November 9, 2015 • Sam Ujvary
An Updated Classic
Gia Graham puts a clean, colorful and most clever spin on stationery
You may recognize Gia Graham as part of the 2015 class of Stationery Trends’ 10 Designers to Watch. Or, you may be familiar with the range she owns and designs, Betsywhite Stationery, which expertly walks the design line between modern simplicity and whimsical charm.
With a past in custom wedding invitations and her present firmly rooted in stationery, Graham is always open to where inspiration takes her. She sat down with Stationery Trends to share more about what she’s accomplished so far as well as Betsywhite’s future.
ST: You got into stationery with a partner in 2004, creating high-end custom invitations for Atlanta brides as Paper Dolls Design. When you took sole ownership four years later, you altered the scope to add ready-to-wear stationery pieces such as stamps, stationery and partyware to the mix. What was your reasoning for this?
GG: As much as I’ve loved designing wedding invitations, it’s a very specific focus with certain limitations. I wanted to stretch myself a bit more creatively and I also wanted to design products that customers can enjoy year round for many occasions.
ST: Can you explain the origin of the name Betsywhite Stationery?
GG: I found ‘betsywhite’ in a dictionary of old Barbadian dialect that I had since college. It refers to the chirp of a local bird. When I decided to re-brand in 2008, I thought it was a great way to nod to my Bajan roots.
ST: What tend to be your biggest inspirations?
GG: I’m really inspired by color, particularly vibrant and somewhat unexpected combinations. Life itself is also constantly inspiring. Many design ideas have been sparked by conversations or situations with friends and family.
ST: Do you personally collect anything? If so, what?
GG: I’m an unintentional collector. I don’t seek out specific things but because I style so many photo shoots, I’ve amassed a collection of pretty little objects over the years. I’ve got a great stash of vases, bowls, plates, ribbons, postage stamps and other random finds.
ST: Can you describe a typical day?
GG: I wish I could say I spend most of my time sketching and designing but alas, a small business can’t run on creativity alone. My day typically starts with email — prioritizing, replying, deleting. Once my inbox is manageable, I tackle my to-do list, which often includes managing orders (what needs to ship where and when), maintaining the online store, coordinating with vendors, assistants, reps … and thinking three steps ahead. There’s always a photo shoot to conceptualize, a tradeshow to prep for and new products to develop!
ST: Does actually running a stationery business differ from how you envisioned it?
GG: Running the wholesale part of my business is definitely tougher than I thought it would be. It’s so different from the wedding business! The pace is definitely much faster and working three-six months ahead (holiday designs in July) takes some getting used to. It has been a steep learning curve but it has also been an exciting and rewarding adventure.
ST: What advice would you give to new or young invitation designers or stationery companies seeking success?
GG: Develop your own aesthetic and stay true to it. There is so much eye candy in our industry to be inspired by, it’s easy to be heavily influenced by others so I think it’s really important to have your own specific point of view. Also, grit. There will be long nights, lots of hard work, a few frustrations, occasional rejection … grit and passion will get you through.
ST: Where would you like Betsywhite Stationery to be in five years? Any product categories you would like to expand into?
GG: I’d love to expand more into the party category with products that complement my gift and paper goods. I’d love to develop a really well rounded collection of products for life’s little celebrations.
ST: What consumer, lifestyle or industry trends do you currently find interesting or affecting your work?
GG: Color. Everyone seems to be embracing bold, vibrant colors and I’m loving it.
ST: What other stationery designers or companies do you admire and why?
GG: I really admire Joy Cho of Oh Joy! and how she has built her brand. After launching a paper line at NSS in 2007, she has done an amazing job of expanding her reach by collaborating with other well-known, trusted companies, all while keeping a firm grasp on her own unique design style.
Gia at a Glance
If you could travel through time and space and land anywhere you desire, where and when would it be?I’d be front row center at a Bob Marley concert circa 1978.
How would you define your signature style? I often say my designs have ‘modern charm.’ I like clean (sometimes minimalist) design but I also like my work to be warm, approachable and sweet. I think the “Cake & Sparklers” birthday card is a good example of that.
Any new introductions at Betsywhite? I’ve been selling party napkins direct to consumer through my online store for a couple years now and I was finally able to bring them to the wholesale market this summer!
What recent release is turning out to be really hot and why? The party balloons I launched in June were a huge hit at the summer shows and continue to do really well.
Which groupings do you feel reflects the overall direction of your line? I think the party balloons, napkins and colorful birthday cards really reflect where the line is headed: bright, fun and celebratory.
Do you have a personal favorite from your new offerings? I have several, but I’m probably most in love with the gold foil Package Flair. They’re an oversize version of my Mail Flair stickers and work really well on parcels, packages and presents.
What other designers, music and movies inspire you?I find fearlessness in artistry hugely inspiring — people who do their own thing (no matter how quirky) without worrying about what others think. Erykah Badu immediately comes to mind because I have a photo of her on the pinboard above my desk at the moment. I also find FKA twigs odd and inspiring (love her voice).
If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead? I’d probably be a photo stylist.