There’s a cozy apartment in Dupont where two women spend most of their days trying to make your life easier. Whether it’s a birthday, holiday, or an occasion where you know you should say something, but you don’t quite have the words, Janie Velencia and Alyssa Stanzione have your back. They’re the main forces behind The Card Bureau, a local stationery and design company that Velencia founded (mostly for fun) in 2016.
What started out as a hobby has rapidly grown into a full time gig for Velencia and Stanzione. In between packing orders for Valentine’s Day and expanding into goods like candles, buttons and notepads, the two are constantly coming up with ideas for new cards and expanding into different stores. Fresh off a trip from a stationery convention in New York, they excitedly talk about how it feels to have their first full collection up and running, their creative process and how to pick the best card for Valentine’s Day.
No matter what you’re trying to say, Velencia and Stanzione are going to help you find the right words.
What was your first job?
Velencia: Paid job? Out of college I interned for a Michigan senator. I had no idea what a political science major really does, I hadn’t thought that one through, so I was like, “I’ll move to D.C.” After doing that, I decided to go into the other side of things. I worked for CQ Roll Call as a researcher and writer. I wrote for their magazine and kept track of congressional and legislative data. After that, I worked for the Huffington Post from 2014 to 2016, so I covered the elections. That’s how this started… It became a creative outlet after working 17 hour days.
Stanzione: I was a life guard at the Jewish community center. I’m Catholic so the whole thing was really fun. That was my first ever job, I think I was 16…
Velencia: I gave you my first adult job!
Stanzione: I’ve never had an adult job.
Velencia: I worked at an assistant living facility. It was like a nursing home.
Why cards? What was the appeal to you?
Velencia: I liked buying greeting cards for friends and family and after while I was like, “This stuff is kind of lame, I don’t really want to send this.” One day, I was just like, “Why don’t I come up with something better?” I had a friend who I worked with, her name is Alissa Scheller, and I just went up to her and said, “What do you think about making greeting cards?” She was just like, “Alright, whatever, sure.”
We did five greeting card designs, they were very D.C. centric at the time. We have one that says “Don’t let the Washington Machine get you down.” That was based on Rand Paul’s campaign slogan. It was things I was reading all day that I put into cards and it took off kind of quickly. Within a week we were in three stores in D.C. I had no idea how to do this, so I just went in saying, “I make these cards, would you guys sell them?” The D.C. community was super supportive. We sort of took off from there. We even had this button we made that said, “Nasty Woman.” That’s how we got into buttons. We sold hundreds of those within a couple of days. A curator for the Smithsonian went into a store and found it and then asked for a donation for the Smithsonian. Now it’s part of the 2016 election archive.
How did you two come together?
Velencia: I quit my job a few times. After the election I was so burnt out… but I didn’t consider this all that serious. So I started a catering business and we started catering for members of Congress.
You started a lot of businesses.
Stanzione: It’s in her blood. I love it.
Velencia: I realized I didn’t really care so much about catering, so I quit that and got a regular job working for Atlantic Media Consulting. I lasted in that one for four months. I had been out in the world and done my own thing, it was hard to go back to an office setting. After I quit that job, I decided this is it. I’m going to do this full time. I bought out my business partner, who was the graphic designer. She didn’t want to leave her job. She was sane, unlike me.
It was still a hobby for her.
Velencia: Yeah, and she wanted to keep it a hobby. For me, the fun in it selling and making money and growing. With a business, I feel like you hit a certain point where you hit and wall and you need to push past that wall to make it worth your time. Otherwise you’re putting in more energy than you’re getting out of it. We hit that wall. It was Christmas of that year when I realized I was making more money selling greeting cards than writing articles.
Alyssa I met through a friend. I used to work at a French restaurant in D.C. called Bistro Cacao. I had a work friend who reached out to me after I quit my job and she was like, “I need to introduce you to a friend who is super talented.”
Stanzione: Shout out to Janice Green! I had a plethora of unconventional jobs as well. I always tried to work for myself. I did go to fine arts school, but coming out of that… I tried to start an artist collective here. I was doing all kinds of things with art. On the side, I was doing freelance graphic design. My main job was working in restaurants. I was a bartender at Marvin and Janice Green was my favorite regular. She’d been telling me about Janie, but I was up in the air with what I was doing. A month went by and Janice sat my life partner Devin down and was like, “You have to get them together.”
So we met at Busboys and Poets around this time last year.
Velencia: This is our one year anniversary.
Stanzione: We just hit it off. Janie was like, “When can you start? Can you jump right in? Let’s do this.” It’s kind of been a back and forth. I can help assist with some of the business aspects because I’ve ran my own business before, but she’s great at other things I’m not…
Velencia: You’re artistic. I can’t even draw a stick figure. I’m kind of a fraud.
Stanzione: Everything is her words. She’s an idea machine. She’ll spit out 30 ideas in one sitting and I’ll just filter through them.
When did it become a real partnership?
Velencia: We started working on things… And then I got approached by FiveThirtyEight. I thought I had made myself pretty unemployable at that point. I had quit three jobs in a year. I said no, but they were like, “We’ll be flexible.” I started doing that as a side job, which put this on hold for a bit. I think what really solidified it for us was going to the trade show we did last week. We are in 40 more stores now and we had some talks with big retailers that wanted to see if we would design some stuff for them. It was a moment where we felt like, maybe we do have something here.
Stanzione: I think we were both slightly apprehensive. She was working at FiveThirtyEight and I had moved to Philadelphia. I was working on my art business and focusing on this. I knew I wasn’t going to go to Philly and get another restaurant job. I was trying to make it work. I think for both of us, it was realizing that we have something. This last week for us has kind of been a blur. We’re, well I can’t speak for you, but it’s a mix of excited and nervous and anxiety… and oh my god this is really happening.
