Hazel & Dolly Hits #NSS2020

There’s so much about National Stationery Show that sets it apart from any other trade show, and even after attending for so many years, it’s hard to articulate these qualities to anyone who’s never attended. For four days in February, its aisles offer a dynamic haven for those who love paper. There is an almost giddy camaraderie amongst exhibitors and attendees alike — after all, we all share the same reverence for stationery — where we set aside competition for a short while to collectively celebrate the medium.

Part of the Show’s magic is that you never know what undiscovered brand awaits you around the next corner, so first-time exhibitors are exalted in a way they may not be at other trade shows. To me, there is something eternally beautiful and hopeful in the way that they have carefully packed up their dreams to share their perspectives with our world.

And there’s one such newbie I’m most excited to visit: Rachael Barlock of Hazel + Dolly. Stationery Trends readers may be familiar with this range, as I’ve run it several times over the past year or so, but I have yet to meet this Detroit maker, or see her lovely letterpressed wares, in person. I am however smitten with this most energetic video introduction!

Aren’t paper peeps the best? Rachael is going to fit right in with our tribe! And she graciously took the time to answer my questions.

SS: How did you decide to name your business after your grandmothers?

RB: I’m so drawn to old names and as I was thinking of business names, I immediately thought of them. It goes a little deeper though, because as I was thinking of the goal of my brand and business, I knew I really wanted to do letterpress. It’s such a labor-intensive, tangible printing method that has been around for so long. It truly feels like a craft that I will continue to learn and refine. At the same time, writing letters is something we in the stationery industry obviously promote, and that craft has also been around for a long time. I wanted to honor the nostalgia of the old printing methods and hand-written correspondence. I do that with the names of two women who lived during that time — my grandmothers. I take those crafts, add in my personality with modern design, and it’s relevant again.

SS: Can you share a bit about your background & what made you want to launch a stationery range?

RB: I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which is pretty rural and remote. I moderately enjoyed math & science courses in high school, so I actually went to college to be an engineer. I pursued a career in water resources engineering, which brought me from my small college town to Detroit! Most people have an immediate negative reaction to Detroit, but it’s actually so full people with so much passion for art, food, and culture — I love it!

I found a community letterpress studio, took a printing class, and fell in love. At the same time, hand-lettering was just starting to become a “thing” again, and I had started to dabble. The obvious path for me was to put the two together and start making my own letterpress art. I wanted to share that art with people in an approachable way, and greeting cards are such a good way to do that.

SS: What inspires your work?

RB: My range is very heavily hand-lettered, with the message being the focus of my products. I really think that authenticity inspires my line. I try to say things in my products that I regularly say with friends. It’s easy to say something generic like “happy birthday” and also easy to be a generic person, but what makes life exciting is truly embracing your individuality.

I try to push that into the things I make, and hopefully my personality comes across. As much as I want my messages to be real, I want the lettering to stand out as well. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of hand-lettering artists, but I strive for a style that’s more aggressive and messy. Again, it’s a representation of me as a person, sort of sarcastic and weird.

SS: Can you share anything about your mental health offerings?

RB: Our culture is wild because a post on Instagram literally helped me understand that I was suffering from anxiety and depression. It was just someone using an analogy to describe depression and it totally clicked for me. Like woah, that describes how I feel EXACTLY. About two years ago, I was severely unhappy, suffering from depression, and finally made the decision to start therapy and anti-depressants. As I started the healing process and changed a lot of things in my life, I kind of started trying to give myself pep-talks. I’d tell myself to say what I mean instead of being so accommodating in a conversation or relationship that it’s to my detriment. I started making a list of phrases to remind myself.

One of the big ones was “it’s okay to be sad.” So many people think that happy is a default setting, but I found that when I was feeling down, if I really let myself feel that way instead of shaming myself for being sad, I was able to better process why I was sad in the first place. It’s okay to feel grief when you’ve lost someone, it’s okay to be down if you have depression, it’s okay to feel bummed when you didn’t get the job. You don’t always have to put on a strong and happy face. Let yourself feel the feelings and you can come out of it with a healed mind. Whew, this is getting long, but I took those sentiments and played around with some with some old wood type and made some “just for fun” limited run prints. Some of the other messages will live on in my card line.

