2012 National Stationery Show, A Recap Complete with Thoughts on My Industry and Trash

On Sunday, May 20th, I attended the National Stationery Show. (I know you know this because I’ve mentioned having gone several times just this past week!)

This was my first time walking around the show as a stationer. But it was not my first time being there or walking through the Stationery Show. Back in 2007, I was able to attend my first ever Stationery Show as an employee of a booth exhibitor. The exhibitor was this woman, who had a profound effect on me at the ripe young age of 26, who I worked a few hours for each week at a shop that sold soaps and baby items on the Upper East Side. The store has since closed, but my almost year of working at her shop taught me a lot about running a brick and mortar shop and being creative and working endlessly and tirelessly to make your product sell.

She invited me to work with her and allowed me to walk through the endless aisles of exhibitors. This was two years before I would start even think to start and start S2 Stationery and Design. I had no idea the enormity of being there at the time, I just remember being awed and a bit overwhelmed by the experience.

Fast forward to two weeks ago and now we’re at the 2012 Stationery Show and I’m a guest of Gina Mulligan, who last year, I designed a printable stationery sheet and helped run a promotion for her letter writing breast cancer organization, Girls Love Mail. This year, the Stationery Show had a HUGE impact. As I walked through the aisles, I remembered my first Stationery Show and I walked around awed as ever. Awed at the talent and at the enormity of the Stationery and Card Industry.

I also walked around awed at the amount of waste and trash an exhibit like this, with 8,000+ exhibitors, and I don’t even know how many visitors (according to their website, they anticipated exhibitor participation of  800; anticipated worldwide trade attendees:  11,000; attending stores:  8,500 and; attending trade & consumer press:  300), walked through the aisles can and did produce.

Please know that I’m not being negative at all. In fact, I thought a lot of exhibitors did an amazing job with their displays ranging from simple and minimal to loud and large, but even still, when I think about the level of responsibility that all of these exhibitors, management of the Jacob Javits Center, and the company that puts together the National Stationery Show I am again, overwhelmed. Every booth had something they were giving away. Plastic was everywhere. The food court, well they just help create waste via plastic bottles, uneaten food, etc. The bag of samples I came home with was heavy and will more than likely end up in the recycling bin, which makes me wonder why I took these things in the first place.  Every booth had carpet!!! (What happens to the carpet after the fact?) And then there is the shipping and transportation, many exhibitors came from out-of-town and shipped their goods from miles away and will have to ship them back.

A huge industry, yes.

A huge industry with a responsibility is what this screams to me.

Just yesterday The Atlantic posted an article online, “2.6 Trillion Pounds of Garbage: Where Does the World’s Trash Go?” raising the awareness of trash and where it goes. In the second graph down it shows that 17% of trash is paper. 17% is a big deal and we as stationers have an obligation to do better than that. At least THIS stationer does. I already know something I’m going to start doing to help get the message across that at the very least people should recycle paper if they can (I’ll share in a soon-to-be-written post) and if not, then to at least think about their choices.

But I don’t want to sound too negative because I did enjoy the Stationery Show and I thought the talent there was enormous and I was impressed. Walking through the Stationery Show I was inspired in ways that I didn’t think I would be:

  • I was inspired to NOT join the letterpress bandwagon YET;
  • I was inspired not to get too into the Americana theme (there was a lot of that on display this year);
  • I was inspired to get to know people in my industry, to ask them questions and to hear their stories;
  • I was inspired by the amount of stationers I know and recognized (even Gina was amazed every time I said, “oh, I recognize that company!”);
  • I was inspired to work on telling my story, solidify my pitch, and to work on my branding so that buyers who go to my website recognize me as they go to my Etsy shop, and when they see me at craft markets.
  • Lastly, inspired me to pay attention even more so to the output of my own business and personal trash.

That’s a whole heck of a lot of inspiration, isn’t it?

I know!

But the truth is, as much as I enjoyed the Stationery Show and enjoyed meeting people and seeing everyone’s lovely, unique and different cards, invitations and take on product lines, but I didn’t feel like my industry is being very innovative.

Maybe stationery shouldn’t be innovative?

Maybe the question can only be answered by the individual designers creating, but I still felt, as I walked through that I didn’t see anything that made me stop and reconsider what I am making.

In fact, I felt like everyone was following the trend mobile and while the trend may be what they are passionate about, it is nonetheless here and now, a trend.

Now, don’t take that the wrong way because I simply mean that I didn’t see anything that I looked at and thought, “Damn, I wish I were making that!” So I suppose I’m saying that I felt no jealousy and that’s a good thing, definitely, but you know sometimes jealously, or at least I know it does for me, makes a person rise to the challenge of designing something that can be better or be recognized. And maybe that’s the wrong attitude to have, but I think it’s the attitude of any business person and very reflective of the quick-moving world we create in now. Not to mention, I don’t believe the stationery industry is just a bunch of women, and some men, who sing cumba ya and hold hands in a circle never getting jealous of wanting to be better than the other.

I think better yet, I simply didn’t feel the anxiety that I thought I would by being a stationer walking the Stationery Show and seeing things prettier than mine.  And so I walked around loving lots of pieces, but without the feeling of “I am doing what other people are doing” or that I should be worried about my “competition” in the stationery world.

In fact, I thought to myself, “wow, nobody is doing what I’m doing!”, so I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing.

Again, I realize that different people prefer different things, and for many, my products may not be what they like and that is totally fine, but I left the Stationery Show inspired to keep being Sara, to keep designing what I’m designing and to keep preaching writing and communication over cards and design while trying to be innovative and not in the letterpress, Americana, and just plain typography way. I am also going to really work on curbing my own trash. I do the best that I can now, but I need to get better.

I do hope to display at the Stationery Show at some point in the future, but it will take funds, it will take me being in a different place in my business (not too far away, mind you) and it will also have to be once the management of the Stationery Show can prove that they care more for the environment. I want to showcase my products in a way that sticks to my environmental morals.

Until then you can see some pictures of products, displays, and cards that really made me stop and either sigh, or chuckle.

So there. Finally, my thoughts on the 2012 National Stationery Show. If I offended any of my fellow stationers, I didn’t mean to.

I am taking a mini break from all things electronic until Monday. I have one more recap from last month and a few big posts planned for the next few weeks. Keep your eyes peeled. Enjoy your weekend!

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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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