product categories.

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

All of the designs at Idlewild Co. are created using my hand-painted artwork. Beginning with a sketch idea, I paint the final artwork and hand-lettering before scanning everything into the computer where any necessary tweaks are made, from color correcting to layout revising. After dropping the final artwork into specified mechanical files, they’re passed onto our local print partners for production. Most of our products contain a lot of color, so we use offset printing methods for the majority of our line. This gives us unlimited color options on press, which is important when replicating paintings.

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

We don’t have the bandwidth or physical space to print our products in-house, so it’s absolutely necessary (and invaluable) for us to have a local printer we can work hand-in-hand with on our particular method of production. After the items have been printed and trimmed to their respective specifications, the final pieces are returned to our studio for packaging and finishing – and eventually fulfillment via our retail website or wholesale distributions.

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

Currently, we’ve been expanding our line to include gift and accessory items; still based on our hand painted art. We’ve recently debuted our pen collections and enamel keychains, and are enjoying the challenge of working out the tricky details of manufacturing once you move to a 3-dimensional model. We’re currently in the process of planning a suite of notebooks that will debut at NYNOW in January.

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

It has now been 3 years since I moved from Brooklyn, and I’m thrilled at the company Idlewild has become. A never-ending creative outlet for my maker-focused mind, haven, and collaborative hub for local artists, and perhaps what I’m most proud of: a woman-owned and women-operated small business. The team of “Idle-Ladies” I have the pleasure of working with keep our engines running smoothly, wholesale orders processed efficiently, products packaged beautifully, and orders shipped timely. We’ll keep making cards for as long as people enjoy sending them!

Behind the Stationery: Idlewild Co.

All photos by Idlewild Co.

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards

What an honor to share with you all this next stationery duo’s journey. From Red Cap Cards, Carrie and Hal are here to share about the importance of pajamas, insight on working with illustrators and artists, and behind their new collaborative collection debuting at NYNOW in two short weeks! It’s amazing to see how they changed their career paths and adjusted their vision, individually and together. —Megan

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Hello! We are Carrie and Hal from Red Cap Cards. Our company is based out of Los Angeles, California. We are a stationery company that celebrates artists, creating a platform to share their work through beautifully designed paper products.

Our story began in 2005 when Hal and I decided we wanted to work together and create a lifestyle for ourselves that allowed us to be completely in charge of our own time. I think some people are just meant to work for themselves and that would be us. Hal and I both had different careers. He was running a coffee roasting business and I was a children’s theatre director. Although we were passionate about these careers, we decided to take a leap of faith and start a creative business that was in line with the creative vision we had for our life. At the time, I was illustrating cards as a hobby and people loved them. We recognized the potential in the concept of bringing amazing art and illustration to the doorstep (quite literally) of the masses. So, in our tiny West Hollywood bungalow, Red Cap Cards was born.
Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Over time our company has evolved. In the beginning, I was the only illustrator and now we have over twenty different artists in our line—which is constantly evolving. We realized early on that we had loyal fan base and felt that this was ultimately the most valuable aspect of our business. So in 2007, we began collaborating with artists from all around the world. We started with a few artists that were friends of ours, and then we added more over time.

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful PaperPhoto (courtesy) of Kate Pugsley

All of the artists that we have worked with have ended up becoming friends and members of a tight-knit family that we cherish. Creating amazing products is a wonderful part of our business but being champions for the artists we work with is our favorite part of our job. They are some of the most talented artists out there, and we consider ourselves lucky to introduce their work to a new collective.

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Hal and I have held true to our vision. We work from home and can pretty much do our job from anywhere, thanks to the magic of technology. We always start the day with coffee. This is an essential in our house! I’m typically in pajamas all day; this is the sad but awesome truth. Hal and I sit at one long desk in our office that we have had for 10 years. We also have an amazing team of writers and designers who all work from their own spaces, and this is by design. One thing Hal and I have never wanted to do was manage people. We never liked feeling micro-managed, and we believe that our business model is one that empowers people and leads to a richer quality of work. I love knowing almost everyone on our team is happy working from the studios that inspire them. The remote office is the only way to go for us! Pajamas for everyone!

