Direct from Market: National Stationery Show

National Stationery Show 2013Quality over quantity is the best way to describe this year's National Stationery Show (NSS) held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center from May 19-22. The show is large in presentation and variety; it is filled with creative new products from companies large and small, and attended by retailers of all stripes and size, as well as reps and distributors from across the U.S. and beyond. Many exhibitors can be seen at no other trade show in the country in the same breadth and depth presented here.

One of the biggest advantages of the show's current size is the opportunity to look carefully at the products in each booth rather than rushing by them. And this year, several trends definitely jumped out.

 Mason RowMason Row sign

Perhaps the most noticeable was the plethora of white-on-black chalkboard-looking products and booth signage as well as chalkboard-related merchandise. This trend was noted as emerging during the winter gift shows, and now has really exploded onto the scene. From Bella Ink's dinner invitation to Waste Not Paper's 2014 calendar to ICPG's personalized tabletop accessories, the chalkboard look was ubiquitous. Several lines took the trend a step further by offering products to write on with chalk, including a "Chalkboard Banner" from Alexis Mattox Design and wine bags from Twinkle Brands. Chalkboard-type designs also appeared on holiday cards and partyware, on which it often changed to white lettering on a red background-as seen at Design Design and Waste Not Paper.

Rock Scissor PaperRock Scissor Paper
A Ride in the Woods

Bicycles were another prominent design direction riding onto numerous items at the NSS. Plenty of bikes were featured on printed or letterpressed greeting cards, including those from Smudge Ink, Compendium and 9th Letterpress. Rock Scissor Paper offered the motif on mugs, coasters and notebooks; while R. Nichols included a bicycle design within its new candle collection (for which it collaborated with renowned fragrance designer Gary McNatton). And NPW has an entire product line devoted to bicycles, including novelty pencil top erasers, paperclips and other bicycle-shaped items. NPW also has other items for decorating real bicycles: stickers, spoke charms, a horn and more.

Another design trend noted across the show floor: woodgrain designs or items actually made from wood, including Checkerboard's woodgrain-looking custom invitation and envelope liner, Up With Paper's pop-up Terrarium sticky note portfolio and desktop notes, Timbergram's wooden postcards and Lazerwood's iPhone cases and keys for the MacBook or Apple desktop keyboard. [Photos: Checkerboard]

Fancy Seeing You Here Fancy Seeing You Here
 Sapling PressSapling Press

Locale and Lasercuts

With Google maps and GPS technology replacing maps to help us to find our way, cartography is growing in popularity as design elements. Notable were the notecards with map envelopes from Fancy Seeing You Here. Other location-based city- and state-related themes, such as Sapling Press' letterpressed cards that can be made to order for any city or state, were also prevalent. Location specific papers are a great way for showing local and state pride. But don't neglect aspirational and romatic location themes such as London, Paris or even Hollywood—places we might want to be.

Avie DesignsAvie Designs
Laser-cutting appeared more prevalent at this show than in previous years. Avie Designs, for example, offered a variety of meticulously laser-cut, practically transparent custom wedding invitations. The judges of the 25th Annual LOUIE Awards apparently liked this trend as well, with Plane Paper's laser-cut heart card winning in the "Valentine's Day - Above $3.50" category at the LOUIE gala held on Sunday night during the show at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers.


Coasters and wine bags, though not new product categories, were presented in many clever new iterations at the NSS. Ladyfingers Letterpress showed whimsical, printed brown-paper wine bags; and Mixt Studio had handcrafted "Share" wine bags with a reusable, fill-in tag. Fun coaster designs included

Brand NodeBrand Node
"Keyboard" and "Stained" glass coasters from Molla Space; "Hello my name is" personalizable coasters from Brand Node; and "YAY" letterpressed coasters from Ruff House Art.

In fact, "Yay" was a popular word on many cards, as were other modern slang terms designed to appeal to a new generation of customers. Toward that end, there were also a number of products with humorous old-school references,

L2 Design CollectiveL2 Design Collective
such as the letterpressed "Old School Notes" from Elum and the "Old School Blogger" journal from L2 Design Collective-proving that these traditional paper products, like the NSS itself, is still very cool.
[Photo: L2 Design Collective]

High Tech, Low Tech

Nevertheless, the presence of technology can't be avoided, and the NSS exhibitors are continuing to adapt to and adopt tech, taking advantage of advances in tech and creating products that marry high tech needs with low tech practicality and tradition. Mountaincow and Oki debuted a printer that allows invitation designers and retailers using Mountaincow's software to print in white on dark colored papers in-store with professional results that previously had to be outsourced. Epson  introduced a handheld printer/labelmaker for home or in-store use that has interchangeable cartridges for printing ribbon and iron-on tape as well as label tape. It is perfect for creating small batches of custom ribbons for favors, maker tapes for needlecrafts and much more.

Marrying high tech with low tech, Tap for Message debuted a line of greeting cards, gift tags, invitations and gift card holders allowing the gift-giver to record a personalized video or audio greeting that the recipient can access from a smartphone via a QR code. Dodocase launched Dodonotes, a notebook and iPhone cover in one, so that the iPhone user can jot a note on paper while on the phone. And writing instrument companies are combining fine writing instruments with a stylus for use with tablet computers and smartphones. Jac Zagoory displayed the new Fisher Space Bullet pen with a tablet stylus on one end.

