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!



“Because I Said So” – Reflections on My Dad and Two Free Downloadable Note Cards

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,

2013 Etsy NY Holiday Handmade Cavalcade – Success!

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!

An Update…With More to Come

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!)

So, Um, Why Japan? Or Instead, What Brought Me to Japan

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.

Meeting Gina Mulligan of Girls Love Mail

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!

Merchandising For And A Recap of Brooklyn Flea Williamsburg

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!