Friday, July 31, 2009

July Interview: Sustainable Stationery with GREEN|FINGERPRINT Co-founder Catherine Saunders


...GREEN|FINGERPRINT. GREEN|FINGERPRINT is an eco-friendly stationery business started by two sisters Catherine Saunders and Jacqueline Richelieu two years ago. As a child, I fell in love with stationery and pens, so it was a personal pleasure meeting with Catherine over breakfast and finding out more about the idea and execution behind this young venture.

Catherine, where did your love of stationery come from?
Jacqueline and I grew up in Southern California. Only 16 months apart, we grew up as twin siblings and best friends. Our passion for stationery started when we were seven to nine years old: we set up a stationery stand on our front lawn. Using rubber stamps and other items around the house, we made thank you notes and greeting cards for our neighbors. Now at GREEN|FINGERPRINT, the two of us work on every facet - accounting, branding, design, printing, etc.

And how about the eco-friendly part? How did you decide that your stationery business would be built around a principle of environmental sustainability?
Two years ago, Jacqueline and I were eating lunch with our mom in Pasadena and decided we would create this company and write a business plan. We visited a stationery store and asked the clerk what percent of paper was 100 percent post-consumer recycled. He said none, and we saw a business and social opportunity in that. A lot of stationery businesses are going eco-friendly. For example, Cranes's letterpress products are printed on tree-free cotton rag paper. But we're not just offering an eco-friendly option - we're based on a completely eco-friendly business model.

Printing is inherently not an eco-friendly process, and we're thinking about ways to innovate in the eco-friendly stationery space. This means staying on top of new methods as they come out into the market. From our inception, we've been eco-friendly at our center. Our goal is to be totally carbon neutral at the end of this year. In printing, there's still water involved. Energy is used when we mail things, and we want to think about our entire carbon footprint as a business - so we're looking into purchasing carbon offsets, for example, planting trees. This would cut into our profit, but consumers wouldn't bear the burden of this cost.

What products do you currently offer?
Wedding invitations, personal stationery, baby announcements, event invites, corporate identity jobs (from designing logos and letterheads to business cards), greeting cards, etc.

What's special about the paper you use?
A tree-free cotton rag paper that is made from scraps of cotton that are a byproduct of the textile milling process: it's soft and well-suited for our letterpress products; 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, which comes in two colors (white and off-white) and two weights (130 pound and 100 pound, which we use for digital printing).

What were your first steps in launching this business?
We wrote a business plan and got things off the ground as a limited liability company. Our initial investment included buying computers and software, and we went on a search for 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. To start off, we designed eight thank you notes and printed 500 of each. We bought the Adobe Creative Suite. The school I taught at at the time had a multimedia classroom, and the graphic designer there helped me out with my initial designs. Last summer, I started learning the programs at a deeper level. With Jacqueline's photography skills and my art background, it wasn't about learning color or design, it was more the technology piece that was missing. We had also done a lot of design work for our own weddings and bridal showers. Right now we don't have a storefront, but have plans to have one in the future.

What were you up to before GREEN|FINGERPRINT?
I taught high school for six years in West Philadelphia and San Diego and then taught law in Fresno at a progressive charter high school. Jacqueline works in private wealth.

What is competition like in the stationery business? Competition or coopetition?
Within the stationery and creative arts community, there is such a sense of community. We try to offer a personal experience. When a client calls, s/he talks directly to us and can do pretty much whatever s/he wants in terms of customizing colors, fonts, etc. Each design house has its own identity, and our's is modern and sleek. We haven’t found another company that marries modern style with an eco-friendly mission. Many eco-friendly stationery products have a more organic, seed/flower look.

Who is in your target market?
Women in their twenties and thirties who are planning weddings and of course people who appreciate design and the look and feel of high quality eco-friendly stationery. We want to be the choice for brides, moms to be, friends purchasing stationery for friends. For example, a woman from Texas called about 300 plus invitations for a Bar Mitzvah. We're currently getting much of our business from New York, California, and Texas.

Are you open to wholesale down the line?
We eventually want to get our stationery into the the stores of independent stationers and like-minded shop owners. We would begin with our thank you notes and get our binders of wedding invitations into stores. We'll also attend trade shows, where stationers large and small get their products out there. We're also thinking about stores like Papyrus and Paper Source.

Crowdsourced companies such as Threadless have been a hit. Why haven't we seen similar successes in the stationery business?
For stationers, design is a critical element. In large part, there may be some resistance to associating someone else's style of design with your brand. We don't want to be seen as a FedEx or Kinkos.

Metrics. How do you track the social return on investment for your customers?
There are various calculators out there to help us determine the trees, water, carbon emissions, etc. that we've saved in our processes. Part of our packaging tells consumers what they've saved in purchasing our products on personalized cards that we fill in (e.g., x gallons of water saved). We want them to know that our products don't come out of factories and that they've done something positive.

What's your vision for GREEN|FINGERPRINT?
We strive to produce and create stationery and invitations that are printed exclusively on tree-free and 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and designed in modern and sophisticated styles. Our stationery is intended to excite you and even tug at your heart strings. In this digital age, there's still a need for written communication and for sitting down and writing a physical note to say thank you or assembling wedding invitations.

A mentor of mine says that entrepreneurs must learn how to sell their dreams. Thoughts?
When you're dreaming about a business, you're not dreaming about the challenges of distribution, production, accounting, etc. Who's providing us with paper and ink? What kind of ink do we want to use? What kind of company do we want to incorporate as? It's not so easy to translate a dream into a business and especially in design, a traditionally anti-business field.

And finally, please define entrepreneur.
An entrepreneur is someone who is passionate about what s/he wants to do, whether that's a product or service and is willing to make sacrifices to make it happen, which include emotional, financial, and physical sacrifices. The big payout is down the road, however you define big. As a women entrepreneur, there's the additional element of thinking about down the road. Do we want families? Can we have it all, our careers and our personal lives? I think we can.

Thank you Catherine. Jelly Theory is rooting for GREEN|FINGERPRINT and wishing you success in Martha Stewart's Dreamers Into Doers contest.

You can fan GREEN|FINGERPRINT's Facebook Page and following them on Twitter.