Archives for posts with tag: stationery

When I was a kid, I had a towering figure I called Dad. Later in life, my two brothers and I would call him “Big Man,” or “The Big Man.”  He was a truck driver, who traveled the entire width and length of the country. He would disappear for a week or two weeks at a time and then come home and sleep. Before leaving on his trips, he’d make us all stand facing this wall that had a large crucifix and we’d all pray for his safety while on his next work trip.

Sara Howard

Me and My Dad circa 1981.

Besides driving, one of his favorite things to do was eat. And boy did he love the not-so-great-stuff – bologna deli sandwiches, canned soups, hamburgers, and pizza.  I acquired some-not-so-great habits from him. For example, I love bologna.

Two things I remember the most about my dad were his ability to give you directions to any state in the US without much research. Sometimes, he’d pull out his maps, because he always had maps, but he could tell me within minutes what highways and local roads (to bypass tolls) I could take to get anywhere.  Every road trip I did while he was alive, always involved a call to my dad beforehand to go over his maps and directions.

The second thing is more of a memory.  When I was in middle school, so around 14, I remember walking through the mall holding my dad’s hand. I recall people looking at him. During those times he wore a lot of gold and people were constantly throwing glances at this tall, confident, and slightly intimidating black man.  Anyhow, I remember walking with him holding his hand thinking, nobody can hurt me, “I’m with my dad.”  This proves to be one of the strongest feelings I’ve ever felt about my dad because his death left me with this feeling that I had lost that protection; that safety that only he provided.

Growing up with my dad wasn’t the easiest thing. I loved him and feared him and judged him. We had some fights. We even had a few times when we didn’t speak. When I told him I was moving to New York in 2006, he told me he didn’t think I should move and I told him, “too bad, I’m moving anyway.”  He respected my decisions, mostly, and the distance I created, even though I think it pained him, but my dad could be a difficult person and as he got older and moodier and more unhappy with not being able to drive and not having his family around him, I had to create space.

My dad died five years ago today. I’ve always been open about his death. In fact, the night of the day he died, I sent an email out to 400 of my contacts letting them know. It was part of a Marathon training update email, but I still shared the news with 400 people I had come in contact with to that point in my life.  I was 28 and extremely sad. I still have my days of extreme sadness.

They say grief never goes away and it doesn’t. It gets easier and most days are good. I don’t cry as much as I used to and I don’t feel the same as I did in those first days and weeks and months five years ago.  See, I feel my dad around me every day. Sometimes it is as quickly as a glance in the mirror that I see him in my face and I smile.  It provides a comfort that I wasn’t prepared to experience.

My dad, spiritually, has appeared and stays connected in ways that I didn’t expect. For example, whenever I travel (international destinations excluded), I inevitably find something named “Howard” – it could be a street that is a couple of blocks away from my location, or a nearby shop. While I was in Japan in December 2012, I walked past a store that had a mannequin in the window that was wearing a sweater that had the word “Dad” inside a heart.  That particular day, in Japan, I had been mentally beating myself up. I was upset and going around and around in a conversation with myself and I finally stopped and said to my dad (because I speak to him), “Dad, I really need your help. I really need you to help me get over this. Why aren’t you helping me?!” And that was my answer. It makes me cry to talk about this.

Today, isn’t a day to cry, it’s more a day to celebrate. Celebrate who he is and was and all the people his life touched. It is also a day for me to reflect on my ancestry. On the beauty of his life and all that has been passed on to me.  Death really is a humbling experience and it’s eye opening for those who watch it and understand the fragility of our lives and the importance of them, too.

To stop this from being a sad post, I’m going to share a few anecdotes about my dad and tie this all back to the title of this post.  When we were little, my brother, Dominick and I would ask my dad all the time “Why can’t we do this?” and “Why can’t we have that?” and his response would always be a resounding, “Because I said so. That’s why.”  We knew that the topic was dead and nothing would resuscitate it back to life.  Going to my Mom would be of no help because she would just repeat what my dad had said.

A few years ago on Father’s Day, I created two cards and packaged them up in sets that I sell at markets and in my shop on Etsy. One card set says “Because I Said So.” The other simply says, “Dad.”  In honor of my dad’s memory and my appreciation for having a flawed, but amazingly kind and generous father figure, I’m providing these cards as a downloadable PDF for you to print out yourself, write a note on and send to someone of your choosing.

They are both incredibly simple and the reason is for you to write freely and communicate with intention.  Maybe you’ll print them out and send them to your dad, or gift them to your dad? I don’t know, but I hope you do.  If you’re a dad, maybe you’ll print these and write notes to your kids? The files are up and good for ever. Please note that the PDFs have cropping marks so you can cut them after you print them in the correct A2 size.


