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Mija Vera from Mind Speaks

Mija shares her experience selling at her first in-person market and how she stood out selling stationery packs.

Published on Jan 11, 2023 by JANE ZHANG

Based out of Houston, Texas, Mija creates stationery that offers a wide range of designs and colours. While working as a graphic designer in her day job, Mija finds joy exploring new stationery design ideas during her spare time. Check out the full interview to hear what Mija has learned during her first in-person market and why her stationery packs have become so popular in her shop.

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You can read the transcript of the interview, or listen to the audio below.

Please note the text below has been edited for conciseness and readability, and will not accurately reflect the interview verbatim.

Can we start off by having you introduce yourself?

My name is Mija Vera. I am a Designer in Houston, Texas. I've been doing design for almost 17 years now.

Could you talk a little bit about how you started Mind Speaks and how you created a stationery brand around it?

I guess you could say it started back when I was about 10 or so, I kind of knew when I was a kid that I wanted to do stationery. I wanted to either work for Hallmark greeting cards or Lisa Frank. I somehow knew that as an adult I was going to make cute pretty things. I just didn't know exactly how to get to that point. I’m very close to my sisters, so when I went to art school and moved out, it was a big disruption to our family and sisterhood. I created Mind Speaks as a sister blog and I would post what I was doing at school and they would post what they were working on. It was just a private little blog for the three of us to update projects with each other, and that slowly evolved into what Mind Speaks is now.

When I looked at your design, I noticed there wasn’t one specific style and you had a wide range of designs. I'm wondering on your thoughts about that, because people usually stick to one style

There are pros and cons to it. When I design stationery, I design it to what I think would be cute. My personal style changes up and down a lot as a designer. I think a lot of designers probably will say this, it's really hard to design for ourselves because we're used to having clients. I always think: ‘what would be something cute? What would people like?’. So, depending on what the theme of the design is for the stationery, the style will change. So, it just changes a little from pack to pack that I create. Sometimes it's great, because it's not one set style that I can get tired of, but sometimes it’s like: ‘Man, I really liked what I did with that style, I really wish I can replicate this’. Sometimes the theme just calls for something different and sometimes things are calling for more watercolour soft feeling. And sometimes, there are things that need a very vector, crisp, flat look. So, it just depends.

How often do you change the themes? For example, in fashion, they do it by seasons. Do you have a specific process?

In a perfect, pre-children world, I did make something for every season, especially for holidays. The last time I did that was the fall Halloween style pack that I came up with. And I did that one right before October a couple years ago. I try to do things in season, but now it's kind of like: ‘oh, I have this one design I've been wanting to do for a while’, like the popsicles I had in my arsenal for a bit. And then I was able to release that before summer. So, I call that my summer treats stationary set. I'm lucky when I get a moment myself to actually open up Illustrator and start vectorizing my doodles.

So, you said pre-children and I know you also work a full-time job. So how do you balance your time? What's that like? How do you get time to design stationery and sell them?

I’m still learning how to balance all of this. I just had another child so I have two kids now and my baby is getting to the point where he's going to be reaching about a year soon and has a sleep schedule. I try to design, print, and prototype after my kids go to bed. Thankfully they're at the young age where they go to bed at eight, so I'm able to prototype and play after that. On weekends, my husband and I will take turns and somebody will take the kids out to the park and stuff and I then have the craft room to myself. I just did my first little Winter Market and that was my first time ever doing that. I was able to put about a week or two into printing and assembling to get ready for that. I was really lucky to have a support group with this when it comes to my husband.

Mind Speaks 2022 Winter Market

Mija's first Winter Market in 2022. Photo courtesy of Mija Vera.

"For 2022, my goal was to make sure I do a craft show. And it just so happens the Winter Market opened up. And I thought to myself, do I have enough inventory? No. Am I ready? No. But it's the end of the year, and I have never broken my year goal. So, I did it. And it ended up being great. I ended up really, really liking it."

I want to talk a little bit more about your Winter Market but before we get to that, you said the word “play.” Why do you use that word?

