Mia Semingson of Two Hands Paperie Talks About the History of Store, and What's Coming Up Next

In this Stickers on the Mic episode, Megan chats with Mia Semingson, the owner of Two Hands Paperie, a paper and book binding store on Pearl Street in Boulder, CO. Tune in to hear about the history of this store, their new brand Two Hands Made, and some of the fun things you can find in this unique store made for makers.

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Welcome to the Stickers On The Mic podcast brought to you by stickergiant.com, where we talk with our customers about how they started their business, how they’re marketing their brand and how they’re growing their company. If you’re joining us for the first time, welcome, and if you’re a regular listener thank you for your continued support. Without further ado, it’s time for the Stickers On The Mic podcast from Sticker Giant. Let’s get on with the show.

[00:00:39] Megan: Hey everybody, welcome back to the Stickers On The Mic podcast. I’m Megan, and I’ll be your host for today. I’m on the marketing team with the rest of our podcast crew. I am very fortunate today to be able to welcome a very special guest, Mia Semingson. The owner of Two Hands Paperie in Boulder, Colorado. Mia, why don’t we kick things off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself and Two Hands Paperie.

[00:01:03] Mia Semingson: Sure, thanks so much, Megan. It’s such a pleasure to be here and such an honor, really, because I’m so excited about stickers and incorporating them into my business. I have a paper store in Boulder, and it’s been in Boulder for 26 years. A stationery store. We sell paper from all over the world, stationery, journals, notebooks, high-end pens, such as fountain pens, and roller balls. Art pens and colored pencils, things like that, and we also offer classes.

Yes, it’s just so exciting that people actually still love to write and use analog tools in this crazy digital world that we live in. My husband and I bought the business 10 years ago, and we bought it from a woman, Diana Phillips, who started this store. It was a bindery. She was a bookbinder and she had a very small little studio space that she was renting. It was just around the corner from our location right now.

She needed a name for- not her website [laughs] for the phonebook, and she made everything with her own two hands. That’s how she came up with the name Two Hands Paperie initially. She quickly grew out of her tiny little space. It was probably I don’t know what the square footage was but it was maybe like 400 square feet or something. It was pretty small.

[00:02:40] Megan: Yes, and it’s much bigger now.

[00:02:41] Mia: Yes, it’s much bigger. We’re 2,000 square feet. It really grew, but what she quickly realized was that she could make a little bit more money selling other people’s products in addition to her own. Her products grew from there, and she had a friend who had a paper company and they sold large sheets of decorative paper. A lot of it mostly, made in Thailand.

She brought one little rack of paper in on consignment and it grew from there and now we probably have-- Gosh, I haven’t counted but maybe 40 racks of paper. Maybe more, I’m not really sure. With 12 to 15 rows on a rack so that’s a lot of paper that we now have. She started out just as one small maker and then the business grew from there. She unfortunately, stopped making her own products and really just focused on selling other people’s products.

Since we bought it 10 years ago, now we are really starting to focus on making our own products to sell in the store again- of course, still selling other people’s amazing products but it's like, “Well, why aren’t we doing this ourselves?” One of the things that we recently made were our stickers from StickerGiant.

[00:04:08] Megan: There are some amazing designs. Knowing that you’re in the world of stationery with the store, what is your background that led you into buying the store and building your relationship with the world of stationery and bookbinding?

[00:04:24] Mia: Yes so I have a fine arts background. I studied mostly photography, and actually jewelry making in undergrad. I went to school in Northern California and had the opportunity to work with some amazing teachers. One of my teachers, his name is David LaPlantz and he was my metal-smithing professor. His wife was writing a book called Cover to Cover at the time, and it’s a book about bookbinding and creating artist books.

I had never heard of what an artist book was, and I went and sat in on a lecture by her and she opened my world. I didn’t know that people were making books that were more about conceptually creating the structure of a book, and how the structure of a book could actually support the content of the book inside, and that can take on so many different forms. Forms that don’t even look like what you think a book is, in your mind.

