We love stocking products that are made with passion by real people, especially products made on home turf. Rosanna is one of those people, and also someone who I've been quietly stalking on social media for a while now. Together with her husband Joel she runs Iron Curtain Press, a letterpress shop founded in 2008. They're also the masterminds behind Shorthand--a perfect stationery shop in LA that we're always telling people to visit. This year during the National Stationery Show we finally got to meet both of them in person and were especially excited to see their new pencil case, which Rosanna showed to me in great detail. From the interior piping to the zipper to the dimension--it's a really awesome find. That's when I knew that we were a match made in shop heaven! She really gets it and so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask her a few questions about all the things she does:
What was the first product you ever made for Iron Curtain Press?
My foray into creating products started with a small line of letterpress greeting cards. Over the years the line has kept expanding and greeting cards are still the bulk of the products we make - I think we have over 150 different cards at the moment. I love thinking of messages I want to send someone and then turning that idea into a greeting card.
The most challenging product release was our Standard Notebook. I had a favorite notebook I used all through college, I would buy several at the beginning of each quarter. When I started thinking of what I wanted to add to our product line-up, I realized I had never been able to find a better notebook than that original notebook I had loved. I set out to create an even more perfect version, and I am pretty stoked about how it turned out.
Tell us about the moment you realized that you wanted to open a physical storefront. We needed to find a new location for our print shop, our business had expanded and we just needed more space. While we were looking, a space on a busy street in our neighborhood opened up and was a good size for both a print shop with a small store space in the front. I initially thought the store would mostly be a showroom for our own products with other products that complement our line-up. Once we opened the doors, the store took on a life of its own. I love hunting for great office supplies that are beautiful and useful. It’s been such a delight to see how excited our customers are about our selection.
Are there any items you’re coveting right now for your own personal stash?
We have so many amazing planners on order right now (all arriving towards the end of the summer) and I can’t decide which one will be my go-to planner this year. The Appointed Weekly planners are so beautiful and then I’m just a nut for the Midori paper and the layout of their planner is so beautiful. It will have to be a game-time decision, but I’m pretty stoked to see them all in person.
What are the things that were most important to you when designing your perfect pencil case?
The number one most important thing to me when conceptualizing our pencil case was that it would be able to fit an unsharpened pencil. It seems that the bags that are large enough to fit a whole pencil are more “marker bags” - larger rectangle bags. I wanted a long, narrow pouch that could hold a handful of my favorite writing utensils, plus an eraser and sharpener. It was also important that we find a way to manufacture the bags in Los Angeles. Since we currently make all our products in-house, I wanted to be able to ensure the quality matched what we make ourselves and making them nearby ensured that we could be part of the process each step of the way. We were able to source all the materials in Los Angeles. It’s great to meet the people you’re working with and see the environment in which your products are being made and be able to pop over quickly to answer questions or make decisions in person.
Has the transition from running your studio to doing that AND running a shop presented any surprising challenges?
My job has grown a lot and I’m learning how to better delegate - we essentially operate 3 separate businesses that overlap (custom letterpress print shop, wholesale line of greeting cards and notebooks, retail office supply store) and it’s been a learning process. Our team is absolutely stellar and we have grown so much in the last two years. When I naively started a small letterpress business almost 10 years ago I couldn’t have imagined how many long-term business decisions I’d have to make; decisions that allow us to adapt to the rapid expansion and keep up with demand all in a way that allows us to grow responsibly. I suppose anyone who runs a business will tell you that it feels like a split personality to live in the moment creating and running a business, yet to be thinking for the future growth of the business so as to dodge any potential missteps. But every day I love coming to work and am so thankful for this wonderful little world we’ve created.
If you could only use one writing instrument for the rest of your life what would it be?
How can it be possible to choose only 1!! The Craft Design Technology pencils made by Camel are my current favorite. The graphite is just the right softness for me and the color is perfect. Plus I love the erasers.
My current favorite pen is the Sierra Wooden Needle Point, but (nerd alert) I switch out the ink cartridge and put a .5mm gel cartridge in there instead of the .7mm ball point cartridge. It’s a wonderful hack that makes this pen even more of a joy to write with than it already was. I finally just placed an order for a massive amount of these gel refills so we can offer this combo in the store too. The body of the pen is made with incense cedar so it feels like you’re holding a pencil but writing with a gel pen. It’s a true delight.
Do you have any wild dreams for the future of your brand(s)?
I’d love to create a full line of office supplies, from a wonderful stapler and tape dispenser to a great trash can and filing cabinet to a rubber band ball and rad paper clips (plus so many more ideas). We’ve even spent some time mocking up what each of these items would look like in my ideal dreams. It’s good to dream big, right? : )
^(editor's note: YES PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!)
You can find Rosanna and her businesses here:
Shorthand LA: 5028 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90042
Instagram: @ironcurtainpress and @shopshorthand
*Photos stolen from the Iron Curtain Press and Shorthand Instagram accounts