CHELSEA SHUKOV AND JAMIE GROBECKER //
SUGAR PAPER LOS ANGELES
Was there a moment in your life when the lightbulb went off and you just knew
what you were going to do?
Yes and no. Jamie and I both became intrigued by letterpress at the same time. One thing led to another and we were suddenly experts in a very specific medium … but if you ask if we ever thought we’d grow up to be stationers? No, not exactly. Sugar Paper happened organically.
Sugar Paper has such a specific aesthetic, how did that come about?
Jamie and I both appreciate the beauty of simplicity. When we began the company in 2003, so much of what was out there was overdesigned to us. We loved the tactile quality of letterpress and wanted to marry that with simple, tasteful designs. One of the Sugar Paper mantras is “Simple is beautiful and quality matters.”
Once you knew you wanted to have your own stationery shop and online presence,
what steps did you take to make that a reality?
We took a leap of faith. We had been doing small jobs “on the side” and it became clear that our side job was becoming our main job. At the same time, we happened upon a vacant retail space next door to Clementine Bakery, one of our favorites. We called about the space and, two weeks later, the space was ours. It happened fast! Our website was the same. A good friend urged us to launch an online store soon after we opened. We contacted a designer friend of ours who designed the very first Sugar Paper site … We simply went for it. We worked hard, we worked really long hours but we didn’t know anything else so we just kept going. That’s another mantra of ours … Keep Going.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Trust your gut. It’s usually right.
What has surprised you about owning your own business?
How HARD it is. The level of commitment it requires is all-consuming. The myth that you own your own schedule, get to come and go as you please, is not how it goes at all. To do it well, you have to commit.
What hardships have you had along the way?
Launching the wholesale side of the business has been a challenge in terms of keeping pace with the growth. We’re growing much faster than we anticipated when we debuted the product line and keeping up with that growth requires a focused commitment. There is very little room for error when you’re shipping to accounts like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
What do you wish you would have known going into this?
That practice makes perfect. What we do requires a lot of very specific knowledge of paper colors and textures and how each material will affect the final product. When a custom order has been designed, approved and printed, and the outcome is not what you expected, it’s really hard to go back to the client and start over, in terms of both timing and expense. In order to be an expert in your field, it takes practice.
What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?
We try to keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day. We like to attack large goals by breaking them up into digestible pieces. One foot in front of the other allows us to not get overwhelmed by some of the huge tasks on our plate. We calendar out our year into very specific deadlines so that we are always executing on a plan rather than reacting to opportunities that arise. Slow and steady wins the race.
Highlight of your career so far?
Right now is a good moment in time. We just moved into a dreamy studio and we are working on collaborations with some of our favorite big-name companies, so it’s a pretty good time at Sugar Paper right now.
Best advice you’ve been given?
There is this great quote from Ira Glass. It’s from one of his stories called “What Nobody Tells
Beginners.” We love it.
“It’s going to take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just got to fight your way through.”
— Ira Glass
Top photo by Jen Wilbur, all other photos by Diana Relth