Features Industry Profiles

October 6, 2010 •
Wanda Wen

A prolific designer helps the world live each day with beauty and inspiration

Sometimes the line between designer, wholesaler, retailer, collaborator, author and even product spokeswoman gets blurred. Such is the case with Wanda Wen, who is not so much any of these labels as she is a force of nature, infusing her vision and personality into myriad projects. Some of these include: creating lines of custom invitations and various stationery components; being the proprietress of Soolip in Los Angeles; authoring “The Art of Giftwrapping”; spokesperson for Scotch brands; and founding of a Soolip Wedding, consumer events that present brides with the most distinguished area bridal services.
They’re all expressions of Wanda’s quest to show the world how to live each day with beauty and inspiration. Stationery Trends interviewed the Soolip founder and creative visionary to learn more.

Starting Out
ST: Tell us about your start in the fashion industry.
WW: My first job out of college was with Perry Ellis, then I worked for Stephen Sprouse, then at ISDA & Co. I spent 11 years in fashion in basically a combination of sales, marketing and merchandising positions.
It laid the groundwork for my aesthetic. I’m attracted to beautiful, refined things made with the hands. Fabrics have definitely influenced my work because I treat paper as fashion.

ST: When did you start working with paper?
WW: In college I wrapped presents for friends. I’d wrap them in Kraft paper and then I’d get a sprig of bougainvillea. I remember saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if someone paid me to do this?”
The turning moment was when I did my wedding invitations in 1991. That was when I realized I really love working with paper. I love cutting it, saving the little scraps and doing something with them. What began as a drawer full of scraps became a closet full, then it became a room full, and I thought, “You know what? I could open a paper store.”

ST: What was your college major?
WW: I was a business finance major. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, my parents run a restaurant business. I always knew I wanted a business, but I wanted to create a business. Having a business allows you to be free, and be your own boss.

Paper Details
ST:
In terms of stationery, what do you offer?
WW: We offer custom invitations, and when I say it’s custom, it really is truly custom. We have existing designs, but most people come to us to do something just a little bit different, just a little more personal. Our line of greeting cards has about 350 styles.
The last collection I did was a line of journals and desk accessories. I traveled to India and created 65 SKUs of beautiful journals, file folders and cards with cotton rag elements.

ST: What custom papers perform best for you?
WW: Our biggest category is wedding, although a lot of people come to us for calling cards. These days it really is all about branding, whether you’re an individual or a company.

ST: Your store has partnerships with other wedding service providers. Can you describe the nature of those business relationships, and share a bit about A Soolip Wedding?
WW: Floracopia at Soolip is owned and operated by a Soolip friend. They do it on our premises. It enables us to support our weddings, and allows us to have fresh florals everyday. I work closely with (photographer Alyssa Nicol) but I am developing a relationship with another photographer who is now on our premises. I work closely with both; their work is fresh and modern.
A Soolip Wedding is a collection of what we feel is the best of L.A. About 55 vendors showcase what’s new and what’s relevant in the wedding industry. Now we are planning one in San Francisco.

ST: You’re in a unique position because most people who create custom papers aren’t in a retail environment and interacting with customers. How does that shape your custom papers?
WW: For my own work I am very much inspired by nature. However when I work with a client, my responsibility is to help manifest what they desire. Really I almost sometimes see myself as a therapist. I’m sort of fusing what I love and what they love and building a mutual point. My goal is to take them one step further to a place they didn’t even think was possible.

ST: Tell us about your book.
WW: Random House approached me to do “The Art of Gift Wrapping.” What I found challenging was to take what I do, almost taking how I breathe, and putting it into a physical form.

Juggling Ahead
ST: What do you think is behind your success?
WW: Number one is passion for what I do and love. If you don’t have passion, you won’t be successful. I guarantee it. The business world is so cut throat with so much competition that you really just have to go into yourself and discover what it is that you really love. To me this isn’t a job; my work is my life.

ST: Do you focus more on the creative or business side?
WW: It’s 50/50. I enjoy both. I love having a business, I love marketing and creating something people love. I also love creating things for myself and over the years I have struck a nice balance between the two.
The other key element in my work is the relationships with my clients. People are coming (in) because they want an experience. You can buy (product) wherever because the Internet has allowed people to obtain products so easily. What is still necessary to a retailer’s survival is providing an experience for that customer. What will make them jump out of that chair and go to the store? They want personal experience and human connection.

ST: What are your kids’ names and ages, and how do you balance it all?
WW: Simone, 15; Dag, 12; and Odin, 8. They are awesome children; they respect what I do. They are quietly listening to you interview me right now in the car! It’s a challenge, but for me it’s (easier) because I love my work. If I had to go to a job I didn’t like, it would be hard because I’d have to tear myself away from my kids. So they (often accompany me). I’ve taken Simone to many trade shows on my backpack, and she’s gone to Germany and France (this way).

ST: Any other upcoming projects you can share?
WW: I am writing my next book, “The Heart of the Wedding, the Wedding from the Inside Out,” with Stephen Frug, Ph.D., who is a marriage coach. It will inspire newly engaged couples to approach their weddings with intention and look at the real reason (they) are getting married. I see brides everyday and get discouraged because they get so stressed out about matching this and that. What really is the focus of the wedding? The focus is the relationship, especially now when we have realized that we have over consumed, that we have to watch what and how we consume and what we are wasting. It’s very important to the wedding industry that we encourage people to make meaningful choices, not fluffy choices. I am also very excited to expand my A Soolip Wedding event. Those are my two immediate projects.

ST: Are there any other trends that you are keyed into?
WW: Certainly being resourceful. Most of the projects in (my giftwrapping book) are about being resourceful, finding a leaf or a sprig of herb or a rock and tying twine around the rock and using it as a gift topper, rather then going to my store and buying one. I also believe that if your business does not have good intentions you will not succeed. The future of our earth needs to be about where we change our intentions. Yes, there is business, but it has to be about something else too.

Wanda at a Glance
Defining moment?
When I had my first magazine coverage (just) a month after I opened. There were certain publications that were very pivotal. Another was Los Angeles magazine, where I had been open a year; I was on the front page of their section, The Best of L.A. I received press from Town and Country in my third year, to see the attention of a national publication was monumental.

Signature style?
A single sage leaf on a piece of paper, just a very quite simple sage leaf. I remember when I opened my business and I did a mailing and it was a square card on paper made of oatmeal (with) one pressed sage leaf on the middle front. (It embodies the idea of) living each day with beauty and inspiration. Things from nature don’t cost money, (like a) backyard a bundle of twigs.

Hennaed Cards from Soolip

Direction of line: Recent introductions, tinged with inspiration and flavors found in India, include Soolip’s hennaed cards.

Direction of your line?
I have a line of desk accessories that are leather and frayed with gauze (and) journals that are gauze covered. It was inspired by a deconstructed book in India. I am all about exposing the process of how to make something. There is no more making something just to be pretty, it needs to be functional. We have to change the way we consume and how we consume.

Personal favorite?
My favorite is a supple journal. I like it because it’s small enough to fit in my bag, it’s valuable, it’s made of a banana fiber. It’s not pretentious, it’s very honest.

Designers, music or movies that inspire you?
My favorite musician is Sigur Rós; favorite movie, “Mindwalk”; favorite book, “The Tao of Pooh.”

If you couldn’t do, this what would you do?
I would be a Waldorf teacher and teach either kids or families about Waldorf education. There are over 250 Waldorf schools in North America, it’s one of the fastest growing private schools in the world. It’s an education that educates the whole of a child, the spirit, the hand, the heart and the intellect.


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