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I retired from illustrating for Red Cap Cards in 2012 to take on the role as our creative director and collection curator. I spend most of my day working with our creative team, which consists of our artists, our amazing designer, Michelle, and Andie who writes our blog and helps with all things PR-related. Hal typically spends his day working with our logistics team which consists of Betsy, our wholesale manager and all around super star, Denise, who manages our warehouse in Minnesota, and Rich, who runs all of our print jobs here in Los Angeles.

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful PaperPhoto by Carolyn Gavin

When creating a collection for Red Cap I always begin with the illustrator. I think about the unique perspective that the individual artist will bring to our line. Each artist we work with has their own approach to their work, which means that each process is a little bit different. Some artists love direction and others, not so much. We always suggest that greeting card occasions help to inspire the narrative in our cards, but we try not to let those occasions limit our artists or box them in. We want our artists to create work that they love, which is communicated through a “free” artistic process. That’s really important to us. Sometimes we have a general theme to help inspire a collection, and others times it’s random and very organic.

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful PaperPhoto by Carolyn Gavin

I typically start the process by looking at their current body of work to help give them a general direction of what I feel would work on a card. Then we start a conversation about the kind of collection they’d like to create. The challenge in working with many different artists is creating a cohesive collection. Our goal is to curate a line that harmonizes together, but one that allows each card to stand independently on its own.

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

We use several different types of printing processes including offset and gold foil-stamping, and have a special collection of spot color Pantone® cards. All of our products are printed and manufactured right here in Los Angeles and are quality checked by our standards. Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

We show up at 9am for every press run and are there as our printers deliver the cards into our hands hot off the presses. We adore our pressmen, some of whom have been in the printing business for over thirty years!

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

We adjust colors until they are as close to perfect as we can get, which can be a difficult process. Certain colors are hard to print, and we want to get them just right! After our cards are printed, we send them to our awesome warehouse in Minnesota, which is another business run by a husband-and-wife team. We love them dearly! They do an amazing job.
Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Recently, seven of our artists came together to create our first line of coordinating wrapping paper, notebook and greeting card suites. I wanted this collection to be a stunning showcase of how well our artists work together while remaining completely true to their individual vision. In order to do this, I had our artists create color stories that they shared with one another. The idea was to allow the different color stories inspire each other’s work.

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

This was a really fun way to for our artists to play with one another and create a collection that harmonized in color. I’m so happy with the end result. We really do work with some of the most talented artists in the world, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. We hope that our labor of love comes through to the customers who buy our cards. This collection will be debuting at NYNOW on August 20th at the Crow & Canary booth!

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Hal and I are beyond grateful to be living such a wonderful life surrounded by so many talented people. If you would have asked me when I was a kid if I would grow up to run a stationery company, I would have laughed. I love how life can surprise you. I’m excited about the unknown future of Red Cap and I feel so much gratitude for folks like Oh So Beautiful Paper who have supported us from day one. That means the world to us.

Behind the Stationery: Red Cap Cards / Oh So Beautiful Paper

All photos taken by or for Red Cap Cards except where noted.

Interested in being featured in this column? Reach out to Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com for more details!

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs

California is full of wonderful stationery designers, and Richele of Richie Designs is no exception. Here to share about custom wedding invitations and her story of moving into greeting cards after 20 years in advertising and design – here’s Richele! —Megan

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Hi, I’m Richele Silva, owner of Richie Designs. Richie Designs is a design studio located in Long Beach, California. We’re the little city jammed between the Housewives of Beverly Hills and Orange County. I have a small office here in Long Beach where I meet with clients, pack orders, and get to leave my house once in a while. This space is new for me this year; previously, I had been running my business from home. It seems ideal that you could work from home, but I really missed “going to the office” and having a routine around that. I split my time now between the office and my press, which is still in le garage.

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful PaperPhoto by Eric Hameister

I’ve worked in design and advertising for nearly 20 years, mostly in the power sports / automotive sector. I began at the bottom in a small design firm and worked my way up and essentially learned on the job. Since we were small, I had the amazing opportunity to sit in all of the jobs of the studio — from going to a meeting in place of the creative director to styling a photo shoot. It was a great situation for me, and I feel like it has given me the perfect education to run my business. Two years ago, I left that work to pursue my line. I had just turned 45, and I really didn’t want to get to 70 wondering “What if?” My husband and I made a plan so that I could go out on my own.

