Well-designed stationery making a stylish comeback

Notebooks can be custom-made on the spot and writing tools get more fancy

With the widespread usage of mobile phones and tablets these days, stationery items such as notebooks and planners may have fallen out of favour in the past few years.

But thanks to well-designed and cool stationery offered by local and international retailers, notebooks, planners, pencil cases and even paper clips are back in vogue.

Small and independent business are taking note, making their own ranges or sourcing overseas for desk accessories and stationery to cater to the design- conscious. They come with fancy packaging and customisation options, and are made with eco-friendly and luxurious materials.

A month ago, home-grown paper company Grandluxe, which started as a small bindery workshop in 1942, opened Bynd Artisan, in the industrial area of Boon Lay, where the head office is located.

The family business, now run by the third generation, makes in-house stationery brands such as Monologue and Paperluxe, which are sold in bookstores here.

But to cater to a niche group that likes artisanal products, Ms Winnie Chan, who started the offshoot, came up with a design-centric brand that uses luxe materials such as cow-hide leather for notebook covers and eco-friendly paper sheets.

The products were designed after focus groups were held with "creative types, office workers and executives", says Ms Chan, who is in her 40s and is the granddaughter of the company's founder, Mr Chan Koon Song.

She adds: "They wanted notebooks which can lie flat when they write, fountain pens instead of ballpoint pens and lined pages with sufficient spacing. We have to understand better what they wanted."

That is why the company offers bespoke services.

Customers can choose from different textures with various embellishments for their notebooks, which are then made by a team of craftsmen and can be ready in 30 minutes.

Ms Chan says: "For some, a notebook is just a notebook and it's functional. But others see it differently, as a book that holds records of their thoughts, which they might want to revisit in future.

"So they want customised items, from stationery to notebooks, which will express their individuality. And they are willing to pay for it."

To stand out from the crowd, stationery fans can fork out $9 for a postcard or $20 for a notebook, which cost just a few dollars at regular bookstore chains here.

Mr Benny Low, managing director of Trendspot, the company behind gift store Monoyono, says customers are willing to spend to look good, right down to their writing instruments.

Monoyono, which has three outlets, has been carrying items from the Kate Spade New York Stationery and Gifts Collection since June.

Bestsellers for the range include a $59.90 ballpoint pen - 500 pieces have been snapped up - while a 17-month agenda book that is priced between $56.90 and $69.90 has sold 400 pieces since it was launched in August.

The range also has desk accessories such as gold-striped file folders, an airquote paperweight set and push pins shaped like bows.

Mr Low says: "It's a lifestyle that these customers want to embody, especially if they are already fans of the bag. Now, they can dress up their desk space as well."

Bynd Artisan, Kate Spade New York Stationery and Gifts Collection, and newer stationery labels such as Iluvo and The Weave Co. join a flourishing paper-and-pen market here.

Beyond traditional bookstores such as Kinokuniya and Popular which set aside areas for stationery, stores dedicated to all things stationery have mushroomed in Singapore in the last couple of years.

International chains such as the stylish Australian label kikki.K Stationery & Gifts, which has been here for five years, and Smiggle, which started in Australia in 2003 and opened its first outlet here in 2011, have stationery fanatics drooling over their cute offerings.

Smaller local stores picked up on the trend a few years ago.

Home-grown PaperMarket told The Straits Times in 2011 that it decided to produce its own designs as it could not find the ones it wanted from suppliers.

To stand out from the crowd, indie outfits such as bookstore Books Actually started its stationery line Birds Co. in 2005 - it sources vintage stationery and products such as postcards and pencils from all around the world, and makes limited-edition notebooks.

Three-year-old Ri Stationers, which has a store in Plaza Singapura, sells high-end stationery such as journals and custom-made notecards and stamps. Products for the label, started by two sisters, are designed in-house.

But even in a crowded stationery market, Mr Azizul Kamal Shah, founder of The Weave Co., says there is enough room for everyone.

The 10-month-old label, which retails online, sells notebooks and cards clad in fabrics sourced from countries such as Africa and Sri Lanka.

The 26-year-old lawyer adds: "There are many players in the market, but everyone offers something different. For us, our selling point is that we're offering fabric notebooks with iconic designs that are not commonly found here.

"We're trying to fill that gap for people who don't want something that's mass-market."

Business analyst Katrina Harris is one person who loves her stationery to be a little different, which was why she made a trip to Bynd Artisan to check out its customisation services.

She ended up spending about $70 making personalised notebooks as gifts. She also shops at other places such as kikki.K and Prints.

