July 12, 2010 • Kim Baker
It may come as a shock to the many fans of Wooster & Prince that Designer and Owner Amy Ormond never saw herself as a “creative type.” Rather, she has an undergraduate degree is in biology and an MBA. But when the weekend oil painter purchased Illustrator “on a whim” while pregnant with her second son, everything changed.
With her background, Ormond approaches the industry, not to mention running a business, differently than most of her peers. Stationery Trends interviewed Ormond to learn more.
ST: How did you get into this business?
AO: I’ve always considered myself a business person, not a creative type. But once I started playing with Illustrator, I discovered it would unleash years and years of creativity that I had mostly ignored until then.
As I was creating with no restraints for the first time, however, my MBA side kept nudging and pushing. Was there a business in this? Are these designs the beginnings of a new venture? In 2002, I walked the National Stationery Show (NSS) to see what this industry was all about. I left energized and yet intimidated by the incredible talent I saw.
By 2003, I had a modest but respectable number of designs and SKUs and I exhibited for the first time. My booth was in the furthest reaches of Javits, but I left with 30 customers, one of whom, Sony, purchased for 60 of their retail stores throughout Japan. When their barcodes arrived written in Japanese, I allowed myself about five minutes to enjoy the thrill of it. But the business side knew that creativity and pretty products only get you noticed. Careful business planning, quality production, on-time delivery and, in the end, happy customers are really what counts … and that is what I have always focused on building.
ST: Tell us about the origin for your name.
AO: For many years, my husband and I lived in a loft on the corner of Wooster and Prince streets in SoHo, New York City. Living amongst artists, galleries and endless creativity had a tremendous impact on me. During the workweek, I was an executive in a marketing firm, but in evenings and on weekends, I could immerse myself in cutting-edge influences in art and design by simply walking out my front door. Both my sons and the company were born (there), and at some point, we simply needed more room and green space to grow.
Over the past few years, we bought and restored an 1850’s farmhouse about 20 miles north of NYC as well as a small Nantucket beach cottage that we also renovated. Between these two lovely areas of the country, I’ve found entirely new influences and energy for my work.
ST: I actually have two products from your first release: trifold notecards with mix and match seals and Paper Wardrobes, swatch cards that are blank on the back and tied with one of several ribbons. How do you feel your approach has evolved since then?
AO: I can NOT believe you still have those!
The first products I designed are completely indicative of the freedom to create that I was experiencing. I had no fear of trying new concepts for one reason: Ignorance is both bliss and an asset when you are unencumbered with experience. I simply designed what I liked and packaged it in a way that I thought clever.
I made tons of mistakes during that time … packaging that was too esoteric, designs perhaps too subtle for merchandising. Even though I loved what I created, I knew it had to sell in order to be validated in the marketplace. So there were many moments of coming to grips with melding this rush of creativity with the reality of building a business. Some of the very brave retailers who took on my line during that time still tease me about some of those products! They weren’t quite sure where I was headed, but they were courageous enough to give me a try. I am so very thankful to them.
ST: Your mesmerizing patterns have a vintage feel. When mixed with a fashion-forward presentation, it makes for a unique effect. Was that a conscious decision, or did this style evolve naturally?
AO: I seek out influences from a wide range of eras, materials and styles. On any given day, I might leaf through resources of vintage European textiles and tapestries, Asian wood-carvings, Italian ironwork, antique Persian rugs, French-style chinoiseries, Old World botanical prints. Some things I love are quirky: I’m fascinated by the patterns on men’s neckties and the silk linings of men’s suit jackets, for instance. Finding a way to mix these far-flung influences into a “style” is my love and my challenge. There are just so many beautiful things in the world to absorb and re-interpret. I find it really difficult to settle on just one thing and prefer to think of this crazy mix-up of ideas as “synthesizing” rather than “filtering.”
ST: Please tell us about your partnership with Paper Products Design (PPD).
AO: I was so fortunate to have been introduced to Carol Florsheim of PPD. She is an experienced, smart businessperson with a great eye for what sells and why. She is extremely open to new ideas, but is also decisive about what she feels will be successful. Because of that insight and the fact I love the entertaining and tabletop categories, I’ve been able to move my designs into this new medium. It’s just a great collaboration, and I’ve learned so much about the nuances of this side of the industry. I should probably pay Carol a royalty for being such a great mentor!
ST: Do you have other 2010 licensing releases?
AO: In April, we debuted a line of Keds sneakers. The concept of pairing up this classic American icon with best-selling W&P patterns was a natural fit. They’re available at www.zazzle.com/amyormond. In July, we’ll unveil a new line of fabrics with Robert Kaufman. I am absolutely thrilled with this transition and we’re very busy looking at more applications in the soft-goods market.
