S2 Awareness Projects: S2 Stands for Choice


Today is a big day in the world of women’s rights. The Supreme Court of the United States is hearing oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which will determine how far states may go in regulating abortions without violating a woman’s constitutional rights.

As you know from announcements made earlier this year, on this blog, S2 is a liberal heart with strong opinions. I’ll admit when I’m wrong. I’ll always tell you if I change my mind, heart, and/or story.  Now, don’t get me wrong, my beliefs are my beliefs and I don’t believe that those beliefs should be the same as your beliefs, but I do believe that my beliefs shouldn’t be questioned as moral or unmoral. Sure, there are instances where we should raise questions about morality – murder is one of them, but we should also question whether state induced murder is moral as well, or if the killing of civilians during unnecessary war is moral.

The underlining point in most of our morality issues is religion. It is a matter of whether or not you believe that your faith in “God” is more than every other individual. If we removed this notion of your faith being above another, we might have real conversations about real issues. Instead we fight about things that don’t really require the amount of hate, venom and anger they foster.

Oh, for the record, I do believe in A God.  There are women with “morals” that had a belief system that still believe in choice and the ability to determine whether something is right for me or not. That believes in my body as a part of the greater world and understands that my intuition that guides me is as much a blessing as an answer from the spirit that oversees us all.

The reason I believe in choice is because I maintain that it is my body. It is not a body to inflict morality on. It is SOLELY mine. As long as I’m not murdering a child or adult, or whale or deer, etc, or purposely filling the air with methane from a massive leak or allowing tons of oil to spill in our water ways, I don’t see how my decision to abort a fetus is any concern of yours. In fact, because our Country is so hateful toward people who are poor, broken, and downtrodden, I would assume that my decision to abort would be a blessing to those who don’t want the tax burden of taking care of another individual. Clearly I’m wrong. Everyone, especially men, want to be inside my uterus and inflict their morality on it. Enough is enough.

Anyone who thinks that denying women a voice or choice or decision-making abilities and disguise it as “health care for women” is sadly mistaken and wrong. As I keep telling people, just as I don’t judge you for having one or more kids, don’t judge a woman for having an abortion.

Oh and back to that morality point – IF we want to talk about God and morals, lets talk about how it is low-morality to judge another person. Jesus took in Mary Magdalene and she was labeled all kinds of immoral. In my eyes, she is the 13th Apostle that nobody cares to talk about.

I’ve digressed. I’ve ranted. This is my blog after all. But all of this is to say that today, March 2nd is an important day. Our Supreme Court can once again change the course of women’s rights and health with one decision. We will all be effected by their ruling in the coming months.

And so I share several things:

  1. The S2 Awareness Project Planned Parenthood Cards that are available on Etsy. Half of your purchase will be donated to Planned Parenthood to help continue their much needed work.
  2. Today, I donated $50.00 to Planned Parenthood on behalf of customers who purchased card sets and individual cards when they launched in late 2015. If you are inclined, you can donate to Planned Parenthood directly without making a purchase. What matters is that we continue to fight for our rights.
  3. I highly recommend that you read the following overview by The Washington Post of the oral arguments heard by SCOTUS today.
  4. I also highly recommend that you watch this video of John Oliver explaining the state of women’s choice and abortion in the US.

By all means women should have safe access to healthcare, but attacking women, stigmatizing them with guilt and shame, and forcing women to act in a manner that is not for them is not helping anyone, including this debate.



Celebrating Choice, Protecting Women’s Health AND Rights – S2 Stationery Awareness Project “Women’s Choice” Statement Cards

The past few weeks that have seen the attack on women’s health issues that has left me enraged, personally. This week alone, Texas has completely cut off all funding to Planned Parenthood. Not only is this disastrous for women in Texas, it sends a message to women across the entire United States that their health and well being is not a concern for this Country.  Let us be clear here, without women and proper health for women, this country will die. Women are necessary for life. It’s time that we command the respect we deserve and demand the full rights of our own bodies, whether or not those who oppose agree.

Being an entrepreneur I decided it was time to channel this anger into action. Normally, I’d be inclined to donate money to an organization, but decided I needed to go further. Donations are great, especially when one of the largest organizations is under attack and can and more than likely will lose much needed funding, but I, personally needed to do more. This naturally gave way to the launch of S2 Stationery Awareness Projects, which I wrote about on this blog yesterday afternoon.

I’m pleased to announce the first project under this division of S2 Stationery & Design – “Women’s Choice” Statement Cards! More details about them are below, as well as the links to buy on Etsy, and a little bit of information about the mission of this project. If you know anyone interested in these cards on a large scale, please contact me via my website. Let’s make positive change happen!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Women’s health is not something that should ever be taken for granted! The United States, while definitely one of the countries that allows women many freedoms, continues to play with our freedoms, emotions, and health. It’s time to take control of our bodies, our health, and have our voices heard!

Ever a feminist, Sara Stroman, the S2 behind S2, decided she could no longer sit back and allow the rights of women to be taken away without some action. She didn’t have to look much further than her stationery business to find her “action.” Working with a good friend, who takes witty to many different levels, Peter Budka, she designed the six cards you see below. Each is printed on the bright color, heavy card stock you see photographed. You can order them individually or as a set. They come with a Kraft paper envelope. They can be traded or shared or given away. Hey, you should give them away! Mail them to your Senators and Congressmen even! These cards are meant to share your voice no matter your age or gender.

