Despite being known as the digital generation, tech-obsessed millennials are spending more money on handmade cards and letterpress stationery.
“Everyone says that paper is dying but our experience is that paper is not dying,” said Rosanna Kvernmo, who runs Iron Curtain Press and the adjacent stationery store, Shorthand, in Highland Park.
According to a report by Paper Culture, the average number of holiday cards purchased by customers has actually increased by 38 percent over the last five years.
“I don’t think this is just a flash in the pan,” Kvernmo said. “I think stationery is here to stay.”
Stationery makers and letter pressers agree that millennials are some of their biggest consumers.
“I interface with people a lot and, yes, I can say that people are sending cards again,” said Elisa Goodman, 62, owner of Curmudgeon Cards. Goodman has an online store and travels to various art fairs and open air markets in Los Angeles to sell her cards.
Goodman has been making her unique brand of handmade cards for 18 years and says her message is one that resonates with millennials as well as Baby Boomers. Goodman started making cards while dealing with a difficult time in her life and said that encouragement cards were among the first she created.
“I’m happy millenials are resonating with my brand so much. They really are appreciative of the quality and not price-resistant to the cost of handmade cards,” Goodman said.
Curmudgeon Cards retail for $10-$12 – about double the cost of digitally printed cards. Goodman sells many of her cards at craft fairs and farmers markets across L.A.
Cost still a factor
Still, other stationery-makers cite price as a sticking point with customers. Letter pressers say that the cost of paper and ink have gone up, not to mention the difficulty of working with machines that are out of production.
Adam Smith, 38, the owner of Life is Funny letterpress, got his start at Sugar Paper letterpress in 2006 and purchased his own press, a 1953 Heidelberg Windmill, in 2013. He said his cards retail at comparable prices to digitally printed cards which make them more affordable than most.
“One of my biggest clients is Alfred Coffee so the people who are buying these cards are who you’d expect…millennials with money,” Smith said.
According to customers, Smith’s sarcastic cards appeal to millennials. One card under the “Love” category tagged as #FirstDateWarnings says “I Use A Lot Of Emojis…I Hope You’re Okay With That.”
In addition to letter presses that have opened recently, older L.A.-based companies are also seeing an increase in business. Aardvark Letterpress, a family-owned letterpress in MacArthur Park, celebrated its 50th year in 2018 and owners say that not much has changed in terms of production.
“People are rediscovering [letterpress] and coming back to us…but the economic factors are still an issue,” said Cary Ocon, co-owner of Aardvark Letterpress.
Ocon said the company saw a drop in sales during and after the 2008 recession but that they are currently doing well. Although sales have not quite surpassed pre-recession numbers, Ocon said Aardvark still does solid business with many celebrities, entertainment companies, and governmental organizations, including the mayor’s office.
“I think there’s this reaction to the temporary nature of stuff – most things aren’t even printed anymore, they’re just read and shared digitally,” Ocon said. “I think people realize that this is a whole different product…so much more work goes into it than digital printing.”
Customers at Aardvark agree, saying that they are willing to pay extra for the uniqueness of letterpress.
“The presentation is everything,” said Darius Washington, founder of the D Hollywood Agency.
Washington was shopping for letterpress and foil printed business cards for his clients and said he had heard about Aardvark Letterpress through Instagram.
“Letterpress has that special feel to it. It’s like old cars, there’s something special about the handcrafted effort,” Washington said.
The handcrafted nature makes letterpress and handmade cards ideal for customization.
According to Entrepreneur Magazine and a report by Forbes, customization is a major selling point for millennials.
Specialization works for Goodman, who said she accepts many commissions for Curmudgeon Cards and Aardvark Letterpress has an in-house designer who can make custom designers for clients.
“People want to connect,” Kvernmo said. “There’s something about connecting with paper that’s more special than connecting through text.”