National Stationery Show

Shopping the Stationery & NY NOW Aisles for Specialty Licensing Opportunities

NEW YORK, NY; February 5, 2020—In: Cannabis and CBD products, including specialty packaging companies catering to that market. Out: Reusable straws, at least from a fancy design standpoint, now that they’re commodified. And here are my finds for new products well suited for licensing, and others ripe for expanding existing licensed offerings.


Creativity, Craftsmanship and a Sense of Humor = Standouts at NY Gift Shows

Suck It Up: Straws Are the ‘It’ Product at NY Now, National Stationery Show

NEW YORK, NY; August 13, 2019—How can you differentiate one reusable straw from other reusable straws? Let me count the ways based on eight among many on display at NY Now and the National Stationery Show at the Javits Center here this week.

Materials: Stainless steel, silicone, titanium, paper, glass.

Style: Floral/beach/animal motif, solid color, pattern, laser-etched images.

Type: Fixed, retractable, bendable, 2-piece (so you can separate for easier cleaning).

Utility: Lunch kit, home use, travel.

Accessories (yes, accessories for your reusable straw): Cleaning brush; carrying case; multiple diameters for sodas, shakes, and sip/stir; replacement parts (I haven’t figured that out yet).

Environmental link: At least two of the eight I examined donate a portion of proceeds to environmental and/or animal charities.

Even the sales rep for one of the manufacturers I spoke with sees humor in the notion that straws are a “hot product” this year. “Who would have thought?” she asked.


Seattle, the state of California, Starbucks, Disney theme parks, Royal Caribbean cruise ships, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, American Airlines, McDonald’s in the UK, and others are banning single-use plastic straws. And while many are simply forgoing straws altogether — typically with exceptions for those with disabilities who need them — manufacturers are clearly counting on individuals rather than restaurants and other beverage purveyors to pick up the slack.

Exactly how long people will care let alone use their brushes to clean their straws, I don’t know. How diligent are most people about flossing? But I have my guesses. In the meantime, is there an opportunistic play for licensors with children’s properties?

Trend Surfing at February 2019 National Stationery, NY Now & Surtex Shows

Walking Surtex, Stationery, and Home Shows 2016: Design, Product & Packaging Trends

NEW YORK, NY; May 16, 2016—The joy of Surtex, which focuses on art, about half of which is available for licensing, the other half for sale, is its co-location with ICFF, a show for contemporary and avant garde furniture and design, and the National Stationery Show. The three shows crossover with the licensing world on both the design and manufacturing levels, and feature interesting packaging ideas as well. It takes a great deal of walking, but there is a wealth of creativity to be seen and inspiration to be had.

There is also fluidity across the shows in that some exhibitors would be wholly comfortable in different areas — particularly some of the artists found in ICFF and the Stationery Show who might be best served by the Surtex audience of manufacturers and retailers. That’s what makes a 5+ hour walk here fascinating (and I didn’t make it to the downstairs furniture show which in the past has been heavy on upscale living and bedroom offerings, lighting, and the like).

Most interesting finds this year were the first two exhibitors at the far end of the hall on the third level in an area dedicated to emerging designers.

Mike Joyce is an established graphic designer whose Stereotype graphic design agency features a portfolio strong on album art (Katy Perry, Iggy Pop, others) and advertising (Volvo, Visa, etc.).

Swissted Surtex 2016

Mike Joyce and his Swissted posters

His “personal project,” Swissted, started in 2012, combines his “love of Swiss graphic design and punk rock by redesigning old” concert posters into International Typographic Style posters. He takes information such as the band lineup, date, venue, and ticket prices from the originals (which he collects) and creates entirely new designs. He sells museum quality prints on 140 lb. cover stock in multiple sizes from $50 (17”x23.75”) to $150 (36”x50.5”) but is looking to “carry it to the next level” and is open to licensing the work.

Next to Joyce is Airplantman Josh Rosen, who creates vertical garden frames and tabletop “vases” — I hesitate to use the word (he calls them vessels) to house airplants.

The plants are dipped in water for a few hours about once a week. Easy to see the frames or vessels licensed by botanical gardens or other nature-oriented or environmental properties, and certainly sold in those venues. The frames, available 11”x11”, 11”x18”, and 24”x18”, are powder coated aluminum with nylon coated stainless steel cable that holds the plants in place. They retail for up to $135.