Single cards are $4.75
“Have you heard of women’s liberation?”
“When life gets tough for men”
“Smart women plan for the future”
“My dream guy…an elected official protecting the rights of women.”
“Not barefoot, uneducated and confined to the kitchen anymore”
“Are men afraid to make decisions?”

Set of 6 cards is $ 21.00

50% of every sale of every card (single or set) goes directly to Planned Parenthood to help them continue their much-needed work. $2.38 and/or $10.50 may not seem like a large donation, but every amount helps! To be as transparent as possible, every time a purchase is made, a donation will be made through S2 Stationery’s Fearless Fundraisers webpage.

I’m hoping to raise $1000 or more from your orders! So we ask that you share these cards via social media and obviously, snail mail.

I’ll be promoting these pretty much forever, or until change is made. The donations will also be a forever thing as well. Please note, that on the Fearless Fundraisers page, I had to select a date; that will continue to be adjusted as the project continues.

Again, if anyone would like to help get the word out, please contact me via email info[at]s2stationery[dot]com.

About S2 “Awareness” Projects – Often times, we think our differences are larger than they really are. I’m interested in finding that space and opening your heart to the similarities. By all means, your story IS your story, but that doesn’t mean you’re all that much different than me, or the person next to you. Let’s find those spaces and talk about them and make a difference, together.


Launching “S2 Awareness Projects” – Stationery for Social Change

When I started S2 Stationery & Design six years ago, I wanted to work with paper and share that love of paper with the World! I wanted to also share my love of writing and importance of letters, words and sincere sentiment. I didn’t realize how quite difficult that would be.

See, there are people like me, the kind who love, absolutely love everything about paper. They love cards of all kinds – witty, snarky, funny, emotional, handmade, etc. They also love beautiful things – design, paper, quality – and don’t mind paying a higher price for that experience and they want to share that experience with their loved ones. Then there are the other people – the kind that may love paper, but they definitely don’t like paying over $2.00 for a card. They also don’t care about the design details – the elements that make them stand out. These are the people that may shop at Target and CVS for their cards. They may not be writers, but they on occasion like to send out a card to a loved one. This group also likes to send out photograph cards at the Holidays that they order online and spend maybe less than a dollar per card.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve mailed out Holiday photo cards before, especially after a big international trip. They’re fun. But they’re also impersonal. That being said, one of the similarities I find between the two groups of people above is that they both suffer from not having enough time and/or good enough reason to write. Everyone loves getting handwritten cards and notes in the mail, regardless of the paper quality, but nobody has the time to write said cards and notes. So we end up with a group of people that are both admirers to a degree, but have no way of connecting, nor motivation to connect outside of modern technology – email, text, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and whatever new app has appeared.

In the end, people want to connect. They are dying to connect. Many people are hurting because they cannot connect. They feel too stressed, endlessly busy, pressured to conform, and an entire host of other ailments and they connect in a not-so-connected way. I wanted to fix that. I wanted to swirl into the Stationery Town like the Tazmanian Devil (I admit, I’m kind of that way) and shake the Town down to it’s core with my fine papers and envelopes and stationery sets. I wanted to help connect people and make a living doing that and then proudly wave the banner of success to everyone. To some degree I have, but to many degrees I have not.

Six years that have included a trip to Japan to learn paper making, quitting more than a few jobs, almost losing my apartment and car one too many times to count, asking friends for way more help than I’ve done ever, learning to appreciate all that I have and not focus on all that I don’t, losing some friends in the process, becoming more comfortable with me time and saying no, working from more Starbucks than I’d like because of free wifi, constantly being on the yo-yo of doubting myself for these decisions and then loving them, sleeping way too much than I should, gaining more weight than I’m comfortable with, taking a month to care for my almost-two-year-old niece, constantly being inspired and creating new products, and I’m sure quite a few more things that I’m forgetting to mention, I’m taking a detour on this Stationery train ride and I’m taking a long stop in an area that I’d equate to the Mid-west of America. Which is quite appropriate given that as an 11 year old, my family moved from NYC to Ohio to allow my brother and I a chance at a normal childhood that was safe. (It makes sense to me and will to you as this rolls out.)

Where I’m headed project wise is NOT safe. And I’ll never be my 11-year-old-self again, but I’m slowing down all the engines to focus on one project and making sure that it works well and that it does what I think the world needs, connect us to those we love most and even those we don’t love, but who we could stand to love and appreciate more.

S2 Stationery is my heart. It will always be in the picture. (It is not going anywhere – the Etsy shop with the handmade papers and stationery sets will remain during this break – it just will not be the main focus.) This business courses through my veins. It makes me happy and sad; frustrated and joyful. If I ever had a life purpose this is it. However, as with all things, sometimes you need a break – you need to step away from things, see the big picture and move forward, even if that is a leap and it is scary. The things that matter the most do inspire fear, but they also create great things.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce you all to S2 Awareness Projects!

S2 Awareness Projects combines stationery, politics (to a degree) and social justice.  S2 Awareness Projects share the topics and conflicts that makes S2, aka Sara Stroman, tick to make changes. These are the things that others care about, but often aren’t sure how to go about them. S2 Awareness Projects help you share your feelings, thoughts, and inspire you into written action. (We hope!) S2 Awareness Projects are transparent and will 100% of the time will raise money to donate to the cause inspiring the project and make donations on your behalf. S2 Awareness Projects is a way to make a difference, connect us and our differences and raise our voices without raising our pitchforks and/or guns.

