Three years ago on her summer break from college, Mindy Gayer was asked by a family friend to design some personal stationery for them.
With that initial design, Gayer stumbled into what proved to be a lucrative niche market: high-end stationery designs for discriminating patrons.
Business has become so good that Gayer, 24, has opened Cotton, a new paper goods shop and design studio in Laguna that fills a need as the only full-service custom stationer in town.
“I was so surprised at how many boutiques are here, and yet how few people are in the boutique paper industry,” Gayer said. “I think this is a perfect community for it; people here support young entrepreneurs who are in the design business.”
Gayer’s initial client base continues to be her strongest. Design work continues to be Gayer’s key offering, but while she builds her portfolio, Gayer showcases high-end letterpress invitations, cards and other products in her gem of a shop on North Coast Highway.
“It’s fun to see it all realized,” Gayer said.
More than 30 lines are represented, from snow & graham’s delicate floral patterns to the whimsical, rambling phrases on Squibnocket cards.
Gayer’s studio is a diminutive space with an ocean view; a natural fiber rug adds contrast to plain white walls and clear plastic chairs. None of the furnishings detract from the displays of stationery, jars of ribbons and other products in the room.
Although there are many paper shops in the region, Gayer said she found many of them to be similar.
“I was really trying to find something different,” she said.
So she chose to focus on letterpress printing, which prints text with movable, inked type that creates an impression into the paper.
The result is clean, crisp and classic — and has garnered a huge following in recent years, following decades of decline, creating the “Small Press Movement.”
Gayer said her technical skills and appreciation for aesthetics became an asset in her eventual career, and that paper craft has garnered its own following as a type of art.
“I think it kind of goes beyond just the ability to pick up a pencil or a paintbrush,” she said.
She now designs her own line of calling cards, stationery and invitations, using a small Ft. Bragg letterpress shop and her own equipment.
“We both just want to stay with the boutique feel,” Gayer said of the shops. “There is a need out there for things that are different.”
She receives the majority of her clients through word-of-mouth, a huge blessing to someone just starting out, she said.
Her goal is to offer better products with smaller quantities. She doesn’t duplicate designs, but will work with someone if they love a piece she made previously.
“There are certain popular typefaces, color combinations, things like that,” she said. “But I think it’s important to make something unique each time.”
Holiday cards have also proven to be popular, Gayer said.
“Once a year I hear from a lot of people who might not normally splurge,” she said.
Gayer, a graduate of Newport Harbor High School, lives in Laguna now after attending college in Colorado and Boston, where she studied sociology. A short stint in advertising ended two months ago, when Gayer left to pursue her dream full-time.
“When I was a little girl, I used to baby-sit a lot,” Gayer said. She used her earnings to pay for stationery, balloons and other celebration accouterments from a local party store.
“I always loved that whole environment,” she said.
She would then hold parties for the neighborhood kids, never knowing that it would come back in her adulthood to become an enterprise.
Later in life, Gayer found herself at a paper trade show in Los Angeles, where she fell in love with paper goods.
Although Gayer has already opened her own shop before turning 25, her dreams for the future include finding a bigger space to use as a storefront.
Gayer, who turns 25 Sunday, said she believes her age will prove to be more of an asset than a hindrance in her business.
“I know that because of my age, people come in and might not see a level of expertise,” she said. “But I do bring a more contemporary element to the industry, and hopefully a different appreciation.”
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens,” Gayer said.