Behind the Booth: Iron Curtain Press

I know I wasn’t the only paper person whose mind was completely blown this past weekend, seeing what Javits Center has been transformed into, courtesy of our incredible US Army Corp of Engineers. But while it is now a place for saving lives, it’s also served as the springboard for many a small American business. This past February marked the ninth National Stationery Show (NSS) for Rosanna Kvernmo, owner and creative director of Iron Curtain Press — shown on the right below with Molly— and as such, the event is woven into the continuing story of the Los Angeles brand.

While Rosanna has temporarily closed Iron Curtain’s brick and mortar retail counterpart Shorthand due to the coronavirus, she is still fulfilling customer orders (more on that a little further down). Given all that’s going on, I’m so grateful that she took the time to share her thoughts on her brand and NSS’s role in its ascent.

SS: Obviously Iron Curtain Press is all about utility, function and ease, with a surprise here and there! What inspires you as you create your work?

RK: Wow! I love that description of our line! It should come as no surprise that what inspires the beginning of any new product is my own need for whatever I’m creating, whether that’s a new notebook format or a new greeting card sentiment. Once I realize there’s something I need that isn’t already in our line, I set about trying to create something that I am excited about adding to the world.

 SS: Can you share any notable recent releases or collaborations?

RK: Last summer we worked on a collaboration of notebooks with E. Frances. I just love the way they turned out. It was so fun to incorporate the beautiful East Coast watercolor aesthetic of E. Frances with our utilitarian notebook form.

That has paved the way for new covers for our various notebook formats. We came out with a tie-dye letterpress cover for our notebook at NSS Summer 2019 (shown several images above), and most recently we released a tie-dye letterpress cover for our Task Pad. The tie-dye is so cool to achieve via letterpress because as each color is added to the press, it interacts with what has already printed creating new colors. I’ve attached a series of our tie-dye task pad in progress so you can see what each color adds.

SS: How have your booth location/configurations changed since you first exhibited at NSS, and what did it look like at the most recent edition?

RK: We debuted with our tiny line of 85 greeting cards in May 2013. Our booth has moved around the NSS floor over the years, but the general set-up has stayed relatively the same. We’ve had a corner for the last several years and I really like that because it feels welcome and inviting, but not crowded. I’ve always kept our line tight, so though we have nine shows to our name, we still operate out of an 8-by-10-foot booth.

SS: How has NSS shaped and nurtured your brand?

RK: Exhibiting at a show like NSS has pushed me to consistently release new products. It has also helped me keep our line very cohesive because I want everything to look really good all together in our small booth. I love seeing our retailers at each show. It is the biggest bonus of all the hard work of preparing for a trade show to know you are going to see buyers who have become very good friends over the years. I value the honest and open feedback from retailers who know us and love us and have worked with us over the years. When they are excited about our new releases because they see the evolution of our brand, and they are stoked to bring it back to their stores, it is such a rewarding feeling.

SS: What are your favorite memories, on and off the show floor, from past shows? 

RK: Over the years we’ve developed a few fun traditions, certain places we eat while waiting for our crate to arrive on the last night, certain events that happen on certain nights. A camaraderie develops between fellow exhibitors as we all stand on our feet for hours every day. It’s really just the little moments in between that add up to make NSS such a fun show to participate in. The greeting card industry really is so special.

SS: What were your most successful releases at #NSS2020?

RK: We’ve been adding tie-dye cards to our line and those all did really well at the show. We also re-vamped our thank you card category and I was delighted to see that buyers really seemed to resonate with all those new cards.

SS: What factors play into your decision to return to NSS time after time?

RK: We continue to exhibit at NSS because it remains a wonderful place to connect with our buyers, write orders and be part of our industry. We will continue to exhibit until those things are no longer true.

SS: Is there anything else you’d like to share about #NSS2020?

RK. I think a large part of why we continue to have successful shows is that I am very focused on keeping our overall costs down. We’ve been exhibiting long enough that it would make sense to have a larger booth, but by keeping it on the smaller side, and re-using our booth walls each year, we are saving thousands of dollars each time. I think the biggest advice I have is to make sure you wait to exhibit until your line is truly ready (plenty of cards, some experience selling and fulfilling wholesale orders), and then keep your expenses as low as you can. 

I love that advice! This is an industry that is first and foremost about making it all work on a shoestring, but not letting it show. And as I mentioned above, these crazy times find Rosanna still shipping out product via Shorthand, albeit with free shipping.

I’ll let Rosanna close this post for herself — this is taken with permission from the Iron Curtain Press IG feed: “We are all in this together, we will make it through this together. Thankfully we are not alone. There is always a solution, there are always creative problem solving skills to be strengthened. My priority is keeping my employees working safely and finding ways to be flexible. Twelve years of building a small business, starting in the recession of 2008, has taught me that there is always a way out, always a solution. I look forward to being on the other side of this with you all in our brave new world.”

Meanwhile, The National Stationery Show continues to monitor the unfolding situation as it applies to its next edition and has a dedicated spot on its site to post developments. The most recent post included the below:

“While the health of COVID-19 patients is everyone’s primary concern at this time, we also understand the uncertainty this development creates for the National Stationery Show Summer, scheduled August 9 through 12. It’s too early to understand the exact impact on the event, but we are working with the Javits Center on the next steps and will update you as soon as possible. It’s a time for everyone — and every business — to pivot and give assistance. We are working on ways to help you — our brands, retailers, designers — during this time, so stay tuned. For now, though, let’s all take some time to continue our support for our local retailers. For some ideas, go to our resource page or take a look at our Instagram posts.”

Big thanks to Rosanna and NSS for all you do for all of us. I hope you all stay well & keep washing those hands!