Studio / Shop Visit: Ferme à Papier

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Last summer we had the chance to visit with Cat Seto, designer and shop owner of Ferme à Papier. Cat was kind enough to show us around her boutique/studio and give us the every day details of running a small business in San Francisco.

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Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind?
Ferme à Papier is loosely translated as “Farm to Paper”. I took my first trip to Paris a little over 21/2 years ago and I was overwhelmed by the streets, history, chic hipster parisians and architecture. I also visited biodynamic farms in the countryside. When I returned I drew obsessively for three weeks. The collection has a dark, artisinal navy palette behind it and it portrays everyday joys like couples embracing or a pair of shoes.
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When/Why did you start working in this particular craft?
I have a degree in painting and a master’s in writing. I have always been a proponent of hand written letters and I love that a card can capture a visual in a miniature frame.
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Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Believe me I’ve had plenty but I strongly believe that without these my career would have never blossomed! I had major writer’s block when I first moved to San Francisco which prompted me to craft felt finger puppets in the night to feed my insomnia. Those felt puppets led to illustrating characters on cards which I debuted as a stationery collection. I couldn’t believe it but when I debuted this, Anthropologie was my first client!
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What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
Ferme à Papier was never intended as a business. I was burnt out and I took a trip to Paris and I just took everything in. I always remind myself that ideas need to start from a genuine place.
Where do you want your business to be in 2-5 years?
I hope that I am always able to freely create and share my dreams, travels and inspiration through the things that I make or illustrate. I would love for Ferme to branch out into different product categories as well.
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How does the city you live in influence your work?
San Francisco is a vibrant, creative community which I am so proud to be a part of. My studio is located in Russian Hill which has remained independent. We have an open studio where we work and sell goods to the public and it is this kind of daily exchange that makes me feel inspired to create.
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What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I mentored with folks I admired. I stayed humble! I swept, dusted, cleaned bathrooms and filed…did anything to absorb knowledge about what the details behind a small business. Many of my colleagues did the same. In addition to a street MBA, I truly believe this has given me a more positive and industrious attitude.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
I waited a long time before I started my business. It had to feel right…but once it did I worked harder than ever before. I had to make sure I had a solid collection, something unique to present, and some know-how of how to start a small biz.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Share information with your peers and learn from mentors. Stay humble! Sometimes having a reputation for being the hardest team player will get you further than your talent alone.
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What are some inspirations for your work?
Paris and Brooklyn and everything that spans between the two.
If you could learn any other craft, what would it be?
I would love to learn printmaking and textiles.
When you do get free time, how do you like to spend it?
I love running on the beach with my six year old son… This is the true joy of living in the city by the bay. You can be hard at work at your studio and then be outside by water in a few minutes.
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Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
No regrets. I work around the clock, seven days a week, but this has been a conscious choice. I feel very lucky.
What is your favorite part of your studio/workspace?
our studio is a hybrid shop and production studio. I love seeing customers walk in and share our cards with one another.
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What advice do you have for any potential business owners out there?
I believe that creative business owners learn their business savvy via what I call the “street MBA”. It’s not from the books per se, but from sharing information and talking to peers, mentors and joining groups.
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What would it take to make you feel successful?
Success for me is creative freedom. If I am able to support myself by being able to make or design creative goods AND share them with others I am pretty happy.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I wholesaled my goods to retailers and it was from this that I learned many of the details behind owning and running a shop.
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What are some of your favorite products/makers in the shop currently?
We carry products that curated to our Ferme aesthetic… Maison Scotch, PF Candles, Abacus Row are just a few of the lines we carry.

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WHOLESALE ETIQUETTE
As a buyer, when do you do most of your product research and ordering?
I purchase during the seasonal times that shows are occurring. For me this occurs about 3-4 times a year.
What time of year do you prefer to be contacted by prospective vendors looking to get into your shop?
I like to be contacted right before a show.
What are some tips you have to vendors out there wanting to get more wholesale orders?
Customer service is key. And there is an art to balancing out when to remind retailers to purchase and not bombarding them with too much. I love getting reminders but will tune out vendors who are too aggressive.
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What sets a vendor apart? When receiving an order, does a pretty package and presentation with a hand- written note make a big difference in remembering the vendor, or would you prefer straight to the point demeanor?
The quality of a product is always key. We are a small indie shop and we want to carry unique items. Equally important is the follow-through and customer service behind this. I love to know that the team is as solid as the product.
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Thank you, Cat, for taking the time to show us around your studio and shop. Can’t get enough of this amazing space? Check out the full set of photos on our Flickr. In the meantime, you can find Ferme à Papier online here:

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