ST: What combination of elements is behind your success?
AO: The most important element of the success of Wooster & Prince is its origins: my father, who passed away two years ago, and my sister worked tirelessly for the first three years of the business to help me set up a small warehouse in my hometown in North Carolina from which they made and shipped product. I could not have achieved any measure of success without the work they did.
I believe strongly in surrounding myself with smart people who have great insight into the industry. I’ve hired really talented people who advise me on business and product development, sales and marketing and who offer views of the market that I alone might not see.
My goal is to create artwork and product design that is original, thoughtful and sophisticated. But I know without a strong commitment to customer happiness – in terms of price, quality, delivery and service – designs alone do not guarantee success.
ST: What advice would you give stationery designers looking to branch into home categories?
AO: The home category seems a natural and easy progression from stationery, but it can be a siren song. Before venturing into a new category, know everything about the competition, the right retail price, what a reasonable initial production level should be, what the right margins are and, of course, who the right buyers and sales reps are. You notice I’ve said little about designing a really pretty new product! So often I see a tendency to believe in the “if I build it, they will come” model that is the death knell for so many really talented designers. Sometimes continuing to build your brand within the category you’re known for is the right strategy for growth.
ST: What do you consider current industry trends, and which of them (if any) are you reflecting in your work?
AO: I don’t follow industry trends very closely. I fear it leads us all down a path of product monotony and I don’t think we, as designers, offer our retailers enough originality when we take the touted trends too seriously. I must say though that I love seeing the product mix that is occurring in the stationery/paper industry. There seems to be a great deal more dabbling into gift categories and I think this makes it much more interesting (and perhaps more challenging) for the retailer. The transition of paper goods into more lifestyle-related stores has also opened many new avenues for Wooster & Prince.
ST: What tend to be your biggest inspirations?
AO: Aside from the far flung influences that I research and collect, recently I am finding great inspiration in gardening, including researching vintage horticultural and botanical prints, antique garden structures and furniture. I’m engrossed in the design of a new four-square garden that I’ve built at my home, and the process of planning the colors, textures, heights and layers of plantings feels just as instructive and inspirational to me as any design resource I’ve found.
Amy at a Glance
Defining Moment? I am so excited about the next few years that I’m a long way from “arriving”! But a defining moment was no doubt the day Glen Biely of the Madison Park Group called to see if I might consider a licensing agreement. I had no sense that the “big guys” in the industry were paying attention at all because I was so busy running a small business. I recall stuffing and licking envelopes for accounts payables statements while he spoke about a potential partnership … all the while wondering if perhaps he’d dialed the wrong number.
Signature Style? My aesthetic is one of fusing Old World design influences with really current color palettes. The artwork I create often gives a nod to Asian design, which I’ve always admired for its delicate, restrained patterns and sophisticated color combinations.
New for 2010? Our Monogram collection of boxed notecards and matchpads has been an exciting introduction for us because it’s a new category with an entirely new, vibrant palette. The new pattern collections, “Double Happiness” and “Good Life,” have just been introduced, (and) have been tremendously successful and so will be featured on our new line of desktop notes. Our Holiday line includes lots of new patterns in really festive colors for art paper and holiday cards and our Bijoux Matchpads are perfect as a stocking stuffer program or for everyday merchandising.
Hot product this season? The “Double Happiness” collection as a whole has been a real success for us. Every format we produced with this art is doing very well.
Direction of your line? The Double Happiness and Good Life collections are great examples of what I’m drawn to now. I’m fascinated by the integration of illustration and pattern into little botanical scenes and illustrated vignettes. This progression really challenges me to build beyond pattern layering and to create art that perhaps tells more of story.
Personal Favorite? Right now, my favorite is “Good Life” because I love chinoiseries in all forms and, designed as a simple silhouette, it feels like a really fresh interpretation of that classic style.
Designers, music and movies inspire you? The English architect C.F.A. Voysey, who was part of the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, is a tremendous source of inspiration for me. He began by designing wallpaper, textiles and furniture but is perhaps best-known for (his) elegant country houses. I love that his creativity took him into more and more complex areas of design and that he felt no barriers to where his skills could take him.
If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead? I would be an architect. And there just might still be time for that.
Photo: Hot Product This Season: The Double Happiness pattern has experienced success in every format in which it’s been introduced.
Amy Ormond Headshot Photo Credit: CNQ Photos, www.cnqphoto.com