I heard her speak, and when her book came out of course I bought it. I started making books on my own and experimenting with bookbinding. Then I went to graduate school and that’s how I came to Colorado, and I studied photography at the University of Colorado in Boulder and started making books in grad school. I ended up taking a screen printing class and one of our assignments was to create a notebook. Make a notebook for our class to store our samples and notes and things.

That’s how I found Two Hands Paperie, so that was in- the store opened in 1993 and I came to Boulder in 1995. I went to the store and bought some supplies and was completely enchanted. I’d never been in a little space like that and really it was nothing like we are today. It was like literally a few rows of paper and a few racks of ribbon and thread. There was a little workshop in the back and it just was enchanting to me.

Anyway, I survived grad school. Got through grad school, taught-- Was really on the University teaching track, so I moved to Baltimore of all places for a year, and taught in Baltimore. Then I ended up moving back to Colorado and teaching at the University of Colorado for 11 years. During that time, I ended up starting to work at Two Hands Paperie and I apprenticed with Diana, and she started making books again because I was super interested.

I got to learn some fine binding techniques with her and do a little repair and restoration, and then I eventually opened up my own studio at my house. I was still teaching, but I was also doing wedding photography. [laughs] Which thankfully I do not do anymore. Then doing custom binding for people. I did a lot of work for students who- like students at the art institute in Denver who needed to do photo portfolios of their work as part of their graduation.

Somehow those became my clients. I also worked with a lot of wedding photographers doing custom albums. Sorry, this is a long story, but I went into Two Hands when I had stopped working there just to say hi, and Diana said she was going to be closing the store. I just couldn’t imagine Boulder without Two Hands. It’s just to me it was just an institution.

It’s like how McGuckin's Hardware is an institution. When people come they’re like, “I go to your store and I go to McGuckin's.” [laughs] Who goes to a hardware store when they’re visiting? It just seems so crazy, but that’s the truth. I said, “Well, would you sell it?” When she said she was closing I thought she was going out of business. This was 2009 when things were not so great and she said, “Well, maybe to you,” so that was November of 2009 and my husband and I bought it January 1st, of 2010. I had--

[00:08:39] Megan: You just made that happen.

[00:08:40] Mia: Yes! I had to finish out the year of teaching- and it was quite a year. It was quite a year, so yes. Now that's been 10 years and it’s been quite a whirlwind and a big learning curve of- worked in retail for many many years. Started working retail when I was I think 16 years old, but it’s really different coming from an owner perspective. It’s a different responsibility, hiring employees, having a budget, figuring out what is going to sell in your store, and looking at trends and how those trends change.

You know kind of being ahead of the game in some ways. It’s been a real learning curve for me, but also a lot of fun. I love what I do, and I just got back from New York on a buying trip and that’s always so much fun. I feel really lucky I get to shop in some ways for my job. [laughs]

[00:09:44] Megan: I imagine that that’s a lot of fun. I remember working retail and seeing the things that would get sent back from some of those shows. I know that’s probably one of the ways you’re finding those gifts and different pieces of merchandise for your store that you’re not making.

[00:09:57] Mia: Yes.

[00:09:58] Megan: Tell us a little bit more about that experience.

[00:10:01] Mia: The things that we're not making?

[00:10:03] Megan: Yes, sourcing those, going to the trade show, and what are things that you look for?

[00:10:10] Mia: This time it was an interesting trade show for me because normally since it's February right now, normally when I go to trade shows, it's in the summer time typically, so I'm really shopping for holiday. I start shopping for holiday in the summertime, and I'm ordering into- things are being shipped through December, sometimes into January, but really it's that holiday crazy season what I'm shopping for.

Right now it was really fun to go and just shop for things that just sparked an interest. It wasn't like I really needed to buy anything, but I was really looking for what was new and what was exciting to me, and those things-- Right now enamel pins are huge right now, but so are other pins. I found a lot of hand embroidered pins that are really beautiful, made by two different companies that have been selling really well in our store. The other thing that's really new, which is very different from paper and stationary, is bandanas. Bandanas are huge right now. Bandanas and tea towels--

[00:11:28] Megan: I've seen the tea towels. Crazy. Things just come back into style.