Some, if not many, will not always agree with me or my values, but I’m willing to risk that for this project. In the end, my values and your values don’t have to be the same and if they’re not, you’re welcome to go elsewhere, however, that is not the point of this project – I want to bring people together, not tear them apart. If you’re not willing to be open-minded or hearted, this project is not for you. As much as this is a risk for me, it is a risk for you – you may grow from this project and that is always risky business.

The official slogan of S2 Awareness Projects is: “Often times, we think our differences are larger than they really are. I’m interested in finding that space and opening your heart to the similarities. By all means, your story IS your story, but that doesn’t mean you’re all that much different than me, or the person next to you. Let’s find those spaces and talk about them and make a difference, together.”

Tomorrow in this space and on Etsy and social media outlets (facebook, instagram and twitter), I’ll be announcing the first S2 Awareness Project.  Hopefully, you’ll be excited about this as much as I am.

Until, Tomorrow!


Paper History Talk + Card Making Crafting at the New York Public Library, Session One

Yesterday afternoon, at 4:30pm , my cousin and I geared with almost my entire collection of A2 card stock in various colors, envelopes, stamps, glue, ink, and handmade paper from Nepal, Japan, and India entered the Pelham Bay Branch Library for an hour-long session on paper history and card making. I was covered in sweat and anxious because we got there with five minutes to spare-getting from DUMBO to Manhattan to pick up a Zipcar to then drive all the way up to the far corners of the Bronx with traffic required more than 1.5 hours. Either way, we made it and found out that they actually weren’t expecting us. Good news for us, the room was available and they were able to get about 12-13 teens in the room and ready to learn/get creative.

When I started preparing and buying for this, over a month ago, I thought within an hour I could tackle 30 minutes of paper history with another 30 minutes of hands-on card making with the teens. Instead, it was MORE card making than paper history, but I did get in a few good bits, like 10 minutes about the origins of paper and the difference between the paper we use today versus the paper first created. While, my cousin and I were hands-on, the lovely ladies who made cards (about 3 or 4 each), were independent. They drew, colored, stamped, cut, and glued to their heart’s delight.

We had one boy who came in and I believe the only reason he sat at the table as long as he did was because he has a crush on the girl he sat next to and bothered the entire time.  In the end, a few other boys came in briefly and then left quickly. The best though was the young boy, maybe five or six (I’m horrible guessing ages) who would come to the doorway and sing “The Wheels On the Bus” and dance a bit before leaving and coming back. He was precious!

Before I knew it, time ran out and it was 5:20 and time to start packing up. I was able to meet a few of the parent’s who asked what we were doing and were encouraging.  The event had gone well. By the time we walked out, a little after 5:40, I felt whole-as if my business and mission are more than making custom invites and social stationery sets for people who can afford my work. I felt like I was inspiring others, giving back, and making a difference in a bigger way.  The participating teens had all enjoyed themselves and proved to be just the jolt of energy and inspiration I needed (although, I was exhausted 20 minutes later).

This was the first of five sessions I’m doing this summer at branch locations around the City and I’m excited for the next four. I’m especially excited for the last one, which happens to be back at the Pelham Bay branch. I already told the girls to come back on August 13th and they said they would be there. I just have to figure out what to do that time that is different from this first time. I’m excited to see how my program changes over the next three months.

Oh, and my favorite part besides listening to them talk about their goals and girl things? The way they went crazy over the handmade paper from Nepal, India, and Japan that I shared with them. They touched each piece and asked if they could use them in their card creations. I couldn’t say no because the paper lover inside me was squealing with happiness. They really, made my day!

Here are some pictures from last night. Photos of the actual teens are not allowed and honestly, I was more interested in getting pictures of their work for you to see. They made some truly great cards.

Just so you know, when this came to be, I was shocked. About two months ago, I was contacted by a friend of mine who schedules events for teens for the entire library system.  What’s more, I had just finished telling a good friend that I wanted to create a paper education center. I had mapped out my three fold business plan and decided that once I learned all I could about making paper, I wanted to maintain my stationery and design company, but add a communications based division (one that focuses on tell your honest story in a meaningful way) and third, establish a community education center where paper artists, children, adults and anyone else who wants to work with paper could work, teach, and learn together. In this realm, I’d be able to include global paper artists, so maybe the women in Nepal who make handmade paper- have them teach a three-month course. Something like that. The details are still very much in the works (I’m making stuff for the Crafts in Chelsea Market this weekend, you know!), but when my friend at the New York Public Library contacted me about doing these sessions, I thanked the Universe for listening and helping me get my foot in the door.

After this first session, I can honestly say I think I’m on the right path with this threefold business plan of mine. For those of you curious about the other dates I’ll be instructing, they are below:

June 13 at the 96th Street Library at 4PM
July 18 at the Bronx Library Center at 3:30PM
July 26 at Battery Park City Library Center at 4:00PM
August 13 at Pelham Bay Library at 4:00PM

I’ll share more after each session happens. So stay tuned!

Charitable Giving

Yesterday, I gave money away.I donated money, I mean. I don’t want you to think I just reached into my pockets and threw money in the air because I didn’t. Instead, I did some strategic donating, both personally and in the name of S2 Stationery and Design and added a little help from my 9-to-5’s Matching Gift Program.

