All businesses begin as small-seeded thoughts. Pilgrim Paper Company's creation-thought was seeded in the brain of our founder, Teresa Grasseschi. In honor of our new and improved website, Teresa is taking our first blog post to share a little about how that thought grew into a bustling small business:
Hello all! It is my *first* time signing on to our little blog so I figured before I dive in I should introduce myself: I am Pilgrim's founder, Teresa Grasseschi. I grew up in Ballard, a sleepy little fisherman's neighborhood in the greater Seattle area. I have worn glasses since the age of seven and my extreme paleness is a dead giveaway to my inner native Seattleite. I am a large fan of tea, children's books, estate sales, British television, and Javier Bardem (I mean, who isn't). I have been mulling over how I want to tell our little origin story all week. After much chewing, I have concluded that since my favorite stories have always been filled with heart, humor and pictures, this should too. Enjoy.
The Ballad of Pilgrim
Anyone who went to art school will tell you it is a fantastic bubble. As a shy artsy kid, I think I unknowingly waited my whole life to find such a place. I took to it like it was a full time job. While other people will reminisce about their wild college parties, I hold fondly to the times in which I walked through snow to work at the art building, or stayed up until five in the morning to finish a project. In art school I found my people, my language. It was like the early days of a new relationship; everything was rose colored and I could not get enough. I was not the only one. I was part of a like-minded crew. We worked side-by-side, collaborated on projects, ate a high majority of our meals together and held dance breaks like they were going out of style. Art school taught me a lot of technical skills that I am grateful for (Want to know how to shear a sheep and turn that wool into yarn? I got you. Want to create prints using the most fabulously ancient form of printmaking? Haul me out a stone.) But what I believe to be the best thing art school handed me was an ingrained sense of community and the introduction to my future business partner. I left with a desire to create art that served something beyond myself. The next year of my life I spent traveling around the US trying to pin that idea down.
During the uproar of my last year of college, my good friend Colleen, having graduated a year ahead of me, moved to NYC. Colleen, general bad-ass and talented writer (and now small literary press owner), became my favorite pen-pal during our years living in separate cities. During the storm of my idea-chasing-year, writing Colleen became my constant. I meticulously saved every letter and envelope full of tiny found treasures we sent each other. One very regular afternoon, I sat down to write Colleen, sifted through our past letters and had a thought -- 'what if I made cards for people beyond Colleen?' -- I went for a walk, came home and drew my first card idea.
From that tiny little seed, I ran full steam ahead. My tiny apartment became my one person workshop. I took class upon class, got a business license, created and edited idea after idea, and put together our branding deck -- all while somehow holding a full time day job and peppering in occasional freelance illustration work. (In retrospect, *phew!*) In all that opening, Pilgrim never felt real. That is, until the day I took the card line to print. It took me a few tries to march myself into the building. The first time I veered left and wound up walking around the block back to my car. I gave myself a very stern car-mirror talking to and tried again; walked back up to the building's door, opening it with some serious sass. The woman at the front desk let out a little chuckle and set me up in the conference room with a print associate. Somewhere in that meeting, I shed my business-opening-skin and emerged a tiny but mighty stationery boss woman. I launched our first retail platform in September of 2014, debuting our business name: Pilgrim Paper Co., taking Colleen's dog's name (Pilgrim) in honor of the pen-pal who changed my life.
Ok you say, but what about Kelly? Pilgrim is no longer a business of one. Where does she pop into this story? Well my blog readers, she pops in right about here.
Kelly and I met in college. She was two-years above me and quite a force. Everyone who passed through the art department knew Kelly. Beyond being an extremely talented artist, Kelly also radiates such positivity that it turns heads whenever she enters a room. In college we were outside friends. I was younger and she seemed far cooler than me. I always felt a little too starstruck to dive deeper than general conversation. But, things changed when Kelly moved to Seattle after graduation. We saw each other more during my year of travel and business starting. We would send each other illustration questions, bounce ideas off each other and often work side by side in her apartment, listening to a podcast and stuffing our faces with snacks. After Pilgrim's launch, Kelly was the first person to shoot an email of support my way and at our first pop-up, Kelly was the first person through the door, there to cheer me on.
I never set out to be a business of one. I knew from art school that I found it most rewarding when what I was passionate about included other people. One day while we chatted about upcoming Pilgrim events, Kelly asked where I saw the company going in the next year. I developed this excited little knot in my stomach and tried to be real smooth, suggesting I wanted Pilgrim to grow into a business of two. Kelly cracked a little smile, quickly mentioned that she had always wanted to design cards and then changed the subject. (Boy were we playing hard to get.) I drove home my mind racing to find the best way to woo her into coming on board. Days went by, emails were exchanged, lists made and meet ups were set to talk details. She was in.
In the time between Kelly jumping on board and now, we have grown our wholesale market, relaunched our website, created a new batch of products and become queens of the pop-up shop. As a small business we care an exorbitant amount about what goes out our door and the community it serves. Our tiny seed origins are never lost on me. I am immediately giddy every time I see our cards in the wild. Kelly can attest to the string of texts she receives in the those moments. I am an all-caps, far-too-many exclamation points type of gal -- such that it feels all too appropriate to sign off from our origin story by the following: I CANNOT WAIT TO SHARE MORE WITH YOU THIS YEAR!!! I wish you many small seeded thoughts and boxes of pen-pals letters.