[00:11:34] Mia: That's been exciting, and of course when I go to shows, I'm always buying cards and stationary. I'm always looking for people that are doing new things that I haven't seen before versus things that are just, people are repeating what is popular. Anything that breaks outside of what is current, what is in right now is really exciting. Looking for new things, and I have to say stickers were a huge thing to see at the show this year. People had- one woman I saw had a booth and pretty much what she was selling was all stickers. That was new to see how much vinyl stickers are in, and what is for sale, what is out there right now.

[00:12:25] Megan: All the different ways people are using them. I know you've started using them with your Make My Notebook line that is- you own that line, right?

[00:12:36] Mia: Yes. I'm in the habit of buying businesses for some reason, but two years ago we bought a little Denver business called Make My Notebook, which has also been around for maybe 8 to 10 years. It's a screen-printed notebook line. We actually do all the screen-printing in my little studio.

The idea is that you get to choose what cover you want. You get to choose what paper you want on the inside, whether it's lined or sketch or DocGrid or an undated planner. Then you get to choose what color coil you want, and we bind it on demand. When we first started carrying the line at Two Hands Paperie we were the first store to carry those pieces. Basically the notebook design lab, I guess you could call it.

[00:13:30] Megan: It certainly feels like that when you're looking at all of the pieces and trying to put it together.

[00:13:34] Mia: Yes. It's like you had- get a hands on experience even though your choices are kind of limited, but you get to design something that feels right for you. We bought that store two years ago, and with it some really great designs that we were super excited about and that slowly I thought, well, why not make some other things besides these notebooks with the products.

That's one of the things we started doing was making cards out of some of the designs and then we- and those we just have digitally printed, we're not screen-printing those. Those we have printed locally and then we started making stickers with some of the designs too. That's been fun, to see those designs inhabit other or take on other forms or structures or uses I should say. Take on a life of their own, I guess.

[00:14:33] Megan: Travel with your customers when they take them home in different ways, because a journal is going to travel with someone in a different way than a sticker on their water bottle or their laptop, that will resonate with them differently as well. When you're having these things printed like your cards and I know you're doing the screen-printing on the journals, but what are some of those things that you look for when deciding on where to source that service and the printing?

[00:14:58] Mia: One of the big things that is super important to us is one, to find as many things local, and that can be a little bit tricky, so it was really important for me to work with a printer that is in Colorado and also that we don't necessarily have to pay for shipping. I can actually walk to my printer’s business location because they're just down the street from where I live.

If I need to go and proof something, I can actually walk and pick up the proof versus drive or have it shipped over and that's not the case for everything that we make of course, but we do try and source things locally as much as possible. The other big thing for us is if we can't make it locally, trying to find things that are at least sourced in the US, to support other small businesses in the US that creating products.

For instance, all our notebook paper is made in the US, our printed paper is 100% post-consumer waste, which is also very, very important to me, which is very different than just recycled paper. Post-consumer waste means that it went into your recycle bin and gets created into something else versus- recycled paper from my understanding is that it's really just at the end of that paper making process, that there's materials leftover and they're just going and making something else out of that.

It's a different process. When you buy something that's post-consumer waste it's actually much better than just recycled. It's kind of like, in my mind how natural and organic are two very different terms. They mean very different things. It's the same thing.

[00:16:54] Megan: That makes sense.

[00:16:55] Mia: Having something that's been made out of something else is very important to me, and it can drive up the price just a little bit. We're not a Moleskine notebook that is made in China, which has its- a great function and a great use, but it's a different thing that you're buying. It's not the same thing. Part of it is also just educating people when they come in the store when they're looking for our product.

A lot of people say, "Is it recycled?" and it's like, "What do you mean by that?" If recycled is really important to you maybe let's look at some other options and let's talk about what your definition of recycled is, because people may not understand what the difference is. I think we got off topic, but- [laughs] in a roundabout way. Just finding things, coming back to just how I make choices is just making sure that if I buy something, it's one, from locally sourced and if that can't happen that it's ideally made in the US, which is not always the case.

