May 10, 2023 • Sarah Schwartz
Passion punch: Stationery that sends a message for any occasion

From Oblation Papers & Press, the Jesika Custom Letterpress suite infuses a lot of letterpress luxury into a compact format.

Behind every stationery and gift success, there’s a well-crafted story

There’s been a shift in the American consumer mindset. Just ask Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing, who cites the Unique Sales Proposition (USP) as the rule in advertising for decades. Its goal is to move the “mass millions” into purchasing a product, illustrated by M&M’s tagline, “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”

This “Mad Men” approach focuses on product, price, promotion and placement, Danziger explained, but the 21st-century Unique Point of Difference (UPD) revolves around emotional connections in the disruptive, experience-driven jugular vein.

Witness, for example, Bobbi Brown upending conventional makeup with Jones Road “Miracle Balm,” a foundation, blush, bronzer, highlighter and glow enhancer in one. Its UPD is “a lifetime of beauty knowledge, distilled.”

Danziger explains that this approach creates “a unique white space in a crowded market that this alone can fill.” Evolving storytelling requires a complete reframing. To build an emotional connection, begin with origin story, distinctive elements and processes, or mission, and carefully craft a compelling consumer tale.

Meanwhile, savvy retailers are forging similar bonds with their clientele — and have only so much shelf space for their stories. Thus, the following finds reflect more of an emotional approach to connect with every last shopper.


What’s Hot: After a stalled start, today’s brides reinterpret the fashions of the past to make big individual statements, described Ashley Withey, co-owner & managing director, Friendlily. “Our trend forecasting indicates an early 2000s aesthetic. (Think) bold colors, patterns and textures. We’ve teased in our own office that Jessica McClintock is gonna be a huge inspiration for the year.”

With individual taste ruling the day, Emily King, designer, 2021 Co., sees desert hues and deep jewel tones coexisting. Meanwhile for custom invitations, Abby Naragon of Oblation Papers & Press observes pale contrasts, tone-on-tone presentations and blind embossing. “Foil elements and belly bands have been popular lately, and handmade paper with deckled edges is making a strong resurgence.”

For Alyson O’Connor, designer and owner of Rust Belt Love Paperie, “we are seeing big fun surprises for your guests that make receiving the invitation an excitement-inducing part of the wedding experience. The days of washed-out blushes and ivories are over. Bring on big, bold colors and graphics. Whether it’s big florals and greenery on the invitation itself or a bold abstract pattern or venue illustration on an envelope liner, splashes of color are going to be very on trend this year.”

Tried & True: Lettering remains all-important, underlined King. “Creators as a whole have gotten so sophisticated in their ability to convey feeling with the look of their letters, making original works of art from the words they portray.”

“Black ink on white paper is always popular,” Naragon noted. “Florals also offer a wide range of styles; recently, we’ve seen organic hand-drawn florals and delicate outlines. Our handmade paper embedded with flower petals has been a top choice this season.”

Meanwhile, the preppy aesthetic endures, pointed out Withey. “It’s full of character, color and texture: all things that consumers are leaning towards in 2023. It’s classic, timeless and clean but still feels alive when you see a bride utilize this Cape Cod/chinoiserie aesthetic.”

Also look for: monograms and crests (both custom and semi-custom).

Designer Quote: “We are working on ways to expand our semi-custom designs to feel even more custom. More flexibility in mixing and matching of existing elements, colors and styles give couples more of a custom experience while still fitting into budgets and styles that work best. More than bells and whistles, couples are looking for something they feel resonates most authentically with them and to their guests.” — Alyson O’Connor, Rust Belt Love Paperie


What’s Hot: Evolving gender perceptions are shaping this market, starting with color, revealed Kate Woolley, founder and creative director of The Noble Paperie. “I’ve seen a transition to more gender-neutral colors and gender-neutral language for ‘New Baby’ cards. It lends itself to more inclusive cards and opens up the options for more people to choose a single card versus having to feel boxed into a specific- gendered card or sentiment.”

