There’s a range of stationery and desk accessories like luxury pens, premium pencils, fancy bookmarks to feed your passion for writing. Just don’t go overboard on form to miss out on functionality
Do you still have a penchant for longhand and are besotted by the old-world charm of letter writing in the era of e-mail and laptops? If the digital age hasn’t diminished your fetish for paper and allied accessories, and writing is a choice, not a chore, it would delight you to know that there is an entire universe of designer stationery, desk accessories and more for your kind.
In any case, with WFH becoming more the norm than the exception with the second Covid wave, many want to beautify their work spaces and have been building a collector’s closet. So, you have vintage paperweights, teak wood staplers, gold plated rulers and artistically designed mousepads .
Says Krsnaa Mehta, Founder & Executive Director at India Circus, which retails laptop trays, lap trays, diaries, organisers and planners: “I believe Indian customers today have come of age, and no longer want to use the typical black and brown dairies with a list of country codes printed on the initial pages. They are going for products that have some differentiation and help define them as individuals.” He has seen a huge uptick in demand for stationery products since lockdown began in 2020. Says Mehta: “Our stationery range has grown 4x in FY 2019-20 and we’re expecting it to grow further in FY 2020-21. We have serviced corporate orders for notebook planners, calendars that are an essential part of gift hampers for employees and clients. B2C customers particularly look for products with beautiful designs for self-use.” Looking at this spike of demand, his company is testing out combos such as desktop organisers with planners, WFH stationery kit with lap trays in the first quarter of 2021-22.
Homegrown brands such as Nappa Dori, Anand Prakash, India Circus, Chumbak, Origin One, Rubberband, Artchetype Studio are creating whimsical ideas in decking up study tables and desks. Then there are legendary brands like William Penn which have become the go-to place for connoisseurs of branded pens. Says a William Penn spokesperson: “Our pens are bestsellers. We keep writing instruments starting from Rs 1,000 and going up to Rs 5 lakh, and the ones most sought after include Mont Blanc and Sheaffer.” As people work from home, there are newer launches such as Hub (Rs 3,500) and Book Mini (Rs 5,000). These are storage solutions that are relevant to modern-day pandemic struck professionals. Says the William Penn spokesperson: “You can replace your clutter with a hub cabinet which has a smart metal case. It’s the most elegant way of organising your documents and stationery. A hub neatly stores all your important documents and stationery in one place, ready to be picked up at whim. And frees up space for more creative things – at home, in your office, and most of all, in your mind.”
Form meets functionality
Collectors rue the fact that luxury stationery items are often a pure play of aesthetics over functionality. Many a times, those brightly packaged diaries have handmade paper with a coarse finish that makes the ink “run”, or the bookmark is so fragile that it hardly tags the pages. Some classy looking luxury pens can be so pathetically dysfunctional that a simple Reynold scores higher on writing performance. Sharing his experience with dud luxe pens, a Delhi-based entrepreneur says that just as he was signing a crucial deal with his so called uber luxe instrument, the pen failed him–it was the modest ball point that “bailed” him out.
Should manufacturers not infuse these products with utility instead of being purely focused on aesthetics? Says Gautam Sinha, Founder and Creative Director, Nappa Dori, a brand that stocks desk accessories made of brass, leather, wood and concrete: “Functionality at the end of the day is at the very core of our products. Else what is the point of a product that only looks nice and isn’t useful. Accents like leather pockets and pen holders are extras – paper is the core and quality has to be good. We always take note of utility and if we don’t, then we will not be able to sell for a long term.”
So, who buys designer desk accessories? It isn’t just the authors and artists any more. “My biggest clients are South Mumbai housewives,” says Sanjana Chatlani, Founder of The Bombay Lettering Company, a calligraphy and lettering enterprise in Mumbai. “They are the ones who socialise a lot and want proper personalised stationery such as gift tags, envelopes, sometimes even with gold foiling and embossing.” Her other clients are “cool corporates” and business owners who want a signature stationery. Most of them are keen on European scripts in English fonts.
