For those of us who are bit (or a lot) sentimental, greeting cards have a special place in our heart. Whether it’s for a birthday, a thank you, or a special occasion, there’s something about a personally selected card and handwritten note that an email just can’t compete with. We used to be limited to the big box retailers to find that perfect card, combing through aisles to find the one with just the right sentiments. After that, e-cards took over. But for those who like to (physically) hold on to every last bit of memory, an e-card needs a screen and battery to be seen. Nothing to store in a keepsake box to reflect on for years to come.
Once you see Laura Konyndyk’s cards, minimalists might have a change of opinion. Her colourful and cheerful illustrations can convert anyone back to paper greetings. Without being too corny, or at the other end of the spectrum, too brash, Laura’s company, Loose Leaves Paper Goods, sells watercolour cards, prints, and stationary with whimsical characters and charming messages. Greetings like “Thanks for having my back, mom” with a turtle carrying another smaller one on top, or two adorable squirrels getting married with the caption “Congratulations! May you always be nuts about each other!”
Laura started in illustration at a young age, and after studying Art and English at university, began to take her drawings a bit more seriously. While she never dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur, this is the path she’s been on and she’s happily embracing it. The best part is that when the administrative side of the business starts to get chaotic or overwhelming, she takes a break by painting for an hour. Laura explains, “It reminds me why I chose to build a creative business in the first place – because I love putting lovely things on a page!” That is definitely a big part of Loose Leaves’ success; Laura truly loves what she does.
We asked Laura a few questions about becoming an unexpected entrepreneur, to share some of advice, and talk about her inspirations.
What made you decide to turn your hobby into a business?
For a long time, illustrating was something I did on the side, on evenings and weekends. A big turning point for me was when I decided to try selling my illustrated greeting cards and art prints at a Hamilton Christmas market back in 2014.The response was so much better than what I’d hoped, and made me realize there was an enthusiastic customer base for my cards and prints in Hamilton.
After that, I took steps to sell my cards through local retailers too — bolstered by the belief that this “ greeting card thing” might just grow into something bigger if I gave it more time and energy. It helped that stationery, in general, seemed to be having a resurgence and that more and more people were seeking out unique, artistic cards.
Tell us a bit about Loose Leaves – when did you start it and how has the company grown?
Although creating and selling greeting cards happened somewhat gradually, Loose Leaves Paper Goods was officially “born” when I decided to get serious about selling my cards to a wider variety of stores in Ontario. I transitioned away from a full-time office job, and in January of 2016, I started approaching stores directly with card samples.
I did that for a while, and was somewhat encouraged by the results, but the most exciting development came in April 2016, when I reached out to a national stationery distribution company, and they agreed to pick up my card line – I was thrilled! That in itself was a huge learning curve, and I’ve spent the last few years really refining my process, establishing my brand, and securing the right suppliers. It’s been challenging at times, but Loose Leaves cards are now in stores all across Canada—and there’s no way I could have had the same reach on my own.
Selling greeting cards through a distributor has been an amazing opportunity, but filling large orders while making time to be creative can be a tricky balancing act. Some days are spent entirely putting cards in plastic sleeves. Others are spent illustrating. Obviously the creative work is more fun, but overall I’m excited and thankful for the way things have taken shape.
I also “hired” my sister, Julie Van Huizen, in a more official capacity last year. While she was a big part of the business from day one, she’s now taken on an official percentage of the business, and her background in graphic design has played a huge role in helping me prepare and market my work. Our skills are very complimentary.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business in a creative field?
Lean heavily on people who will be real and honest with you about your goals (even if they say things you don’t want to hear), and people who are *also* genuinely excited and enthusiastic about the potential they see in what you have to offer. Research your industry, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It’s easy to romanticize running a creative business, and it’s good to remember that some days may be full of pretty monotonous grunt work. That’s ok – it doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong track. Also the temptation to say yes to every client or commission request that comes your way may be strong, but consider those opportunities carefully. In that same vein, don’t just “do it for exposure” unless you really think it’s worth your time.
What do you like about living/working in Hamilton?
In my experience, I’ve found Hamilton’s arts community to be really welcoming. I get the sense that makers, artists and creative entrepreneurs are rooting for each other’s success. They see value in working in shared studio spaces, getting to know fellow vendors at arts markets, attending meet-ups. And it’s been great to be a part of that scene. Also, I’ve met so many people who, when they shop, are genuinely excited to buy something by a local Hamilton artist. That makes me happy!
Any favourite local female-owned businesses/makers?
So many! Wild Blue Yonder, Krystal Speck, Wolf Dottir, Nikki Kingsmill, Leah Courtney Pottery, Amanda Farquharson, Curious Oddities, Misty’s Minis, Steel City Studio, Girl Can Create. And on the retail side of things: Epic Books, Studio 205…
The longer I live here, the more this list will grow!
You can purchase Loose Leaves Paper Goods on Etsy, at various art markets and retailers across Southern Ontario and Canada, and select Chapters and Indigo locations.