The Paper Trail

Many artists are exploring the stationery and paper goods category, which has been a key area of interest for today's young female consumer. One would think that the latest technology and digital communications such a

April 6, 2018

11 Min Read

Many artists are exploring the stationery and paper goods category, which has been a key area of interest for today's young female consumer.

One would think that the latest technology and digital communications such as cell phones, text messaging, and e-mail would make paper-based products lose their luster, but luxury paper has become a hip means of expression for those in their 20s and 30s. In a recent study of the $37.4 billion stationery goods market, Unity Marketing found there's been a generational shift from older to younger consumers. A survey among 1,200 recent stationery shoppers found that those aged 25 to 34 were the biggest spending age segment on all things stationery. i1_523.jpg

Perhaps it's the influence of style setters such as Martha Stewart, Kate Spade, and Vera Wang, who also joined the stationery category, but specialty retailers such as Crane & Co., Papyrus, and Kate's Paperie have become key destinations for those with a passion for paper.

From 2000 to 2004 the sales of greeting cards were in steady decline. "In 2005, the tide started to turn as a result of a shift in consumers' shopping preferences away from mass retailers and discounters toward specialty retailers that offered higher quality and more specialized card choices," says Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing. After four years of steadily declining sales, the greeting card market made a comeback—rising more than 11 percent from 2004 to 2006. In 2006, it climbed to more than $10 billion. Specialty card and gift shops also regained 6 percent market share." i2_237.jpgi2_t_107.jpg

"One segment of the stationery market that has not enjoyed a new youth movement is traditional greeting cards," says Danziger. "While stationery products have got youth appeal, greeting cards remain stuck with an aging consumer." Middle-aged consumers (45 and over) are the mainstay of greeting card manufacturers, which can mean real disruption in the future for those companies not attuned to the needs and desires of younger customers.

What is today's young consumer looking for? Naturally, eco products, which include cards made from recycled papers or ones that use ecologically friendly inks, are key to this segment, but design also plays a major role in their decision-making process. High-tech embellishments such as die-cuts and foldouts are also bringing a more sophisticated aesthetic to cards—many now feature hand-made or hand-laid paper. Some even include sound chips, which play music when the card is opened.

A handful of artists, including Kate Spain see opportunity in the stationery and paper goods category. Spain sees the category as a gateway into the marketplace. "Stationery is a multi-faceted category with many possibilities for brand awareness and extending a brand," says Spain, who believes opportunities exist for both specialty stores and mass retailers. "Since it's relatively economical to produce stationery items, retailers seem to be more likely to take associated risks, which they've done repeatedly with color palettes," says Spain. i3_143.jpgi3_t_65.jpg

Karen Bullard, who founded karen cole paper in 2004, believes stationery and personal notes keep people connected in a way that e-mail can't. Note cards, imprintables, and memo pads now feature Bullard's signature hand-drawn whimsical illustrations. "I've always had a paper love affair. There's nothing like receiving a handwritten note from a friend."

Fashion-forward women ages 25 and up are the focus of Bullard's paper collection, which is currently available at finer stationery stores nationwide and online. Suggested retails range from $12 to $13 for a box of 10 cards and envelopes.

Due to the success of Bullard's stationery collection, the artist and entrepreneur recently launched a licensing division, karen cole design. She believes her designs could easily translate to fabric, home decor, and rubber stamps.

Being a "twenty-something go-getter," Joanna Alberti of card collection philoSophie's knows firsthand how to cater to the female consumer aged 13 to 50. "It's fun to develop the line through the eyes of 'can-do' women," says Alberti. A former assistant media planner, Alberti always had a passion for illustrating. After a stint juggling two careers (a full-time commitment followed by evenings curled up with her sketchpad), Alberti decided to flee the agency to pursue her passion for illustrating. i4_105.jpgi4_t_43.jpg

As the concept for philoSophie's began to evolve, Alberti decided to exhibit her cards and invitations at the National Stationery Show. She was soon discovered by Kim Lawrence, an art director and designer at Enesco. Enesco marks philoSophie's first license for cosmetic bags, totes, compact mirrors, mugs, and framed prints. To create a larger statement, Enesco is now licensing Alberti's artwork for spiral note pads, day planners, sticky-notes, and beyond.

The Enesco paper collection will be available in September at card/gift retailers, specialty boutiques, and select department and grocery stores. Suggested retails range from $3 to $25. Since the initial launch of gift products in April, Alberti and Enesco promoted heavily with tradeshow artist signings and illustration events as well as promotion packages with DVDs including clips from the studio, trade advertising, and Web ads.

From her studio in Rochester, N.Y., Alberti and her team continue to create handmade cards embellished with blush and glitter accents. The artist will continue to develop illustrations as well as business opportunities while keeping the handmade cards and custom invitations the inspiration for new formats. "By taking this work and manipulating it for licensing, it can impact a much larger audience, but maintain the same feel and originality," concludes Alberti, who recently signed with King Features.

Paper Passion

Growing up, some kids had a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, but Kate Spain had a sketchbook. Spain's parents are both artistic, so from a very young age, she recognized that pursuing an art career would be a natural path. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, Spain began her career as part of an artist's cooperative in Newport, R.I., where she hand made note cards, magnets, children's furniture, and many other decorative and functional wares.

Later, Spain moved to New York to design novelty books in the children's division at Simon and Schuster. From there, she went to work as a designer of licensed character merchandise for several accessories companies. For 10 years, Spain designed backpacks, handbags, watches, socks, slippers, and stationery that featured Hello Kitty, Thomas the Tank Engine, Powerpuff Girls, Barbie, and more.

