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The Happy Envelope Delivers on Style and Substance

Seventeen years ago, newlyweds Sarah and Ty Pattison were enjoying their first season of life together, she as a graphic designer and he as an intern for Young Life. Then, the design company Sarah worked for folded, and they knew they were going to need a new plan.

“I was actually the breadwinner, so when we got that news, it was a huge blow,” says Sarah. “But Ty encouraged me. I am a graphic designer by degree, and I love design. I’d always had this idea to do stationery and start a stationery line. My husband said to just give it a shot.” 

At the same time, Sarah had a friend, a fellow University of Tennessee graphic design graduate, who’d landed a job in New York City at Kate’s Paperie, which had five locations across Manhattan at the time. She offered up all the first-hand knowledge about print runs and running a stationery shop. Sarah decided to take a leap of faith and give it a go.

Though it was crucial to develop a business plan and set a budget, Sarah was also keen to develop the right brand for The Happy Envelope to make sure that the work she was offering the community reflected her personal aesthetic but also the mission of the company.

“Our brand is always evolving. It’s fluid, in terms of style. And it’s not even just as time changes but as we become more confident in what we want The Happy Envelope to be. In the beginning, I remember having a conversation with another designer, and I said, ‘I feel like Happy Envelope has to go outside Sarah Pattison. It has to stand on its own outside of my brain.’ I look back, frankly, at things we designed and sold 15 years ago and I’m aghast,” she says, laughing. “Now, we’ve sort of come to a place where we’re pretty clear on our mission, and that influences our designs.” 

As the business grew, so did Ty’s role in the company. Early on, Sarah outsourced her stationery to other printers. One afternoon, she visited a printer who had an old letterpress in the back of his shop. He said she could have if she could move it. The next day, Ty got a tow truck and delivered the letterpress to their garage, where it proceeded to collect dust for the next six months.

“I finally said, ‘You have three months to get that thing working,’” she said, laughing. “He signed himself up for a class in Atlanta, intro to letterpress or something, and spent a whole summer driving down there and learning everything he needed to know. Now he has three working letterpresses.” 

Style-wise, Sarah is careful not to jump on trends and curate the next cookie-cutter shareable style. She doesn’t do “whimsical” and instead goes for “concrete,” something grounded yet soft. 

“I love typography. There’s a science to it. There are some rules, but there’s also an art. I love fonts so much, so for the sake of branding, I need to not go outside, say, ten [fonts], so we’re not going too trendy with whatever the latest cool thing is,” she says. “I just taught typography to a group of juniors at UT last year. I told them, ‘You are graphic designers, and when you go out in the world, you’ll set yourself apart with typography.’ There’s so much quick design out there, and there are pros to that. But that’s different from what I do, just like there’s a difference between hiring an interior designer and arranging your furniture yourself.” 

Prior to COVID-19, the bread-and-butter of The Happy Envelope was custom wedding invitations. This is particularly where their mission - to offer peace of mind and a guiding hand through all of life’s occasions - really shines. Sarah says she’s always thinking about how to word things, how to help customers know just what to say, and present that information in a way that represents both them as a design company but also fits the needs of the client. 

Of course, when wedding events started to reschedule, and some cancel altogether, Sarah and Ty knew they’d need to shift gears, if only a little, to keep their business afloat. 

“Our focus shifted this year. It was a heartbreak, and after we had our panic attacks in March and April - you just feel so badly for these brides and their families - we got our heads up and thought, well, now is the chance,” says Sarah. “We always loved product design. We have a great staff, we had the time, so we shifted things into product development. My hope and prayer is that we’ll look back two years from now and see it was the best decision for our business.”

Sarah’s passion for lettering and typography translated seamlessly from stationery to the myriad gifts they sell, from tea towels and city posters to journals, notepads, and calendars. They’ve cast a wider net beyond those who need event-related materials and now offer their carefully-crafted products to a larger community both in Tennessee and online. 

“We are pretty big believers in organic growth. We send out an email about once a week with updates and new products. Whenever we send out emails, we get orders. Our core is still about holding hands and offering peace of mind, even when we’re not doing invitations,” says Sarah. “We have about 2,000 people who get our email blasts, and another 5,000 on Instagram, and so many of these people are people we know. We’ll have done a wedding invite for them ten years ago and now they’re buying a tea towel. People come back again and again. It’s relational. I love the story. It’s so much better than the product.” 

The small staff of five at The Happy Envelope works hard to make the customer experience enjoyable at every turn, from brainstorming ideas and delivering the finished product to the shopper’s experience online and in-house, as well as watching Ty work on the letterpress machines. 

“One thing I love, and people don’t know until they get here, is that we have these large glass windows so they can watch Ty print. It’s like a working museum here,” she says. “We have a letterpress from 1893. Local people will bring in folks from out of town because it’s a fun shop to be in with these printers working in the background.”

“The most important thing is that we are differentiated,” Sarah continues. “We put a lot of thought into our products. We don’t slap things together and get them printed in China. We have a slower, methodical process, so we help people slow down and put thought into their gifts.” 

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  • Sarah and Ty Pattison