Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kansas City to LA via Tokyo

No, that’s not crazy flight routing. It’s the path some of my designs have taken to arrive on American desks.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some really quality people making really quality products from my designs, and near the top of that list is Gakken Sta:Ful, the stationery company from Japan who we met at Surtex 2011.

As I said a year ago, Gakken’s designers have created beautiful products based on my patterns and illustrations, and I am delighted by their understanding and honored by their preservation of my style even as they format and combine my patterns in their own unique and original way. It’s interesting to see how this visual “editing” process produces something that is distinctly new and Japanese in its sensibility--even with its American roots. And their commitment to quality and detail is outstanding.

Although intended mainly for the Japanese market (and sold under the trademark “Sheri Lynn,” which better fits their home market’s needs), the stationery Gakken has created is also distributed in America exclusively via Ginko Papers, a company that specializes in bringing Japanese stationery to the U.S.

After keeping an eye on the many Sheri Lynn-branded Gakken products that Ginko distributes for the past year or so, we recently introduced ourselves to Garin Hussenjian, who founded and operates Ginko in Los Angeles. I was eager to learn a little more about her background and what she’s envisioning for the future.

Garin Hussenjian
According to LinkedIn, you have degrees in both English and art. How did these experiences lead you to start a paper products company?

Garin: I’d like to think everything in life feeds into one another in some way. The links between my education and my company are not direct and clear, but knowing that education is a part of me must shape my outlook and aesthetic decisions all along the way.

Why did you decide to focus on Japanese stationery?

Garin: I have always loved Japanese culture and paper. I was three when I first encountered a Japanese children’s exhibit at the Boston Children’s Museum. A traditional Japanese room was recreated with tatami floors and bamboo accents. I took my shoes off, walked in, and didn’t want to leave! After many trips to Japan and collecting stationery--which I had done since I was a little girl--I knew I wanted to start a business that filled this stationery void in the States.

Do you think large retailers will ever carry products like these, or will they always be a “specialty shop” thing?

Garin: One of our best buyers is a large national chain called Blick Art Materials. They carry quite a bit of our letter sets, mini bags, and FunTape. I think we have been able to bring in low enough pricing to interest the bigger stores, but have a unique high-end product that remains the niche of the smaller, specialty shops.

How do you feel about the demand for pattern-driven stationery products vs. character-driven lines? Do you think America would ever embrace another Japanese character giant like Hello Kitty?

Garin: As a little girl, I loved the Sanrio line of characters, especially Hello Kitty! I am not sure how characters will do in the current market. Sanrio established a strong foothold in the US in the mid-1970s and has not let go. All other characters have become secondary to the Sanrio market. Between Disney’s characters and Sanrio, I am not sure there’s room for more.

How do you foresee growth on the direct-sales retail side of your website vs. the wholesale business?

Garin: We started as a retail website and after getting many, many wholesale requests, we finally added wholesale to our business. Since then, our wholesale sales have far surpassed our retail sales. We may eventually consider eliminating retail entirely and making the business entirely wholesale.

Garin, making new friends in the industry and seeing them prosper is one of the best parts of art licensing, and we wish you continued success with Ginko Papers. I look forward to developing new products with Gakken Sta:Ful that will help keep your pipeline filled with the beauty and mystique of Japan (and a little American inspiration) for years to come.

If you are in the business and attend the National Stationery Show or Surtex next week, be sure to visit the Ginko Papers booth (NSS booths 2657-2659) and the Sheri McCulley Studio (right next door at Surtex, booth 730).