Artist Spotlight: Quotable Cards
Twenty years of success from the simplest words
Quotable began with a simple idea: to inspire as many people as possible. Now 20 years later, the company known for black and white cards greeting cards has grown into a full and flourishing line of black and white and color cards, magnets, mugs, and a variety of other gift items, all using quotes from great writers, artists and thinkers as the foundation for the design.
Back in 1993, recent college grads Gillian Simon and Matt Fernandes-Vogel knew there were people out there like themselves who wanted smart, simple cards that just weren’t available at the time.
I graduated from Colgate University (with business partner Fernandes-Vogel) with a degree in studio art and art history,” Simon said. “He was an English major, so he had interest in literature and I was interested in design. One day we were shopping for a greeting card and realized everything out there was sappy and unattractive.
“We decided then it would be cool to make cards that were attractive and smart,” she continued. “Soon after that realization, I had another one — that the words themselves should be the basis for the design.”
Simon said they use quotations that speak to them, also keeping in mind that it should be a sentiment that works for a greeting card or gift item. They like to use quotations by well-known authors, as well as well-said thoughts written by everyday people who submit them.
“Each person’s response to a particular quotation or message is very personal, and we have a wide range of sentiments in the line,” Simon said. “The wonderful thing about our cards is that each one can be applied to various situations and occasions.”
Finding the Words
But their success didn’t happen overnight. Simon had no formal training and taught herself the computer programs, Quotable’s minimalist style is different from other cards, and the quotations do not necessarily correspond to particular holidays. Simon said vendors weren’t receptive to the line at first, and they found marketing their cards difficult.
“We walked into stores in the Hamptons and asked people if they wanted to buy our cards,” Fernandes-Vogel said. “Two people did. We had no idea what we were doing. We were 23 years old. We got a parking ticket, and that erased our sales for the day.”
But Simon and Fernandes-Vogel persevered. Still working other jobs, they invested $10,000 of their own money and spent the next three years promoting the card line they designed and constructed in their Manhattan apartment to independent bookstores and sales representatives across the country. Fernandes-Vogel found the quotations, while Simon did the design work. In 1996, Shakespeare and Company, an independent bookstore in Manhattan, bought their entire 48-card line. Simon said that was just the encouragement they needed.
“Our biggest break was probably getting our first sales reps,” Simon said. “Acquiring a network to market their line during the first five years of business was a difficult and ongoing process, but people caught wind of the progressive success of the company and soon representatives across the country and abroad began touting the growing card line.”
While the range of the line has expanded to include a variety of other gift products, Simon said the greeting cards continue to be the most popular part of Quotable. It’s such a non-traditional card line in many ways and people respond to that now, something Simon believed from the start.
“When we first made our black and white square cards everyone said they were too urban, too smart, that they were an untraditional shape,” Simon said. “In my gut I knew that people everywhere craved intelligent and meaningful sentiments.
“I also thought people would appreciate our simple yet bold aesthetic,” she continued. “I didn’t want to dumb our idea down and I didn’t. Years later I’m proud and lucky that we stuck to our guns. Now we have many imitators, but they never really get it right because the design and sentiment don’t come from a pure place, like ours do.”
Simon and Fernandes-Vogel still both run the business, with Simon designing all the cards out of their SoHo office. They have eight full-time employees, an intern and their field-based sales reps across the country and abroad.
Simon said every step they took when they started was an obstacle — printing their cards for the first time, getting the rights to the quotations, getting their first account, figuring out how to ship orders, getting an office, hiring their first employee and sales rep.
“All these things seemed like insurmountable issues when they first arose, and anything you don’t know how to do is a hurdle,” Simon said. ” But just go for it. Think through everything rationally and don’t act in response to everyone else’s opinions. Your gut is worth something, so go with it, and be smart and do things that make sense to you.”
Neither one suspected they would be in the card business after Colgate, but both agree they couldn’t see themselves doing anything else. While Fernandes-Vogel wanted to be a teacher and saw teaching as a way of sharing experiences, instead he redirected his aspirations and finds this just fulfilling for him.
“We get feedback from people all the time,” he said. “It’s so touching, the power that these words have on people. People thank us for this business.”
Simon and Fernandes-Vogel attribute much of their own success to their attention to detail. All Quotable cards and envelopes are printed in the U.S. on 100 percent post consumer recycled paper that is FSC certified, carbon neutral and acid and chlorine free using certified wind power and vegetable based inks. In addition, each quotable card contains a factoid with a bit of information related to the quote or author that is guaranteed to make readers think, smile or learn something new.
“We really care about every inch of the product and we still treat the business as a start-up,” Simon said. “Even though we’re growing, we want to be perceived as a small company where there is amazing service.
“I feel like there’s no end in sight for this business,” Simon added. “I still love our black and white cards the best and I’ve always responded to these words by Thoreau, ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.'”
By Abby Heugel