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I’ve done some version of greeting card design for 20+ years on the side, the last 10 being more serious as Richie Designs and letterpress printing. I happened onto printing when I began taking some classes for fun on the weekends. I purchased my own press when my instructor said, “you’re here again?” after I had taken so many consecutive classes for press time.

richie designs - wedding.wall.sized

My business has really evolved over the past 10 years, from custom weddings to a fuller greeting card line and then this year, with the addition of gift items, such as mugs, pencils, and notepads. My day-to-day is focused on my greeting line, but I have a great love for custom wedding and stationery clients.

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I work with wedding clients the same way that I worked with my Fortune 100 clients: consulting, conceptualizing, collaborating, and executing. I want them to be a part of each step. I find it’s rewarding for them as well as for myself. Sadly, I only take on a few wedding projects a year now because of time constraints from the other parts of my business, but it’s something that I really enjoy.

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful Paper

My approach to greeting design is a little selfish, in that I design the greetings that I want to give. I love type, quirky observations from daily life, and conversations with my friends, so I work to blend those things together. I also have the mindset that I want as many of my cards as possible to have dual purposes. As an example, you could use my Snuggle Card for a sweetheart, friend, or child. I’m someone who buys three or four cards to keep in a drawer so that I’m covered, and I want buyers of my line to be able to do the same.

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful Paper

My design process begins with sticky notes and doodles, which are usually all over my computer or inspiration boards. I jot quick things down as they come up, and then when I sit down to design I look back at those stickies and work on icons or type treatments to go with them. I might try out two or three designs per concept and then edit down from there. Once I have a collection of cards or a style that I know I’m on, I’ll order my plates and begin printing. Generally, I have colors somewhat worked out ahead of printing, but on occasion I’ll choose colors on the fly.

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I used to be very regimented about designing to the very nth degree before I got on press, but I’ve learned over the years that being a little bit loose helps my design process and also being open to the creative accidents that lead you to something new and exciting. It’s something that I want to take advantage of since I print my own work; most designers don’t get that opportunity. Art accidents are unexpected gifts — they don’t happen often, but when they do they’re magic.

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I have a small team: myself, Lis, who is my studio manager, my rep Sasha, and my husband Chris. On a typical day, Lis will print while I design, or she might be packing orders while I work on business stuff. As a business owner, I would say that the worst part of being a creative person and owning a business is that a good 80% of my day ends up being business-related vs. creating art now. I’m an artist first and an accidental businesswoman second, but in reality I have to switch that around to make this all work. With both Lis and Sasha, I feel really grateful that I have really talented and hard-working women next to me whom I also consider dear friends and great associates. My husband’s role is official cheerleader. I tried to teach him to print, but let’s just say keeping that part of our lives separate works out better for everyone involved!

Behind the Stationery: Richie Designs / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Right now, it’s midsummer, and we’re working on new designs, taking care of orders and some custom projects that we’re still discussing. My husband and I are looking forward to our first full week of vacation EVER. We’ve been together for 12 years now, but he went back to school for medicine during that time and then just when he was settled, I started my business. We’re long overdue and really looking forward to it. Thanks for stopping by the studio!

All photos by Richie Designs except where noted.

Interested in being featured in Behind the Stationery? Email megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin

Based in the colorful land of Los Angeles, California, Katie from The Good Twin is here to share with us the founding moments of her stationery company and take us through a day in her life. I love seeing her pins and stationery in local Brooklyn shops here in New York! So glad to have you here today, Katie. Take it away –Megan

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Hi there! I’m Katie, owner and operator of The Good Twin, based here in toasty Los Angeles. And yes, I am a twin, although my brother might argue with you about the “good” part, ha. I’m so excited to be chatting with you guys today – Oh So Beautiful Paper has been a source of inspiration for me for many years, and stationery is one of my favorite things to talk about, go figure.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I’ve been working in stationery since my college days in Minneapolis, after a childhood in Portland spent creating greeting cards for family and friends for pretty much any occasion. While I was in art school, I interned for a corporate greeting card company, and then a small letterpress shop, both of which really helped me learn the ins and outs of the industry. I realized I was really excited about the big picture of a business — growing a full line and having creative control, rather than being a hired gun for an art director, and I set my sights on producing my own designs.

