Lately, I feel as though I've been having the most soul-opening, mind-churning conversations with people. Good old fashioned, face-to-face, in-depth chats with interesting individuals is probably my favourite thing in the entire world. I always leave these talks with a chemical body high that I don't think any drug could reproduce. Everyone has the most fascinating stories and unique perspective. I love hearing it all, eating it up and spoon-feeding the little village I imagine puttering around my brain.
Lexi McKenna and Beckee Kavanagh of Paper & Poste were no exception. I don't even know if they realized it at the time but their words and thoughts expanded yet another unexplored corridor of my cranium.
I think my favourite part might be the mark that they hope to leave behind on the world.
You can read the interview with Normale Magazine HERE :)
There was so much juicy goodness that you can also see the FULL interview below.
Long live the written word! Print is not dead! Hear ye for snail mail!
My old soul seeks solace in these sentiments as I pen pieces by hand, labour over handwritten letters, craft homemade cards, and scribble notes in the margins of magazines, newspapers and novels.
Lucky for me I’m not the only one motivated by these mottos. Lexi McKenna and Beckee Kavanagh of Paper & Poste, a Toronto stationary studio specializing in custom and letterpress design, are a talented duo dedicated to the craft of creation.
On their 5th anniversary I sat down with the team-of-two to discuss how they balance being the artistic brains behind their fully owned operation, the importance of supporting women, and how they’re drawing their own path.
How was Paper & Poste born?
Beckee: I started working at The Paper Place around the corner while I was at George Brown. I specialized in corporate design which is basically branding businesses and companies. It comes into play hugely now because we’re essentially branding a couple for their wedding. I feel like that set me up for what I ended up doing without even realizing it. When I graduated in 2008, I was going to take my portfolio and go get a design job at a firm, which I thought was naturally the next step for me.
At the time at The Paper Place we were turning away people who didn’t want to do DIY invitations, they wanted someone else to create it for them. The owner Heather and I had this idea to open up a separate space, a full-service product for invitations, where we could send those people. We started Paper & Poste with no idea what it would become. We just went for it.
How did you and Lexi come to run and own the business as a dynamic duo?
Beckee: The original owner had been running The Paper Place for seven years and from the beginning she let me decide what Paper & Poste was going to be and to handle all of the day-to-day. After awhile she was focusing more on the retail store and I was drowning. I was running all the appointments and every single client was mine. So I said we need an intern and…
Lexi: Enter Lex! [laughs]
I started interning in 2011, the summer between third and fourth year while I was doing the Fashion Communication program at Ryerson. There’s obviously a fashion specific vein that goes through it but I took photography courses, typography, graphic design, and illustration so throughout my four years I figured out that I wanted to do more of the graphic design versus the fashion stuff that I originally thought I wanted to do.
Beckee: After three or four months I knew I couldn’t go back to not having her. When she graduated school it was immediate for her to work full time because we had that many clients. Since then it’s been just us two doing it!
Lexi: We were so young when we first started that it was very much an internship where I felt like I had a job as soon as I got here. It wasn’t like I was getting coffee. There was real responsibility as soon as I came in. We started to grow so quickly and take on more and more clients that there wasn’t any other option but to throw me into the fire.
Beckee: With the natural transition, [Heather] decided to sell us the business last January 2015. Finally something that we built for this long is actually ours. Now we’re not just working for the business, it is our business.
Do you find that being full business owners has shifted your mentality?
Beckee: Definitely. It’s a different vibe. For me I’ve always had a sense of ownership since I started this business but I could never say it was fully mine. Now it’s just getting the recognition that we deserve for being the designers, the creative thinkers and the force behind all of this.
Lexi: It very much felt like a natural progression. We were taking on more and more responsibility as the business got busier. Since we’re such a referral-based industry, we work with so many wedding planners who send us clients. To them and to most of our clients, there was never any difference. We were the faces that they saw, we were the people that they were talking to and trusted. For me it was way more of a mental switch. The level of accountability is a big adjustment. Being able to take credit for everything that we do and being able to make business decisions of how we want to grow and what direction we want to take it in is so exciting. This is our name whether we do something amazing and also if something goes horribly. You’re in it to win it or you’re in it to lose it all so the stakes are higher.
Are you proud of the work you produce as a team?
Lexi: 100%. And it’s not just complimenting each other’s work, which we do as well, but it’s a matter of starting to self-realize that we are here doing something that we love to do, we’re good at it, and we’re successful at it. And it’s okay to say those things.
Beckee: Sometimes we’ll be dealing with a Bridezilla and then we’ll have another one of our clients say “Wow, you’ve blown me away with what you did!” We are making stuff for somebody’s most important event of their life so it can be a lot of pressure. When we have people tell us how happy they are with our work it’s a good reminder that we are doing something really important: making people very happy.
Lexi: It’s important to soak that in. I think we tend to brush those things off sometimes, like “oh that’s nice” - but no that’s a real thing that you’ve affected someone’s life that way. The fact that we’re doing this and doing a good job at it is something we have to start reminding ourselves more, because no one’s going to tell us that, especially as women in a creative industry.
When you think of the wedding industry it’s stereotypically female-centric. Do you find it empowering to work in this industry?
Lexi: We were at a shoot a couple weeks ago and there was a moment when we looked around and everyone there was probably a female under 30 – who all own their own business. I thought look at this girl squad we have going on. How cool is this that we are in an industry where that is the case? It’s very creative and people are working for themselves. It’s inspiring to have those people around you doing the same thing. Just to have that presence of strong, likeminded individuals that happen to be female is amazing. That isn’t to say that there aren’t fantastic male vendors too.
