When she's not styling corporate clients, taking lunch meetings in Tribeca in New York, lifestyle guru Kalyn Johnson-Chandler is seeking inspiration for the next collection of her stationary line Effie's Paper from flee market textiles to the modernity of South Africa. In a world of tablets and iPhone apps, Kalyn is a paper girl. And for the once environmental lawyer, and author of the obligatory The BAP Handbook: The Official Guide to the Black American Princess, style is all in her matrilineal bones. We caught up with the busy Michigan-native to chat her latest collections JETSETTER and OUT OF AFRICA, and why paper is always sexy.
EBONY: How did you go from being a corporate attorney to creating your own stationary line?
Kalyn Johnson Chandler: I left the practice of law 5 years ago and started STYLE by Kalyn Johnson, a fashion styling consultancy for busy professionals. While I love working with clients and helping people look their best, I knew shortly after I started my styling business that I wanted to expand it into a lifestyle brand. I wasn't quite sure what the segue would be ... and then two summers ago, I was sitting at my desk writing thank you notes, surrounded by stationery, and a light bulb went off in my head. I guess you could say it was my ah-hah moment. I've always loved pretty paper and I've always had a pretty good stash of personalized stationery, but I didn't have any stationery that made my heart leap. So, in that moment, I decided that I wanted to create my own line of stationery. I wanted my line to be modern, chic and fun. It seemed like the perfect marriage, my love of all things stylish, pretty paper and letter writing. In that moment, a snap decision became Effie's Paper. It was as simple as that and here we are a few years later.
EBONY: What inspired the name Effie's Paper?
KJC: My grandmother Effie Hayes, is the inspiration behind Effie’s Paper. Although she's no longer with us, my grandmother was influential in every aspect of my life. I know she'd just be tickled about me having a stationery company named for her. I also got my sense of style from my grandmother. My grandparents didn't have a lot of money, but my grandmother was one of the most stylish ladies I knew. Unless she was ushering, she was always sugar-sharp on Sundays. Her creativity with her ensembles translated into everything she touched, from the beautiful quilts she made to the way she made gift bows during the holiday season. I was very close to my grandmother and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with her growing up. She’s the person who helped to foster my fascination with stationery. When I had my ah-hah moment, the name Effie’s Paper just came to me. My grandmother was a very determined and stylish lady; from her I learned tenacity, how to mix high and low style, grace under pressure and the importance of sending handwritten notes.
EBONY: What type of paper stock is Effie's Paper printed on? What different stocks does the line offer?
KJC: All of our products are printed on 110-pound uncoated natural white card-stock which is an ideal weight for social stationery. One of the ways to measure the quality of a notecard is by its weight. If you hold one of our notecards, or folded notecards, in your hand, you can feel its heft. Let me put another way, in laymen's terms, our products are thick enough to write on with a Sharpie marker and not worry about the marker bleeding through to the other side.
EBONY: Many people are moving away from the written word and hard paper stationary, embracing emails, and online apps like PaperlessPost, do you think there's still a considerable consumer base for traditional stationary?
KJC: Look, I'd definitely be lost without my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro; I'm as big a fan of email an texting as the next Swarovski covered iPhone-toting hipster, but truth be told, I'm a paper girl. I believe in sending hand-written written notes to friends and loved ones on a weekly basis. As much as email and text messaging have infiltrated how we communicate with one another, neither can take the place of a hand-written note. I really think people are feeling inundated with all of the technology and as a result are craving a personal touch. As a result, sending hand-written notes is definitely coming back in vogue. Using personalized stationery continues to be one of the most elegant and distinctive forms of communication.
EBONY: Would you ever considering designing for PaperlessPost or creating an app for Effie's Paper?
KJC: Of course! I would love design products for PaperlessPost. I think it's a great company. PaperlessPost provides a valuable service. We live our lives online, and while I will always send paper invitations and stationery, PaperlessPost and similar companies provides an ideal option for those committed to the idea stationery but not necessarily the time commitment of paper products. I do plan to create an app for Effie's Paper that will allow the die-hard techies to use our designs to send out notes and invitations; it's not in our immediate future, but stay tuned!
EBONY: Effie's Paper also offers custom design services for wedding invitations, what has this process been like? Which bridal custom order has been the most memorable?