There are some papers that we're using in some of our stationary and now on our notebooks that are not US made, but they are made by like a women's collective in Bangladesh, and what they are doing is also very good. Having that story as a part of the product also is important to me as well.

[00:18:27] Megan: In the world of handmade papers, from what I understand some of it, you're sourcing it from other countries because that might be the only place they're really making it with a technique they've been using for thousands of years. You won't really be able to find it from another source. Not that you're trying to outsource it per se, but you're just trying to find the best source for it, and it's the original source.

[00:18:51] Mia: [laughs] Exactly. Yes, definitely.

[00:18:55] Megan: Wonderful. With all of the brands that you seem to keep buying, it sounds like from what we were talking about the other day when we were at your shop, you’re doing so little bit of rebranding with that and introducing something new. I know the stickers have “Two Hands Made” on them. We were looking at those.

[00:19:14] Mia: This is something I've been struggling with in my mind, because we have Two Hands Paperie which is really important to me, so many people know the shop through Two Hands Paperie. Then we have this new company, Make My Notebook, which really describes what the process is, but to me it doesn't really represent what the brand, in terms of where I want to take it next.

I was racking my brain and racking my brain and finally I was like, "What about Two Hands Made?" Because that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to create our own brand. It also references- not that everything is handmade. I don't necessarily have my hand on the making of everything. Like your stickers, I did not make your stickers. You made the stickers for us. Yes, I really wanted it to represent more than just notebooks and more than just stationary.

We did Two Hands Made, and it's paperie and bindery. It kind of encompasses everything. Right now, we're just introducing the products really slowly into the shop as they're created. We just started putting them out there with that brand on them. It references the store and it references the products. It has like a bit of a larger umbrella, in terms of what is being produced because again, we're not just notebooks anymore.

[00:20:44] Megan: Yes, it allows you to bring more options to your customers. While we might be printing the stickers, you and your designer are the ones putting your hands to the designs and creating the artwork and bringing that to life, because really that's the heart of creating anything in the printed world, from notebooks to stickers is the design first and then bringing it to life and in a printed form. That’s a huge, huge part of it.

[00:21:10] Mia: It's been really fun, I think to just get to play with some of the designs and test things out. I don't feel like I have to make such a huge commitment. I'm not ordering thousands and thousands of things yet. I might order a thousand cards total, for instance, but I may only order 40 of one design just to see how things sell in the shop. Actually, this holiday, I had a holiday card and literally, I sold three of them.

That was a good indicator, hey, this is not something we want to continue with, but then, we had another design and we sold out. It was great that I could test those things out and not feel this huge commitment to thousands of things, pieces that are just going to-- I don't know, I'm going to give them away or yes, who knows where they would go but yes, if no one wants them.

[00:22:03] Megan: Let them just linger in inventory year after year and regretfully count them. It's nice that you can piece that out and it's always funny to me. Some of the things we think are going to sell and be really popular turn out to be the ones that we only sell three of and vice versa. I've seen some of the designs I'm like, “Okay, they say it's really popular, but we'll see. I'm not really a fan of it, but" people love it. You just go through it over and over and over and have to repeatedly reinvest in that stock.

[00:22:37] Mia: Yes. Well, and that happened to me when I bought your stickers. We started out with nine designs, and not that the designs are bad, but one of them was just too small when I ordered it. I didn't realize that. I was looking at my ruler and figuring out, “Okay, this is going to be the size,” and then when I got it, it just wasn't big enough in my mind. We're still selling it and actually I'm going to give them away on Valentine's Day as customer gifts, and I still think it's a great design. Next time I order it, it'll just be a little bit larger. It's good to kind of test things out that way too.

[00:23:15] Megan: That's one of the beauties of designing your own things. You can change the size and make adjustments to fit your needs as you go through it and learn from what's working and what's not working.

[00:23:24] Mia: Yes, exactly.

[00:23:27] Megan: Well, it sounds like there's a lot of great things ahead for Two Hands Paperie and Two Hands Made. Is there anything else that you want to share and let our listeners know about?