One of the greatest perks of my 9-to-5 is our corporate matching gift program. The company will donate up to double the amount you donate until you reach their maximum allowance of $1000. Incredibly generous and it has quite honestly helped every organization I’ve donated to in the past four and a half years. Which is why I’ve matched every donation I’ve made personally since January. Of course, I wasn’t expect to be leaving the company until after my five year anniversary, which means I would have spaced out my donations better, but now that I’m leaving, I’m making sure that my donations made up until my last day of work are counted.

I have always been a generously inclined person. I have also always been a community activist through volunteerism. When I was in High School I volunteered and as an adult, I still volunteer. I’ve read books with children during my lunch break, painted and organized countless schools, cleaned up parks, organized food drives, collected clothing, etc. I strongly believe that my belief in doing this comes from my Mother. The woman will feed the hungry with her last can of beans. I’m not exaggerating. Even when she doesn’t have, she finds a way. What I distinctively remember about my mom is when, as a kid, she would box up mine and my brother’s old clothes along with hers and any other items she could scrounge up (all in good shape) and mail them (by boat-it was the cheapest) to our poor family in Honduras. Watching her do this every Christmas until she got older and family members passed away, really got under my skin. Not only was this family, this was life- she was helping those unfortunate and it shaped me forever.

Having worked in a corporate environment for all these years and believing so ardently in volunteerism and helping those in need, when I started building S2 Stationery and Design, I knew that I had to have giving and volunteering not just in a mission statement, but in the core of my company.  So many companies simply create Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and throw in a mission that reflects it and all the while never really do much to make a difference. That was where S2 would not go wrong.

In 2009 when I had my dream of stationery, it was based in the idea of creating eco-friendly and largely recycled products.  Of course, I’ve learned along the way that there is still energy that gets burned and plastic that my products come in, even if I don’t then wrap the items in plastic after. Then there is the gas from shipping the products around the world. In other words, it takes a lot to maintain a green company and while I’m trying and making continued attempts that will hopefully last long term, I also realized that I needed to work with organizations that are also doing their best to make a difference.

Now, in light of recent events involving an organization who used social media to fuel fire to a cause that while important, may not be the most relevant at this time, and keeping in mind my own opinions of non-profits (having worked for several in my past), I decided to do several months of research and to trust my good ole gut.

When I first started thinking about organizations to partner with, I focused on tree planting organizations. Since my main material is paper, I wanted to make sure I helped rebuild the tree population. I think in the end, I stuck with the idea of tree planting, but went a bit deeper in donating to organizations really trying to make an impact. Just yesterday, I donated $25 a piece to Trees For the Future, Kiva, and The Pachamama Alliance.

The Kiva donation actually is for a microloan to Por Un Futuro Mejor (Paute) Group in Paute, Ecuador, who run stationery shops to make a living. Naturally, I chose it due to it’s paper connection, but also the connection to Ruth, the woman who runs a stationery store and wants to expand her business, “Ruth’s goal is to expand her business and provide for her family.”. How is she any different from me?

The decision behind Pachamama Alliance, is really more out of a personal love for the Amazon and Rain Forest. I have loved everything about the Amazon since I was a little girl. To me, it defines everything great and amazing about our planet. It holds the mysteries of the earth, like the Ocean. It is intimidating and yet generous. I hope to one day go to the Amazon, maybe through one of the Pachamama Alliance’s trips. Either way, I’ve gotten away from my point here. The connection between Pachamama Alliance and S2 is trees. I believe the trees of the Amazon are some of the greatest and most powerful in the world. Not only do they protect the people, but the way of the Earth and they need to be protected.

Lastly, my donation to Trees For the Future, was based on their commitment to sustainable agroforestry, working across the globe, especially in countries like Haiti, which lack tree communities, and they plant trees. I recall two years ago, when the earthquake struck Haiti reading about and viewing photos showing the lack of trees in Haiti. I remembered feeling sad and thinking how different the country might be with trees. That came to mind when I clicked donate last night.

Now, before I clicked send, I checked the ratings of each organization on Charity Navigator and even read comments by other donors. While they did help me make a donation, they also helped me expand my scope of searching. Again, I really wanted to find organizations that reflected my beliefs and that really focused on sustainable education, protection, and project development.

I owe all of this with great thanks to Heifer International, who I was going to donate to after receiving their catalog last December.  See,  I immediately got caught up in the glossy pictures and the donation price for providing tree seedlings to help families in Tanzania to control erosion on their hillside gardens. I mean, how awesome would it be to say I donated $60 to Heifer International and in turn helped a family in Tanzania control erosion? Mind you, I think this is an important issue and it fits perfectly with my goals for S2 Stationery and Design, but I wasn’t sold on Heifer International. The reviews and their rating did lead me in a confident direction either. In fact, it made me look at other organizations and that’s how I found Kiva, Trees For the Future and The Pachamama Alliance.

I hope to donate down the line to Heifer International, but for now, I’m sticking with my three and thanks to my 9-to-5’s help, my donations are larger, more considerable donations. They’re donations that will help loan more money to more women around the world, or plant more trees, and protect the Amazon.

Giving is something that is important to me, but it’s not just giving money that counts. Making time to consider these matters and instilling them into my company and personal lifestyle counts more. Sometimes money isn’t even an option- it’s why I only donated $75 so far instead of 10% of my income last year. I will get there, by the way, to maybe even 20% of my income, but for now, $75 will have to do.