Other releases capitalize on a new parent’s most valued resource: time, asserted Charli Elliott, sales and marketing coordinator, Compendium, while creating a thoughtful keepsake. “There isn’t always time to capture all the firsts as they happen. Compendium’s newest baby book (features) gentle prompts encouraging you to write what you can, when you can, about what is happening right now.”

At the core of many releases lies “empowered, thoughtful content for babies and their grown-ups,” emphasized Jennifer Goldstein, head of books at A Kids Co. “Parents would like to see their consciousness and worldview reflected in what they expose their kids to — and they’d like it fresh and not stodgy. (For example), our Courtney Ahn series (tackles) activism, bias and equity for our youngest readers and their grown-ups through beautiful art and highly thoughtful, relevant content.”

Tried & True: Gentle, neutral colors speak to all parents and babies while feeling fresh, added Elliot. “We’ve had great success with our baby books that feature subtle but sophisticated elements, including fabric covers with debossing or foil stamping. Themes of nature, including plants and animals, are consistent favorites as subtle nods to the growth and vibrancy that a new baby brings.”

Meanwhile, rainbows continue to trend, said Woolley, but have a special place in this market, as a rainbow baby is defined as a birth following a stillbirth, miscarriage or infant death. “(These) have become a universal sign for hope and happiness, and I love that they have a really special double meaning to honor the baby born after a loss.”

Designer Quote: “We are inspired by kids and how they approach this world thoughtfully, with love and joy.” — Jennifer Goldstein, A Kids Co.


What’s Hot: “Everybody wants an instagrammable moment, whether with their outfit, what they are doing or in their home,” observed Jeff Hutto of Furbish. “Furbish is the go-to to take your home décor from Trad to Rad and offers an insta-worthy decor moment with all of our home accessories. We are inspired by bold and bright kooky color combos that spark joy.”

Simultaneously, the desire to cut back on single-use items drives sustainable merchandise, he continued. “Don’t use paper anymore at home! Cloth napkins aren’t just for holidays and special occasions. (These) make all your meals at home (even when you’re alone) extra festive.”

In regards to color, there is an “anything goes” element to this space, detailed Rachel Berick, co-founder and owner, Maptote. “We are living in a time where both neutrals and brights are very much present in the home/gift market. We’ve been gravitating towards neutrals in our latest releases (black and white, caramel browns), but we have many designs for those who love a brighter color palette, too.”

Within neutrals, Kacie Carswell, marketing manager, burton + BURTON, sees a transition from grays to earth tones such as sage, terracotta and taupe. “The colors are soothing and create a relaxing atmosphere in any home.”

Meanwhile, Mud Pie is all about texture, disclosed Lauren Brekke, vice president of merchandise. “Wovens are hot, hot, hot. We are introducing a lot of new baskets in different materials and weaves with fresh elements like tassels, beads and scalloped details. We are also pairing woven items with ceramics in our serveware category, which adds warmth and hominess to classic ceramic pieces.”

Tried & True: Reinterpreting a classic form enchants the young and old alike, underlined Hutto. “The needlepoint pillow has been around for years and years, but Furbish takes a modern approach to this Southern staple.”
With their ability to suit many home styles, neutrals dominate at Mud Pie, Brekke noted. “White and cream tones continuously sell, and consumers always want to see new takes on their favorite trends. Our aim is to create delightful gift and home décor collections that have the versatility to be merchandised together, allowing for countless pairings and fresh interpretations.”

Designer Quote: “Our love for our own community and travel is the driving force of Maptote. The increased interest in sustainable items is taking over the market. Consumers have become more aware of their purchasing decisions. It is great to witness shoppers asking questions about how and where things are being made.” — Rachel Berick, Maptote


What’s Hot: With working domains still in flux, items in this space demand fluidity and flexibility alongside their functionality. “In 2023, approximately 66% of jobs are either fully remote or a hybrid schedule of in-office and remote work,” cited Kelli Brown, senior product development manager and trade show designer, Lifeguard Press. “Organization and on-the-go has never been more important considering your office has multiple locations or has to share space with alternative functions (e.g. a dining room or kitchen).”