One more anecdote. When my brother, Dominick, went through my father’s possessions after he passed, he found a box filled with movie ticket stubs and cards from his kids.  I used to send him a postcard from all of my travels and they were all in that box.  One of my favorite possessions that I have from my dad is a card he wrote to me while I was in high school looking at colleges. It was a card he bought while on one of his trucking routes and I carry it with my every day. It has his signature, his writing and it means the world to me.

Do yourself a favor, print out these cards and use them. You’ll be glad you did in the long run. Please feel free to share them with your friends and loved ones, too.

Enjoy and XO,

This past weekend, December 14th and 15th I participated in the 2013 Etsy NY Holiday Handmade Cavalcade. It was my first Cavalcade and it was A-MAZ-ING!


My table in the corner at the 2013 Handmade Holiday Cavalcade.


The amount of bags and stuff it took to get me to this year’s Cavalcade. EEPS!

I realized Monday morning when I posted a status on Facebook about the weekend that I based it on monetary gain. It was only after, that I felt badly. Now, don’t get me wrong. The monetary gain is important. And when I look at the overall picture of this little event, it is a huge part of why I’m calling this a success.  I made back the cost for the space that weekend as well as the cost of the table I purchased off of another Team member (my days of paying for tables at markets are over), gas to the City, and food.   I don’t feel bad about the amount I made, nor do I feel bad for emphasizing the monetary.

What I do feel bad is that I didn’t point out the other ways that the weekend was successful.

  • For starters, my newsletter list grew by 11 people. That’s right, 11 people signed up to receive the occasional newsletter from me about my company.
  • I also got some incredible feedback on my product. I received so many compliments about my work, including one guy who came to my table toward the end of the show who told me, “Based on the table alone, you do a great job of representing yourself.”  I told him that was one of the best compliments I had received all weekend.
  • I now know that people want single cards of certain styles.  Which I have always been reluctant to offer, but I can take some of those cards and offer them as singles at future markets.
  • Understand that my Etsy shop needs to focus on these simple, but elegant things rather than reflect my portfolio.  These are things that can still remain priced where they are, but showcase my love of lined envelopes and communication. And while they don’t need to be greeting cards, in the traditional sense, they can be single thank you cards, congratulations cards, etc.
  • I learned that people will pay for things they find valuable if you can not only share that story well, but engage with them. Others, may not see that value, and those customers are not the customers I want anyway.

The Cavalcade was a smaller “Market” by comparison to the ones I’ve done before, had much more of an intimate feeling, and the mix of product for sale was eclectic and interesting.  You could get things for almost everyone on your list. I had a problem finding something for my youngest brother there, but that’s only because he’s 19 and well, you know how 19 year old guys can be.

Something else I noted was that the energy of the weekend was a bit off. A few people who stopped by to visit noticed this too and said that they didn’t quite a festive energy that they were expecting to feel. It could have been because Saturday turned out to be a whopper of a snow day, which still brought in quite a few shoppers. In fact, I’d say that Saturday was far busier than Sunday, but I think the air of the market was off. It’s almost like in the movie “Elf”, when they talk about Christmas spirit being low, or not existing…that’s how I felt about the market. As though, whatever Christmas spirit there should have been was non-existent. As for me, well, I’m pretty bubbly and am so filled with passion for my product that even though there wasn’t a Christmas tree with lights in my corner, a few sellers even came by to tell me that they wanted to come over to the spot of cheer tucked in the far corner. I’m glad I was able to provide that.

Anyhow, back to business. These two points made me realize a lot more about my target customer, something I’ve been thinking about the past few days since my meeting with the Marketing Strategist, Halley Gray, of Evolve & Succeed . See, the people who bought from me, were my people. They were the type of people who were easy to chat with, who didn’t balk at pricing, who exclaimed, “I love stationery, or paper, or writing,” or “I collect paper from everywhere!” etc. These are my people. They are the people who saw my work and told me, “your stuff is unlike anyone else that I’ve seen”, or “you’re work is really beautiful”, or “I wish I had a need to buy your stuff.” These people are the people who want elegant, natural, simple, are educated, well traveled, and value art. These are the people who want to work with people who have stories and mix those stories. These are those people. I really believe Halley, helped me out a lot this weekend, more than she even knows. (I’ll have to email her and let her know!)

But most importantly, it got me thinking a lot about the story I tell and how even when I’m exhausted, my story is important and there are people who want to hear that story and connect and be part of that story. THAT is why I got into this in the first place. The 2013 Holiday Handmade Cavalcade reminded me of that and that knowledge will help me push forward into 2014, which I’m really excited about!

So yeah, that is why I’m counting the Cavalcade a HUGE success and why even if I don’t do it next year, although, I’m sure I will, I’m really excited to see where I move forward. I’ve learned time and time again that success isn’t just the money you make, but the people you connect with, the stories you exchange, and the lessons you learn.