Other creative executions:

  • Cardboard six-pack beer carrier with attached greeting card from Beer Greetings. It’s the beer equivalent of the ever-popular wine bag with card on the carrying handle. In this case the card is the side of the package. Retails for $4.95, which is the same as a mid-range greeting card these days. The company has been selling the item direct for about a year and a half and started wholesaling the line about six months ago.
  • Monster Factory has been making licensed Volkswagen children’s play tents for some years (I remember seeing them at Bed Bath & Beyond); now they’ve added a VW van pet carrier, a cooler, picnic blankets, and a pet bowl.

General trends:

  • New coloring books are still pouring forth, despite the fact that the market is reportedly cooling.

    Galison, exhibiting in the Chronicle Books booth, has a recently-released Andy Warhol coloring book with the Warhol Velvet Underground album cover banana on the cover (Galison has a range of Warhol items, including soup cans and a coming Time Capsule kit). Paris-based Omy, distributed in the U.S. by Ameico, has pocket maps, postcard books, fanny packs, pencil cases and other items. Hester & Cook has placemats and placecards. Sourcebooks offers calendars, dream books, and such. The list goes on.

  • Flash drive manufacturer Mimoco, which specializes in licensed drives, says sales of classic Star Wars models have cooled off, though younger fans are still interested in the newer characters.

    Mimoco Star Wars Surtex 2016

    Mimoco Star Wars flash drives

    If Star Wars, its best seller, indexes at 100, the second best-selling line, Marvel, would index at about 75, a sales rep says. The company has confidence that Star Wars has longevity while it expects the Marvel line to drop off over a five to six year period.

About three and a half hours into walking these shows, I was starting to think there were substantially fewer letterpress companies exhibiting than the last few years, and that Brooklyn had lost its cache. Not at all. Minutes later I made it to a dedicated letterpress area in the stationery show—and within about 10 minutes and two or three aisles had come across I Am Here Brooklyn (jewelry), Boundless Brooklyn (DIY paper sculpture kits of water towers, bridges, etc.), Gold Teeth Brooklyn (greeting cards), Umlaut Brooklyn (cards and wine bags), and the representative from French chocolatier Marie Belle, which has a New York store in Soho, immediately informed me (with no prompting) that they now have a store in Brooklyn, too. Not to mention that many of those letterpress firms are located in Brooklyn even if the company names doesn’t shout it out.

On the packaging front, two exhibitors made great use of cork-stoppered glass vials: Japan’s YHM Jewelry, which also has a Brooklyn store but which mostly sells online, uses glass vials about 6” high that have a little greenery at the bottom and eyehooks in the cork from which are suspended necklaces or earrings. It’s a beautiful presentation (and the much of the jewelry is quite nice and very original). Similarly, the aforementioned I Am Here Brooklyn uses much smaller vials for its hammered metal pendants with an initial on them. Again, makes for a nice display concept.

Unto itself Surtex, which is relatively small, isn’t formally a curated show, but it’s always seemed to attract a high quality of exhibitors. Plenty of seasonal art, children’s, florals; many agents, some of which have a certain consistency of taste across the artists they represent, some of which are totally varied in an effort to have something for every retail need; many new artists each year looking to test the waters. Surtex is as good a barometer of what’s available for licensing for textiles and other goods as you’re going to find. The bonus is that the co-located shows might not be as focused on textile-oriented designs, but are full of licensable ideas — from designs to products to packaging.

The shows opened at the Javits Center here yesterday, and run until 6 p.m. today and until 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Next up: I’ll be at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas June 20 (day before the show opens), 21 and 22. I am available to conduct personal tours of the show based on your needs. Two slots remain. For information about the personal tour, please contact me at I’m also leading a workshop, How to Work With Licensing Agents and Consultants, as part of LIMA’s Licensing University on the 21st. My panelists are an all-star team of Gary Caplan, Gary Caplan Inc.; Carole Postal, CopCorp; and Ilana Wilensky, Jewel Branding. To register for Licensing University, click here.


