It’s Made in NYC week here at Maker’s Row and we are celebrating the brands that prove that New York City is a great place to start a business! Every day this week, we will be sharing interviews with New York City factories and brands and giving you insight into what it’s like to be an NYC creative.
Tanea Smith, the founder and CEO of She’s Got Papers, left her job in the financial industry to start her stationery company in 2008. In this interview, she shares her family history in New York City, starting a business while still working full-time, and using her company to spread positivity.
What was your background before you started She’s Got Papers? Did you have any experience in the industry?
Before starting She’s Got Papers I had no experience at all in the stationery industry, other than being a serious lover of paper. I have boxes and boxes of cards and letters from childhood to present as well as an unbeatable journal collection.
Why did you decide to start She’s Got Papers?
I started my business when I was at a professional crossroads. I had worked in the financial sector for many years and was very clear that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do as a career versus just having a job that left me feeling unfulfilled.
What steps did you take to get started? Did you find a mentor or seek out any education?
I was a fixture at the National Stationery Show for many years before I designed my first collection and a devotee of Papyrus and Hallmark. The way people love their yoga is how I love my paper! What I learned from being a consumer for all those years was that my collection needed to be really unique in order to stand out from what was in the market. I had a mentor in my head Bonnie Marcus whom I was fortunate to meet and receive guidance from a few years after I launched.
Why is New York City a great place to start a brand? What does it mean to be “Made in New York City?”
I consider New York the greatest city on earth and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. And while the saying “if you can make it here you can make it anywhere” may sound really sound cliche, it’s the absolute truth. Whoever you choose to be and whatever you really, truly want to do is possible for you here. My grandparents came to New York in 1954 from Baltimore to pursue opportunities. My grandfather was a very successful self-made entrepreneur and I feel really blessed to stand on his shoulders. For me to be “Made In New York City” is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. I’m carrying on my grandfather’s legacy.
How did you find your factory and what kind of relationship do you have with them?
I found Maker’s Row through Google when I was looking to use a few of my designs for a pillow collection. I spoke with and visited a few factories. One that gave me such valuable insight and advice was Alexandra Ferguson. What a gem!
What are some of your plans for growth for She’s Got Papers?
She’s Got Papers, like my two children Brandon and Jada Jasmine has changed my life. With this brand I have been able to pour my life’s experiences of achieving self-love, tackling body image issues and pursuing my dreams onto paper. In return, I’ve received the gift of other women being able to resonate with my collections. What an amazing connection to have. For as long as I’m alive, there’ll be material and more collections!
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs looking to start a business specifically in New York City?
I’d like to speak specifically to someone who is starting their business on the side as I did. When I launched She’s Got Papers, I was still working my full-time job and I learned so much that I think can be really valuable here for someone in that position. I’d say these 3 things helped me most:
- Take your business seriously. Show up. Every single day. Especially on the days that you don’t want to. If you’re passionate about your baking business you should be baking every night, whether American Idol returns or not. Bake!
- Assemble a “Front Row”. These are the people whose advice you can trust, support you can count on, shoulders you can cry on and contacts you call on. We know that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. But what I’ve learned is that people who have those people in their lives are the most balanced and successful people in the world.
- Know when to pause. New York City will eat you up, spit you out and broadcast it live on Facebook. It’s a very, very difficult place just to survive at times, let alone thrive. That doesn’t make it impossible, that means it’s challenging. When you’re challenged, stop and regroup. One of my mentors once told me that stopping to start again can make all of the difference. It has changed the way I approach not only my business but my life.
What’s your favorite thing to do in the city?
I love people watching. I’m an observer by nature and New York City is full of fascinating people. As each of us has a story plus a back story I’m always intrigued to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Especially creatives!
Which borough does She’s Got Papers call home?
My beloved Brooklyn.
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