OH, and before I forget…I had a gentleman come up to my table at one point and chat with me. He noticed my book of photos that I had from my recent trip to Japan and he looked at it and said, “I’ve seen this picture before! Are you the girl that went to Japan and couldn’t speak Japanese, but learned how to make paper?!” I said yes. He responded with, “I don’t know where I read/heard about you, but I read about you! I know who you are!”  I was shocked and told him, “No way!” He took my card and said he’d be following up on me. That, is another form of success! Huzzah!

I’ve been lagging in my blogging. It sucks. It’s unfair. Not only is it unfair to you, my little tribe of awesome readers, but to me. I haven’t been writing period. Yes, I’ve written a few cards to people here and there, but I haven’t really been writing. I’m not even attempting to apologize here. I’m just explaining that while I started out writing with a vengeance, I stopped with a vengeance as well. However, things have a way of changing…

Today, I posted my first non-personal blog in a long time. Since last year, actually. I’ve been meaning (and wanting) to write more for blogs about sustainability and environmental concerns and just haven’t had the time. Or maybe the motivation. Or maybe just both. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing these posts, they require time and I just haven’t had time. I feel like I haven’t had time to sleep, which is odd, but adding one more thing to the list of things to do, just wasn’t fun.

It also doesn’t help that I’ve moved to New Jersey, am living with a friend, don’t have a car yet, and just started a job. I’m a month into the gig and it’s moving. It is nice to be in the working world again and to have money, but honestly, all I can think about is Japan, stationery projects, a guy, and traveling more. At the same time, I am longingly looking at every West Elm catalog that comes contemplating how I am going to decorate (on a budget and with second hand and upcycled items). I’m excited by the prospect of having a corner with a work table that is all stationery.  And yet, I still wonder, is this it? It’s funny how life does that to you, isn’t it? But I know I’m on the right path…that I’m where I am supposed to be right now. The signs keep telling me so. So I’ve just got to have a bit of patience and continued faith. Easier said than done with your Sara “impatient” Stroman, but I’ll survive. I am grateful for every day that goes by and for all the opportunities that keep presenting themselves.

And so where does that leave me, well it leaves me wandering in this life that’s mine, but it also means that I am living and active and breathing. It means that while I haven’t been sharing as of late, I am enjoying life.

I’ll be posting a bit more regularly, especially as S2 Stationery and Design takes shape and picks up. I’ve gotten quite a few orders lately and have been busy, busy, busy with all exciting stuff! I’ve designed a graduate school graduation announcement, a stationery set for a teen, I did my first foiled invitation, worked with a couple on a Save the Date announcement, am designing a 21st birthday card for a friend’s daughter, am working on a birth announcement, and have two new ideas for cards in the pipeline to be released this summer, as well as a membership service, and a photography collection. I started painting with water colors and I’m taking a class on making pop-up cards. More on all of this soon!

Two nights ago, I opened my box of goodies from Japan. I hadn’t seen that stuff since I mailed it to myself at my aunt’s house my last day in Echizen. It made me nostalgic and happy and sad at the same time.  Happy because I did THAT- I went away, I lived abroad briefly, I picked up some Japanese, I was alone- I experienced it, I lived it after planning it and wanting it so badly. Nostalgic because that time was one of the hardest and trying times (I compare it to just after my Dad passed away four years ago), and I found joy and happiness in every moment. Sad because I can never go back to that same point. But I’m so happy that I’m here, where I am, hiding out in New Jersey.

While I was in Echizen, the woman I stayed with told me that she didn’t like that I said, “I understand now that this is where I am supposed to be.” I’ve since realized that she and I do not have the same life philosophy, hence our not getting along in the end, but means exactly what it says, I’ve no doubt that I am where I am supposed to be, growing pains and all. I’ve just got to be patient. Patient. Patient. After all, that is my word for the year.

And so with that, today, I posted an article about the Hello Etsy Conference I attended last month at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY on the Etsy NY Team Blog. It was mind blowing in a good way. As I promised in that blog, I will write more about it here on this blog. It has a lot to do with what I learned while in Japan and I think that’s worth sharing, even if you’re only interested in posts about stationery.

Before signing off, I want to share an article, “Woody Allen, Louis C.K., And The Power Of The Handwritten Note,” I read earlier today that keeps me smiling. It’s about writing and the power of a written note between two well known and comedic artists, Woody Allen + Louis C.K.  As I get ready to mail out thank you cards to friends in Japan, America, Africa, and America, I’m excited to know that Woody Allen and Louis C.K. are fellow members of the writers club.  Are you? If not, I hope you join, soon! (More on that to come!)

This is the hot post. This is the post that explains what the hell I am doing in a small village on the western coast of Japan.

I hope you all know the story. If you don’t, here’s a quick recap. In 2009, while traveling through Italy a few weeks after my dad passed away, I had a dream where I opened an envelope that was lined with a cool pattern, but never saw the card inside. To be clear, there was a card inside, I just never saw it because I woke up immediately and said, “Holy Shit! This is what I am supposed to be doing with my life!”