Did you ever have self-doubt about pursuing a creative path?
Lexi: For sure. In high school I was confused as to why everyone else had an idea of what to do and I didn’t. How am I 16 and I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life? That feels absolutely insane.
It never occurred to me that drawing, as a small form of what we do now, was a viable education and career option. It felt like at the time there’s only five different “career paths” that you can take that all of your friends are sort of doing. After some thought I ended up taking a year off, discovered the Ryerson program and worked while making my portfolio the best it could be.
That was a big deal. Thinking about it now it seems funny because I’ve made so many great friends here in Toronto but I was a very anxious kid, I’m still an anxious person, and I remember that not knowing, and feeling like everyone else knew, was horrible. It was such an anxiety-ridden year. Even going into a creative program felt like I was steering from the path.
Beckee: My Mom is a fine artist and she went to George Brown for graphic design in the 70s. From the moment I could pick up a pen they realized I got her genes as the creative one and my sister, well, wasn’t [laughs]. When I was young my mom taught art classes in our house to kids in the neighbourhood. It was called “Home Studio” and we’d have little art shows.
Granted now-a-days if you asked Lex and I to draw the same picture, mine would look like crap and hers would look amazing but those were my fundamentals. I can do anything on a computer but by hand is another story.
Even when I was in high school Photoshop was just becoming a thing. I think now it’s a lot clearer what a career in graphic design looks like. Back then it was called like “art on computers.” But I knew that the computer would be the future.
Now that you’ve carved your own path, do you find it personally and financially rewarding?
Lexi: I think in most creative industries, there’s a ceiling for how much money you’re going to make. It’s never been my goal to make a bazillion dollars but it’s something you think about especially living in a city that’s as expensive as Toronto. So THIS has been amazing because it’s an opportunity for whatever our goals are, THAT’S the new ceiling of how much we could make. That’s the new ceiling of how successful we can be in a lot of ways. We get to draw our own path. As hard as we work, that’s going to be represented in how successful we are which isn’t always the case in most creative industries. We’re doing something we love that we’re passionate about and we also have the opportunity to make our own goals for how big we want this to be. We have this amazing combination of both and it’s up to us what we decide to do with it.
Do you feel like luck and hard work played a part in getting you to where you are today?
Beckee: I feel really lucky to be where I am.
Lexi: We shouldn’t put too much emphasis on luck because I think that’s a typical thing that females do - is to blame it on luck.
Beckee: It started with luck in that we had the support to make this business but our hard work has made the business what it is today.
Lexi: I think it is life giving us an opportunity and it’s up to us how we decide to accept that opportunity. From the female perspective, I catch myself at times where I feel like I’m almost faking it. I just think we can’t possibly be this young, doing something we love and doing this well. It just feels like everything is going too right.
Or when I get praise from people: “I can’t believe you have your own business and you’re doing this, it’s so amazing!” I almost don’t believe it sometimes. We constantly remind each other how amazing it is what we’re doing.
I think a male person in our position might accept that and agree that they’re doing a great job and that they worked so hard for this and that’s a difficult thing I think for women to say. There aren’t as many people in their industry telling them they’re doing such a great job and giving them praise so it’s important we do that for each other, especially because there’s two of us.
What mark do you hope to leave behind in this world?
Beckee: Everything I do in my life not only affects myself but others around me. I want to affect other people positively and to inspire them. I currently work in a field where my actions directly create other people's happiness, and this is what I love to do. I am important, but affecting other people's lives in a positive way brings joy and purpose to me and solidifies my endeavours. It makes it all worth it! I want others to think of me and smile, because what I've helped them create or achieve is something they wouldn't want any other way.
Lexi: This is going to sound a bit bold, and maybe a bit naive, but I believe that creative minds are one of the world's most untapped resources. Creative learners inherently take different routes to solve problems, and interpret problems from different angles and perspectives than most, so they'll likely find - or even better, construct - a new way to solve a problem than the method that is being taught to them. What insanely valuable skills to have!
Can you imagine what a kid could do if those skills were honed when they were in elementary school? The opportunities to make an impact on the world once grown up would be very real. And sure, being a creative learner is far more nature vs. nurture, but what's even more amazing is that the ability to think creatively is something that can be introduced and strengthened through music, fine art, dance and drama programs in schools.
The less amazing part is that these are the programs that often experience budget cuts more than any other. Of course young creative minds are going to have a hard time picturing their talents translating in to a successful career, when they've basically been shown throughout their schooling that the arts are so unimportant and undervalued that the next Miles Davis is likely dealing with a '1 trumpet to 3 students' ratio in his 9th grade music class.
I'm incredibly lucky to have had parents who put me in a ton of extra curricular art, dance and violin lessons just to make sure that my interest in the arts wasn't lost during gym class, and kudos to all the parents who do the same. However, I'm not blind to the fact that not every kid is lucky enough to a) have parents who value art, and b) parents who have the means to support that interest outside of school, which only increases the importance of arts in a standard curriculum.
Because I was lucky enough to have a rad set of parents who believed my doodles were maybe the start of some other artistic undertakings, I feel as though I have some responsibility now as a creative professional to pass that support down onto someone who maybe isn't receiving it elsewhere. I'm not sure who that person is yet, or on what scale I would go about it, but it's something I would be honoured to do.