Follow the paper trail

Over a few years, Stefanie MacDonald turned a simple project into a fast-growing stationary business


hen Stefanie MacDonald was getting ready for her aunt’s wedding in 2014, she was on the hunt for the perfect card: cute, quirky, and speaking to an LGBTQ marriage. She came up empty-handed, so she used her limited graphic design skills to make her own.
“I got a really positive response to it at the wedding,” says MacDonald.
It also sparked the idea for her company, Halifax Paper Hearts, which has grown quickly in the last four years and is now MacDonald’s full time job. “I just decided from there to take a more thoughtful approach to traditional occasions and sentiments and try to be more diverse and inclusive.”
With that in mind, MacDonald decided to start creating cards even though she didn’t have a background in graphic design. “I literally taught myself using YouTube videos,” says MacDonald.
The work paid off as she started creating cards and selling them at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market on weekends. “People thought the cards were cute and they really liked all of the clever, quirky puns, that’s really what we’re known for,” explains MacDonald.
Sometimes she gets ideas for new cards from customers or friends, but often the inspiration comes from simple objects or events.
“It’s not a formal process at all,” she says. “Just to give you an example, I saw a pylon on the road and I started thinking about that… It ended up being, ‘I’m just here to pylon the birthday wishes.’”
The distinct messages and focus on inclusivity and diversity served her well and the demand for her cards quickly grew. One of the first stores to carry them was Duly Noted, owned by Nicole Smith. She first found out about Halifax Paper Hearts on social media.
“It just sounded like a great brand she was creating,” says Smith. “When she came out with her first selection of cards and she contacted us to offer them to us, we were excited to bring them in.”
Since then, Smith has seen Halifax Paper Hearts continue to mature and develop and she says she’s not surprised by MacDonald’s success.
“She’s very brave as an entrepreneur, she’s not worried about approaching people or coming up with ideas or collaborations and I think that’s why she’s been able to grow so quickly,” says Smith.
Smith says customers love the unique cards. “They find them very uplifting, they’re very whimsical,” she adds. “And it’s nice that she’s always been very charity focused, she gives back to the community through her company.”
Giving back is crucial for MacDonald. “For me, being able to make really meaningful contributions to a number of charitable organizations, that’s the stuff that really keeps my heart full,” she says.
Halifax Paper Hearts has partnered with several charities, with a focus on helping young people in difficult circumstances. MacDonald also started an initiative called Thankful Hearts that provides Thanksgiving meals to families who may not otherwise have them.
“For me, I’m a marketer and I’m an entrepreneur and I just needed a product to sell. The passion for me is not in the illustrating” says MacDonald. “For me, the passion part comes through that community piece of what we do.”
She hopes to do more of that as her company grows. Last year marked several milestones for them including a deal with Sobeys. Halifax Paper Hearts cards are now available in six Nova Scotian Sobeys stores and 150 boutiques across Canada. In 2018, MacDonald also decided to take her business south of the border.
That started with a trip to Los Angeles to learn about the American market followed by a visit to New York for the National Stationery Show. “We placed as finalists in two of their contests,” she recalls. “You’re walking around and you’re seeing world famous designers that you’ve admired for years and you think how am I here? How am I a finalist next to these people that I adore so much!”
But the road hasn’t always been easy since she left her full time job in 2017. “It wasn’t an easy transition,” she says. “I think being an entrepreneur is always a roller coaster where the highs are higher and the lows are lower.”
Still she encourages others to pursue their passions, take chances, and be persistent: “When you just show up, you will often surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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