By the time I returned to New York City after traveling a bit longer, I had already plotted my path to making this a reality. I can’t quite say that the path has been easy, or that I’ve made millions of dollars because I haven’t. Instead, I’ve made more money each year, but I am not a lucrative business. And that has to change. (Hello, December, month of business planning and development!)

About two years ago now, so just a year after I decided I was going to do this stationery business, I realized that I needed desperately to get out of the life I was living. I hated my full-time job, I cried constantly; I needed something to change and I had no idea what.  During this time, I started applying to jobs and going on interviews, but nothing worked out.

While on a trip visiting a good friend in Cleveland, I bought a coupon on Groupon for discounted language courses. (In my past, I was notorious for signing up for classes on a whim. I’d get bored and take up a new hobby until I felt I had learned enough or experienced all that I was going to experience and moved to the next hobby, or class.)  At the time of purchase, I had no clue what language I would study; I just new it was a good deal and I could stand something new and challenging.

A couple of weeks after buying that coupon, I went into the office of my full-time job and realized I needed to go to Japan. I can’t quite remember the circle of logic there, or what my inspiration was, but I remember thinking, now this all makes sense. It makes sense that I work for a Japanese company for the past three years. It makes sense that I bought language courses when I need to learn some Japanese!

My coworkers helped me look for Japanese Washi Villages and I contacted the person on the other side of the Echizen Washi Village’s English website, Rina.  She detailed the Museum’s program and offered me advice on places to stay, etc.  We emailed back and forth for a while with me saying I am considering coming around this time, only to have them change.

I was set to come last year, in 2011, but the Earthquake and Tsunami that hit Sendai closed that door. My mother, for the first time in her life, asked me not to do something and I acquiesced. It was hard, but I did. It made sense and I realize now that I was not ready to go last year. I was meant to come this year, now.

So what is in Japan?

Japan has a very strong tradition of papermaking. In the village I am currently staying in, it dates back 1500 years!  In other villages, a little bit less time, maybe 1300 years or 800 years, but still the same, these folks have been making paper for a long time.  (A prime example, in Echizen lives one of the “living national treasures of Japan.” His father was also a “living national treasure” when he was alive.  The current treasure is the ninth generation to make paper in his family. His son helps and will take over when his father passes, continuing a long line of family tradition.)

As a designer and artist, I have worked with Japanese paper many times. I am fascinated by it. I love the texture, touch, weight, and smell of each sheet. I also have fallen in love with many designs on these sheets. (Since coming to Echizen, I’ve learned that artists outside of Echizen actually do most designs on the sheets. An artist will purchase Washi to use for designing purposes and then wholesale the sheets to people like me. Some paper studios do offer designed paper that is gorgeous, while others just make plain Washi to sell.)

I realized as I worked on projects that I don’t know how paper is made. (Can you believe that?) I also realized that many people in my industry don’t know how paper is made. It is really easy to call a print shop and say, “I need this printed on a glossy or matte cream 100 pound stock,” without knowing where the paper comes from or how it is made or who made it. I wanted to change that. I wanted to be able to tell my clients, “I know how this paper is made. I’ve seen it. I can do it. This paper and design is more than just a piece of paper!”

Being that I run a business that focuses on creating unique paper-based items for customers, I want that relationship with the paper and the makers of the paper. Furthermore, I love paper so much (I really do!), that I want to know the origins of it.  When I work with a client, I pick papers specific to the customer and to their project. I am a bit obsessed with making sure the paper fits the project. If it doesn’t, I go back to the drawing board.

So this, being in Japan, makes sense. It just does.

I’ve been in Japan for over a month now and I have seen Washi made. I’ve participated in every part of the process and I’ve tried my hand at making Washi. (I’ll provide more details in the coming days.) I’m hardly a pro and I know it will take many, many more days and months and possibly even years to get the skill level that the artisans I have worked with have (they’ve been doing it their entire lives, many of them!), but I know where this tradition began and how important and deep it runs not just to the artists, but to the community and to the country.

So, What’s Next?

Ultimately, I would love to be able to make my own paper. Realistically, at this point, I can’t just go back to America and open a paper studio though. The supplies I need are immense and I would have to raise capital and all that other jazz. In other words, I need to get some things in order personally and financially to be able to do this.

I also want to travel to a few more other countries that make paper – China, India, Italy, France, Thailand, Egypt, and if, at all possible, Iran to learn about the Persian art of paper making – and see their methods and techniques.  I would love to have a solid idea of the global handmade paper making community. It sounds daunting and expensive, but I think it’s worth it. Especially since I use these papers in my own work and because I am so inspired by them.

Realistically, I will figure out a way to stay in touch with the Echizen community, purchase paper from the artisans here, continue to be part of their community and grow my business.  Of course, in my little head the other day, I was walking and thought, “wouldn’t it be great if you opened a shop/studio where you offered custom design, paper making and sold paper from the artists of Echizen? Wouldn’t that be really amazing?!” It would, but right now, it is not happening. That may be down the road in a few years. At least, we’ll make that a goal.