And going low tech, Whiteboard Reinvented did just that and introduced a selection of different personal and portable whiteboards for planning, jotting ideas and more. Decorative magnet boards, perfect for "pinning" or as family message centers, were noted around as well. Of particular interest were by those by  Petal Lane featuring frames and magnets made using wood repurposed from forest fires.

 Knock KnockKnock Knock

Boxes and Other Fun Finds

Are decorative boxes to gift-giving and storage of files and other mementoes taking back a toe-hold in the industry? Wrapped displayed its new boxes covered inside and out with its art wrap paper. The sturdy boxes are too beautiful and too sturdy not to be reused for storage or regifting. Knock Knock introduced a collection of storage boxes that come flat, are easy to assemble and sturdy for storing "miscellany" and other "stuff." Papier de Maison debuted a collection of decorative home office accessories-storage boxes, magazine and file holders and more-that uses its Plus Motif interchangeable decorative designs. Lifeguard Press introduced its latest licensed line: Kate Spade. Included in the lifestyle collection is a grouping of decorative storage boxes for files, photos and more.

Seven Barks debuted at the NSS with a collection of stationery, cards and other items featuring vintage equestrian, yachting and dog imagery. If by looking at the line, it reminds you of the Rebecca Ray fashion accessories and home décor line, you are right; the talent behind the line is one and the same.

While matchbook style of notepads have been around the industry for a while, Old Tom Foolery debuted Modern Lore line of greeting cards in a matchbook style. The cards feature the photographic imagery of several different photographers.

Post-its and other sticky notes are nothing new in this industry or the office products industry, but the Post-it brand has never before had a line of real Post-its for the specialty channel...until now. Post-it Signature Notes debuted and features artwork by such artists as Bonnie Marcus, Jenn Sprinkle and Madalyn Fusco. They come in three sizes and boxed perfect for gift-giving.

Speaking of gifts, the show did not lack for giftwares to complement and expand a retailer's mix. In addition to its high design papergoods, MoMA 

Scent and Goods GearScent and Goods Gear
introduced Scribble placemats and coasters made of silicone. They look like someone's scribbles. Scent and Goods Gear presented aromatherapy bracelets as well as scented greeting cards.

Four Shows Together

Co-located with the NSS are SURTEX, the art and licensing show of surface design and, new this year, the Creative & Lifestyle Arts show, a small sampling of crafting exhibitors, and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF). There is a certain synergy among all the shows and especially with SURTEX. Many larger stationery exhibitors as well as large retailers and non-exhibiting gift and home designers and manufacturers visit SURTEX to source new art designs to purchase outright or license.

Many of the exhibiting artists are familiar names in our industry at large-such as Kate McRostie, Cathy Heck, Kelly Rae Roberts and Lori Siebert (both represented by Courtney Davis agency), Debbie Mumm—and and many are not, but their artwork is—such as Caleb Gray, whose retro style artwork appears on products from Tervis and The Gift Wrap Company, among others. A walk through the aisles is enlightening to discover familiar brands and names that are branching out into licensing: Tatutina, known for its children's products and childlike artwork and Avanti, known for its humorous greeting cards of animal imagery. Marsha Gray Carrington, who was the art talent behind the mjZoom stationery and card line years back, exhibited for the first time to explore new opportunities.

The artists and agents with whom we spoke were upbeat about show. They noted that they had been busy and were encouraged about the prospects with whom they met. We can expect to see good creative artwork coming through the product pipeline in the months to come.

Gartner StudiosGartner Studios
Getting Crafty

The Creative & Lifestyle Arts (C&LA) show brought in a small contingent of crafting suppliers with products for the DIY crafter and artist-the card maker, paper crafter, floral crafter and jewelry-maker. But crafting materials were not located only in the C&LA area. Anna Griffin, although not in the section of the show, brought her crafting/scrapbooking collection of papers and accessories to the NSS for the first time. Xonex , which has been focusing more of its line on art materials, was located in the NSS at the edge of C&LA and had traffic, with its art supplies drawing in new customers, while it stationery items and novelty pens holding strong with established and new customers. All the way across the show floor, Gartner Studios, best known for its invitations and wedding lines and its Mara-Mi and Russell and Hazel brands, showcased the Duff Goldman by Gartner Studios line, a collection of bakeware and cake decorating products that help the home baker create professional looking cakes and other goodies. The line includes mixes, fondants, decorations, tools and much more.

The paper industry of greeting cards, invitations and related products is certainly not stationary. It keeps moving ahead with the times.

Caroline KennedyCaroline Kennedy | Editor in Chief, Gifts and Decorative Accessories

Editor-in-chief Caroline Kennedy has been with Gifts & Decorative Accessories magazine for more than 23 years. Her long association with the gift industry gives her a broad perspective on its trends and the ever-changing landscape of gift retailing. She brings her veteran's-eye view to the highlights and sidelights of our everyday world. When asked why she has stayed on the job for so long, her answer is, "It's like going shopping every day!"

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