Stationery is alive and well

Banish any thoughts you may have that stationery is losing all its relevance in the digital age, or is only beloved by spectacle-wearing, baggy-trousered elderly men whose favourite place is their dusty home office.

Stationery is experiencing something of a renaissance particularly among the chic and urbane types.

Why? Benny Castles, director/designer at one of the country's most iconic fashion houses, World, has plenty to say about that.

This month the company celebrated the first birthday of its stationery business Pencil Boutique which has two stores in Auckland.

''Stationery is a funny thing because people are very passionate about it. Why are there boutique and non-boutique stationery operators opening up and being successful at a time when you've got people inventing things like iPads that have all the solutions?''

Castles believes humans have an innate need to make a mark on something that is solid and real and permanent.  ''I really think it's something that can be traced back to cave paintings.''

And also, World just does what it likes really.

Pencil is the brain child of Pebbles Hooper, the daughter of World founders Denise L'Estrange-Corbet and Francis Hooper.

''We do what we like and then figure out how to sell it,'' Castles says. ''At the niche end of the market we operate in, if we don't present a personality and put forth an identity, people will not connect to it and want to be  a part of it.''

Pebbles Hooper is a stationery fiend, and given she has been around the World set-up her whole life has a great knack for overseeing visuals and graphics.

She has set up Pencil boutique in a fun, youthful and different way from anything World has done previously, Castles says.

Pebbles says she worked on the concept with her father and they travelled together to Australia to source many of the products, which range from classic vintage standards such as Moleskine and Rhodia brands to vintage wooden semicircle rulers to hair ties with plastic dogbones.

Twenty-two-year-old Pebbles also made a solo trip to Japan to source products this year and plans to go again early next year.

She decided to give the stationery collection its own name rather than making it an extension of the World brand, because she wanted it to have its own life.

''It's not something that I wanted to have that was so obviously connected to World.''

Castles says people have their conceptions about World as an expensive, scary brand. ''In some ways we are. World make personality clothes, and characterful strong statements about fashion.''

With Pencil, the company wants to ensure people feel they can go in to the stores and rough things up a bit, try products and put their hands around them.

Pencil's turnover is about $300k to $500k per year across a couple of stores, and the business wants to expand into Newmarket and Wellington.

Castles says the wider stationery market has changed dramatically.

Warehouse Stationery has successfully strengthened its brand over the past few years, at the expense ofWhitcoulls and Borders, which has opened a market for others to play with characterful stationery including the ''girly'' Kikki K and Smiggle for kids.

Founded in 2001 by Kristina Karlsson and Paul Lacy, Kikki K  has seven stores in New Zealand, 82 stores across Australia and three shops in Singapore.

Australian brand Smiggle was created in 2002 and has expanded rapidly since then. In New Zealand it has 22 stores.