I am leaving Echizen after a month and a half next Friday, November 30th. It’s the day before my 32nd birthday and I will head down to the Osaka area to spend a few days there with two artists before heading back to Kyoto to explore the paper community there and just enjoy the City. I loved it the first time I went two weekends ago for two days. I can’t wait to have a few days there with time to ponder, relax, and do whatever the hell I want at a slower pace. (Note: if you ever travel to Kyoto, you need a week. There is just so much to do and see and is worth the cost.)

From Kyoto, I’ll head back to Tokyo where I will spend my days looking at more paper and traveling to a few areas outside of Tokyo, like Mt. Fuji. (No, I’m not climbing!) The first time I went to Tokyo, I didn’t love it. I spent most of the time sitting on my friend’s couch catching up on my Spanish novela, but I have a feeling that Tokyo this time around is going to be different and a bit more fun.

More importantly, I’ll be able to really think about where I’m headed in 2013 and understand what I want of myself as an entrepreneur and business owner.

Several Sundays ago, May 20th, I attended the National Stationery Show (post to come soon!) as a guest. I was Gina Mulligan’s guest and it was and she is awesome!

Me and Gina Mulligan.

For those of you who haven’t read my blog and don’t know what the big deal is about Gina and I meeting a few weeks ago, let me explain.

My relationship with Gina starts with the social network site Twitter. Yes, Twitter.

I don’t remember the specifics, but I somehow got wind of her and her non-profit Girls Love Mail, an organization seeking handwritten letters for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, via a tweet that I saw and I contacted her immediately. Our brief exchange of tweets led way to longish emails talking about our respective projects and ways we could work together. They also included stories being shared – I shared with her my stories about my grandmother’s death from breast cancer and my father’s recent death and my subsequent dream and business and she shared with me her own story of being diagnosed with cancer and receiving letters as she wrote her book. We were both moved to start a collaboration and well, a relationship was born!

Meeting Gina in person for the Stationery Show was incredible.  Prior to last month, Gina and I had only corresponded via email, twitter and mail (she baked cookies and sent me some at Christmas!).  While I had no worries about whether we would get along or not upon meeting, I was definitely curious to meet the woman I had spent a few hours corresponding with. We were modern day pen pals! As I knew she would be, Gina turned out to be such an amazing person-kind and goodhearted and as I told her many, times, I thank Twitter for our meeting.

Social media is a great and useful tool, but too often we reach out and talk to people, but don’t make real connections. Meeting Gina was a moment where the power of social media merged with real life. Social media can be a huge soul sucking waste if all you’re doing is looking at people’s profiles instead of living your life, but it can also be an amazing instrument in bridging gaps and spaces that you might have never otherwise known.

See, I had been itching to volunteer with a breast cancer organization that is not the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I’m not badmouthing Komen at all. They are a great organization and have done so much in the fight against breast cancer. In fact, I used to donate and run the Race for the Cure in Washington, DC in honor of my grandmother who passed away from the disease in 1992. I no longer do and it’s not because of the issue they had with Planned Parenthood earlier this year. No, I stopped because I worked for a cancer non-profit in my 20s and I saw the mismanagement of funds and started questioning what would happen if a cure for cancer in general was found. What would organizations like my old employer and Komen would do? They operate like corporations and are constantly after money, so what would their next steps be?

I don’t want anyone to think that I have a distrust for all non-profits, because I don’t. As a matter of fact, between 2006 and 2011, I ran four marathons and raised money for blood cancers through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society ‘s Team in Training program, but looked into their spending before committing to raising money. Having relationships with children and adults who have benefited from LLS definitely made that connection stronger and more visible. I know the same can be said for Komen, but something about them and I just didn’t match several years ago and I’ve since moved away from supporting their organization personally.

Having said that, Gina does work with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, but her organization does so much more and because of that, I feel like I’m more connected to breast cancer patients and the cause. The letters written to her organization go into the hands of women who need the positive energy that comes from written words and from knowing that someone, a stranger, is supporting them through a tough time in their life.  This is why I love Girls Love Mail and why I am so honored to have partnered with Gina when she first started the organization and to have a relationship with her. Her husband, by-the-way, is pretty awesome, too!

Again, I am so grateful to Twitter and for timing being on my side. (I don’t spend all day on Twitter, so having seen the tweet about her was good timing in deed!)  I also also grateful to the National Stationery Show for being held in New York City – it brought me and Gina, who lives in California, together for a few days and it was wonderful!

I encourage everyone to sign up to write a letter. The stationery sheet that you can download when you sign up was designed by me specifically for Girls Love Mail.What are you waiting for? Go write a letter! Bring a smile to a woman’s face.  I’m sure you’ll be smiling as well.

Oh, and Gina, if you read this post, THANK YOU! You are one rocking woman!