Designer stationery is no longer restricted to the art and literary world. India has come a long way from the point where the stationery shop was the corner store where you bought no more than a ruler, an eraser, crayons and pencils. Says Nappa Dori’s Sinha: “High-end stationery stores, which are so common in Europe and Japan, had not come to India for a very long time. But today, stationery is more of a personal lifestyle choice. These products are very intimate –many people like to write their personal memoirs in our notebooks, put their thoughts down and want to keep something that is a little higher on aesthetics and style than their regular notepads.”
The paper trail and quirks
A user ended up buying a book after receiving a beautiful bookmark. The impact of good stationery can be overwhelming enough to make you fall in love with the written word, even if you have nothing much to do with books. Says Anand Prakash, founder, Anand Prakash Designs, “I received feedback from a user who says that the bookmark she received was so beautiful that it motivated her to read a book.” At the Anand Prakash online store, you will find everything from diaries and journals to paperweights products such as tags, invitation cards, paperweights, and envelopes. His bookmarks are bestsellers and he has sold two million already. Prakash has special collections of horse inspired tags from Kala Ghoda, Hindi letter bookmarks, and those in the shape of palm leaf, lotus etc.
In journals and diaries, he does some theme-based collections such as Banaras where he has used Benarasi brocade as a cover for a journal, or the tiger collection or Coolie for Indian railways. Says Prakash, “As writing goes out of fashion, people invest in diaries and journals to fulfill their vintage charm and attraction for the written word. It’s now a very specialised and niche segment.”
He adds that the government has stopped its institutions from giving out diaries, so new year gifting has become a dying tradition. But this has spurred gifting throughout the year and there is heavy demand for artistic, handcrafted and stylish products. “When something becomes rare, it acquires a premium,” he quips.
Two types of paper–mill made and handmade– are used in diaries. Handmade is completely made in India, mostly in rural places, recycled, wood-free and is the most eco-friendly paper, but for writing it has a slightly rough finish. Many still like it for its coarseness and charm, but most prefer mill paper for writing.
Some customers would go any length to make a style statement. Prakash says a few would buy his money envelopes worth Rs 500 even though the money they are putting inside is Rs 500. Money inside is not the issue but the presentation is. A lot of his inventory is 24 carat gold-plated and in brass. He dabbles in materials such as metal, leather, paper but Indians are a little fixated with gold.
Says Prakash, “I have a range which is in silverish colour – it doesn’t sell much but anything metallic in gold sells like hot cakes.” Since all products are available online now, with offline stores shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Prakash says it’s the smaller cities like Moga in Punjab, Bhilai and Bhubaneswar in which people are experimenting with premium products.
Another market is that of bespoke stationery. That’s the kind in which you have your work station with your name, company’s name, or your favourite quote etched on your diary, pen, pen stand and even mousepad. Says Bharath Sastry, CEO, Vistaprint India, “We are constantly expanding the width and depth of our personalised offerings. We are seeing greater demand for products such as personalised mouse pads, mugs, photo albums, canvas prints, stamps, letterheads, labels and stickers.”
“The concept of personal is very important in stationery and we personalise it to a tee,” shares Sanjana Chatlani who cites the instance of a girl who told her that she was fond of the jasmine flower. “So we created an entire set of gifting tags, stamps and envelopes with the illustration of a jasmine flower in the colour tone she wanted.”
Many premium stationery items one time investments as they are made to last. Says Prakash, “You can make a decent inventory in Rs 3,000-4,000 till Rs 20,000…it is tough to put any upper limit.”
Chatlani says she does a minimum of a hundred card set and the cost per card varies from Rs 100 to Rs 200, depending upon the quality of paper, printing etc. If there are bigger volumes such as 500 cards, the cost goes down to Rs 50-60 per card.
Finally, a house full of stationery staples is not only about school going kids. Adults love it too. Most recently Barack Obama wrote his 700-page memoir with a fountain pen. In the age of the laptop, there are people like him to still prefer longhand. It is these people who have an unconditional love for luxury stationery.
Table: Indicative price list for those with a fetish for stationery
|Price (in Rs)
|Price (in Rs)
|Designer and branded pens
|Diaries with hand made paper
Source: Luxury Stationery Brands