Velencia: A couple weeks before the show I ended up quitting my FiveThirtyEight gig because we were getting a lot of sales… And I had to just go all in on this. I’ve been pretty apprehensive. The first time I quit my job and was just figuring things out, I realized it’s hard in D.C. So many people’s identities are based on where they work and what they do. It was very uncomfortable to break out of the mold of what is expected.
Stanzione: I never had an office job. I interned at the Philadelphia Enquirer when I was in college and I realized that I was never going to work in an office. I just hated it. I’ve always wanted to work for myself. My dad has an entrepreneurial mind and he always said growing up, “I fear you’re going to be just like me.” And I’m just like him. On my end, it’s been really cool to watch Janie go through this enlightening process. It’s life by design really.
What are your schedules like? How often are you designing new cards?
Velencia: The way I define it is sort of flying a plane while building it.
Stanzione: It’s exactly that.
Velencia: We have somewhat of a schedule. We’ll fill orders… And it’s dependent on holidays too. I don’t know if there’s a typical day right now because everything is changing. One day we came up with a whole candle line.
Are you going to do candles?
Velencia & Stanzione: We have some!
Velencia: We made candles in one day and we sold a lot more than we ever expected to at the show. So we’re on real bad back order.
Stanzione: When I was in Philly, I was pouring 24 candles… but it felt like 40. It’s this whole mad science project. I was in the kitchen, melting the wax. I was putting all the fragrance in and my whole house reeked. The best part was I tried to put it all in this pot and it had a really bad pour spout, so I poured wax all over my kitchen table. It’s fun.
Velencia: Part of the reason I love working with Alyssa is because she’s just as crazy as me. I’m like, “Let’s make a candle line,” and she’s like, “Let’s do it.”
Stanzione: The best part is that I already had candle stuff in my basement. Every time Janie says something, I’m like, “Wait, I have that.”
Velencia: I was talking to a small candle company we can outsource to and she was like, “I know how to make candles!”
What’s been popular for Valentine’s Day? Are there any major themes that run through your collection?
Stanzione: We worked really hard over the summer to really bang out our card line. We made a catalogue, we figured out where our gaps were, we made products other than cards. I would say this is our first year with a full collection.
Velencia: We were randomly making stuff and we were learning a lot too… Like I didn’t know what a style guide was. So we’ve got different fonts on different cards. We had to start from scratch almost.
Stanzione: They’re apart of our D.C. collection. We have collections now!
Velencia: This was one of the best sellers on Etsy last year. It’s for newly dating people.
Stanzione: The Titanic one did really well.
Were you trying to fill the gaps that traditional cards don’t cover?
Velencia: A lot of cards are generic.
Stanzione: We have a whole series of graph cards that hit a super niche market. It works here in D.C. where everyone is a slight nerd.
Since you are the experts, what should people write inside cards? Should they just sign their name?
Stanzione: A lot of our cards are blank inside for a reason! In my family, my parents have always written a lot in cards. I think you should really take your time and think about it. That’s how we divert from mainstream cards… We don’t have all that sappy crap on the inside. Do people even read that? I’m going to take something to heart knowing that you hand wrote it. Even if it was three words.
Velencia: What’s important when you’re buying greeting cards is that you can show you understand that person. A lot of our cards are humorous or sassy or say something that’s very niche, so you can find the right card that speaks to the person you want to give it to. The inside is a little extra and it makes it a little more sentimental.
What are your card pet peeves? When you’re in the card aisle of CVS what do you hate?
Stanzione: I absolutely hate the singing cards. They drive me nuts. They’re so expensive! Maybe it was funny the first time. And the oversized cards. I just think they’re also silly.
Velencia: For me, there’s that trend with the pop up cards. They’re really pretty and they’re really cute, but they don’t say anything. It just doesn’t feel intimate enough. I’d rather get a really nice card then a card that’s just pretty.
What do you guys want for Valentine’s Day? Are chocolates or flowers important to you? Do you want cards?
Velencia: I do like getting a card. I actually get mad at my boyfriend because he doesn’t buy my own cards for me.
Do you want to get your own cards?!
Velencia: Well, it’s like support my business! Don’t buy from other people.
Stanzione: You should teach him to make his own cards.
Velencia: That’s not happening… I think we all like to feel like we’re above the capitalism and consumerism of it and be like, “I don’t really want the flowers or the chocolate or the restaurant.” But I think it is very nice to get those things, even though you might say you don’t want them.
Really, it’s all about recognizing and acknowledging you care about someone. It doesn’t even have to be a romantic relationship. I get my friends Valentine’s Day cards. I send my mom a Valentine’s Day card every year.
Stanzione: Gift giving scored a zero on my Love Language. I’m not into the whole thing. It’s hard for me to give and receive gifts. For me, it’s more about actions. I would rather you do something for me or take me out. Plan something. We had been up in New York and my partner was down in Philly watching the dog and working. I knew she had some time off, we just didn’t think it would be okay for her to come up. She coordinated with [Velencia] and took the bus up. She showed up to the stationery show with her little badge and, to me, that was the warmest thing in the world. That was my Valentine’s Day present.
Now that I’m into the cards… This is the first year I sent holiday cards to everyone. I’m proud of it and I’m getting more into giving. I’m working on it.
Before you got into this business… Did you send cards?
Stanzione: Not at all.
Velencia: I think the opposite has happened now. I didn’t send any Christmas cards this year. I didn’t have time and then it was too late… And then we sold out of them.