Today was my first attempt at selling at Brooklyn Flea and it was amazing!

Yes, it did rain and I had to pack it up two hours before the end of the day, BUT it was still spectacular!

First, a pal of mine that lives in the neighborhood came out with his two little ones to say hi. He is a great photographer and has been trying to talk to me about a branding project, so it was good to get face-to-face and chat a bit about things. I’m excited for the project, actually and I’m honored that he came by! Plus, his kids, ages four and two, are super cute and they put smiles on my face.

Second, my cousin came by at the right time. She ended up helping me pack up just before the storm came and dash to cover as the rain beat down on us. Then she helped me get into a cab. Solid, that one is. Solid.

Third, I had three sales. While that’s hardly monumental, they were substantial and led way to a day peppered with many compliments and kind words. Two of the customers signed up for my newsletter and took my card. It was also nice to see people interested in my stuff and responsive to my products. I’ve said this before, but we all need validation. These markets validate my business and keep me designing and creating.

Four,  I was able to test out a new display. I am super excited about this because two weeks ago when I did the Spring Crafts in Chelsea Market (I have an update coming!), I realized that my tabling display was not good. It totally screamed amateur, which is fine, I was an amateur when I put that little ensemble together, but after a few markets under my belt, it was time to create something a bit more visually appealing.

I credit the 2012 National Stationery Show for this. See, May 20th, the day after Crafts in Chelsea, I attended the National Stationery Show (an update coming this week, too!) and was awed by the booths, in both an environmentally unsavory way and a design savory way (I’ll explain more in my full post).  I couldn’t believe the work and time and effort that went into each booth. What’s more, I couldn’t believe the stories that each booth presented. Not just stories about the products, but of the owners and designers. They projected on to the buyers, press, stationery lovers, and anyone else walking through the aisles what you were supposed to see and feel from their products.

So I decided that I needed to create my in-person market story. I needed to figure out what I wanted people to think and feel when they came to my table.

My idea came quickly and was inspired by not just myself, but the things that I love – writing and traveling.  My idea came to fruition with the help of some Etsy vintage and crafts sellers.

What I decided, and what I now need to work into my elevator pitch, is that my stationery is inspired by my curiosity for the world at large, as well as the people who reside in the world and is in want of writers.

That’s right, my stationery WANTS good writers. 

My stationery is not nostalgic, nor is it reminiscent of an old art, but is the future for good and curious writers who travel the world.

As you can guess, I had to show that in my merchandising efforts and I did. I missed a few pieces here and there, but over all, my set up was pretty and helped draw your eyes to the table. It also helped that an item not for sale, kept bringing people to the table as well (my metal wire globe from South Africa).

The items that I bought to help make this display come about are listed below, along with the wonderful (they were ALL nice and courteous) seller’s Etsy shop linked:

Glass and Cork JarKibster Vintage – I put un-sharpened #2  pencils in it

Mini Moss Terrarium in Graduated Glass Beaker – Vertegris (not vintage) – in the tray

Chalkboard clothespins – TodoPapel (not vintage) – in one basket with “Sale” chalked on it

Vintage 1981 World & Ocean Floor Map by National Geographic – wanderlustmaps – Map on table

Vintage rectangular berry baskets set of five – Littlepart – Berry baskets that stationery is in toward back edge of table

Plans For Global Domination Hand Stamped Spiral Notebook Journal – BrownBooks – Mailing list sign up book

Vintage Skirt Hanger Repurpose as an Organizer – Children’s Room Decor, Photo Holder, Desk Organizer – WestTexasVintage– Hanging display for New New York Graffiti Save-the-Date Postcards

Napkin Holder – Victorian Brass Filigree TheVintageParlor– In the first round of the day, it held the Bridal Shower invitations, but I changed it to hold the mustache cards instead. It is a lovely piece!

Antique test tube wood rack AM Radio – It is the piece to the right of the table in front of my water and coffee containers that has pencils sticking out of it and has the blue mustache cards in front of (that got changed later in the day). This is the only piece that will look differently the next time I do Brooklyn Flea,  I should have the items that help pull everything together even more.

You can see all of the pieces mentioned in the photos below.

Above you can also see how I put everything together.

It’s hard to imagine how something will look when it’s just in pieces. And honestly, I had no real idea of how I was going to put these all together, I just had a hope that they would work nicely combined. I’m pleased to say they did and that my traveling writer theme with a few minor tweaks is close to being eye candy for the stationery lovers out there, looking to buy some quality hand-made stationery.

I have one more day scheduled for Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene, Brooklyn this month and then we’ll see how it goes. Whether I want to try and schedule a few more dates in July and August.