Spain currently produces a variety of work from paintings to hand-drawn and computer-generated art. She often draws first, and then uses the computer to generate repeat patterns for production and product concept mock-ups.

"Though the computer has become an integral part of design, I always begin with a pencil and paper," says Spain, who explains that the texture and linear quality of hand-drawn art is what gives it personality.

Spain and her husband are avid gardeners, cooks, and outdoor adventurers, so most of her inspiration stems from nature. "Sometimes it's the unlikely juxtaposition of colors that jump out at me, and sometimes it's a simple flower that I'd never looked at so closely before," she says. Her themes include vegetables, flowers, and birds.

Spain believes it's essential to shop the marketplace to know what consumers are buying. "When I design, I always keep the market trends and customer in mind," says Spain. "Actually, part of my initial process in creating a line is thinking about the 'dream' retailer who I would like to see carry it and work toward that as I settle on color palettes and subject matter. I like to lure people in with color since that's the initial connection people make with art. Sometimes humor can further the connection on an emotional level, and I think humor is something people crave [given the state of the economy, more than ever]."

She is interested in licensing her work for note cards, holiday cards, writing sets, notebooks, scrapbooking items, invitations, desk sets, gift wrap, and beyond. At press time, Spain was expecting to seal a three-year contract with a textiles manufacturer.

For those adults who still yearn to capture the energy, magic, and creativity associated with the Disney brand, the Walt Disney Signature collection caters to those mature taste preferences. The stylish collection, which offers Walt-inspired furniture, lighting, rugs, and outdoor dining, debuted in 2006, and targets art enthusiasts and Disney film enthusiasts.

The Walt Disney Signature collection recently expanded to include fine paper and writing instruments for executives, pen collectors, and gift givers. Mark Coleman, senior vice president, global stationery, Disney Consumer Products, explains the strategy behind the Signature launch. "Most of us have been touched by the Disney experience at some point in our lives—whether it was through a visit to a Disney park, watching Disney movies or the Disney Channel, or reading Disney literature. We wanted to capture that experience and appreciation for the Disney heritage for the adult segment because children who love Disney become adults who love Disney."

The elegant paper collection launched at last month's National Stationery Show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. The collections include Walt Disney Signature Executive, Sleeping Beauty, and Fantasia. The collection includes pens by Monteverde, leather bound journals by Eccolo, and note cards from Crane and Co.

The Executive collection salutes those who, like Walt, believe in the impossible dream. The pens, leather journals, and stationery reflect a 1940's streamline design inspired by furniture from Drexel Heritage. A crown embellishment at the top of the pen is inspired by a photograph of Walt walking through the archway of his castle in the soon-to-open Magic Kingdom. The material mix is an ebony black marbleized acrylic interspersed with rings of aviation grade carbon fiber.

Since themes of love, dreams, and beauty are potent elements in the Sleeping Beauty film, they also played a key role in the design of the stationery and writing instruments.

"As a film, Sleeping Beauty makes a definitive artistic statement. The design can be described as mid 20th century modern meets medieval," says Coleman. Here, a Modernist composition magically mixes with the decadent detail of illuminated manuscripts. The golden, jewel encrusted, Sleeping Beauty Storybook was central to the design. Disney also salutes the artistry of Fantasia with a collection that incorporates a palette of royal blue with silver accents.

The line will be available in the fall at independent stationery shops, fine retailers, and at Disney certainly has plans to expand the Walt Disney Signature collection.

"We are considering a lot of opportunities across multiple categories for the brand ranging from scents to florals," says Coleman.

There's certainly not a shortage of artists eager to ink stationery deals, but there are some key areas of the market that are currently underserved. Kate Spain believes the market demands more "green" goods and production processes. "The stationery category has been saturated with higher price points and novelty 3D cards (many embellished with plastic pieces) that ultimately end up being thrown away a lot sooner than a beach towel would," says Spain, who believes designers should be more responsible and innovative in their use of materials.

Bullard of karen cole design sees potential in the tween market. "I have a 9-year-old daughter who loves paper and stickers, but I haven't found that there are many products for that age group that are appropriate," says Bullard.

Disney's Coleman believes technology and innovation are driving the business. He points to Hallmark soundcards, which he believes have revolutionized an otherwise moderately growing industry. "The accessibility of information via the Internet has bred more discerning consumers who are demanding to trade-up for better quality products and more customized/personalized products," says Coleman. "Lastly, sustainability is becoming a way of life."

Kate Spain also sees a major interest in "green" products and related themes. "It will be interesting to see this develop and how various artists interpret it," says Spain. "In my own work, I've tried not to address it in literal ways, but rather by subjects that include ferns and other botanicals."

"The graphic design direction is evolving into organic designs and textile-like patterns," says Bullard of karen cole design. "Paper is a very fashion-forward business," she says, adding that designers tend to interpret fashion and home trends. Bullard sees palettes of pink/lime green and pink/orange trending.

Letterpress printing with vintage themes, "silhouette" styles, and "old world" floral-scroll wallpaper looks with an almost art deco/art nouveau flair are also gaining recognition.

For Steve Russo, president and ceo, FAB Starpoint, "novelty" stationery is on an upward swing. The company, which has licenses for Hello Kitty, High School Musical, and Cars reported a strong 2007 and predicts a stronger 2008.

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