April 14, 2010 • Sarah Schwartz
In the 1990s, many companies debuted a line of greeting cards, tasted some success and tried the licensing route with varying degrees of success. The market became clogged, and as the economy deflated, the number of vendors traversing this heady path slowed to almost a standstill.
But fortunately some designers are bucking this trend, among them Leigh Standley of Curly Girl. The line is distinguished by its freewheeling style and pithy nuggets of wisdom; even a staffer’s business card reads on back, “Her laughter precedes her like a reputation.”
The six-year-old Belmont, Mass., company experienced a somewhat meteoric rise, garnering a 2006 LOUIE as well as several licensees. But the 32-year-old dynamo didn’t stop there, opening a 600-square-foot retail shop, while at the same time halting new licensing deals.
Stationery Trends interviewed the St. Louis native to learn about the road that led her here, and where she’d like to take it.
ST: You’ve been doodling since seventh grade, when the habit earned you poor marks in math. Is this what you always envisioned doing?
LS: When I was 7, I wanted to be a Bob Evans waitress. I really liked the outfits. (For college), I had a free ride to a theater conservatory. In a classic mom move, my mom said, ‘Honey, you should probably do something you can make a living at.’ Most parents would (push) law or medical school, but my mom suggested art school. (So) I switched schools, went to KU (University of Kansas), enrolled in their design program and never looked back. I jumped into it and thought, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
ST: How did Curly Girl come about?
LS: I worked as an art director out of college. I loved my first couple jobs because on a creative team, you can wear Converse with a skirt, and they think it’s great. I got laid off at the beginning of the dot-com bubble bursting, in April 2001. I learned how to get laid off; it’s not something they teach you in school. It’s shocking and heartbreaking, especially when you’re 23. I got a job that August at another small marketing firm, and then 9/11 happened. My boss kept me as long as he could; then I got laid off.
My friend opened a yoga studio and needed a part-time manager. This rolled into full-time because the yoga industry was going gangbusters. It was just this really therapeutic and inspiring environment. I had this cute little apartment, and I was throwing my hat into the air every chance I had.