Selling at markets is hard. It takes energy (I woke up at 5ish today to get ready), strength (I don’t have a table and chair of my own, but I had to haul everything to the corner to catch a cab and this is heavy stuff!), money (cabs, food, supplies, etc both beforehand and day of), and patience and good attitude (you stand in the sun and rain talking to people, sharing stories and engaging). It’s hard work and yet it is so worth it.  I truly felt like not only had I found my business identity, but that I had also found the people who are interested in my products and that makes me ready for another day of rain or shine just to get my products into the hands of the customers it seeks.

I can’t wait for the next Brooklyn Flea!

More recaps coming this week. Happy days!

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.

***Disclaimer- I am not trying to be a negative Nancy in this post, swear. ***

This morning I learned that the stationery shop in Frederick, MD that I have been in contact with since 2010 is closing.  The reason being that business has been slow and financially the owner can no longer keep the shop running. She intends to still do stationery and invitations, just not have a shop with inventory and overhead.

Now, I’m ecstatic that she is going to continue to do invitations and stationery sales, but I’m sad that her shop will cease to exist after April. I’m even more sad because she was the shop I was intending to send my invitation look book to as my way into the realm of not-so-custom, but different and easy to assemble invitations that shops could carry, wouldn’t cost a ton and would hopefully generate steady business.

Knowing that she will remain in the stationery business is great and I am happy to hear that, but I was bummed to hear about her shop. It is cute and small and inspirational to designers like me.

When I first heard the news, I was immediately sad. I mean, if shops like her’s close, then what are the chances that someone like me, or any other stationer for that matter, stand a chance in getting our products out there to the writers and stationery lovers that are in need?

I love the window that the internet and Etsy have opened for vendors and artists to sell online at a minimal cost and without serious overhead, but part of the appeal of shopping is picking things up and touching them. I’ve had several customers tell me they like seeing my products in person before buying. Okay. Maybe I need to take better pictures, but honestly when it comes to paper crafted items, real touch wins out always.

What hit me the hardest was realizing my high expectations. Never in the almost two years since I met her, did I think her store would close. In my little head, I thought oh, no worries, her store will be around and she’ll be a great contact for me as I grow. Now, however, reality has hit.

As I stood in my room this morning, I looked at my look book and all the pieces I have in various places around my room and wondered if what I am doing is in vain?

Yes, there are people who still use paper and who love my work, but isn’t that just going to stop one day? I just read an article a few weeks ago about how handwritten signatures don’t even matter any more, it’s the pin number you select that does.  By the way, I am not against technology or advancements in it, but I am against people not using their brain or losing a sense of who they are as individuals.

I know you’re going to say, but Sara, you’re following your dream and you’re creating things people like and you want to save the world. And while, yes, these are all true and following my dream is the biggest aspect of this all, what if I’m following it to only follow it. What if I end up homeless living under the Brooklyn Bridge, like my Mother used to threaten us with as children?

I truly believe that paper is the way for me. Actually, I have no doubt of this. Communication is my calling and providing the means to communicate is the solution, BUT if I can’t sell the products that make me happy, if there’s barely a market for them, then why am I so adamant about doing this?

Normally, when I don’t like something, but I’ve accepted the reality of the situation, I move on. In order to move on, I often times just stop giving the person/thing/issue any attention. Once that happens, I’m free to move in any direction, and I won’t be angry with the fact that the person/thing/issue doesn’t meet my expectations or desires.  To some this may not be the healthiest way to handle my feelings, but it has worked and it has helped me out quite a bit. The only thing here is that this is not a person/thing/issue, it is my passion, belief, and calling. It is as much of me as my hair and my glasses and my heart.

I’ve learned that I have high expectations of every one and even situations and that ultimately they are unfair to me because I end up angry and hurt and upset when the person/thing doesn’t meet them. On the other hand, the person/thing isn’t aware that they were expected to meet a standard to begin with and often times they don’t (or never did) have it in them to meet those standards. Yes, they may suffer, too, when I decide that I can’t deal with them, or want to be friends with them, or leave, but in the end, I’m the one who ends up dealing with the stress and the frustration while the other person goes on unaware.

And that is what I realized, I need to manage my expectations better not just of others and situations, but for myself.  I am still going to push through with my look book (as a matter of fact, I had some friends suggest places to send the look book to) in the time line I created for myself. For the sake of creativity, sanity, and business development, I must, but I also have to look at the business model I am developing and look at the longer term picture.

In other words, how am I and the expectations I have for myself going to change to grow this business differently? So that in the face of disappointment, I pick myself up, dust my leggings off, and keep moving?

Much like I have realized that I either like things, or I don’t and it is okay to have these feelings and to adjust my expectations appropriately, I have to adjust my expectations of our technology driven world and the fact that I never decided to go into stationery to amass a small fortune, but enough to live comfortably through my living years.

I’m sure I’ve discussed this at length before today, but I was faced with looking in the mirror when I read the news about this shop. Please know that I am not quitting or stopping myself from following my dream and passion, I just sort of need to get my plan tweaked and ready to go.  I can’t thank the stationery shop for teaching me this extremely important lesson.

