A Nova Scotia entrepreneur is using her success and platform to create opportunities for artists in the province.
Stefanie MacDonald, owner and designer at Paper Hearts, launched her card company in Halifax in 2015.
“Paper Hearts is kind of squish-in-your-face cute. It’s known for being quirky and whimsical; we do a lot of puns,” said MacDonald.
She’s a self-taught designer who has been the creative mind behind all of Paper Hearts’ artwork since the company’s inception. Two and a half years into her new business, MacDonald decided to quit her corporate career and turn her self-described “side hustle” turned into a full-time job.
“We were approaching a hundred retailers that were carrying our stuff, and I started to get a bit of a desire to take it to a bigger level,” she said.
Today, Paper Hearts products can be found in more than 200 independent shops across Canada, and a year and a half ago, MacDonald inked a deal with Sobeys.
“It was really exciting. I think that sometimes we can put up these ideas in our mind about what it means to work with a large organization, and Sobeys is a little bit different, which is what I love about them,” she told Global News.
“They talked about wanting to buy first within the local community, whether it was produce or the things that we produce, and it really got me thinking. It was really inspiring to hear that even at a national level, they were still buying at a micro, local level, and that’s something that’s been really special about working with Sobeys.”
But with a much larger customer base and a lot of new eyes on her products, MacDonald realized her quirky cards just weren’t for everyone.
“I got to thinking: how could we access the needs of more of these customers? One of the ideas was maybe I don’t have to be the only artist creating the artwork for our cards,” said MacDonald.
And so, Paper Hearts Post Office was born, a new division of the company available exclusively at 18 Sobeys Atlantic locations in Nova Scotia.
“Essentially, what we’re calling it is a creative collective, and so we’re pulling from a talent pool of local artists in whatever market we’re in to create something that’s really special in-store,” said MacDonald.
“The concept is that we create fresh, local picks every season that come from a wide range of creatives.”
Artists from around the region can submit their work for the cards, and Paper Hearts will take care of the printing, packaging and distribution.
It’s been a huge step forward for Crystal Picard, owner and creative mind behind Hello Sweetie Paper & Co., which launched just one year ago.
“A lot of people are really talented, but they’re not sure how to get into the industry. They’re not sure if they’re good enough in their industry,” said Picard.
“So having somebody who’s at the level of Stefanie come in and say, ‘I believe in your product enough to put it in my stores and to invest in the time that it takes to pre-press it and get it ready to go into production,’ it’s really big for a young artist or a new artist to have somebody have that faith in them so they can have that faith in themselves.”
Picard says her Hello Sweetie Paper & Co. cards can be found in shops from Halifax to Vancouver. She says it’s “surreal” to see them now in a major retailer like Sobeys.
“I’m really excited for the first time my mom is maybe out shopping with her friends and she gets to pull a card off the shelf and show her friends,” she said.
“I work with a lot of smaller boutique stores — it’s sort of where my style fits really well — so I wouldn’t have had that opportunity had it not been for Paper Hearts Post Office.”
MacDonald is now putting the call out to other artists, hoping to grow Paper Hearts Post Office into a collective that is as diverse and inclusive as the work its artists produce and also to create more opportunities.
“When I get to see the look on an artist’s face when they see their cards in a Sobeys store for the first time, that feels really great,” said MacDonald.
“When you hear the feedback from the artists that they’ve gained opportunities that they may not have had before — or maybe they would have had but over a long period of time — nothing feels better than that.”