KJC: I really love designing products for different people and different occasions. I approach my custom projects in the same way I approach the clients I style. I sit down with a client to get a sense of what they're looking for, what their favorite colors are, their motivations, the textures they like, the music they listen to, etc. Then I take that information and translate it into a stationery suite — a big birthday party invitation or a special holiday card. I'm working on our first custom bridal stationery suite—save-the-date, invitations, menus, wedding programs, thank you notes, the whole kit and kaboodle!
Now for a wedding that will take place in December—the couple is having a destination wedding in Miami and their theme is "Where Vintage Meets Modern." Being asked to be a part of a couple's big day is a big responsibility, the Save-the-Dates will help set the tone for the entire event. I'm thrilled to be an integral part of such a special occasion.
EBONY: Effie's Paper is highly informed by your frequent travels. Where have you traveled to recently and how have these adventures inspired The JETSETTER collection?
KJC: Each of our stationery collections, The URBANITE, The JETSETTER, The EXOTICS, is a reflection of my eclectic influences from growing up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to life in the Big Apple to my adventures around the globe. Our latest collection, OUT OF AFRICA, was inspired by a recent trip to South Africa. My creative juices were flowing from the minute we arrived. Traveling around the country, gave me a chance to experience first-hand the charms and realities of such a beautiful country with a complex history. The rich colors, textures and patterns took my breath away. We went on safari in the Sabi Sands just outside of Kruger National Park where I was captivated by the wild life, the colors and the people we met. My goal with this collection was to share a little of the wonder that is South Africa.
EBONY: You’re also a wardrobe stylist. Was the transition from fashion to stationery a natural move for you? How important is fashion to Effie's Paper?
KJC: Odd as it may seem, the transition from fashion to stationery was perfectly natural for me. A stylish individual not only dresses fashionably, everything about her is stylish. This is something I drill into my clients. Carrying a beautiful handbag may make you look stylish, but if the wallet inside is in tatters, then you've really just put lipstick on a pig. Note, I didn't say an expensive handbag, I said stylish. Being stylish is something that should filter through all aspects of your life. So reviving the tradition of sending hand-written notes, having a set of stylish notecards, or giving them as a gift, is a part of that lifestyle. In essence, I view using stationery as an extension of one's personal style.
EBONY: Can you tell us more about your popular blog Possess Your STYLE? How long have you been blogging?
KJC: I started writing Possess Your STYLE about two and half years ago as a way to provide style tips to my clients and keep them abreast of the latest trends. I try to provide useful information and in return, I have had the opportunity to build up a sizable online following I interact with regularly. The blog has proved to be a wonderful calling card and a great way for me to connect with my readers. In addition, it's been a fantastic platform and a way for individual clients, as well as corporate clients, to learn about my personal style and my approach style as lifestyle.
EBONY: What's a day in the life for you as founder and creative director of Effie's Paper?
KJC: It's never the same day twice! Have you seen that Staples commercial with Dave the red hair guy who's juggling every aspect of his business? That's me. I like to think of it as organized chaos. My days are spent designing stationery, looking at color charts, fulfilling orders, interacting with potential clients, keeping track of inventory, thinking about vendor booth designs, preparing for events where Effie's Paper is going to be sold, writing blog posts, photographing products, reviewing samples, sending out press releases, worrying about the bottom line, making sure the language in the shopping cart is uniform, not to mention being active on social media. It's never a dull moment and there's always more that can be done, but I try to maintain some balance and remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. I'm very lucky in that I have a couple of great assistants who pitch in regularly; they are very good at some of the things I'm not so good at. It's all juggling act, but at the end of the day, I truly love what I do.
EBONY: What are your ultimate goals for Effie's Paper? Do you see an online store or designer collaboration in the future?
KJC: In the short-term, I want Effie's Paper to become the go-to stationery company for those in the know. We make beautiful quality products that are sophisticated yet fun. In the long term, I want to be in a position to license our designs and work with some furniture and design houses that I admire. Our next territory is textiles. I am excited about the prospect of seeing our designs on wallpaper, pillows and upholstery fabric. Don't you think our Anguilla pattern would look cool on a Kartell Mademoiselle Chair?
—Geneva S. Thomas