Sarah Meyer Walsh, SPA/BA ’05, and Erin Miller, CAS/BA ’02, Cofounders
Photo of Justin bridges by Niraj Mehdiratta
“There’s a lot of letter writing going on,” says Sarah Meyer Walsh. With clients clamoring for their invitations and stationery, and an ever-expanding wholesale business that got them named Best in Show at the 2013 National Stationery Show, Meyer Walsh and Erin Miller of Haute Papier are proof that paper is powerful. “In an age when people think email is OK for a thank-you, the impact of a handwritten note is far more significant,” Meyer Walsh says. Haute Papier started in 2006, when Meyer Walsh was planning her wedding. Discouraged by the lack of custom designs, she decided to create her own. Miller soon joined the business. The two women took to heart the advice to “stay small as long as you can.” They focused on developing tried-and-true, fairly priced offerings. “We grew at a sustainable rate, and smart choices took us in the right direction,” says Meyer Walsh. Haute Papier employs eight full-time staff and four summer employees, when the business puts together display albums of their collections for retailers. From the start, Haute Papier funding has been internal. “It’s always been important for us to reinvest in the business,” Miller says. Although they still do couture work, the firm’s focus is now on the wholesale side. Personal stationery continues to be one of the largest aspects of the business, doubling in revenue every year. Haute Papier is in 400 stores nationwide. One ongoing challenge is logistics. The multi-ton letterpresses— one is named Gertrude, a cast-iron workhorse from the early 1900s—require special rigging and must be coaxed in and out of buildings, often with only centimeters to spare. “We control the quality and have unbeatable pricing, because there is no middle man,” says Meyer Walsh.
“It’s not a complete day unless I have worked 15 hours.”
“We print in-house, which is unusual.”
Justin Bridges, Kogod/BSBA ’08, Founder and photographer Armed with a finance degree from Kogod, Justin Bridges went to work at fabled Goldman Sachs in 2008. To survive what he calls “a miserable year,” he turned to longtime interests, photography and fashion. The result is Tucked, a startup that is a portfolio, blog, and more. Bridges describes it as his life “packaged into a photographic documentary,” celebrating style but also selling his ability to create distinctive images for brands, clients, and publications. “The blog helps to leverage bookings and pitch myself. You can tell them not just about your style but how you can deliver unique visitors to the blog because of other connections,” he explains. Ironically, although Bridges pursued photography at AU, he refused to take pictures when he moved to New York: “I didn’t want to look like a tourist.” Finally leaving Goldman behind, he took day jobs in fashion while making contacts in photography. Initial costs were low: aside from an expensive camera, he was able to rent other equipment and invest his savings in himself as he built a portfolio and clientele. Now he’s a full-time photographer and blogger. “It’s not a complete day unless I have worked 15 hours,” he says. Penetrating the high-fashion photography market is a challenge. “The traditional route is to understudy the big guys,” he says. “Then you start getting small jobs, then larger, until you’re on your own. I didn’t do that.” Bridges attributes his ability to make headway to social media. “You have so many more points of accessibility.” Lessons learned in the financial world guide Bridges’s actions today: “Your follow-up should always be good. Reach out to people and thank them.” This steady, thoughtful—but cool—approach is paying off. Bridges’s images now appear on edgy fashion sites, and every Friday his photos go live on GQ’s Street Style. Let’s talk #americanmag 25