I have been trying to wait out writing this particular posting, but today decided to hell with it; I can’t wait another minute! I’ll just write another one when I get the goods. So here goes…

It was the summer of 1999. My Freshman year at the George Washington University had just ended and I went home to Cleveland, Ohio to well, do nothing, but see friends and work at the Papyrus at Beachwood Mall. It was that summer that I decided I was going to MAKE a real scrap book. One that included cardboard and wrapping paper and tie it together with ribbon.

I had never made a book before. Well, I’m not including the make your own story book in the fourth grade where I used construction paper, glue and printing paper to draw pictures on.

This was a REAL book and I was going to somehow bind the book together with Organza ribbon and a needle.

I don’t remember all the details of making this book, now, 12 years later, but over the Christmas holiday, I found the scrap book sitting in a bin of my books and I immediately felt at peace.  You know that feeling when you just know that what you’re doing is so right? Or in the words of my aunt over the weekend, as told to me by mother, “Your daughter has been making cards since she was a little girl.” My aunt sent me a text message over the weekend telling me she found a card I had made in the 80s. I was probably five or six years old at the time.  I have asked for a picture and am waiting. When I get it, I will share.

I don’t know what possessed me at the time, but I did not take pictures nor did I bring the book back with me to NYC. And so, much like the card my aunt texted me about, I am waiting for my mom to mail me the book. Which means, you all have to wait to see what I’m talking about. Sorry!

More importantly, what really struck me about the book was that for someone who had never made a book before, it is pretty. It’s nice. It doesn’t look like a professional made it, but it doesn’t look like a hobbiest did either. Maybe I’m just biased. You’ll see when I post photos.

Anyhow, I share this story about book making and binding because I decided to make my first ever “look book” this year. 

What is a “look book”?

Well, it’s not a portfolio and it most definitely is not a scrap book. It is a booklet that I’m making to send to a stationery shop in MD that I’d like to sell my invitations.  You know exactly what I’m talking about – the books you flip through when you got to Papyrus or any other large stationery store to buy invitations.   The thing is, my book, won’t be a binder, will be hand made, and will have limited options. There will be one for stationery and one for invitations.  There may actually be many for invitations, but at this point, there will only be one for weddings.

By limited options, I am going to offer invitations with the following options:

  • hand made paper (from around the world) for envelope linings, back grounds, booklets, covers, and wraps.
  • A series of fonts customers can choose from
  • Pricing for additional pieces like RSVP, accommodation, and direction cards.

Customers who want personalized and custom designs can still contact me, but they will have to pay a different rate for that process. With this “look book”, customers are limited to what is offered in the book. There won’t be any custom design fees, just a simple layout charge and then the price for supplies, printing, and assembly work done by me.  Awesome, si?

I am so excited about this. So very excited! And mostly excited because last night and this morning, I sat on my floor with my cardboard box and started making my book. It has three sides with the left and right sides collapsing on top of each other. I’ve added some ribbon and I’m using my gorgeous and expensive paper that I bought in Paris last spring.  As I sat covered in pulp and glue this morning, I laughed at how it has taken me a year to make this happen and yet, it is happening.

This morning, I also noted how back in my high school days, I had wanted to take an art class called “Book Binding”. The course got canceled and I was put into ceramics, which I loved, but I wonder how might my life be different now if I had actually be able to take the book binding course. Would I have gone to art school instead?

Wondering about the past is of course futile, I am where I am for a reason and I am happy, but there is just something about making a book that makes me think about who I was 12 and 15 years ago.  A girl with no idea that this would end up being her life passion.

Anyhow, I’m sharing some early stage photos of my “look book” process. Please know that I’m hardly a book binding/making professional. I am working based on my intuition, design knowledge, and from watching my mom sew things as a child.  I hope that one day I can take some book making/binding classes and learn the techniques and skills behind the crafts. But as I know all too well, sometimes you have to take the first steps and well, then everything falls into place.

Ahhhhh, I’m making my second book, ever!  You can expect a follow up with finished result photos and photos of the first book sometime in the next three or four weeks.

Any types, or comments you may have about book making or binding, please leave below.

Readers, did you know that this week is National Letter Writing Week?



I didn’t either.

I only found out thanks to some stationery businesses, fans, and friends on Twitter.   And now, you know, too. Hooray! We’re all a bit educated on this gorgeous Tuesday afternoon.

The history of National Letter Writing Week is pretty simple – It occurs the second week in January. That’s it.  I have no idea who started it, where it came from, nothing.

What I can say is, grab those pens and a sheet of paper and start writing. You should be writing every once in a while to begin with, but most definitely now, this week, during letter writing week. I can’t think of a better way to help the post office even.

I’ve got my three cards, stamps, and pen ready:

If you write one letter, or even a few during National Letter Writing Week, send me a photo at saras [at] s2stationery [dot] com, or leave a comment below. I’ll share responses next week in a new post.

Happy writing!



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