Because it is play, it's fun. Even if I'm at work during the day and I have an idea that pops up, I think to myself that I can't wait to get home, make a prototype, print it out, and assemble to see if that works out. It might take a while to figure out the right paper, and the right dimensions for something, but it is play to me. It's definitely print, play, and see how it stands up to when it’s mailed to other people. When I made the postcards, I mailed myself so many of them just to make sure that: 1) they don't get lost; 2) they don't get bent; and 3) they make it from point A to point B. I think I still have the ones I sent to myself in my drawer and my husband found them not too long ago and said ‘why are you sending yourself things?’. Because I want to see and make sure that postcards make it to whoever I send them to. I'm always trying to give myself a goal every year and I'm trying to make sure I stick with that, whether it’s coming up with something new, or I learn a new craft. For 2022, my goal was to make sure I do a craft show. And it just so happens the Winter Market opened up. And I thought to myself, do I have enough inventory? No. Am I ready? No. But it's the end of the year, and I have never broken my year goal. So, I did it. And it ended up being great. I ended up really, really liking it. And I can see how people put so much time and effort into them. It’s a lot of work for a weekend craft show. So, it definitely makes me think about 2023 and some new goals and ideas I want to try out.

Why did you decide to do a Winter Market? What was appealing about it for you?

Well, it was a small show to begin with. It was affordable for the table. It was at a small cafe that does macaroons, and boba, the style is very cutesy. I think the people who like the cuteness and the theme of that cafe will probably gravitate towards the things I put together because my stuff is very cute, And I know I've been asked by moms to create stationery for boys so I am going to try to do some more gender neutral or even just a little bit more masculine. I know my stuff appeals to a certain kind of audience and I felt it kind of overlaps with the type of people who come into a cute little cafe and might get a little boba or milk tea. SI thought it was good practice to get me prepared for 2023. I want to focus on doing more craft shows and put myself out there more.

"The whole revolution of snail mail kind of came back a couple of years ago, even pre-pandemic we had a lot of people reach out who do a lot of pen palling. Snail mail is still very much alive. "

Do you know who your audience is?

It ranges. I have a lot of people who remember collecting stationery sets from Lisa Frank in the 90’s, so, I have a lot of adults who are my age or younger and they will buy them because they think it's cute and they have pen pals. And then during the summer I'll get an influx of parents because their kids are going to summer camp and they like that there's a lot of things all in one in a little cute little package that they can send with their kid to stay away camp, or sleepaway camp. I've also had teachers purchase my stuff in bulk to give to their kids before the school year ends. This past weekend at the Winter Market show, I had a father who had four daughters and he told his kids: ‘y’all could each pick one thing and they were so excited’. I usually get a lot of girls. But it ranges from parents to getting stuff for their kids or from girls who grew up and still have pen pals. The whole revolution of snail mail kind of came back a couple of years ago, even pre-pandemic we had a lot of people reach out who do a lot of pen palling. Snail mail is still very much alive.

Mija Vera Mind Speaks Stationery

Photo courtesy of Mija Vera.

Why do you think snail mail is coming back?

I think because we're always at work or meetings in front of the computer. We're always working with technology so it's a nice change of pace to put pen to paper, to have tactiles. I don't think planners ever went away. I've used a planner since I was in high school. Even though I have my iPhone, and I have my computer with a digital calendar, it just feels so much better to cross things out on paper. There's like a whole new influx of being able to get cooler planners, to get more customizable planners, to get stickers, to get cute and pretty things, to get higher end things. I think the market has shifted because people feel like you’re doing things when you cross them out and rewrite them. In my planner, I have a daily to-do list, and I might have to write the exact same list the next day, but it at least I feel focused knowing what I need to go through everyday. Personally it helps me a lot. I know a lot of people who are planner people now.

There’s definitely more of a growth for planners in recent years. I think it’s impossible for me to not have a notebook or paper planner, even if I have Google Calendar. There's still something about paper that sticks, I don't think I'll ever abandon it at any point in my life.

