The stationery industry is full of family stories, as any walk though National Stationery Show (NSS) attests. The booths are filled with moms and dads writing orders for their children, siblings using their vacation days to work in their sibling’s booth, and even the occasional child helping out. (A very precocious and memorable 8-year-old once handed me a CD full of high-res images that she’d just finished burning on her mom’s laptop).
I love this aspect of our industry, I think it keeps both the product and people authentic — and I can’t think of a better line that epitomizes this dynamic than Kate & Birdie. The award-winning, decade-old Canadian boutique paper company was founded by Gloria Wall, a self-taught artist — and a year later her husband, Steve, also an artist, was able to quit his day job to devote himself to the company full-time. Distinguished by its sweetly hand-drawn illustrations and patterns in a sophisticated, natural palette, the line uses vegetable inks and recycled papers and can currently be found in over 1,000 stockists around the world.
The most enduring lines filter market trends through their own distinctive perspective, and K&B is no exception. K&B’s captivating and irresistible world, as depicted on notebooks, wrapping paper, boxed note sets and greeting cards, is populated by cozy scenes, contemplative workspaces, and little surprises like patterned bunnies and statuesque cakes on stands.
But K&B is more than a husband-and-wife team, it’s grown into a true family business — these days their daughter Sophie is just as likely to write up your NSS order as her mom or dad — and I’m sure in about a dozen years their infant Sam will be helping out as well.
I am a little in awe of Gloria’s impressive body of work and growing family, so naturally I was thrilled when she agreed to answer TPC’s Five Questions. You can also meet her (and Sophie and Steve) in person this May at NSS, in booths 1755 and 1757.
1. SS: How did you get into this crazy business?
GW: I have been making cards with my own drawings since I was young (I tried starting a card line in high school actually, although that was short-lived of course). Many of my family members have cards I made for them from 15 or 20 years ago. After our daughter was born 11 years ago, I felt like I was ready to take it seriously, so I started a small line from my living room. I am a self-taught artist, so I learned a lot about the industry and business in general in those early years. I brought my line to my first trade show two years after I started, and it quickly launched across the country. That was it.
2. SS: Are there any design or lifestyle trends you are particularly intrigued by these days?
GW: I always seem to find myself first hooked on lifestyle or home trends that work their way into my designs. Right now I’m seeing more hints of pattern again — like in tile work, for example — and I’m loving it. But I should say I’m still hooked on warm metals used in foil-stamping. We use copper foil in some of our work, which I love with the peach, mint and aqua tones we use a lot.
3. SS: What letter, card or invitation first comes to mind as the best you’ve ever received?
GW: Oh this is impossible! Especially for a stationery lover! Steve and I have been married for 15 years now, and he will illustrate and hand-letter every card or letter he gives me. I keep them all. And I have a box filled with cards Sophie has made me over the years. I especially love the ones she made when she was little, when her drawings came straight from the heart and from her own imagination. So, no one favorite piece of stationery. But a box full of favorites. 🙂
4. SS: What are your three favorite paper lines aside from your own?
GW: Another tough question! I have a really big paper crush on Sugar Paper. I love how clean and simple, and yet sophisticated they are. It’s a nice contrast with our own illustrated products, which I really like. I also love Sycamore Street Press and Eva’s work. I love their story and their little family behind the business, it makes their line feel really special. I also really enjoy Egg Press. Tess has a brilliant mind for business. They continue to do their own thing and they’re really good at it.
5. SS: Is there anything you do personally to keep letter-writing, card-sending and invitation using alive?
GW: Even though I am completely surrounded by stationery everyday, I have to keep a stash right next to me at my desk. Along with a nice stack of envelopes, good pens and stamps, so it’s at my fingertips (it helps that it’s pretty to look at too). If I keep a little selection next to me, and it’s ready to mail, I’m much more inclined to write a note when the moment strikes.