Following Your Heart to #NSS2018!

I’ve been covering the stationery industry for 21 years (!) now, and one of the biggest changes I have seen on the part of makers is the emotion that lies beneath their ranges. While a love for design or desire for entrepreneurship was once the primary reason for launching a paper range, now it is a heartfelt desire to foster connections, love and plenty of laughter.

And I can’t think of an individual that typifies this desire better than Stefanie MacDonald, owner and designer of Halifax Paper Hearts. For Stefanie, Halifax Paper Hearts is a passion project turned real-life fairy tale. It all started when Stefanie journeyed to Calgary, Alberta, to attend a wedding of two dear women friends. She was seeking a simple, quirky, contemporary note card. After visiting a few large department stores she only found cards featuring champagne glasses, wedding cakes, and “bride & groom” illustrations. Enter her first design, “Let’s Grow Old Together,” completely inspired by their love story.

Halifax Paper Hearts was born as a side-business, but as time went on and it grew, Stefanie made the scary decision to quit her corporate day job — which was at one point her dream job. How did this transition come about exactly? “I have always believed that entrepreneurship doesn’t need to look one way or another, and that it simply means taking ownership over ideas and sharing them with others. For me, the decision to quit my corporate job came down to the fact that I had tried to do it all for a very long time, and I simply couldn’t sustain that level of productivity anymore. I am very adverse to risk, and I wanted to grow my business on retained earnings, while sustaining my lifestyle with income from my corporate job. I started my business as a creative outlet, not as a means to free myself from corporate life. I loved my job, but at about the two-year mark, we were growing more than I ever could have hoped for, and because of the excitement and momentum, I was sacrificing just about everything in order to meet the demands of my daily life. I compromised my physical and mental health, and quality time with those I love. One day, I realized that the pain of sacrificing everything in order to stay in my comfort zone, outweighed the pain of my fear — and it wasn’t until that moment that I jumped.”

Stefanie hired her besties — Ally & Amy — and they were off running. That’s Amy on the left, Ally on the right.The idea of following one’s heart threads throughout the range, and the cards all share a certain sweetness and honesty that runs through our most cherished relationships. Could it be because these connections are at this maker’s core? Stefanie says her process and voice are still evolving. “In the beginning, I truly just wanted enough cards to fill my table at the Farmer’s Market. Over time, I have cut about 20% of our line at every release, in order to keep myself moving forward, and to develop a cohesiveness within our line. It has taken time to develop more of a ‘voice’ as an illustrator, and for our brand to develop its own identity as well. I feel like we are still just getting started, and that I am coming into my best work yet, at every release. I am not a trained graphic designer, and can only use Photoshop (not Illustrator or InDesign), so I am still learning, and googling, and surprising myself at every release.

“In terms of the process itself, it can be as simple as seeing a pylon on the side of the street, and then having a little cartoon pylon floating around in my head for days, until I finally draw it. Once the character is out of my head, my brain will start rattling off random words that I associate with the name and function of that object or character — and low and behold, something like, ‘I’m just here to pylon the birthday wishes’ comes to be. I once got up at 4:30 AM because a cartoon whale was swimming around in my head. Ideas really do have their own energy — It’s really that simple, and it’s really that crazy.” Always looking outward, at the core of this maker is supporting local charities, so that it could help build vibrant communities of love, connection & belonging. In its short existence, Halifax has created two initiatives: Thankful Hearts: Providing Thanksgiving Dinners to Deserving Families as well 100 Entrepreneurs: Planting Seed$. They’ve also supported and supported many organizations, from MS Society of Canada to Children’s Wish Foundation. “We’re heart-followers, so we don’t just make whimsical things — we feel driven to make an impact,” Stefanie explained. “My purpose in life is to connect people, both to each other — and to opportunities. Spending time in our community is what I use to keep my heart full, and also serves me personally in helping me to manage my mental wellness. Whenever I am feeling down, or overwhelmed, or battling self-doubt, my friends will often encourage me to get out into the community, because I have learned that little moments of connection bring my heart so much joy, and make me feel the most like myself. In terms of finding opportunities to collaborate, we keep our hearts and minds open, and we stay focused on the opportunities that light us up.”

For so many, following your heart means heading into unexplored territory, which Halifax Paper Heart’s travel collection literally does. The Wanderer’s Map lets you track those spots around the world where you have left a bit of yourself.  “I actually created the Wanderer’s Map in response to a customer request. (When I) create things in collaboration with customers and retailers, they’re always best sellers.”Unsurprisingly, the Heart-Follower’s Travel Collection, debuting at National Stationery Show, was also the result of collaboration. “This collection came about very recently, when I was searching for a way to tie our note cards & pins together with our travel maps. To me, our offerings felt all over the place, and I wanted to find a way to simplify our messaging to convey who we were very simply. At (Tradeshow Bootcamp’s) Paper Camp in March, I met Carina & Kimberly from Crow & Canary, who graciously reviewed my line. They suggested that I create a collection around my travel maps, and they validated my vision to use the concept of heart-following to tell our story. I am so grateful to both of them for their kindness and honesty, and I really feel like this collection wouldn’t have come to be without their encouragement.”

The Gold Foil American Calligraphy Map is all I have seen so far of it — and I featured it in the still-mailing Spring Issue of Stationery Trends. Talk about serendipity — it literally popped into my in-box as I was seeking just the right image to kick off our NSS preview! Speaking of NSS, Stefanie planned to exhibit in 2017, but it didn’t quite work out. “In January 2017, I had a major moment of doubt,” she recalled. “It’s funny, we build up our expectations, and set deadlines for ourselves in our own businesses … that we own. Something just didn’t feel right to me, I remember calling up Ally and saying, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I know I told you, and everyone else that we would do it this year — but I am not ready. It doesn’t feel right.’ I was so relieved when she said, ‘I am so glad you said that, I’m not ready either.'”

She did walk NSS, in her words, so “that I could approach the opportunity from a place of curiosity, which feels so much better than approaching it from a place of perfection, or performing, or producing. I am so glad I did — I realized that I needed time to develop my voice as an illustrator, that our brand needed time to evolve into what it is today, and that if I wanted to go to the next level, I needed to quit my corporate job so that my sole focus could be on following my heart.”

While there, like so many before her, Stefanie learned she was already home. “I couldn’t BELIEVE how welcoming and kind the paper community is, that despite ‘competing’ people were so rooted in who they were as illustrators, so they didn’t feel the need to hoard information to themselves, or to go it alone. I met so many exhibitors who were so welcoming and kind to me, and who shared advice, tips, tricks & encouraged me to try. After taking a year to explore, and think, educate and prepare ourselves, I am so excited to go back and meet even more paper people, to meet retail besties, and of course to dream bigger than we’ve ever dreamed before.”

Not only will Halifax Paper Heart’s exquisite cards and prints be on display, but their adorable flair game as well! So with all that said, don’t miss Halifax Paper Hearts in Booth 1944. I know I’ll be there!