Oh, and about that matching gift program- while I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to create a matching gift program similar to the one I have had the great pleasure of using for 4+ years, I do know that it has shaped how I will create my social responsibility program for my future employees. Score for the corporate world!

I’m not sharing this as a way to wave the flag of “do-gooder Sara” but instead to discuss how important it is to give back to the planet and the communities that give us so much, including opportunities. I’m sure you’re scratching your head wondering how women in Ecuador are giving me the opportunity to have a stationery company, but the simple truth is that everything touches everything. My energy here in NY impacts the lives of individuals around the world. It’s in the impressions I’ve made while traveling, to my decision to not use a water bottle that may end up floating around the ocean and landing on the beaches of Thailand. I don’t meant to get heavy philosophical here, I just believe that we are all capable of doing amazingly good and powerful things if we opened our eyes to the vastness of the world and our reach.

If you’re giving and being charitable, I’d love to hear about it; you can share your thoughts below.

And Then She Applied to Grad School

Yes. It’s true. As of an five hours ago, I  submitted my complete application to the School of Visual Arts.  I received my confirmation around 3:30 today.

Many of you readers may be puzzled about this development. After all, I have been talking about going to Japan for a while now and much like you, I too am a little confused.  But see, THAT is the sheer genius of me, Sara – I do things spontaneously and reflect after the fact. Does this mean I can often be found in the middle of trouble? MOST DEFINITELY!  Which is what makes things all the more fun.

I have always believed that while sometimes embarrassing, the more mistakes we make the better we become. I don’t know if applying to Grad School is the right decision or even the best, but I know that opportunities don’t always knock twice and so I had to make take the risk.

To give you some back history here, last June, I got wind of a new Master’s Degree program starting in the fall of 2012 at the School of Visual Arts. As I read more about the program, Design for Social Innovation, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I even sent the program description to a few friends who all said it sounded right up my alley. After thinking about it for a week or two, I contacted the Chair of the program, Cheryl Heller and asked questions while also sharing my life story in an extremely long email. Cheryl responded quickly and asked to hold a phone conversation to discuss the program, my background and interest.

We had the conversation and it changed my life. Clearly! I just submitted an application,  portfolio (made from scratch!), letters of recommendation, an updated resume, and a personal statement.The kicker is that I did all of this in two-and-a-half weeks time.  I changed my decision to not apply on January 10th, meaning that between that time and today, January 30th, I ordered transcripts, requested letters of recommendation from reliable sources (a co-worker, a past client, and my high school English teacher), put together my resume complete with the addition of S2 Stationery and Design (BIG High-5 to me and my friends who helped!), wrote a personal statement, and last, but not least selected pieces for my manually designed and crafted portfolio.  All I can say is that I’m tired. I’m tired of gluing, editing and yet, I’m so euphoric today!

Honestly, I think it’s my portfolio. It is something that I put together in my mind last minute and it just worked. Well, it works for me. We’ll see what the design team that reviews it thinks.

Anyhow, I’ll get back to my portfolio in a minute. I want to continue talking about Cheryl Heller because it is my interactions with her that have really gotten me to this point. See after our phone conversation, I met Cheryl at a BeSocialChange event in October 2011 (see picture below) where we not only met, but I had the chance to listen to her talk about her interest in social innovation and understand her passion for it. It was one of those moments where I truly felt connected to someone who might better understand my environmental rants more than  anyone else.

Meeting Cheryl

Yet, I still wasn’t 100% sure that applying for the fall 2012 program was the best idea. Honestly, between you and I, all I could think of was “do you really want to be in the first class?” or “$80K for two years of school?! Sara, you do NOT have that kind of money!”. All of this led to continuing with traveling to Japan and learning paper, but 2012 would have something else in mind entirely…it would find me applying for a visa to Japan AND applying for the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts.

I have pros and cons for each, the $80K price tag being one of the biggest cons of them all, but you know, when I really think about it, gaining this education may help more before going to Japan rather than after. So now, I wait and see whether they call me in for an interview and am accepted, or whether I’m rejected. If I’m rejected, then it’s a good thing my pen pal in Japan is helping me with my visa application.  Silver lining friends, silver lining.

With my conversations with Cheryl in mind, I decided to apply and while ordering a transcript and asking for recommendations were easy, I was left with my resume, personal statement, and non-existent portfolio. Luckily for me, I have amazing friends who were able to help with the barrier I created that stopped me from writing a statement and updating my resume. It was really my incredible roommate Lisa who said, “Sara, state that you created this company and a business model and then develop points, about two each, for the three areas you focus on- finance, marketing, and design.” Really, that was all I needed to hear.

For my statement, I wrote a ton of things out and then chipped away at it until I got it down to under 500 words and then down some more. I have to also add that without Katie, I would NOT have been able to piece everything together. I tend to be verbose and when it comes to the how, why, and what regarding my business there is just so much to say (my one sentence statement/elevator pitch, not quite existent yet). Once that all got cleared, I was left with my portfolio and my decision that I did not want to have anything like anyone else. Which is when magic happened.

I am sure that I’ve mentioned before how some of my best ideas come from dreams, si?

SI! About a week ago, I had a visualization of my portfolio for this application. I saw newspaper, cardboard, tissue paper, and white and yellow paint mixed with my selected pieces. Which pieces, I wasn’t sure yet, but I knew what I had to do!

