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Inside the Minds—and Festive Movie Preferences—of our Holiday Shop Designers

BY liz 12/12/2015



We’re pretty thrilled about the launch of our paper-goods shop, which is stocked with downright stunning wrap, sassy cards, and five-star gift tags you might just find yourself squirreling away to decorate with all year long. The world of holiday printed matter is a funny one, so we were curious to hear how the designers behind our five featured lines navigate the land of fake snow and saccharine sentiments to arrive at pieces that are beautiful, hilarious, and maybe just the tiniest bit magical.

Shop People I've Loved


1) What made you want to get into the paper-goods world? How do you approach making pieces that feel so different and creative but still appropriately seasonal?​


Cat Seto, Ferme à Papier: There's something very intimate and special about a handwritten note that drew me into the paper-goods world. I still thrill when someone sends me a letter in the mail, and I wanted to offer that to others!


Carissa Potter, People I’ve Loved: I craved being invited and having a connection with other humans. My co-founder Heather Van Winckle and I both have backgrounds in fine art and an interest in human behavior. So I think we get into the idea that these are like little performances. We are trying to set people up to have honest conversations and to hopefully make communication more open. There are lots of ways that the holidays can be stressful or trite, but they can also be a source of great comfort and joy.


Stephanie Hamblin, Birch & Goldberry: I’ve always enjoyed writing letters and giving gifts. I started to develop an affinity for different types of paper and mark-making techniques while in art school. It seemed natural to develop a line of notecards and gift wrap given those interests. I run Birch & Goldberry with my sister, Hilaree Hamblin, and our friend Elizabeth Meeks. We are inspired by seasonal shifts within our palette. Even though we usually aren’t working with traditional Christmas/holiday colors, we always have the time of year in mind.


Emily McDowell: I saw an opportunity to do something different in stationery, which was to make greeting cards for the relationships people actually have—which are often messy and weird and confusing. Traditionally, greeting cards speak to really idealized versions of relationships, and those definitions just don't apply to so many of us. In general, our cards play off of universal human truths and observations, so our holiday cards often feature holiday tropes, but with a twist of honesty and humor. For example, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow (within reason)" and "He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you're awake. Maybe you shouldn't have accepted his friend request."


Johnna West, Frances Lab: I started the company because I'm mostly passionate about being able to make well-designed products that people can use in their daily lives and being able to offer something that's as accessible as it is functional. I started making screen-printed greeting cards, which were really just an intuitive jumping-off point. It took me a long time to make a holiday card I liked. I had to stop forcing it, which meant going my first year without a single holiday card, and I just continued to play with ideas until something finally developed. Like everything else, I just kept asking myself if I would want use it—would I want to give this to my family and friends?


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2) How do you think about developing a collection? What gets you inspired?


Stephanie Hamblin, Birch & Goldberry:  It’s a number of factors. We do like to change the patterns/color palette seasonally. My two partners and I will usually get together and think of a specific feeling we are trying to create within a new line of products. There’s a lot time spent collecting images and inspirational material.


Cat Seto, Ferme à Papier: One example of how I develop is our Golden Rectangle collection, which includes golden ratio foil cards, geometric illustrations, and marble patterns. There is usually an image, shape, or place that stands out in my head each season. I wanted to explore the golden ratio as a frame and used it throughout collection, juxtaposing it with earthy and organic backgrounds such as marble or floral. After a series of sketches, I started to pull them into our different product categories such as cards, planners, or gift wrap.


Emily McDowell: I try to solve problems with a sense of humor. I also try hard to not do anything that's already being done by other designers, which is especially challenging with holiday cards, as the parameters are fairly narrow. But I think that's where some of the most creative ideas come from, because I have to push for them.

Humanity inspires me content-wise—my own relationships, those of my friends, even news stories. I'm always visually inspired by letters, nature, folk art, geometry, cultural quirks, and the crazy urban landscape of Southern California.


Johnna West, Frances Lab:  This is also a really intuitive process for me. I've tried making and releasing collections around industry timelines, but the product that comes out can easily feel so uninspired. Since it's really important to me that I'm proud of the items we offer, now I try to just focus on making things I'm truly passionate about, and I do about two new item releases each year. I've found this also gives me time to really tweak designs and make sure I'm happy with something before I add it to the collection.

My boyfriend and I have been doing a lot of road-tripping around the East Coast, and I think the more we get out of the city, the more attracted I am to a certain amount of undone. Getting out into wide-open spaces has reminded me how important minimalism and functionality are to me. I think I'm re-embracing some basic ideals just in a new way. I've also been pining over a lot of seventies Scandinavian design lately, so I think there's some, like, return to the essence going on—which sounds very hippie, I know.


Carissa Potter, People I’ve Loved: Here at People I’ve Loved, we don't really have collections. It is more about single ideas that then are turned into print forms. (Perhaps we should think about doing some collections. I am going to make note of that.) Lately in the studio, we’ve been really inspired by the Modern Romance book by Aziz Ansari, and also we like to listen to a TON of podcasts. We are into On Being, Radiolab, and that new human brain NPR podcast that I am forgetting....


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3) ​Do you have any holiday traditions? Classic gingerbread-house-building projects or thai-food-on-christmas-eve customs—whatever wraps your wreath.


Emily McDowell: Is boozy eggnog a tradition? We make a whole bunch of little houses out of sheets of vellum and scotch tape and put a flameless votive inside each one and set them up to make a tabletop village. We also like to stay in Los Angeles for Christmas because the city empties out, and it's really nice to be able to just chill here.


Johnna West, Frances Lab: Growing up, my family always opened gifts on Christmas Eve, and it's such a great tradition. There's got to be a fire burning, candles lit, the tree glowing. There's not much else more festive than that moment.


Stephanie Hamblin, Birch & Goldberry: Good food—our mom and other sisters are such great cooks!—and drink are big parts of our family interaction. Even when we go to visit our parents on weekends, there is usually a fire going outside, a meal on the stove, and all of five dogs running around their property.


Cat Seto, Ferme à Papier: My son loves making a family recipe of ginger-orange cranberry sauce—we do it together each Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Carissa Potter, People I’ve Loved: We just make Swedish meatballs, and this year we are hosting. We are really into celebrating the solstice at our house, which might seem kinda odd to some. It seems like it is super hard these days to find rituals that are meaningful—I think the best part of it all is just to be with those you love in a warm house with lots of food and conversation.


Shop Ferme à Papier


4) Okay, cinema rorschach test: what’s your very favorite holiday movie?


Stephanie Hamblin, Birch & Goldberry: White Christmas.


Emily McDowell: It's a Wonderful Life!


Carissa Potter, People I’ve Loved: Love Actually. No matter how bad I am feeling, I always feel better after watching it. I think the science of pop-movies totally understands me.


Cat Seto, Ferme à Papier: Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, of course.


Johnna West, Frances Lab: When Harry Met Sally, hands down. I don't think it's possible for it to feel like the holidays until I watch that movie.

Shop Frances Lab



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