SS: Most of the work you’ve submitted to Stationery Trends has been black and white, but I see all this fabulous color on your site now too. What’s happening exactly?

RB: I have recently been transitioning my style into much more color! When I first started letterpressing, I loved the stark contrast of black ink on white paper. That very clean, modern aesthetic carried through into my life as well with a wardrobe of basics and a house with white walls hung with black and white art.

During the past few years, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, working toward making myself happy and overcoming my depression as I’ve mentioned. In that process, my personal style really evolved into an eclectic mix of color and patterns. In that transition period, I had a hard time resonating with the aesthetic of my work, but still loved the messages. I was hesitant to modify my line’s style because of consistency and brand recognition, but then I realized — I am my brand. The authenticity is still there, if not more so, so let’s try some new stuff and make this fun. I have a few colorful products available right now, but I’m about to do a big launch with a TON of new fun colors and styles, and it really feels like me. I’m excited to show everyone!

SS: You’re one of the few makers I’ve encountered who has an “events” section on your site. Can you share more about your hand-lettering events? Is this something you would offer new NSS brick-and-mortar clients?

RB: I do have an events tab! My tabs are getting out of hand — ha! I wanted visitors to be able to find out where they’d see me in person. I do a few local art fairs and print festivals, so I always add those, but I also do hand-lettering workshops! Two of my retailers regularly bring me in to host lettering workshops, and it’s a blast. I really love to teach. If there are any new NSS brick-and-mortar clients that would like me to come out and teach, I would love to coordinate. It’d be a great excuse to visit a new city and hang out with my retailer friends!

SS: Had you walked NSS before? Did that make you take the plunge?

RB: I have never walked NSS before, but I still made the plunge! In 2017 I attended Paper Camp in LA held by Proof to Product because I knew I wanted to expand and get into more retail stores. I learned so much, including that I was nowhere near ready to exhibit. I went back to Detroit, refined some of my business practices, really focused on my brand, and have been slowly building up the courage to do NSS! I finally feel ready as far as my products and my confidence in H+D!

SS: Can you give us a sneak peek into your booth?

RB: Oo fun! Yes! I have a grand plan, but we’ll see what’s actually feasible! I’ll be building my own walls, and painting them black to let the cards really shine. I have visions of a comfy, velvet loveseat for shoppers to relax on, but … I’m driving my booth from Detroit to NY, so realistically that won’t happen. I’ll have a ton of new stickers and enamel pins to show off, plus several new cards. I’m trying to think of a fun giveaway item — I want there to be some sort of compliment or mood booster associated with my giveaway because I know it’s a LONG few days for the clients walking the booths. I’m also enlisting the help of another local Detroit business, Laser Rays, to help me make some cool laser etched signage. As this is my first time crafting a tradeshow booth, I don’t have any actual photos to share, but you’ll just have to stop by and see it in person!

SS: Planning any show incentives or promotions?
RB: Absolutely! I’m going to do free domestic shipping on orders over $250.

SS: What is the best advice you’ve gotten so far about exhibiting?

RB: I’m so grateful for everything I learned at Paper Camp about booth set up, Javits logistics, and general prep. I would say one thing that many people keep telling me is plan for the worst (bring extra product and a backup plan in case something goes wrong), bring snacks and comfy shoes because they are LONG days, and splurge on a nice hotel room so you have an oasis to relax when you’re done for the day! I like that advice.

SS: Anything else you’d like to share with TPC readers?

RB: I’m really excited to be debuting so many new products toward the end of 2019 and going into NSS. If you’re at the Show, please stop by to say hi!

Thank you so much, Rachael, and the opening day of NSS — February 2 — is closer than you think! Get registered here!