Member Spotlight – Sarah Schwartz, Editor-in-Chief Stationery Trends

A Card Talk Member Interview

Tell us a little about your background! 

I got into stationery by chance, and stayed by choice. After graduating from New York University with a degree in print magazine journalism, I tooled around in Cleveland (my home town!), San Francisco and NYC for a few years, trying my hand at different jobs in publishing, before becoming an assistant editor in HarperCollins’ illustrated book division. By spring of 1997, it was an open secret that the division was going to be closed and we would all be laid off, so I dedicated a portion of each day to applying for publishing jobs I’d find in the New York Times’ classified section. One of them was for a market editor at Gifts & Decorative Accessories, with the main focus being stationery. I interviewed, submitted a sample product page — I still remember writing it, it was for autumn candles and I called it “Fall for Candles” — and luckily was hired! I fell in love with the product, the people — and have been covering the industry ever since.

How did you get your start at Stationery Trends?

In 2003, I left G&DA and moved back home to Cleveland. I tried my hand in several things — including turning my apartment into factory to create hundreds of pairs of vintage button earrings for Urban Outfitters! — and got back into freelancing. Among my clients was Great American Media Services, Stationery Trends’ parent company. In 2008, its CEO Matt McCallum approached me about starting a stationery trade pub. My response was, “I’ll do it, but it can’t be ugly.” He gave me pretty much free rein to create a publication inspired not by other trade mags, but the design-oriented shelter magazines most of us in this business worship. Ever since that first Spring 2008 issue, I’ve churned out four issues per year.

What do you like best about your job?

There’s so much, but my absolute favorite element it would be a three-way tie. First off, I love spotting and sharing trends, and then seeing them flourish in the retail world and pop culture. I love being able to play a supporting role in a maker’s success story — it is a huge honor that I did not get into publishing for, but it is just an enormous gift to me. Finally, I still love leafing through the publication after it arrives in my mailbox. Even though I sweated every square inch in digital proofs, that’s no comparison to seeing it printed. The screen in my opinion just does not do our fair product justice.

Why do you love greeting cards + stationery?

Greeting cards and stationery have become so much more to me than just the objects that you see in front of you. For me, going into a Paper Source is akin to a gallery opening where you are really acquainted with the bulk of artists on display, you know them personally, their earlier work, etc. I think what fascinates me most is how stationery and greeting cards are often the medium through which we communicate with loved ones when we really have something special to stay. As we grow and evolve, they reflect it. When I first started at Gifts & Decorative Accessories, the prevailing wisdom was that baby boomers — the main card consumers at that point — will stand around reading card after card until they find the perfect one. Since then, Millennials have taken their place as the main card-buying customers, and while their taste and vernacular is dramatically different, they are still struck by that perfect card they just have to send to a loved one. The idea of finding one’s voice and communicating honestly with others is really important to them, thankfully, and greeting cards and stationery don’t just offer that, they are an affordable splurge. Keeping up with it all, and trying to understand why it is evolving as it is, is an ever-changing puzzle I can’t stop trying to put together!

Besides making a larger audience aware of all the possibilities and opportunities the greeting card business has to offer, are there other causes or goals that you would like to advance while working in this industry?

The idea of finding one’s voice, and then expressing it, is at the heart of the greeting cards and stationery business, and it is more important today than ever. Cause-related product, where a portion of profits or sales goes to a charitable organization, has swept the gift industry in a big way over the past few years including, of course, stationery. Writes for Women — an organization I co-founded, then inherited — has worked with Dahlia Press and One-Per-Day on product in which a portion of profits goes to the Ms. Foundation. We were also really fortunate to work with Nole Garey of Oh So Beautiful Paper as the charity for Paper Party ’18 — an effort that raised $7,100! Meanwhile, I am working with one very talented vendor on a product to debut soon, with products earmarked for Planned Parenthood.

Why is it important that people continue to send handwritten cards, notes, etc.?

I’ve touched on this above, but the entire act of writing someone: sitting down when they are absent yet present in your thoughts, then sharing your mind, and then going through the USPS process where your message is not instantly delivered, but requires a bit of waiting — well, there is something somewhat magical about it, especially when your words are forever preserved in time, in someone else’s space. They are there just waiting to be rediscovered, long after we’re gone! As an introvert who does love people (but in small doses), it is the best of all words! And what Lord Byron said still rings true: Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company. As such, I’m sold!

What trends are you looking forward to in 2020?

Now that I am 50(!), I’ve had the benefit of seeing the same design trends reinvented in a different decade’s hands. So I may be somewhat jaded in that I do believe there is nothing completely new under the sun — but what interests me is the expression of trends though the lens of 2020. Right now I am knee-deep in prepping our Winter 2020 issue, and without giving away too much, I would say that so many of the trends I am covering revolve around the natural world. In the era of fake news and extreme divisiveness, these constants are comforts to us all.  Other card trends revolve around a new honesty, authenticity or empathy — we have Emily McDowell to thank for leading that charge! And design and print trends are an entirely other matter — personally I am borderline obsessed with minimalism and at the amazingly diverse examples of hand-lettering we are seeing.

Why did you become a GCA member?

I am fortunate enough to have worked at publications where I guess membership sort of came with the job. Some of my fondest industry memories are at GCA events, whether it was LOUIE judging at least a decade back in Washington, D.C., countless LOUIE galas — co-presenting awards with George White, who completely went off script, was a highlight! —  and GCA conferences. As an industry observer, the GCA is of huge value as it presents a safe space to hobnob and compare notes off the show floor. It has done so much for me professionally, and it is really humbling each and every time I am able to contribute in some way.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Please introduce yourself & say hi to me if our paths cross!

Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback with us, Sarah!