Often, design trends trickle down from high-end fashion to home and interior design, and then reach the gift and stationery markets, Brown added. “We like to take a look at daily life and find ways to make it easier and more enjoyable. Leatherette (aka vegan leather) gives an elevated feel without sacrificing many people’s choice to not use a genuine leather material as well as keep a more desirable retail. The mesh material on the jotter pouch has a nice breathable, lightweight sheer texture that is on par with a lot of the high-end fashion trends of 2022/2023. Both incorporate bright colors and modern florals.”

Meanwhile, Renee Froerer, art director, Denik, is currently focused on all things mysticism. “Tarot, all-seeing eyes, stars, moons, blacks, golds, purples … all things that have kind of a magical vibe. We are loving the 70s refresh
too: bold colors, organic, Art Nouveau-inspired drawings, typography and motifs.“

Tried & True: Lifeguard Press has experienced great success reinterpreting basic styles, with an eye toward integrating green values, Brown pointed out.“Top-sellers of most brands are the patterns that can sit with multiple collections, classic designs that can be refreshed based on colors and tones. (For) example, dots and stripes. There are a million different ways to change a basic stripe or dot pattern by reducing/increasing the size, changing color combinations and updating placement or direction. These patterns can typically be standalone options that can also fit into a multitude of colorways and theme- specific patterns such as florals, geometrics or typography. Another element we try to implement in many products are sustainable and/or recycled materials (such as paper) and reduce the amount of packaging without sacrificing quality.”

Thematically, Froerer sees the mushroom trend enduring. “We’ve seen the icon expand from the classic red cap with white dots to nearly every shape and variety.”

Designer Quote: “Our artists provide our inspiration, they make our job — making gorgeous stationery — too easy. With so many people working from home now, there’s a huge opportunity for personalization of the office space, which means we can have a lot of fun designing for this market.” — Renee Froerer, Denik


What’s Hot: The earlier festivities begin, the better — or so goes the current American mindset, revealed Trish Whalen, CEO, Rifle Paper Co. “In 2022, we saw that customers were looking to decorate their homes earlier than ever before. We expect that to continue, and we’re excited to release new décor like advent calendars and felt ornaments. We think people will continue to value their time spent at home with family and that they’ll be eager to add to their holiday collections to help make their spaces feel warm and festive.”

This market is not immune from sustainability, asserted Ali Flippin, creative director, E. Frances Paper. “Hopefully, recycled and plastic-free will become more and more the norm. We now see sleeves on cards like they are plastic bags for cards, and — in a lot of places — those have been happily and successfully phased out. Our new holiday boxes sets are beautiful, plastic-free and so much more luxe than the clear plastic boxes.”

Tried & True: “Our goal is to bring beauty to the everyday with every product we design,” emphasized Whelan. “We know customers come to us for beautiful things they can weave into many moments of their lives. We’re adding to our assortment of accessories and home items, with lots of fun and festive new prints for the holiday season. For the first time, we will offer mixed boxed sets of holiday cards, as we know there will always be someone that values sending a handwritten card during the holiday season. During the holidays, we’re expanding our offerings of home décor and wrap. We’re excited to offer new prints in our wrap and gift bags, new ribbons, metallic gel pens and new versions of our best-selling Nutcracker pattern that we know our customers love.”

Seasonal icons are endless, but E. Frances has its evergreen favorite, emphasized Flippin.

“A holiday wreath is our tried-and-true design that we release every year, each year putting a new spin on the design. (It’s) always a best-seller.”

Designer Quote: “This year, we were inspired by the lyrics ‘All is calm, all is bright’ — and we designed with that in mind. Hopefully you will feel calm and bright next holiday season!” — Ali Flippin, E. Frances Paper

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