I gathered boxes and cut them into various skinny rectangles and short squat squares. Then, I gathered old newspapers, paint, and glue and I got to work. I spent last Friday night gluing newspaper to cardboard. I spent Sunday morning painting a thin layer of white or yellow paint on each piece and then with the assistance of clear removable squares placed each piece as I wanted.  I included a letter explaining my physical portfolio with a content list for each square.  Not that I need to defend myself, but if my portfolio is not the most professional, it is my first one AND it is true to me. That is all I could offer and I stand by my decision.

My final piece to the portfolio was tying it together with ribbon from Anthropologie shopping bags (between you and me, I take all the reusable ribbons and twine from paper shopping bags and reuse it for gift wrapping and any other decorating uses I may have). When I finished, it reminded me of the way we used to wrap up newsletters for collection day in Cleveland Heights.  With that thought, I knew I had achieved the effect I was going for, or as I described in my letter, “show my interest in reusing materials”.

This afternoon around 12:45, I hand delivered my boards along with my documents to the SVA’s admission office. The woman at the desk seemed intrigued by my portfolio. I can only hope the same goes for the review board. Until then, I’ll leave you with shots of my portfolio boards and a the air of curiosity until I know any further status of my application.

Until I know, I’ll type with my fingers crossed.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma; The Consumer’s Dilemma; The Small Business Owner’s Dilemma

Today’s post is going to seem like a bunch of plagiarism and I promise you it is not. I have quoted the author and noted the pages you can find each quote as well as the book below.  I just could not decide what quotes to take from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma,  so I’ve decided instead to share the ones that I felt deeply about as I read the 411 page book.

This is a heavy post. Especially for a few days before Christmas, but I think now is the perfect time to be so reflective and aware- after all, we are full swing into the mix of shopping for the Holidays. It is not light or fluffy or even warm and fuzzy. It is more like a pensieve a la Harry Potter–through it I’m able to remove parts of my thoughts that will help shape a larger argument that I’m having both with a friend and myself about consumerism, capitalism, and being a small business owner and entrepreneur- and review them with more clarity.  I hope it makes sense enough for you to follow along.

Some history before I get into my long-winded speech about capitalism, consumerism, and the problem with America- I started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma back in November for my Community Supported Agriculture’s (CSA) monthly book club. Due to cancellations for our meetings in November and December, I took my time reading the book and only just finished last week. I had been interested in the book for some time, but never found the right space to read before now.  As I always tend to believe-things happen as they should-me reading this book now just makes sense.

Not only is the book a delicious use of language-visually it is stunning. The images that crossed my eyes were amazing and made me long for a journey and experience like his.  I appreciated his depth in explaining history as it relates to the story of his four meals. I also appreciated his respect for food and nature. After all, nature is what is responsible for our bounty.

As I read every word, sometimes more than once, I found myself reading his book not just as a non-fiction account of his own experience with food and the food industry, but as commentary on the current state of American culture- about the way we consume food and non-food goods; the way we are too busy, unaware of our own selves and in constant flux because of cultural trends and “suggestions”.  

I have always maintained my individual self, but I’m not oblivious of these trends, I just choose which ones to pay attention to and which not.  I learned my lesson as a overweight teenager who got picked on in middle school and hated my curly hair and my body. By the time I got to college, I stopped caring about my curly hair and embraced it as a sign of who I am.  My first awareness of this change was when I stopped actively trying to straightened my hair every day. Now, I rarely consider straightening my hair as an option. Oh, how far I’ve come.

I’m moving away from the main point here, but what my example above explains is that I once had an idea of what I wanted to be based on what I was as a child (I had straight hair and was skinny) and have as an adult become comfortable with myself and the person I am and am still growing into.  Of course, I have spent time learning and having experiences that helped move me in this direction, but in a culture where there are lots of directions and “role models” and things to buy to make you skinny, or more beautiful, or whatever the offer is these days,  how is one to learn who they really are and what they really want?

And all of this relates to being a small business owner and entrepreneur, I feel responsible to shape my business in a way that is sustainable not just for myself and the planet, but for my customers.  I’ve been aware of this for some time now, since I launched the business to be exact, but The Omnivore’s Dilemma helped me see it larger and more clearly than I have in a while.

I’ll start with how I couldn’t help but see the similarities in the food industry as the same as the commodity industry. The quotes that I’ve selected to share below while specifically discussing and describing the massive food industry that produces the food that many of our citizens eat on a daily basis, but can be used to describe Wall Street, or any large company producing a commodity that is sold on a global scale.

There is one quote where a farmer compares Whole Foods to Wal-Mart that I found incredibly eye opening. For me, it wasn’t until I began shopping at the Farmers Market and getting produce and fruit through my CSA that I learned that even Whole Foods is not my preferred shopping market. After all, Whole Foods sells you strawberries even when they are not in season.  (I try to keep a local and seasonal diet even though I fail miserably at times.)  Even though, I prefer knowing that my food comes from conscientious companies, I don’t like eating out of season or soy bean based foods, nor do I like buying from non-local growers. So Whole Foods doesn’t quite solve all of my problems. Which is okay, it’s just not what I’m looking for completely.

