Hi Kristen! Please tell us a bit about yourself and Worthwhile Paper.
Hello! A little about myself: I am a designer in Ypsilanti, Michigan specializing in handmade design and lettering. My work is often inspired by geometry, simple silhouettes, positivity and plants. I live with my husband, 3 year old son, three black cats and a collection of crystals and houseplants. Worthwhile Paper is my line of lively screen printed paper goods, and I am overly happy to call it my full-time job. The growing collection includes greeting cards, patterned notebooks, notepads, art prints and rubber stamps. We are a husband + wife team with a goal to create meaningful and beautiful print work to share with others. We screen print + assemble every item with love locally, using sustainable materials and practices whenever possible. I'm the design nerd, and Steve is the printing wizard (who also is super good at getting orders out the door really fast!).
Why did you start this journey?
I have always loved paper and have obsessed over my handwriting since middle school gel pen days. I always knew I wanted to have my own business, and something inside of me always wants to use my creativity to spread beauty around and make people happy. After I fell in love with screen printing I combined it with my love of hand lettering and illustration and there was no going back. I am so happy to be doing what I do, and so grateful for the opportunity to share my work with others!
Could you bring us back to when you were just starting out? What was that like?
Yes! What a sweet time. It was 2014 - I was pregnant at the time and launched my first little collection of cards under the name Worthwhile Paper on Etsy a little bit before my son was born. I actually had a dream that I had my own paper goods line and I was telling someone in my dream it was called Worthwhile Paper. When I woke up, I thought "what a silly name!" but then I couldn't stop thinking about it.
Starting out was kind of a fun domino effect. Before I officially launched my line, I was two years out of college where I studied fine art & graphic design. I was dabbling in a huge variety of things: freelance design, gig posters, calligraphy for invitations, I had a job at an awesome local card & gift shop called Rock Paper Scissors designing wedding invitations and shop marketing materials, and had been working in the art department at VGKids (the screen printing shop my husband co-owns where we print all of our products now!) On top of all of that, I was always drawing and designing things for fun, mostly screen printed posters and art prints, and started bringing them to local craft fairs.
My first card designs were actually just fun add-ons to the extra space of posters to maximize the screen use! The cards did so well at our in-person events, and I loved hearing reactions from shoppers about who they were going to give the card to, and that feeling is really what solidified my enthusiasm in the idea of starting my own paper goods line. Branching out from posters to smaller items was a really fun new adventure for me.
My first go at creating and selling my art was under the name Warpaint Studio, which was a design collective I started through VGKids, which eventually kind of went flat because I never really gave it a sole purpose. I kind of just started something for the sake of starting something (not recommended, but actually, maybe it is because it was a good lesson!). When I started Worthwhile Paper, despite my super impatient/excited tendencies, I actually took a lot of time to put the thought into it that it deserved. I asked myself meaningful questions like "What IS this? What do I want my line to look like, feel like, represent? What is my intention and the purpose behind this? Having an intention behind my work is something that is very important to me. It was so unlike me at the time to really slow down in this way, but I just knew deep down that it was important. The slow but steady process was definitely worthwhile (pun intended) and set a good, new pace for myself. In the naming process I kept coming back to my dream and realized some deeper meaning in why my dream-business was named that, and it felt super right so I made it official by hand lettering my logo.
What makes Worthwhile Paper different?
I love this question. I think this is a really important question for creative business owners to be asked. A few key things about my line is that it is screen printed, the designs are 100% drawn by hand, and we use recycled paper and earth-friendly inks.
However, I think what really makes Worthwhile Paper special is the intention behind my designs, alongside my specific minimal-meets-nature aesthetic style.
I wrote a mission statement when I first started out and set this as my intention: To make paper goods that spread happiness with modern, energy-filled designs inspired by nature and feel-good experiences. Each design is thoughtfully created with the hope in mind that it will bring some kind of good to the world even on a really small scale, such as a meaningful connection to nature or between two people. We are also now planting one tree for every purchase in an effort to give back to the earth!
The online world can be a noisy place sometimes. What does “being authentic” mean to you?
I agree! Being authentic to me means learning what your true self is (an infinite process) and most importantly not being afraid to express it exactly the way it is. Too often we get caught up in what we think the way we "should" be doing things is. There is only one you, and that is what makes you special. Realize it's okay, if not even better, to do something your way instead of the way you think others expect you to do something.
As creatives, we often have a lot of old stories and beliefs that we carry with us. What are some fears and limiting beliefs you had to overcome? And how has that helped you?
I tend to get anxiety about how stressful a situation might be and let it impact my decision making. When it comes to a big decision or potential event or bigger steps with my business I always notice myself, especially lately, really asking myself deeply if it's worth the work/stress/time. Some things are totally work and stress! On the other hand, there really are some things that truly aren't. I can't tell if this is fear limiting me, or actually intuition working on a deep level. Saying no is okay if you truly feel it might not be the direction that benefits your highest good. Another fear that comes to mind with that being said is the fear of missing out - what if I say no or don't do this thing and I miss out on all sorts of wonderful things? I think the key is trusting your gut and feeling out what feels right at that point in time. All things that are meant to happen will.
How have you learned to deal with things like rejection or people not responding well to your work?
Part of selling wholesale is reaching out to potential buyers that I would love to work with. It's easy to feel sad or self-critical if I don't hear back, but I don't let it drag me into a black hole! Sometimes the timing isn't right, sometimes the buyer might feel like it's not a good fit and that's totally okay. If that's the case, it doesn't mean I am a total failure, it just means that it's not the perfect match right now.
My job isn't to convince someone they want to like my work, it's to do my best and feel happy and grateful about the many wonderful relationships I do have, especially ones that really continue to flourish and work out. Gratefulness beats disappointment by a long shot!
What is your favorite part in the creative process?
One of my favorite things lately is coming up with ideas and collections. With my upcoming spring collection I have a color love story in play as well as an overall botanical-heavy theme. It is really fun to make different designs while thinking of how they will all look together and compliment one another. Another favorite part is playing with new techniques and learning new things.
What’s the best life advice you’ve ever received from someone else?
"You are enough" is one of my favorite affirmations given to me by a therapist I was seeing for support with anxiety a little while back. It really stuck with me.
Do you have any advice or nuggets of wisdom to give other women who are in the beginning of their journey?
Take it step by step, and don't compare yourself to others! Looking back over the last few years in developing my brand and creative business, I have realized that everything has been, and still is, a step-by-step process. There are a lot of things involved, but figuring it out all at once would be a nightmare! As your business grows, the next steps for you to take will present themselves. It's best not to compare yourself to others too harshly because you never know what their reality is, where they are at in their journey, and it will just cause you unnecessary bad inner vibes. Go at your own pace and make sure what your are doing is creating joy for you.
What’s next for you in your journey? How can we support you, and where can we find you online?
We just moved into a new studio! I’m really excited for the next step for us - I was so ready to move this out of my basement and we found the most lovely spot. You can visit my website here: Worthwhile Paper and scroll to the bottom to sign up for my newsletter for a 15% off your first purchase, and to hear about new releases.
Thank you so much for letting me interview you, Kristen. One last question before we leave, what does being a woman mean to you?
Being a woman to me right now means being supportive to other women, lifting one another up, and fostering a sense of community.
Rapid fire q’s:
- A woman who inspires me: Lisa Congdon
- Favorite place to hang out online: Instagram @worthwhilepaper or posting on my blog - Something Worthwhile
- Best book I ever read: The Power Of Now - Eckhart Tolle
- My core values: Family first. Self care is not selfish. Always be kind to others no matter what.