When I graduated, I worked a few jobs (barista, library assistant, and freelance illustrator) while my friend John and I started Dude and Chick, a tiny line of letterpress cards. After a few years of long hours and late nights, I moved to L.A., where I eventually decided to leave Dude and Chick and start my own line. The Good Twin was finally off and running in May of 2014.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

My studio is in Lincoln Heights, way on the east side of Los Angeles just northeast of downtown. It’s small, but it’s mine! I only recently moved into a space outside of my house, which has been a big change, but also very welcomed – my apartment feels like a real place again, rather than a storage locker filled to the brim with paper! All of my inventory lives in the studio, and I also carved out a designated area that feels a bit more officelike, with a big desk for drawing.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I usually bring my pug Peggy to work with me, and we’re joined a few times a week by my friend Bryan, who helps out with inventory management and order fulfillment. Having an employee has been my saving grace —before that, my nights and weekends (and sometimes afternoons) would be spent sleeving cards and pulling orders. I still do a lot of that, but now I have a lot more time to focus on illustrating and the business as a whole.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

As The Good Twin has grown and expanded, I’ve learned to delegate a bit, but I still find myself packing my days with a million different things. I work best when I’m multitasking. My best trick for any problem is to step away for a few minutes and work on something else, then return with a fresh eye. I’ve always relied pretty heavily on a routine and regular work hours, since my brain responds really well to structure. There’s always something to do when you run the show, so I try to put in a full day even if I’m feeling uncreative or having one of those blocks where I feel like I’ll never be able to draw again.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Days usually begin around 9am, after a morning run and breakfast at home with my boyfriend. Mornings are reserved for processing orders and managing my books (nothing like a little Quickbooks with a cup of coffee to wake me up!). I spend a lot of time writing and answering emails from buyers, sales reps, and printers, as well as entering expenses and planning budgets for reprints and new products in the works.

By the afternoon I’m ready for a little creativity. I do my best to draw a bit every day, even if it’s just a few minutes of calligraphy practice. I keep a folder on my phone with all my dumb (and occasionally awesome) ideas for new cards and products. About half the time, I start from a really concrete idea, but often I’ll just be browsing through my endless Pinterest boards for inspiration and just make a drawing or pattern I really like.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Every week I comb through my sketchbooks and pull anything I feel is worthwhile, and from there I ink those drawings (sometimes with a Micron pen, sometimes with a brush), scan them in, and start playing around with layout and color in Illustrator. Although I do hand draw everything, including type, I usually piece things together either in the computer or with a light box. For me, it’s easier to focus on each piece of a composition separately, and then assemble everything in post.Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

My biggest challenge has always been color, and sometimes I’ll go through ten different palettes before I find something I like. Each season’s release gets one huge file where I keep everything so I can be sure it all looks nice together. Once I have the general look down, each design gets a separate file for cleanup, color separations, and other finishing touches before they go off to print. While I’m working, I like to listen to music and podcasts and occasionally audio books.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

I head home for the day between 5-8pm depending on how busy things are and how much I’m getting done. I really love my job, and hands down my favorite aspect of running a small business is the variety. As much as I love designing, it’s important to me to understand things like profit margins, trend research, and sales patterns. I think it helps me better direct my own work and style. I’m constantly giving myself pep talks and figuring out things that I never dreamed I’d be wrestling with, but that’s how I like it.

Behind the Stationery: The Good Twin / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Stationery is really exciting industry, and I love seeing change in my own style as well as the different lines I admire. Hope you enjoyed the peek into my corner of the paper world! Thanks for having me, Megan and Nole!

Photos by Kate Miss

Want to be featured in Behind the Stationery? Email Megan@ohsobeautifulpaper.com for details.

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.