Today we’d like to introduce you to Olivia Lin.
Olivia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Atiliay’s story started at a place where I spent a lot of my time — in my car, stuck in traffic! I was on my way home from a freelance job (my background is in fashion design) and I had just started sponsoring a preschool in South Africa through Food4Africa, a non-profit I met in 2007 on a TOMS Shoe Drop. I was really just trying to think of creative ways I could get people to give me money to help feed the little ones who attended this school! The next major holiday was Valentine’s Day and I thought about how people buy tons of gifts and cards during this holiday — maybe I can make something people are already in the market for and use that to give back. That’s how Atiliay started (before it even had a name) — at the end of 2012, on the 605 Fwy, as a fundraising idea!
I decided to make Valentine’s Day grams: for a $5 donation, I’d make a hand stamped card for you, write in a message, and send it directly to your recipient. Each card would help feed the 60 children who attended The Ebongalethu Educare Center Preschool & Nursery. I emailed and told as many people as I could, pitched to different blogs and publications (and was lucky to get a feature on DailyCandy — was anyone else a subscriber? I loved their emails!), had several late nights making cards, and by Valentine’s Day 2013, I was able to raise over a year’s worth of meals for the preschool!
I had enjoyed the entire process so much I decided to continue fundraising for different holidays (Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were next) and thought, maybe I could keep on doing this and make a living this way. Once I made that decision, I came up with the name Atiliay (which is based off the French word “atelier” meaning a workshop or studio especially for an artist or designer), set up shop on Etsy, and continued on as a small give back business.
Since that Valentine’s Day, I have continued to make these cards for a cause and have been able to provide 150,000 meals to The EEC with the help of every customer! I also now give 3 additional non-profits and am in several boutiques across the country. My cards have evolved from being made with hand carved stamps to featuring my brush lettering. Last year, I started teaching brush lettering workshops and currently offer classes in the Southern CA area. Like my cards, workshops also give back with each seat providing 10 meals for the preschool. With both the cards and workshops, I am hoping that I can focus on Atiliay full time in the near future!
Has it been a smooth road?
I have definitely had lots of bumps and up and downs along the way.
Since Atiliay didn’t start off as a business, there were a lot of things I hadn’t thought about and had to change things so that I could turn it into a business that was sustainable vs. a one-time fundraiser. For example, in the beginning, I didn’t think about producing cards on a bigger scale and was hand carving stamps and hand stamping every single card by hand! This method was not something I could do if I was going to mass produce my product. I also had to figure out retail and wholesale pricing, who my customer was, what my brand would be like, etc. along the way instead of having a more clear idea/vision up front.
A few years into it, when I realized I had to evolve and change the hand stamping into something else, I felt really stuck creatively. I wasn’t sure what I was going to put on my cards and really questioned if I could do this, should I do this, and how could I make it work. I’d also see other people doing similar things who I felt had succeeded and been doing it for a much shorter amount of time than I was. It was tough and I felt like I was stuck for awhile.
And one of the biggest struggles has been how to make things work financially and how I can support myself with this. Throughout this time I have continued to work other side jobs and continued to freelance. But my goal has always been to do this full time–I feel like I am on the right track and getting there, but it has definitely taken awhile for me to get to where I am now.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Atiliay story. Tell us more about the business.
Atiliay is a paper goods company and I specialize in greeting cards for a cause created by my hand lettering and lettering workshops. Every item in my shop and each seat at my workshops give back in one of these 4 ways: provides meals for children at The EEC Preschool & Nursery in Motherwell, South Africa, provides vegan meals for folks in need across the US by supporting Chilis On Wheels, funds Kiva microloans for mom and dad entrepreneurs, and helps neglected and abused farm animals by supporting Animal Place. My goal is to help each customer express how they feel towards their friends and family while making giving back easy and accessible — send love and spread the love.
I love a clean minimal look and my cards reflect that. While many cards are really colorful or have images and patterns, mine all feature phrases printed in black on white with just a pop of color with the envelopes. I am also a lover of words and try to think of phrases that will make each card recipient feel loved, special, or give them a laugh.
As a company, I am most proud of how far I’ve come as a letterer and the designs of my cards — I’ve had people see a card or my lettering and know it’s mine just by looking at it which is awesome! I am also proud of the give-back aspect and being able to use my creativity to do a little bit of good in this world — it’s always special when customer or shop really connects with this and/or a specific cause.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
It’s interesting because while our world has become more digital, I definitely feel that a lot of people crave going back to a simpler time and sending cards and writing letters can help satisfy that craving and nostalgia. I am a snail mail enthusiastic myself, so I really enjoy being in the paper goods industry and being surrounded by people who feel the same way. I think there will always be a market for greeting cards and I feel that more and more companies are finding ways to incorporate giving back into their products (which is awesome!), so I think we will continue to see that happening. Calligraphy and lettering are really trendy right now and I am interested in seeing how the styles will shift as we move forward.
- Cards are $5 each
- Workshops range between $48 – $75
- Website: atiliay.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @atiliay
- Other: atiliay.etsy.com, pinterest.com/atiliaypaper
Olivia Lin, Byron Randall, Susan Chiang