April 21, 2010 • Sarah Schwartz
2009 Winter Editor’s Letter

Paper as Fashion

When I started covering stationery for a major gift trade magazine in 1997, it was hardly considered a plum beat amongst the other market editors. Compared to tabletop, decorative accessories and collectibles, the category encompassed at best items that could occasionally be “borrowed” from my stationery pages and run in their more glamorous sections, at worst “T-shirts and Teddy bears,” a phrase uttered by our marketing director on more than one occasion with dripping disdain.

But what a difference a few years makes! 2009 finds tabletop manufacturers scaling back their releases and consumers shying away from anything without an element of utility (collecting dust doesn’t count). And though our industry is affected like all of retail by this suffocating recession, stationery continues to thrive and surprise in many ways.

Suddenly the category is hip, as the young generation of text-messagers and Web surfers has claimed it as their own. According to a Unity Marketing study, the industry’s modest growth of 1.7 percent during the past two years resulted from a counterintuitive shift, meaning from older to younger consumers.

Among this group, paper becomes a fashion item, reflecting runway releases with the latest hot colors and presentations. Because just as the consumers are young, so too are the designers; I am constantly shocked at the amount of new players presenting distinctive, interesting takes on existing categories. Whether this rebirth is a response to our digital age or merely a fluke, it’s good news regardless.

Meanwhile, calling cards have become the latest must-have accessory. These versatile palm-sized papers are really a self-branding tool, and demonstrate equal appeal amongst diverse demographics. These include, but are by no means limited to: professionals looking to social network; parents taking a break from the workplace in favor of playgrounds and playdates; and even retirees who miss having business cards of their own (a July Time magazine article quoted Memphis stationer Baylor Stovall cleverly dubbing this group “cruise-ship customers.”) It’s no wonder then, that in the same article Peter Hopkins, official historian of Crane & Co., said the company’s calling card sales have doubled in the past two years, making them their fastest-growing category.

Best of all, iconic designers raise the industry profile by also throwing their hats into the ring. In this issue, we are fortunate enough to examine two important instances of this. Vera Wang introduced her William Arthur stationery line in 2003, and each release literally translates her bridal-focused sensibility into our realm. Meanwhile, Lilly Pulitzer and Lifeguard Press have unveiled an enormous, exhaustive line as clever as it is enchanting.

So if I had one wish right now, it would be that that marketing director could see stationery now. Perhaps she’d reconsider her attitude.

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