Gingiber at #NSS2020!

I recall the first time that I stumbled across Gingiber‘s booth at National Stationery Show, either in 2014 or 2015. Founder Stacie Bloomfield’s adorable, distinctive animal illustrations caught my eye, tugged at my heartstrings — and still have not let go.

Over the years, as her children have grown, Stacie has matured as both a woman and an artist — which transformed both subject matter and the essence of her entire brand. As a result, these days Gingiber is thriving, so I was beyond grateful that Stacie took the time to sit down with me to talk about her journey so far — and how NSS has been her invaluable partner throughout it all.

For the first seven years of Gingiber’s existence, Stacie focused on animal-centric artwork. “I began as a nursery decor company, but soon realized that people who weren’t decorating kid rooms enjoyed my work,” she recalled. “I love animals (and always will), but after drawing just about every animal I could think of, I felt uninspired. Personally, I was done having kids and was finally finding time to reclaim my own identity as a woman and an illustrator.”

So, Stacie started making artwork for herself, “just for fun.” It generally involved words of encouragement, the female form and florals — and once it accumulated, Stacie began sharing it on Instagram. “Suddenly the work I was making just for me started getting some social media traction. So I leaned into it and began to create some select products with it.”

The evolution is organic enough that the range is still unified. “If you look over my entire body of work it still feels cohesive, and still achieves the same goal: adding some zest to your nest,” Stacie observed. “But I feel very at home exploring this newer work. Ultimately, I want to make products that encourage people. I’m a decade into running Gingiber, and this energy feels just right for my second decade.”

Already the new direction is yielding fantastic results. Stacie’s first book is coming out in Fall 2020, published by Andrews McMeel. Called “Give Yourself Margin,” the gift book for women is centered around how that concept can help reclaim your identity and accomplish your dreams.

Stacie recently illustrated famous women in history for Piccolina Kids, and Oprah Magazine selected one of her designs for her “Favorite Things” list this year! There is also a collaboration with LuluJo Baby on swaddles and lovies, and Stacie is in the midst of designing her 12th fabric collection for Moda Fabrics. Meanwhile, the licensing segment of Gingiber is very active in addition to its wholesale and direct-to-customer audience.

Also this year, Stacie opened a studio in Springdale, Arkansas, featuring a small storefront and weekly art workshops. “It is an amazing experience to have such a welcoming space so that I can invite my community into Gingiber and create art together,” Stacie enthused. “I’m also a co-founder of the artist retreat called Creative Social Retreat. We’re five artists who teach five workshops over a long weekend to people longing to have creative community. We travel all over the U.S. teaching together.”

This is something of a dream trajectory for an artist … but the journey getting there was not as simple as the summary above may suggest! Throughout her decade in business, Stacie’s major trade partner has been NSS, having exhibited there in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and August 2019.

“We started out in the emerging artist section, and stayed there probably too long, but we really loved being next to the same businesses year after year,” Stacie described. “We’ve formed some amazing friendships (shout out to Paper Bandit Press!).

As the brand grew, so too did Gingiber’s trade space.

Gingiber had an 8×8, then an 8×10 booth. However everything changed when they purchased a booth from a former exhibitor last year, Stacie noted. “It has completely stepped up our game, and I think it is a huge reason why our work has been shining so brightly the past two shows we’ve exhibited at.”

Gingiber was a stationery maverick in that it exhibited at the first-ever summer NSS — and that risk was well worth it. “I can say confidently that August 2019 was our BEST SHOW ever,” Stacie remembered. “We did double what we did our previous year. We were so proud. Our experience got off to a rough start — our booth crate was missing for a long time — but somehow it all came together.”

Gingiber exhibited in the atrium upstairs in the Javits Center. “We were near several really established paper goods companies,” she explained. “It was a smaller show than years past, and though beautiful with so many windows, being upstairs meant that many retailers didn’t know we were in the building. But the right people found us, and I felt really grateful for the experience.”

When Stacie thinks of the valuable connections she’s garnered at NSS, stores don’t necessarily come to mind — it’s the other designers. “There is a camaraderie, because we are all experiencing the same feelings,” she emphasized. “We’re all doing our best, hoping that big retailer will walk into our booth. It is hard to be confident and upbeat during such a long show. Having good friends in the industry helps.”

And as far as she’s has taken Gingiber, there are still new domains Stacie would like to explore. “WE ARE NOT IN ANY BIG BOX STORES (YET)!” she laughed. “Can you help make that happen for me? I’d love to be in Paper Source or Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie. I think it will happen someday. We are in 600 shops, so I’m really thankful for those relationships and the retailers who keep ordering year after year. But, we’ve not had that magic giant purchase order. Any chance you can hook me up?”

I may not have that pull, but each edition of a trade show holds that promise — and a lot more. For #NSS2020, Stacie is retrofitting her current booth so it can have a larger footprint in an 8×16 booth. Expect to see the launch of iron-on patches, new tea towels and additions to Gingiber’s birthday and Valentine’s Day collections.

Stacie especially cherishes her memories of her early National Stationery Shows — and even laughs at the once-dire challenges they presented. “We made friends early on with the lovely people who run Paper Bandit Press. We’ve spent so much time going to restaurants together, sharing experiences and just being there with each other,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done a few years without their help. I had a crate that got really messed up during shipment and they helped me figure out a way to secure it and pack up my booth when it was REALLY LATE at night. Also, I feel like you’ve not had the NSS experience unless you’ve gone to Tavola for late night pizza after set-up or stood in line outside for Shake Shack on the last night of the show.”

Year in and out, Stacie has observed certain products come into vogue, only to be supplanted by others. “There’ve been years where our desk calendar sell like hotcakes, but you’ll notice if you’ve done this show long enough that the best selling trends change,” she commented. “For a while it was calendars, then our tea towels, and right now our greeting cards are really what is bringing people into the booth. I think I just focus on keeping the assortment fresh. I love seeing what our buyers connect with.”

Although exhibiting at trade shows is not easy, the lessons they teach are invaluable. “People don’t understand the trade show life unless you’ve done one,” she detailed. “It is a whole different level of stress. When the payoff is there, it feels amazing. But whether you have a good show or a bad show, you are putting in the same amount of work as everyone else. We are all building booths, designing up until the show begins, traveling, decorating, creating line sheets, and trying to put our best foot forward. It is an exhausting week. I don’t think retailers fully know how much it means to a small business for them to write those orders. EVERY ORDER COUNTS. Every order feels like affirmation that you are on the right path.

“Why do we keep coming back? Because, we love it. We love seeing buyers respond to our work. We love the conversations we get to have. We love the idea that all of it matters. We do our best to enjoy being in the moment. Sometimes our enthusiasm might be a bit much — people often comment how happy we are in our Gingiber booth — but it is genuine.”

NSS has been such an important show to Gingiber, she told me, and as such, the show is woven into her very brand. “I love the industry. There have been so many changes with the show moving from May to now operating two times a year to line up with NY NOW. I hope that the show continues and that buyers have success in their own retail shops so that they can keep ordering from us. Often times I find myself thinking of our retailers, wishing them success in their own shops, and sending them good energy and vibes. We all succeed if our retailers succeed. My job is to make products that do well in their stores, make their customers happy and ultimately help them to continue growing. We are all in this together.”

Thank you so much, Stacie, for reminiscing and looking ahead with me. Don’t miss out on Gingiber — and a whole lot more great design — at NSS February 2-5. Register here!