Art & Design Trends: Brooklyn, Sustainability, Letter Press, and Licensing (Sometimes)

Brooklyn has been coming on strong at Surtex, the trade show for licensing and selling original art, for several years. This year, it seemed as though every third booth at the mid-May show and at the co-located National Stationery Show (NSS), had a sign up proclaiming a Brooklyn provenance.

Granted, Surtex and NSS take place in New York City; Brooklyn is part of New York City, even if most people think NYC synonymous with Manhattan (full disclosure: I live in Brooklyn). And Williamsburg, a hip neighborhood in Brooklyn, is home to many artists, their studios and galleries.

Add relatively cheap rents in nearby Industry City (still in Brooklyn). This is a cluster of large former industrial buildings with high ceilings, huge windows looking out on New York harbor (or the Gowanus Expressway on the even cheaper side), and heavy-duty floors. Here the streets are home to a host of adult video stores, a large cheap green grocer, Costco, and a MicroWarehouse. Artists, letter presses, and even some small manufacturers are inhabiting that group of buildings, which are being rehabilitated—and exhibiting at Surtex and NSS, which can feel like a local show until you note the letter presses and other exhibitors from Baton Rouge, LA; Minneapolis, MN; Worthington, OH, and elsewhere. Far elsewhere.

Indeed, Brooklyn appears to be a mindset as much as a physical location. Looking at his work, I asked Mitsushige Nishiwaki, pictured here at Surtex, where he lived in Brooklyn. He laughed. “I live in Tokyo. I thought if I exhibit in New York, I need to have New York art.”  IMG_0150His work is based on pictures he finds in magazines. He has several pieces about specialty donuts. “There’s a famous shop in Williamsburg,” he told me. “I add a little humor to the pictures.” His company is Etching Art Design; click here  for his designs from Paris, London, Italy, and elsewhere. He’s had gallery shows in various cities including New York, and has a clothing licensee in France for a 2016 collection; I suspect there will be others.

Holstee, a Stationery Show exhibitor, brings together a variety of trends in the art/artisanal sector: Based in Brooklyn; designing products with sustainability as a guiding principle; providing fair wage employment in third world locations. Prime example: The company’s Upcycled Wallet is “vegan” product (I admit I don’t know what that means other than that it’s not leather) that “provides the impoverished with fair wage employment while simultaneously reducing waste in Delhi.” Holstee’s City Leaf Map posters seem like a licensable design.

One of the ironies of these two shows being co-located is that many of those at the Stationery Show, including Holstee, really are designers making or sourcing their own products and selling directly to retail or on their websites. Many could be licensing their designs over in the Surtex aisles, a notion which interests some but not others.

For example, Graphic designer Cayla Ferari and engineer John Breznicky’s company LinePosters makes posters, glasses, t-shirts, and stationery based on Ferari’s line drawings of mass transit maps. They started selling wall decals based on a line version of the NYC subway map in 2011. They’ve added other cities, and some generic transportation-themed designs such as spoked bicycle wheels. Ferari says they like the control of making their own goods, including laser cutting coasters and doing their own printing. They have some specialty retail distribution and “for best selection” suggest their website.

IMG_0147Other exhibitors are more opportunistic. CrownJewlz, which offers a range of notepads, die-cut stickies, and other stationery items by a variety of more traditional artists, obtained a trademark for UglySweaters paper and stationery products (see photo at right). I’d expect to see a host of beyond-sweaters products this year, given the success of ugly sweaters last holiday season. Why not stationery?

I’m surprised that Disney, Nick, Peanuts, and others with entertainment/character properties haven’t licensed the Pop-up Snow Globe Greetings cards made by Up With Paper (download the 2015 Everyday catalog to see examples, though this doesn’t do them justice; the effect is quite good). Or maybe they have in the past and I just haven’t seen it — the product has been around since 2005. It’s paper with a clear plastic globe that comes collapsed in an envelope. Monika Brandrup-Thomas is VP/Creative Director, based in Guilford, CT.

Finally among the exhibitors that caught my eye: Berlin’s L.M. Kartenvertrieb & Verlags GmbH uses original designs by Juan Carlos Espejo to evoke images of Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol, and others for 3D bookmarks, rulers, door hangers, luggage tags, and other products.