I wouldn't know what I would do without my daily book with me. I've gone to work before where I’ve left mine at home and just thought to myself “oh man, now I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing”. I’ll write quick notes on a normal notebook paper and come home and transcribe it into my planner again, because I need to have it in there so I can go back to it. If you keep your old planners, it's almost like a diary or yearbook to go back and see the projects I worked on. And so I always think: ‘what do I do now that I'm moving to a new year? What do I do with my old planner?’. So they are on a shelf right now and I’m sure one day I'll show them to my kids and say: ‘look, here's mom's chicken scratch, look what I worked on during the year you were born, look at the things I did’.

So now that you've done your Winter Market, and you've wrapped your goal for this year, have you set one for next year?

I want to continue expanding and trying to do more markets and network more with people around my community. I sell wholesale to a local stationery shop in Houston and I want to reach out to more and expand that way as well. I had a couple of my stationery lines at the store here in the Heights, and it was funny when I would get tagged in people's social media posts that showed the new washi tape and it came from like a cute little local shop here in Houston. They will tag Mind Speaks, and it would throw me off because I would say I don't remember sending that order out. So I have to remind myself that people are actually buying things at the local store. It's a real bizarre feeling to know that someone that I didn't personally pass my items to has my item now. So I would like to expand on that and do more markets. I was always really nervous about dipping my toes in markets and my youngest sister who does markets for her pastries told me: ‘you’ve got to do it!’. She's been a really good cheerleader for me to sign up for it. If no one shows up, at least you put yourself out there and give out business cards. That's X amount of people who probably never heard of you, but now have your business card. Maybe they'll look you up.

I think there's this fear of going to market and being afraid that no one will show up.

The fear of rejection is very real. It's no different from making Instagram posts. You know, maybe the analytics won't be there. Maybe you won't get the hits. But the few people that do actually see your posts might see it and that's a couple of more eyes. I try to spin it in a positive light. Luckily, my Winter Market was just a tiny small one and I did sell stuff. It made me feel that there is an audience for it. There are people who like it. Even if people were just looking at it, I would step back a little bit and I could hear what their comments were about my stuff. Everything was super positive and it gave you a different feeling: ‘oh, man, maybe I could do more in-person markets’. At the very least, doing these markets allows me to network with other vendors that I might never have known about before. It was great to just exchange socials with other vendors when I was at the market.

"At the market, the feedback was instant. You got to see their reaction when they picked it up, how they would flip them over to see what was inside the package."

I think one of the things that we're missing with e-commerce is you don't have immediate feedback with your products compared to in-person markets. What were some of the things you learned at the Winter Market? You mentioned looking at people's responses and listening to the things they’ve said. What were some things that stood out to you?

There were a lot of people who were just like, “Wow, these are so cute. Wow, I like this. Oh, this is cute. I've never seen anything like this.”. When I send a package out, I put some extras in there and I include a handwritten thank-you letter. Sometimes you'll get a follow or a tag on social media. Some days, you don't get anything at all. And then you start thinking: ‘I wonder if it was a gift for someone and if that person liked it. Well, they didn't post about it, so maybe they didn't like it’. But once in a while you get people who are returning customers. At the market, the feedback was instant. You got to see their reaction when they picked it up, how they would flip them over to see what was inside the package. Some of the stuff that I have that are popular in my Etsy store sold out at the Winter Market. So, I'm like: ‘Man, people really do like that’. This surprised me, because one of the popular designs is one of my earlier ones. So, I don't think it's one of my strongest. But it's a theme that people really liked. When I set up the market the next day (because it was for the entire weekend), I had to replenish that theme because it was so popular. I got to hear in person why people liked that theme. I always wondered why out of all my stuff on my Etsy, that's the one that sells the most. I got to be like a fly on the wall and hear people’s feedback right there about each item.

Yeah, it's interesting how you have different themes, because you could test them all out and see which ones work a little bit better with the market. A lot of people tend to stick to one aesthetic, maybe because they want to be consistent. It’s an interesting tactic that not a lot of people think about.