The 26-year-old says: "I thought the prices at Bynd Artisan were all right for such good quality material. I liked that it could customise a notebook any way you wanted.

"Having your own notebook differentiates you immediately and it can be a conversation-starter too."

natashaz@sph.com.sg

Which are your favourite stationery labels? E-mail stlife@sph.com.sg


Bynd Artisan

What: Make your own notebook at this workshop, where you can choose everything from the book's cover right down to the binding.

Aside from bespoke items, the store also sells journals, desk sets and leatherette cards. For the eco-conscious user, the Journal Enviro has its pages made from different types of recycled food pulp such as coffee, olives and kiwis. For those who prefer a more luxurious look and feel, there are products made from real leather.

In support of local artists, the label is collaborating with a few of them to create capsule collections.

Designer Larry Peh of &Larry made the first collection, which includes leather folders and a T-shirt with a leather front pocket, with a slot for pens and eyewear.

Upcoming collaborations include projects with photographer John Clang, sketch artist Erwin Lian Cherngzhi and singer-songwriter Joel Tan.

The store also holds regular public workshops for those interested to learn how to make leather goods, notebooks and paper products.

A three-hour class costs $78.

Bynd Artisan has a pop-up store at Tangs (310 Orchard Road) until January, where the store will have a limited selection of its products.

Where: 2 Chin Bee Avenue,tel: 6267-5066


The Weave Co. 

What: Lawyer Azizul Kamal Shah, 26, started the home-based business after visiting Sri Lanka last year and dropped by Barefoot, a social enterprise shop there that weaves brightly coloured fabrics.

He says: "The contemporary designs caught my eye. They were using traditional methods to make them, but they looked like they could fit into a modern home here."

It spurred him to start The Weave Co. His brother Amirul Idham Shah, 21, who is studying business and marketing at the Nanyang Technological University, volunteered to help him.

Fabrics such as Indonesian batik and Japanese sashiko, a type of embroidery, adorn the notebooks, which are made with recycled paper. Interesting offerings include African fabric notebooks, some of which have abstract motifs of nature. Prices start at $18.

The Weave Co. also works with and carries products from social enterprises and small businesses such as Melbourne-based company Eighty Days.

It also sells planners and cards. Last month, the range was expanded to include homeware items such as cushion covers made from handblock-printed fabrics from Jaipur, India, or crafted with traditional ikat fabrics from Indonesia.

Where: Go to theweaveco.com


Kate Spade New York Stationery and Gifts Collection

What: Fashionistas will love this line, produced in collaboration with the New York-based design company and accessories specialist, Lifeguard Press, which was commissioned to create and produce the collection last year.

Trendspot, the company behind Monoyono in Singapore, is the exclusive distributor of the label in South-east Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Colourful and bold, the range includes lifestyle products such as stationery and gifts. Prices range from $15.90 for a notepad to $102 for a 43cm serving tray.

To add to the luxe factor, all the paper products are made with very fine 20 per cent cotton Mohawk ivory paper, which is manufactured in the United States and known for its soft and smooth finish. The paper prints are also done with soya ink and is lead-free.

Later this month, Monoyono will carry Izola, a lifestyle accessories brand that ventured into stationery last year. Bolder and masculine, Izola has a range which includes pencil cases and a letter opener, made from a brass-plated alloy and that doubles as a ruler.

Where: Monoyono, Plaza Singapura,68 Orchard Road, B1-06, tel: 6884-3551; VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk, 01-92, tel: 6534-8982; and Raffles City, 252 North Bridge Road, B1-24, tel: 6338-2131


Iluvo

What: Two years ago, Ms Christina Toh, 36, was unimpressed by stationery and desk accessories offered at stores here.

While searching online for pretty stationery items, she chanced upon pieces by South Korean designers. Later, she went to a gift trade fair in Hong Kong and made a trip to South Korea to find more designs.

She says: "I felt the market here only had functional products, but they weren't pretty. Korean stationery products have great design and are also well-made."

Together with two partners, she co- founded Iluvo. Now, it has become the exclusive distributor of four South Korean labels that carry stationery and lifestyle products, among others.

One of its best-selling range is Indigo, which features three themes. The items range from dreamy, patterned pencil cases ($19.90) to felt tablet pouches ($89).

Other labels include Invite. L, which mixes practicality with design, and is popular among those who love colour, and Jstory, known for its cute, quirky products.

Where: Bugis Junction, 200 Victoria Street, 01-K1, tel: 6336-5534 or go to www.iluvo.com.sg for the full range.