” Opting out” is a key term for Joel, who believes that it would be a fatal mistake to ‘try to sell a connected, holistic, ensouled product through a Western, reductionist, Wall Street sales scheme’-by which (I think) he means selling to Whole Foods.  As far as both Joel and Bev are concerned there isn’t a world of difference between Whole Foods and Wal-Mart. Both are part of an increasingly globalized economy that turns anything it touches into a commodity, reaching its tentacles where in the world a food can be produced most cheaply, and then transporting it wherever it can be sold most dearly (248-9).

Which leads me to how I connected this to my small business…

Back at the early stage of December, I decided that I would take the time to think about what I want for myself and S2 in the future. After all, building my business can only go as far as I’m willing to take it, especially in the beginning. I’ve seen success and I’ve seen some disappointment. I don’t want to say failure, because I don’t think I’ve failed exactly, but I’ve definitely seen some disappointments-some goals that didn’t happen, or orders that didn’t get done for whatever reason(s) that came up. I was challenged a bit too- customers who wanted my product, but not the price that goes along with it, etc.  I maintain that I’m better for all of this, but it still left me wondering where it is that we are going in 2012. With so much in the air and so much planned already, I have quite a lot to prepare, which is why I don’t want to make too many bold statements in this particular posting because I still need to clear up my thoughts some more, but I know this much definitely:

1. I will be more select in 2012. What I make is most definitely a good, but I also sell my services, my ability to listen and relate to customers, and create a finished good. That allows me to be selective. IF I were to ever overwhelm myself with customers, that service would falter and my goods would be mediocre, not as great as they have been for my most pleased customers.  Or, in words from the book, something like the following,    “The biggest problem with alternative agriculture today,” Nation writes, “is that it seeks to incorporate bits and pieces of the industrial model and bits of the artisanal model. This will not work….In the middle of the road, you get the worst of both worlds “(248-50).

2. What I create now is very much based on high quality paper. My finished product is a sign of my skill, talent, inspiration and high regard for quality. I will maintain this in 2012. If this means that I don’t do many markets or wholesale my business ass off, that’s fine. In the end, I prefer to have custom pieces that speak of the customer and myself more than anything else.  Or from a quote in the book, “A bowl of fresh Bing cheries is nice, but to turn them into a pastry is surely a more thoughtful gesture, at least provided I managed not to blow the crust. It’s the difference between a Hallmark card and a handwritten letter” (403-4).  

3. Similarly I discovered thanks to the following quote-  “It’s all very Italian (and decidedly un-American): to insist that doing the right thing is the most pleasurable thing, and that the act of consumption might be an act of addition rather than subtraction” (259-60) –  that I want my good(s) to inspire pleasure. I want my goods to be so pleasurable that not only do they bring meaning, but they bring experiences and adventure into my customer’s life. To some this means that purchasing a set of note cards or invitations from S2 is in deed an addition because it creates a memory. To many others, who have yet to learn the power of these experiences, it is a subtraction. Whether it is viewed in the positive of negative will depend entirely on the customer, but if they see it in the form of subtraction, I don’t want them as a customer. See the first point above.

4. I AM going to consider wholesale opportunities, but on a small scale. There are some shops that fate connected me to in the very beginning of this endeavor that I’d like to start wholesaling with (if they like my stuff). If they do, they are both small stores in a small town and I like that. I also like that I have relationships with the owners. If I’m going to build a business that is based on relationships and locality, I need to remain steadfast in that vision.  My inspiration for these thoughts are below:

Drawing on the theories of Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, Nation had distinguished between industrial and artisanal enterprises to demonstrate why attempts to blend the two modes seldom succeed. Industrial farmers are in the business of selling commodities, he explained, a business where the only viable competitive strategy is to be the least -cost producer. The classic way any industrial producer lowers the costs of his product is by substituting capital-new technologies and fossil-fuel energy-for skilled labor and then stepping up production, exploiting the economies of scale to compensate for shrinking profit margins.  In a commodity business a producer must sell ever more cheaply and grow ever bigger or be crushed by a competitor who does.

     Nation contrasted this industrial model with its polar opposite, what he calls “artisanal production,” where the competitive strategy is based on selling something special rather than being the least-cost producer of a commodity. Stressing that “productivity and profits are two entirely different concepts,” Nation suggests that even a small producer can be profitable so long as he’s selling an exceptional product and keeping his expenses down.  Yet this artisanal model works only so long as it doesn’t attempt to imitate the industrial model in any respect. It must not try to replaced skilled labor with capital; it must not grow for the sake of growth; it should not strive for uniformity in its products but rather make a virtue of variation and seasonality; it shouldn’t invest capital to reach national markets but rather should focus on local markets, relying on reputation and word of mouth rather han on advertising; and lastly, it should rely as much as possible on free solar energy rather than costly fossil fuels.

5. I must maintain my personality in all of this and not feel like I need to compete with everyone in the over-saturated stationery industry.  I have stated since the beginning that my design is minimal-what is important is what you write, not the design on the card. Now, that doesn’t mean as a designer I should offer ugly or plain sheets of paper as stationery, NO! What I mean is that I should design stationery that encourages you to write whether it be long, full of thought pages of letters or short, concise notes on cards.  Furthermore, these cards should speak to and of you, regardless of their reflection of me and my design aesthetic. In other words, as much as my products need to be a reflection of me, and they are, they must be a reflection of the customer which means that I have to find the customer and design for that customer. The quotes from the book that brought this clarity is the following: 

   “We don’t have to beat them.” Joel patientily explained. “I’m not even sure we should try. We don’t need a law against McDonald’s or a law against slaughterhouse abuse–we ask for twoo much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.

