Stylish Spaces: The Paper Empire

Cool creative, and owner of The Paper Empire, Emily spends some time in the QH hotseat – she chats with us about workshops and retail spaces and the creative scenes in Bris and Melbourne.

With two retail stores under her belt, this born and bred Brissie girl spends her time hopping from her new home of Melbourne, to her family home in Kangaroo Point, where you can often find her catching a breeze on the deck with a wine in hand.

Emily chats with us about workshops and retail spaces, the creative scenes in Bris and Melbourne, and her ever-growing love of stationery.

The Paper Empire: Brisbane, shopping, shopfront, fitout

Tell us a little about your background and love of stationery and what lead you to The Paper Empire.

I studied Film and Television at Swinburne – it was really a practical degree so we got to do all sorts of wonderful creative things like art direction, title design and costuming, on top of the technical writing and directing aspects. I also studied graphic design as part of my course and I really enjoyed it, and the more I played around in my own time, the more I started loving typography in particular – which is now handy for someone who makes wedding invitations!

I’ve been a lifelong stationery obsessive, as well as a eternal craft dabbler! I was the kid who spent longer thinking about how I would decorate my school books than actually using them. I’ve also always loved working in retail, including a stint working at Harrods in London, and have always loved amazing retail spaces and stores with a story to tell, so bringing together my love of stationery, retail and design is how The Paper Empire was born. 

What do you believe makes The Paper Empire unique?

The combination of a boutique stationery store mixed with a design studio is definitely what makes us unique. We’re passionate about sourcing lovely stationery from around the world. We also make most of our invitations and event day stationery in-house, so we’re just as passionate about that too! We use a lot of the beautiful paper and envelopes that we sell ourselves everyday, so we can give our clients more specialised help through the design process. It also means we have an even bigger appreciation for many of our wonderful suppliers that share our passions!

We love Brisbane! But what made you decide to open your second store here?

I am originally a Brisbane girl, but after the whole ‘Aussie in London’ thing for two years, I moved to Melbourne. After starting The Paper Empire in Melbourne, we always knew we wanted to open our second store in Brisbane. Apart from having a support network here, which is invaluable in small business, our local knowledge meant we knew we’d be bringing something unique to the area.

When the retail space became available it was love at first sight – it already had the same kind of feel as our Melbourne store, and we’re right next door to an awesome cafe (The Getting Place). We knew it would be perfect and it all fell into place!

Related article: Check out Showroom another great Brisbane-based retail space!

The Paper Empire: Brisbane, shopping, shopfront, fitout,

Compared to Melbourne, Brisbane has a smaller but equally dynamic creative scene. Do you easily find a following here?

Absolutely! In fact I think that’s been a little bit of a blessing. There are a so many talented and creative people in Brisbane, but I think because of it’s size that scene hasn’t spilled over as much into commercial projects (yet!). So we’re excited to be adding to that, offering a place for creative people to get their stationery fix, and also show off the talented work of Australian designers.

We love that you host workshops! What made you decide to share your skills with the public? And who often takes the classes?

We’ve had a few workshops in our Melbourne store but the Brisbane store is actually a way better space for workshops, so we knew we wanted to offer them here straight away. We have a real mix of people along to our classes which makes them even more fun – from uni students dabbling in a new skill to a CEO taking a hand lettering workshop so they could write nicer thank you notes!

What makes letter writing so special?

I think it’s that combination of the thrill of something in your letterbox (that isn’t a bill!) and knowing the time and care that went into it. No email or text message can match that, even if it’s just a few lines in a thoughtfully chosen card. It’s why so many people still send physical invitations to important events, like big birthdays and weddings – it really sets the tone and it’s such a nice feeling, it’s a little present in the post!

What’s your most memorable workshop?

The gift wrapping workshops are always memorable because they’re run by my amazing mum, Viv, who left the corporate world a few years ago and now works as a professional gift wrapper (when I’m not making her help me with my books). She’s a former teacher so she has this uncanny ability to make sure everyone finishes the class confident with their skills, while also laughing and enjoying themselves the whole time.

The Paper Empire: Brisbane, shopping, shopfront, fitout

Why do you love the work that you do?

I get to combine all my passions – creativity, design, retail, and the thrill of picking paper out of enormous colour swatch books. That never gets old.

What are you most inspired by, creatively?

I love being inspired by trends that pollinate across different areas of design, like interior design and architecture trends that bleed into event and floral styling, or photography and fashion trends that influence graphic design. Magazines are one of my favourite ways to be inspired by people being creative across all sorts of different disciplines (along with stationery hoarding I also have piles of magazines in my house arranged by subject theme). And of course Instagram has become a fabulous resource for finding inspiration from all sorts of different people and scenes.

What trends are you loving or hating at the moment?

I love maximalism and I feel like that’s making bit of a comeback. Mixing textures, prints and bold colours is just so much fun! I don’t hate them, but I feel like we’ve reached peak monstera leaf and ‘millennial pink’ (says the girl who just bought a dusty pink pot on the weekend to put a tropical plant it!).

