TRAVERSE CITY — What began as a simple donation by a retiring stationer is turning into a lucrative partnership for Goodwill's Paperworks Studio.
The Traverse City-based nonprofit, which produces one-of-a-kind cards handmade by artists with special needs and disadvantages, recently acquired area invitation business Paper and Presents — and its owner, Cynthia Russell.
"They purchased the printer, the program and the computer, and along with that came me," said Russell, who closed her Union Street store June 30 to "retire," only to begin volunteering with Paperworks Studio.
Russell said the partnership began when she offered to donate extra envelopes from her store to Paperworks, which operates out of two facilities. When Sales and Business Development Director Brian Lewis came to pick up the envelopes he decided he wanted the rest of the business, too.
Until then, Paperworks had been doing about 10 wedding invitation jobs a year using its paper made with recycled materials like blue jeans, flowers, wool, coffee beans and hops and grains, Lewis said. But because most printers can't handle the specialty paper, the studio sometimes had to outsource the invitations to other companies.
With Russell's equipment, software and wedding invitation know-how, Paperworks now can do everything from embossing to die-cutting in-house, Lewis said. And with Russell on board as part of a wedding and invitation committee, the nonprofit hopes to grow to approximately 50 weddings a year, plus increase its birthday, Christmas, social, back-to-school and anniversary party invitation business.
"We can do more now and still do really special, unique invitations," said Lewis, who believes wedding invitations soon will be the company's second best-seller, behind Christmas cards and invitations.
Already the committee has plans to appear at winter bridal shows at the City Opera House, the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, Bay Harbor and Castle Farms in Charlevoix, Russell said.
The expanded wedding and invitation line is just one of several recent changes for Paperworks. The studio retooled its popular marbled card line for more vibrant colors — on a recent weekday retired teacher Marian Wyklige was perfecting techniques with colors like peach cobbler, sea breeze and mocha — and hit a production milestone of 1,200 cards a day.
It also began working with the Whole Foods chain in the Midwest and the South and received its largest single order: 6,000 Christmas cards for a downstate bank.
Lewis said the company is growing well beyond the Traverse City area, recently completing jobs from New Jersey and Illinois and working on another — custom red-and-silver marbled thank-you notes to match some wedding invitations — from Texas.
"No one else makes cards by hand, like this, with different materials, that we put designs on," he said.
Lewis said Paperworks also plans to open a new storefront inside its Aero Park offices, where people can see and order cards and invitations from about 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The entrance will lead through a lobby, where the studio's entire line of cards will be on display, and on through the studio, where visitors can see artists at work at stations like Die Cut & Creasing; Folding, Gluing & Packaging; and Weigh Fibers & Cut Fibers.
"By coming to our storefront, it is a great way for people to meet our artists and feel the inspiration and passion that our unique and beautiful cards and invitations are made with — and the impact that their purchase has on people's lives," Lewis said.
Paperworks Studio was founded about 19 years ago by a Traverse City special education teacher who wanted to broaden the life and work skills of students by teaching them to make paper cards from pulp. This year the studio will produce more than 100,000 cards with about 160 artists with disabilities and disadvantages, many of whom will move on to jobs in the community and more independence.
The merger with Paper and Presents will means more business, Lewis said, and more business means more jobs.
"That's our ultimate mission: to have more people and place more people," he said.
For Russell, who volunteers about 40 hours a week with her dog, Cesar, the work is like coming full circle.
"I love it. I feel completely free to come in when I want," she said. "I've always loved my store and it was very hard to give it up. But I came here and just felt welcome the minute I walked in."
For more information visit the studio at www.paperworkstudio.com or on Facebook.