November 1, 2021 • Sarah Schwartz
Mass No More
Editor’s Letter, Fall 2021
I am so thrilled to share with you all that last month, for two glorious and too-short days, I returned to an actual trade show. As the first event held at Javits Center since it became an impromptu hospital and vaccination site, NY NOW was a historic occasion, and I’m grateful that I brought my 15-year-old daughter Veronica. She got her first IRL eyeful of our vibrant community. Taking your teenager on a work trip could be the subject of a separate column; suffice to say here that myriad Starbucks requests aside, I found her perspective completely insightful and entertaining.
I regret not making a more concerted effort to visit Atlanta Market in July; I’ve heard that it was truly spectacular for attendees and exhibitors alike. I wonder how my impressions as to where the industry stands, trend-wise, would have been affected had I made it to The Peach State.
As it stands, the current climate is very maker-oriented and niche-y. These days, Americans agree on nothing, so there is very little “mass” in our market. Thus, that which is designed to appeal to the greatest number of people — once a reliable selling formula — often ends up backfiring and making a very small impression on any of them. To most, these types of designs just feel vague and lacking direction.
Meanwhile, for years we have seen consumers responding to the touch of the hand in terms of the maker being present. This is a response to our dehumanizing digital age. Simultaneously, we’ve embraced the idea of individual customization. That is why we see consumers taking stickers and pins and assembling them to reflect who they are on their jackets, laptops and water bottles. They’re building an identity to share with the world. We have all been conditioned to want our burrito from Chipotle and no one else’s — and we’re fine chasing it down ourselves.
So, for now at least, I’ve been encouraging makers to fly their freak flag as they see fit. Don’t be afraid to try out an offbeat sentiment or create a range that only speaks to a small subset of the population. That is how communities are built, and to those who stumble on it, somehow the world is suddenly smaller and friendlier. So while this may not be the best time to be alive, it is a great time for stationery and gifts. These pages then represent a fantastic and fantastical journey through our market as it stands. Enjoy your trip … and I can’t wait to see what you make of it!