Rain threatens once more here in already-soggy Nor Cal. As the gathering clouds throw darkness across my laptop’s screen, a quick search shows it’s 80 degrees in Florida, the subject of today’s post. Scrolling through the 45 manufacturers listed on Made in Florida, I debate which product to feature: Tropicana orange juice? ValPak coupons? How about defense weaponry and aerospace systems? But…it’s early spring, and it’s Sunday. I don’t want to discuss machine tools, skilled manufacturing or our country’s military industrial complex. So please, someone throw me a lifeline. A charming, whimsical Florida-made lifeline.
Thank you, Rifle Paper Company of Winter Garden, Florida. I needed that. More, please.
Wow. Nailed it again. Isn’t it amazing how two beautifully-imagined greeting cards can uplift and change one’s outlook? Here’s to Anna and Nathan Bond, the talented couple behind Rifle Paper Co.
Launched in 2009 as a boutique stationery brand, Rifle Paper quickly outgrew that category. Now an “international stationery and lifestyle brand,” as the Orlando Business Journal put it last year, the product possibilities are endless. Note cards, greeting cards, invitations, wrapping paper, journals; iPhone cases, wallpaper, fabrics, shoes and furniture, all featuring Anna’s original designs. “We want to be as diversified as possible,” Anna Bond explained to Inc.com in 2015, “so if our economy softens, then we have a strong customer base in, for instance, Sweden and Japan.” Clearly, the strategy’s working.
In 2014, Rifle Paper sold 2.8 million greeting cards in 36 different countries and 5,000 stores all over the globe. As of last June (2016), earnings were expected to exceed $20 million.
In the beginning–in 2006, light years ago in the digital age–Anna, graphic design degree under her fashion-forward belt, moved from New Jersey to Florida to take a job as senior art director for Relevant Magazine. In a 2013 presentation for Creative Mornings Orlando (posted on YouTube) she laughs about that first big job, still baffled as to how she landed it at age 21. She says it taught her “how to work in a fast pace and get things done and not completely worry about whether it was the greatest thing I’d ever done.” After a year she left to do freelance illustration. “As long as I paid my rent, I was perfectly happy.”
Enter Nathan Bond (son of James Bond, a former insurance agent whose “office number always ended in 007,” says the Orlando Sentinel). Anna had met Nathan shortly after moving to Florida. Lead singer/guitarist /composer for Band Marino–a popular, four-piece indie rock band based in Orlando–Nathan had left college to pursue his music dreams. When the band needed posters, Anna saw a creative opportunity. “Each poster was an experiment to figure out what I wanted to do.” Her posters were an immediate hit.
In 2008, as the couple planned their wedding, Anna designed the invite. Her “aha” moment arrived. “It just kind of clicked. It was the perfect mix of illustration and design and product that I was looking for.”
As word of Anna’s hand-painted wedding invitations spread across Florida, requests flooded her email inbox. “I was about to curl up in a ball and ignore all those people,” Anna admits to the Creative Mornings audience. Nathan, who’d passed up earlier opportunities related to his music that he’d later regretted, knew Anna should go for it. Putting his music aside, he stepped in to help. “Our dining room table became our print station,” Anna recalls. “And it just went from there. About six months later we launched Rifle Paper Company with a full line of stationery.”
The quirky brand name was chosen on impulse. Anna liked that it was short and “didn’t have anything to do with what I was doing.” Once they made the decision to launch, their lives completely changed. “That first year we worked 7 days a week, 15 hours a day…we probably lost most of our friends that year…sleep, go to work, solve problems…it didn’t really seem crazy at the time because we loved it.”
Their first big break? Anthropologie. The retailer needed thousands of Rifle Paper Co. cards ASAP. “We weren’t ready, but if someone like that contacts you, you realize you have one shot and you figure out how to make it happen.” They learned by doing. They knew nothing about printing on that scale; nothing about folding machines or how to ship product. “Google was our best friend.”
One step at a time, the inexperienced co-founders met their deadline. The rest is history. In 2015 Vanity Fair named Rifle Paper Company “The Most Popular Stationer on the Internet.” That same year Nathan Bond, musician-turned-CEO, made Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list of “today’s greatest gathering of young game changers, movers and makers.” Anna Bond, creative director / CCO, was named one of ADC’s prestigious Young Guns.
But here’s my favorite part of the story: Rifle Paper Company offers proof that handwritten notes and thoughtful greeting cards still have roles in our lives. We still need and want to connect–especially in this digitized world–in a more personal way. When Anna Bond was about eight years old, she and a pen pal from Japan would send letters to each other. The incoming missives to Anna from that faraway land were written on the most beautiful notecards and stationery Anna had ever seen. The joy they brought her stayed with her, bubbling up decades later as she designed her own cards and stationery for others to give.
Today, according to Rifle Paper Co.’s website, “over 900 products are designed by Anna and feature her signature hand-painted illustrations, vibrant color palette, and whimsical tone.” The company employs over 200 people in Florida. Its products are available online and in retailers like Anthropologie, Paper Source and Barnes & Noble. In an email the company confirmed that while most of its product line is either printed in-house or produced locally in Winter Park, FL., some of its products are outsourced within the USA or internationally. The company’s in the process of compiling a list of products that are fully manufactured and printed in Florida.
Earlier in the week, I visited Anthropologie and bought a Rifle Paper Co. notepad. “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together,” Van Gogh reminds me, his words surrounded by Anna’s signature flowers and greenery. The message on the back of the notepad is equally impressive.
As Rifle Paper grows, its overseas manufacturing will undoubtedly expand as well. But with consumer input about the importance of keeping jobs and manufacturing in the USA, let’s hope that Anna and Nathan Bond will continue to make their greeting cards, notepads, art prints and wrapping paper here. And kudos to them for creating gorgeous products that encourage each of us to put pen to paper and say hello.
Next up: Georgia.