Yeah, it was kind of a happy accident too. Because everything I do has been influenced by either what I hope people would like or what people closest to me are into. For example, the origami succulent dinosaurs I have were inspired by my sister who worked at a Natural Science Museum. I took my daughter there almost every weekend because my daughter is very obsessed with dinosaurs. My sister also taught an origami class and made a lot of origami dinosaurs. So, I told her to take pictures of all her origami dinosaurs because I'm going to make an origami dinosaur theme.

That’s a very specific theme.

I thought this will either be really cute or it's going to look really messy and it's going to be too much detail. And lo and behold, that's the most popular item I have, which is anything that deals with origami succulent dinosaurs. It's great because it's one of the things I do like, but it always surprises me like: ‘Really? You like that one over the ice creams? Okay, dinosaurs rule. Got it’.

You talked a little about packs. Do you sell sets?

Yes I do on Etsy. I sell the items individually as well if people just want the postcards or the note cards. I'm very particular about matching items, so, if I go to a shop and I see things in certain colours or sets, or if you buy one thing and there's another thing that all matches, I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff. When I'm designing, I'm thinking how I could create A5 sheets with corresponding cute envelopes. When I'm designing note cards, they need their own envelopes. They can't just use any envelopes, they need their own cute envelopes. It's a problem my sisters and I all have because we all think like that. And it probably came from my mom. My sisters and I are all so close in age, we were raised like triplets. If one person got something, the other two got them in different colours. When we go shopping and we see things in different colours, we're like: ‘Kim would like that, make sure there's a colour for Kat too’. When I'm writing to my pen pal, I like everything to match. Lisa Frank did something very similar with their packs. When we were little kids, we got little note cards and everything was really cute, bright, and similar. So, all my sets come with 24 items. I'm thinking about adding another item in 2023 that would be very simple, but cute. My daughter suggested that I create a 25th item. So, we're working on that right now to see if it will work out.

Mind Speaks Mija Vera Stationery

A matching stationery set. Photo courtesy of Mija Vera.

The sets bring a feeling of completeness and excitement because you could do so much with it.

Yeah, I did sell a lot of stationery sets. And I'm always wondering if people wanted the full set. I have matching memo pads, washi tape and die cut stickers that are sold individually. And I would see people buy the pack and they're like: ‘well, I need the die cuts now’. Oh, I need the memo pads now. To me, it was just because I'm very obsessive and matchy, but marketing wise, people see it as ‘I have to complete the set’. And in the decade of blind boxes you have an ‘I gotta have it’ kind of attitude, you know. I like to match so I take that same design and figure out how I can rearrange the design elements and make something even nicer or different with it. I have two different sets of envelopes in my packs, but yet they look very different from each other with the same thing. It's fun, because you get options.

"I've been doing it for a few years and I don't think I will ever stop, even if nobody buys anything. I think I'll still continue and just put content out there because it makes me happy."

Last question for you. Why do you do what you do?

It's my creative output, it's my fun time. I love designing on my full-time job, I really do. My work is in information design and it’s very straightforward and my audience is completely different from my stationery store. So, when I work on stationery, I get to play with bright and bold colours. I've been doing it for a few years and I don't think I will ever stop, even if nobody buys anything. I think I'll still continue and just put content out there because it makes me happy. When I have acrylic boxes full of my stationery sets and when I saw them all together during the Winter Market, I was like: ‘you know what, I don't care if anybody buys anything, it just makes me happy to see them presented together’. I do it because it's fun. I do it because it provides a different creative output from my normal day job. My sisters and I were very much into hobbies and crafting. This started out as a side hobby and it ended up becoming so much fun. Of course I would love more people to see it and like it, but that's not the most important thing. The most important thing is I continue to have fun. When it starts to become a chore, that’s when I know that I don’t need that extra stress. But right now, it’s just been fun.

I love that you use the word play. I think that's really inspiring.

Yeah, I started this because I wanted to have cute stationery sets and I had to create it myself. Now, I just have to find a pen pal.

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time, Mija, it's great to have you.

Thank you, Jane.


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About the author

Jane is an E-commerce Strategist specializing in the stationery space. She is from Toronto, Canada and previously worked as a data designer and social media strategist. She combines her strengths in business strategy with her customer-centric to help small creative businesses thrive.

Learn more about Jane

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