2008 card, front
2008 card, back
Aspen Boutique (formerly Aspen Traders) has a long-standing tradition of mailing fanciful holiday cards to their customers. They have been doing it since 1987. The cards are designed by Gardner Design of Wichita Kansas, run by Bill Gardner of LogoLounge fame. Bill was kind enough to share the entire collection of cards with us, and gave us some background about their unique, long-standing relationship with Aspen Boutique.
REUBENMILLER: Can you tell us a bit about Aspen Boutique?
Bill Gardner: Aspen Boutique started twenty three years ago as Aspen Traders. It has always been a womens apparel store with originally a slant towards natural fiber materials and a great deal of international and semi ethnic influence. They have always had a remarkable collection of jewelry again with a global influence and eventually the store moved into also carrying select home ware and body products that fit the mix. James and Monica Smits, the owners, had lived in Colorado and had a wonderful natural style that you might see in that area of the country. Now take everything that I've said and remember that this is generally a higher end store.
(continue to see the rest of the cards and interview...)
RM How did you first get to know Aspen Boutique?
BG They first approached me before they had settled on a name some 24 years ago. The owners were young and so was I and they had specific ideas about their identity that we ultimately incorporated. They wanted to include a violet and yellow columbine flower as it was the Colorado state flower. We had the name Aspen Traders and they wanted Aspen trees which are also indigenous to the state. The first identity included all of these elements in a refined manner.
A columbine is unique being a five petaled flower. One of the first pieces we designed for them was a five sided box for their jewelry. The five top flaps on the box closed down to form a columbine. This unique box became a true signature of the store and became so ubiquitous that people would save the boxes and occasionally put jewelry they purchased elsewhere in them to re-gift. This ultimately lead to some embarrassing moments as people would return to Aspen Traders with gifts they wanted to exchange or return, only to find out that it didn't actually come from their store.
1989 card, open & closed view
RM Can you tell us about the relationship with Aspen Boutique and the creative inspiration behind these cards?
BG James and Monica traditionally meet with myself and Brian Miller (our senior art director and vice president) in September each year after they have returned from market. They have ideas based on what is hot merchandise-wise and what they will be carrying in the store for the holiday. This is always great because we know the card will relate to what's happening during their season. Sometimes it is a bit of a challenge but their ideas give us a toe hold on which way to go. One year henna tattoos were popular and they requested we make tattoos and Christmas work together. It was the four hands reaching upward with one holding a star. We were all surprised how well that worked out. Other times they have said things like tie the card to Moulin Rouge, or to Spanish Milagros, or to Russian Decoration, or to Western apparel and turquoise, or angels and mosaics. You get the general idea.
The store is still owned and operated by the Smits and we have always dealt with just them on the cards. They had no problem investing their entire marketing budget in the early years in nothing but the Christmas card. They wanted to make sure that folks realized this was a Christmas card and not a holiday card or a seasons greetings. Because they were investing in the piece being more than a traditional fold over card, we wanted to make sure that it would be something customers would hang onto throughout the season and even for years to come.
On a monthly bases, someone will find out we design the Aspen cards and they'll tell us they have every single one of them. They also tell us they bring them out each season and line them up on a mantle or a dining room table as decorations. You can not buy that kind of advertising. Really! At times the mailing list has reached 15,000+ cards per year. Customers that have not been to the store in years occasionally are removed from the list and then they throw a fit when their card doesn't arrive. Then they com back to the store to do some shopping to make sure they don't miss out again. We have had customers that unfolded a more complex card and then came into the store to have someone refold it for them. That's one way to keep people coming in.
RM What is the design process and how has the client been involved with that?
BG Aspen Boutique's owners are truly amazing to work with. After Brian and I and occasionally others brainstorm the theme, I pull out paper, xactos, tape and a cutting mat and i just start carving and folding. Three dimensional design has always come pretty easy to me. We always want the card to stand on it's own when pulled from the envelope. We never ask the recipient to do any folding because it may never happen. It also needs to fit neatly on our press sheet and folds down to fit in a practical size envelope.
2005 card, front
2005 card, back
At this point we ask James and Monica to look at the blank paper folded up card and we talk about what we see as the surface printed area. Then Brian takes over and does his magic on all of the surface design. He really is amazing and I know he often invests more time than we have to, to make sure the card is stunning. They give us tremendous freedom in our design and we have never presented to them that they don't say they love it, or after the season is over, they always say it was the best Christmas card ever. There is maybe a lesson here to be learned regarding placing implicit faith in your designer. The designer is so awestruck by the gesture of faith that they will work their fingers off to make sure it is amazing.
RM Have you ever encountered any difficulties with the designs over the years?
BG We have had minor issues over the years as you might imagine but nothing that stopped the delivery of the cards. Some years the folds are more challenging than others and they may take longer for the folders to assemble. Stuffing them in the envelope may be tougher some years. We try to avoid designs that require tape as it is an extra expense and occasionally creates problems if elements are not taped firmly enough. We traditionally have several families of folders working throughout the Thanksgiving holiday. Their holiday memories are of folding cards and stuffing envelopes and not of folding chairs and stuffing turkeys.
2003 card, front
2003 card, back
RM Is the vendor that produces the cards involved? If so, what do they bring to the creative process? It must be technically challenging to produce these!
BG Our vendors have always been very helpful from suggesting unique paper stock or print techniques. Over the years the card have used embosses, foil stamps, thermography, and silk screening, in addition to the lithography and die cutting. When we were first doing these cards the dies were cut by hand and not laser. That meant we had a bigger margin of error. Now we will have the die cutting house mock up a sample on their CAD table with all of the cuts and scores in place on the stock we anticipate using. This gives us a much higher level of confidence in the final product.
I almost hate to dispel this myth about all the die cutting and folding, but this is just another printed piece to me. When you take a finished card and you unfurl it and lay it out flat, it's just a piece of paper with a funny shape. I guess the magic is figuring out the shape. For Brian, the challenge is designing panels on a piece of flat art for the printer, with graphics running right side up, and up side down, and front right next to backs, and knowing that in the end all the pieces will fold up to make all the panels make sense.
2007 card, front
2007 card, back
2006 card, front
2006 card, back
2004 card, front
2004 card, back
2002 card, front
2002 card, back
2001 card, front
2001 card, back
2000 card, front
2000 card, back
1999 card, front
1999 card, back
1997 card, front
1997 card, back
1996 card, front
1996 card, back
1995 card, front
1995 card, back
1994 card, front
1994 card, back
1987 card - the very first one!