[00:23:39] Mia: Just going back to the Two Hands Made. I think for me, it just feels like in this next chapter of how the store started out as a bindery and Diana making her own products, and then expanding from there. It's really exciting for me as an artist. Although I'm not an exhibiting artist anymore, my creative energy gets to go into making these new products. I get to test them out.

I have this amazing space to test out my ideas, and I feel so thankful for that because I know so many makers out there. Just making their products and trying to get them out in the world and they don't necessarily know how they're going to be. I have this luxury in some ways of having the space where I get to try them out and see what sells and be creative in a different way. The makers market is huge right now.

There's so many small makers out there, really kind of hustling their wares and it's so exciting to see that. I get to be now, a part of that and see things from a different perspective. I've been a buyer for so long for the store but now, I get to also be on the maker side of things and wow, I have a whole new appreciation for that side. Even to how I deal with people who contact me and want me to look at their work and consider them for bringing into the shop because I'm going to be on that side soon enough.

Where I'm going to be contacting other people to say, “Hey, I have Two Hands Made and would you be interested in selling my products in your store?” To me, it's an interesting observation or a perspective that is new for me. Yes, like I said, just being creative in a different way and kind of hustling my wares in a different way than I have been used to. That’s what's next for me, is developing this whole new wholesale line so other people can carry what we're creating in their shops. Yes, that’s the next step.

[00:25:51] Megan: It sounds like a wonderful new adventure. I’m really excited.

[00:25:55] Mia: Super excited. Thank you.

[00:25:57] Megan: I know I will be really excited when I walk into a store and see one of Two Hands Made products sitting there.

[00:26:02] Mia: Thank you.

[00:26:03] Megan: “Oh, I know them, yay.” For all of our listeners, can you do a nice little shout out and let them know, how can they find Two Hands Paperie, go walk through the store and even online and maybe some of your social handles?

[00:26:18] Mia: Yes. We are Two Hands Paperie. Our retail store is on Pearl Street in Boulder. We're at 803 Pearl, and a lot of people- even though we've been in that neighborhood for 26 years, we have a lot of locals who come in and they're like, “I didn't know you were here,” because we are on the West End of Pearl. We're a little off the beaten path in terms of where all the tourists tend to go, which is the Pearl Street Mall.

Actually, we love being on the West End, it's a great community out there and it's easier to park, I have to say. We appreciate that. We're on, yes, the West End of Pearl Street and then social media, we're just @twohandspaperie and that’s spelled all the way out T-W-O H-A-N-D-S P-A-P-E-R-I-E. Two Hands Paperie, and we're on Facebook, and Instagram. Then we also have Make My Notebook, which is also on Facebook and Instagram. I have to say we're most active on Instagram.

[00:27:24] Megan: Makes sense. Very visual product, I’m sure you can get so many amazing pictures just walking into the store.

[00:27:31] Mia: Yes.

[00:27:31] Megan: Greeted by so much color.

[00:27:33] Mia: Yes. Then, of course, our websites are just twohandspaperie.com and makemynotebook.com.

[00:27:40] Megan: Wonderful. Well, for all of our listeners, if you're in the Boulder area, make sure you go and check out the store. If you don't have a chance to make it this way, definitely jump online and see what Two Hands Paperie and Make My Notebook along the Two Hands Made is up to.

[00:27:56] Mia: Thank you.

[00:27:57] Megan: Mia, thank you so much for joining us today.

[00:27:59] Mia: Thank you so much Megan, it's been a pleasure.

[00:28:01] Megan: It has definitely been a pleasure.

[00:28:07] Announcer: That wraps up this episode of Stickers on the Mic, brought to you by stickergiant.com. You can download us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play SoundCloud or your favorite podcatcher. If you enjoy what you're hearing, please leave us a review. It helps us reach new listeners and share our customers’ sticker stories. If you're inspired to create your own stickers or labels, head over to stickergiant.com to check out our options and use the coupon podcast to take 20% off your first item. Thanks again for listening to Stickers on the Mic.

[00:28:51] [END OF AUDIO]


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