   “And make no mistake: It’s happening. The mainstream is splitting into smaller and smaller groups of like-minded people. It’s a little like Luther nailing his ninety-five theses up at Wittenberg. Back then it was the printing press that allowed the Protestants to break off and form their own communities; now it’s the Internet, splintering us into tribes that want to go their own way” (260).

6. It is incredibly important that I maintain hand skill and craft in everything that I do. I mean that I must always include some element of handwork in my products even if it is by the hands of an employee, friend, intern, etc.  S2 Stationery and Design was built on the need to find a way to incorporate environmental concerns and social good with my passion. I have found that I can reuse materials for some designs and I hope in 2012 to design more products that align with that initial desire.  Even more importantly, I want all of my products to always have some element of hand craftsmanship.  It is vital to my design, product, and brand. It also keeps me balanced and aware of my own competencies and to some extent, awareness.  Or as detailed in the book: Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac,  “Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man–earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry” (281).

7. Lastly, I have created this business out of my passion for paper and my love of language and communication. As Mr. Pollan mentions in the book, we, as a culture, are left in a confused state in every aspect of our lives. In his case it is food, in my case it is how do we socialize. As a blogger and an individual who uses social media, I can tell you that as much as I use social media to communicate,  I also value the importance of in-person communication. Technology will always develop at rapid levels, but the good things don’t. They are slower, require patience and in due time become inspiration for the newer mediums-Twitter is like a post card, Email is like a letter, mp3s are just easier to access vinyl records. Stationery currently is experiencing an insurgence of “stationery lovers” yet they don’t know how to spell stationery. These stationery lovers are also huge with letter press and silk screening and lots of other hand skill based techniques. Good things, indeed, but I will not indulge in learning techniques to follow a trend. I will learn letter press and silk screening in due time and they will play their part in my design process. I will learn to learn and to teach others of the processes and skill that go into them to create their own art and passions, but I will not learn them for any other reason. There is a limit to my how my development follows the curve of capitalism.  Or in the mighty fine words, and my last quote from the book:

Several years ago, in a book called The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, sociologist Daniel Bell called attention to the tendency of capitalism, in its single-minded pursuit of profit, to erode the various cultural underpinnings that steady a society but often impede the march of commercialization.  The family dinner, and more generally a cultural consensus on the subject of eating, appears to be the latest such casualty of capitalism. These rules and rituals stood in the way of the food industry’s need to sell a well-fed population more food through ingenious new ways of processing, packaging, and market it (303).

So we find ourselves as a species almost back where we started: anxious omnivores struggling once again to figure out what it is wise to eat. Instead of relying on the accumulated wisdom of a cuisine, or even on the wisdom of our senses, we rely on expert opinion, advertising, government food pyramids, and diet books, and we place our faith in science to sort out for us what culture once did with rather more success. Such has been the genius of capitalism, to re-create something akin to a state of nature in the modern supermarket or fast-food outlet, throwing us back on a perplexing, nutritionally perilous landscape deeply shadowed again by the omnivore’s dilemma (303).

     A tension has always existed between the capitalist imperative to maximize efficiency at any cost and the moral imperatives of culture, which historically have served as a counterweight to the moral blindness of the market. This is another example of the cultural contradictions of capitalism–the tendency over time for the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society. Mercy toward the animals in our care is one such casualty.

     The industrial animal factory offers a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism is capable of in the absence of any moral or regulatory constraint whatsoever. (It is no accident that the nonunion workers in these factories receive little more consideration than the animals in their care.) Here in these wretched places life itself is redefined–as “protein production”–and with it “suffering.” That venerable word becomes “stress,” an economic problem in search of a cost-effective solution such as clipping the beaks of chickens or docking the tails of pigs or, in the industry’s latest initiative, simply engineering the “stress gene” out of pigs and chickens. It all sounds very much like our worst nightmares of confinement and torture, and it is that, but it is also real life for the billions of animals unlucky enough to have been born beneath those grim sheet-metal roofs into the brief, pitiless life of a production unit in the days before the suffering gene was found (318-19).

In conclusion to this long quote, I want to share something I’ve recently discovered-“The Do No Financial Harm Pledge“.  In 2012, I will make this pledge. This does not mean that I will not say no to customers and protect myself as a designer and business person, but I will do all in my power to be fair and treat customers in a concerned manner not just for their own financial health, but for mine and my company. 

Even though I said I wouldn’t, I went ahead and made some bold statements above (I’m scared of the word count in this post). I suppose it’s best that I got them out now; I am 100% committed to making them stick in 2012 and beyond.  Whether Michael Pollan intended it or not, he opened my eyes to how the omnivore’s dilemma is a much larger issue and I thank him. As an omnivore, I face these very issues; as an environmentalist, I face these issues; as a citizen, I  face these issues; and as a small business owner, fighting to grow a business and passion in the face of a drowning global economy and a lack of desire to really grow a global company, I face these issues. We all do, it’s just a matter of when we realize we’re facing them.

I suggest that every small business owner/entrepreneur take the time to read this book. It is  valid, candid, and incredibly engaging. It is also a powerful message on ourselves as individuals with strengths and passions. I know I’ll be referencing this book with the dogeared pages and underlined sentences as I continue to develop through the coming years.