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Meet Elif Hanna of Papel Amor in Tustin

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elif Hanna.

Elif, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
First of all, I must say that as far as I can remember, I always loved correspondence, paper, and stationery. I am originally Turkish and grew up in Izmir, Turkey. I lived in Belgium for a year in high school as an exchange student. After majoring in business at Istanbul University, I started my career in banking. My personal life has been a key determinant of my long-term career plan. At the age of 27, I married my first love whom I met when I was 18 when we were both exchange students in Belgium. After our year in Belgium, we had a long-distance relationship where we kept in touch by writing each other letters. You have to remember; this was before internet/social media and we corresponded each other by sending beautiful letters & cards. When we eventually got married, we decided that his career would take precedence over mine, given that we wanted to have a big family.

I moved to Paris with him where he established an internet startup and then we ended up in San Francisco where he attended the Haas School of Business, University California Berkeley. In France, since I didn’t have a working permit, I took my time to enjoy the arts! I went to countless museums, took various art classes and just absorb all of the beauty that Paris has to offer walking down the streets. Years later, whenever I took digital media and arts classes in the US, my teachers would often describe my work as sophisticated, stylish, global and European which I believe is what I inhaled in Paris. In San Francisco, I got a job as a financial analyst for a video games company and enjoyed working with so many creative talents. I continued taking art classes, visiting museums in the bay area and working on projects as a hobby. In November 2004, five months after my husband’s graduation from business school and four months after the birth of our first child, two medical examiners knocked on my door to report my husband’s death at the age of 31 from an unknown congenital heart condition.

In a moment, my life completely changed. This was a wake-up call for me. While this was not my original life plan, it has become my new plan to focus on my own career, a career which would provide for me and for my son. I also realized life was short and one had to follow their dreams. Thus, I went back to school and earned my MBA from UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business. This was one of the best decisions in my life. The MBA didn’t provide me the corporate job I was seeking, but expanded my horizons, gave me confidence about my leadership and entrepreneurship. I decided to start an online printing business with my best friend who is a printer. After graduation, I struggled for several years trying to build a business which we named allmyinvites.com. Unfortunately, that start-up failed, but it was an amazing experience. I learnt so much about not only building a business but also about graphic design and the printing business. During this time, I took many graphic design classes at OCC to be able to better manage the graphic designers we had hired. While taking these classes, I became better at Adobe Creative Suite than Microsoft Excel, and also, I realized how much I loved graphic design and how good I was at it. Once my friend and I decided to quit our business partnership and close our business, I considered looking for a corporate job as a financial analyst, but my heart was in graphic design and printing, and I had the taste of entrepreneurship.

One day I got a call from a lady in Tustin who was looking for someone to help her design and print her daughter’s wedding invitations. She had heard about my graphic design skills from a friend. I had nothing better to do at the time and decided to take the job. To be able to invoice her, I had to have a business license. I started Papel Amor within a month. And new clients kept coming without me even doing any advertising. First, I started working from home, but then a florist I met at a wedding event offered to share her offices in The Tustin Business Center. It was as if it was meant to be. In my previous venture, I had struggled so much at every step of the way, whereas this time, everything was falling in place and was moving forward so smoothly. I guess all those previous struggles were preparing me for this new venture.

Has it been a smooth road?
Like I said, starting and building Papel Amor have been fairly a smooth road. However, managing your own small business definitely has its challenges like any other business. There are tradeoffs in life and I have learned you cannot have it all, unfortunately. High-quality products and inexpensive pricing do not necessarily go together. Sometimes it’s a challenge when I have a potential client bargaining with me on costs but they want everything on their “wish list” including the “best of everything” at a very low-price point; what they need to understand is that it would mean a loss for me. I am willing to work with my clients within their budget, but they have to understand that I have to make a living, too; high-quality paper and printing techniques are costly especially in small volumes.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I provide a unique experience for clients by providing an avenue for creative partnership if the client so chooses. Or if the client has no idea what they want, I fully custom design invites or cards from scratch. I am always in touch with the client from beginning to end and provide a great experience as I am always on-call with them every step of the way from paper selection to the fine details of the product. I pride myself as a boutique style service. Also, I feel my business background helps me connect with my corporate clients. I feel I have a good grasp of “branding” not only from an artistic standpoint but as a businessperson as well.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
For me success is finding a balance in life between yourself as an individual, your family and your career. My criteria for success in work is my clients’ feedback and satisfaction. Their happiness in working with me and my gratification working with them is more important to me than my financial gains. I’m hoping when they see the final outcome of what they ordered, they’ll have a smile on their face.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I love living and working in Tustin. And I have lived and worked in many places in the world. Tustin has a wonderful community. I would highly recommend it.

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