Work or play, what can you not live without?

For work, I live my life by a combination of Office365, Adobe, Trello and good old fashioned to-do lists. Not very sexy but it’s lovely when it all works! In my personal life it’s all about my amazing close friends, who are actually more like extended family, and of course my mum and dad. They have given me more support than I can quantify in words. I also like to maintain balance in my life by occasionally exercising and occasionally having too many espresso martinis.

The Paper Empire: Brisbane, shopping, shopfront, fitout, craft, cards

What are the three words that sum up your design aesthetic?

1. Precision

2. Warmth

3. Wit

When you’re in full project mode, your typical work day goes a little something like…

I drag myself out of bed because I am not a morning person at all. I then take my fur-best-friend Mac for a quick walk. Once I’m at the office, staring at my computer I wait for the caffeine to kick in before going through the to-do list I wrote yesterday, adding to it and writing new lists. Every day there’s a mix of ordering, designing, chatting to clients, production and regular small business housekeeping. Sometime it makes it challenging to focus on one project but I’ve never been great at doing one task for a long period of time so I think it suits me!

And when I’m done, your ideal weekend would be…

Breakfast with friends (I’m unapologetically a spoilt Melbourne brunch snob), doing some gardening with Mac, visiting somewhere like the NGV to see an awesome exhibition (Dior is on the must-see list) and then dinner and cocktails out on the town.

What would be your dream creative project?

I have 74 of those in my head at any given time, but my current favourite would be designing and collaborating with a store like Harrods or Selfridges to do some next level stationery themed window installations.

Related article: Florals for Spring, these prints by Leah Batholomew truly are groundbreaking!

What are your three favourite products that you sell and why?

1. Our greeting cards that feature the artwork of local Melbourne artists Jessica Leigh (especially the koala in the Hawaiian shirt). We commissioned a range of artwork for cards/prints that featured Australian animals as we really wanted something with native animals that was fun and cute, not twee or souvenir shop looking.

2. Perlenfisher Stamps. I’ve had a soft spot for stamps since primary school, and when we were in Germany last year I met the amazing Katya, a graphic designer who started Perlenfischer to create good quality stamps that have more on trend and modern designs than traditional craft suppliers are making. The designs are so cool, and it’s always nice to stock things from delightful people.

3. Thimblepress confetti cards. It’s a greeting card with a pouch of confetti in it for the recipient to throw around on their own terms. Having sent and received many a sprinkle filled envelope, this is just as much fun but a bit more polite than covering your friend’s floor with glitter when they open their card.

Has social media helped build your brand?

Absolutely! For small businesses in creative fields, Instagram is amazing. It’s so great to connect with customers and other businesses directly and see what’s inspiring them too. Being such a visual business it’s awesome that we can put images out their relatively easily, and build our following organically with people who are genuinely interested in what we’re creating.

The Paper Empire: Brisbane, shopping, shopfront, fitout, city


Who designed and implemented the fit out of The Paper Empire?

It was fantastic that there wasn’t anything structurally that had to be done to the space, and it already had the same feel as our Melbourne store with details like the white painted brick. I’m extremely lucky that my best friend, Claire Green, happens to be a store designer, so she helped out with practical elements (like drawing up plans when I gave her half the measurements in centimetres and half in millimetres!) as well as great advice for tweaking ‘off the shelf’ fixtures to give it a more bespoke feel. The standard shop fittings were the same as the ones we use in Melbourne which were also picked with Claire’s help, and finishing touches like spray painting the cabinetry were done by my dad after he’d finished a long day of his own full time job!

Why is the layout of your store so important to you?

So much of physical retail shopping is about the experience, so to me it’s really important that the store is just a lovely place to be in, as well as showing off our products. We’re lucky that we sell pretty things, so the store itself is like a blank canvas, to be filled with gorgeous, colourful goodies.

What aspects do you love most about the store?

The heritage elements mixed with modern touches like the white concrete floor are my favourites, and given those bones were already there, it felt like winning the retail space lottery. I also love the way the high ceilings and amazing Queensland sunlight through the windows make the space feel so open and inviting.

Have you had positive feedback?

Absolutely! We’ve had a lot of locals who are really glad we’re showing off the original charm of the space by leaving it so open and letting the building speak for itself rather than covering it with huge fixtures. It’s all about making the most of the lovely space, which also has a local history,  being everything from a corner store, to a rug shop!

What exciting things do you have planned for the year ahead?

We’re excited to be expanding our own range of products to include beautiful letterpress greeting cards and wrapping paper. It’s fun not only from a creative point of view, but also from a customer’s – we have a unique insight into what people are looking for, and what’s not already out there in stationery land. We’re also expanding our online store so that we can spread the love to more people. We’ve always been very focused on our physical stores because of the tactile nature of stationery, but there are lots of paper lovers around Australia that are a still a bit far away from Brissie or Melbourne!

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