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!

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On Money and Value

In the last month I’ve had some interesting conversations on value and money.

Money is a tricky and unsettling thing. Many don’t want to acknowledge their desire for it; many don’t believe they’re worthy of it; and many, want it so much that they do things that are conniving and beneath them to attain it.

I’m in the middle. I have always said, I want enough to be comfortable. That means I want enough to travel, retire comfortably, but most importantly, allow me to be here in the now.  That means, buy the healthy food my body craves, and the yoga pants I desperately need. It also means help my Mom who can use some extra comfort in her life, and my little brother finishing his second year at Arizona State University.  It also means not falling into the trap that my parents fell into, after all both of my grandparents didn’t move their families to end up scraping pennies.

As I’ve gotten older and realized that I value the way I make my money and the way I spend my money, I’ve reconsidered my notions on money.  Money is something we give value to. It has absolutely no meaning other than that which we create for it. A few years ago, thanks much to my father’s death, I realized that no amount of money was going to make that better, and/or make me feel better. The things that made me feel better were basic: good food, good people, and amazing experiences. By amazing experiences, I mean any experience that opened my eyes a bit and left me feeling awe whether in a small gorgeous town in Italy, or on the 7 train from Manhattan to Queens, or my morning talks with my old neighborhood pal Peter in Astoria.

The thing is I’ve always spent my money on things I value. Even if it is a cheap item, at that time, I valued it and even if nobody talked me into that idea, I somehow created that idea of value enough to part with my dollars.  I think about this often as I interact with customers and potential clients.  See, while I am offering a final product in the end, what I start with is a service.  That service may seem intangible at first, but over time, after an initial conversation, or a few emails, that service becomes tangible. The process becomes a bit more apparent and then, finally, after a week or more, a product comes to be. That product becomes a piece that shares your story with the greater World, whether your loved ones attending your wedding, or your friends attending a child’s birthday party, or even a potential client of your own, buying a product you’re offering that I helped you brand.  That final piece of paper, or pieces of paper tell your story and showcase your uniqueness and there is a deeper value in that than in, say a Mickey Mouse wallet that was made with cheap plastic in China and for sale at Disney World, or that cheap tank top purchased at H&M for $15, but will unravel at the seams after four wears and washes.

Now, I’ve heard on quite a few occasions, “people are just going to throw away the paper,” or “in my industry we don’t pay before we see results,” or my favorite, “it’s not in our budget.” These are all respectable comments and issues, but what they all point toward is your own perception of value.  Yes, I know people are going to throw away paper, but that doesn’t stop me from sending the endless letters and invitations I send. The only times I’ve stopped myself from sending a Christmas card was when time did not allow me;when I had not prepared properly. The only time I don’t pay for a service is if I truly believe that I won’t see results at that time, or when I know that I will not invest the proper time that the service requires. The only time I say, ‘it’s not in my budget, or I can’t afford that” is when I don’t have the money in my account. But, I should add I make a note of how badly I wanted said item or product and decide I’m going to save toward being able to make the purchase.  In other words, I reflect on the why behind the statement and proceed accordingly.

When I am on the receiving end of these statements, I immediately wave the red flag. These statements find within me 1. a part that understands and 2. a part that wants nothing to do with this sentiment. See, I determine my worth and my job as someone in business and the passionate paper wizard that I am is convey that worth and value.  When I hear these words, I know I did not sell my services and goods the best I could. I also am aware that the people I have invested time and energy into were probably not my right target market.  I’m in no way saying that my products are only for a certain sect of people, but the reality is my products and services are for a certain sect of people. They are for the people who value high quality materials, customer service, and work ethic. They are people who realize that they can’t do everything themselves, nor do they want to do everything themselves.

The reality is that people determine their values and the values they place on every day needs.  A person determines whether it is better to buy a $9.00 juice versus a $2.00 soda; or whether to purchase a $10 pair of shoes over a $100 pair. A person even decides if it is worth $2.50 to travel down or across NYC by train versus walking for free, or paying $10+ to take a cab.  When I create a price, I am creating value for my time, my services, my creativity, and all the other work that goes into creating a custom product and service for my clients.  I have great feedback from past clients, a skill-set that creates even more value, and examples of previous products to back me up and to further advance my value.  However, Those clients have every right to determine their value and go elsewhere.  In most cases, I will let them go elsewhere. I’ve learned no to fight or attempt to win back the customer, unless they are a good friend of mine, and even then, I’m not going to change my values and what I stand for in an attempt to get money.

That is the crux of it – money. Again, I want money as much as the next person, but I no longer want to make money in a way that causes my heart to bleed slowly every day. I’ve spent almost 13 years of my life doing that and I don’t want anything to do with it anymore. I want to make money making people happy and the way I make people happy is by creating custom goods for their events and for their communication needs. Using the quality products I use and the amount of time I spend working on getting the right fit and creating a truly custom and unique product and experience is expensive and therefore involves a value perspective that is greater than just your average perspective. It also requires quite a bit of heart. I shop from my heart and I want my customers to shop from their hearts too. I realize that’s asking for a lot these days, but there are quite a few that already do so and those are my people and the people that can and will change the market place in due time.