Huong Wolf's Handmade Greeting Cards Double as Cherished Works of Art
Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.
Huong Wolf had built an entire career in global marketing, working for major multinational brands, before she stumbled upon a new venture that inspired her to pivot her path. While living in Vietnam with her husband, Raphael, a career entrepreneur, she immersed herself in the world of quilling wall art (she wanted to find pieces to decorate their home)—and, coincidentally, around the same time, a friend asked her spouse to check out a nearby quilling factory that was up for sale. "[Raphael] actually misunderstood and thought it was quilting!" Wolf recalls. "He thought it may be interesting, because he was in the textile business for many years, but when we arrived and learned about the intricate art of quilling, we were immediately intrigued."
Quilling, they were taught, includes cutting long, thin strips of paper, rolling them, pinching the designs into shapes, and gluing them down. On the heels of their visit, they decided that handmade quilling cards could be a worthwhile idea—and that very same evening, the husband-and-wife duo created Quilling Card to merge their passions for quilling and entrepreneurship.
That passion endures today; Wolf is currently celebrating 10 years in business. "I love creating greeting cards out of quilled art because each card becomes a small piece of art to cherish—we have many customers who save them forever and frame them," Wolf says. "Coupled with a heartfelt, personal sentiment inside, we feel that our quilled cards are really items that people can cherish and that enrich their lives."
Once she and her husband—her business partner (he is the co-founder and president of Quilling Card)—recognized their mission, they set their sights on building their own factory, growing the brand, and manufacturing the cards with their own artisans in Vietnam.
A Decade in the Making
Wolf officially launched Quilling Card in May 2012 during the National Stationery Show at Javits Center in New York City. To reach this point, she left her corporate job. "I'll never forget my boss' reaction: He laughed at the idea that I was going from marketing huge multinationals with giant budgets to creating greeting cards," she says. "But I knew it was time for a change, and I was excited to create something meaningful for other people." Her goal was to promote and preserve the Egyptian art of quilling and train and employ people from her native country, all while maintaining full ownership of her business. "We are a grassroots company founded in our humble apartment in Saigon and are completely self-funded, with a few family and friend loans here and there," Wolf says.
The business has grown organically through its fan base over the years, selling millions of greeting cards worldwide. "Every card sent out was [found] by word of mouth," Houng says. "We've also had success in positioning Quilling Card as art and a gift—we retail very well in museum, garden, and gift stores (we have a lot of garden-related designs and they're perfect to pair with a plant)." Wolf and her team have also done private collections with global greeting card companies—and are now focusing on a direct-to-consumer model based on spikes in card sales over the COVID-19 pandemic, as people searched for new ways to connect with each other.
"We follow our hearts and do bold things," Wolf says of her main marketing strategy. "For example, we just received the Guinness World Record title for our work creating the largest quilled paper mosaic." Her team made a 15-by-19-foot replica of Van Gogh's Starry Night, which won them the recognition; they received a second title for most people (300) quilling simultaneously. Not only did Wolf see this as a huge accomplishment—she and her team worked across two continents, used over 40 miles worth of paper strips, and took 3,399 hours to create this piece—but she also viewed it as a team building experience and an opportunity to bring the art of quilling to an entirely new audience.
A Braille System
As an expert within the card industry and as a consumer, Wolf has also noticed a lack of Braille—a tactile writing system dedicated to those who are visually impaired—cards on the market. Last year, she made it her mission to create the Quilling Card Braille Collection, featuring a quilled image on the front of the card—which is raised and fully tactile—in addition to a quilled Braille message; she felt that the 3D nature of quilling also lent itself beautifully to Braille. The Quilling Card team partnered with Perkins School for the Blind to make the cards, such as the Quilled Braille "I love You" Card ($12, quillingcard.com); the school provided feedback and consumer insights through their collaboration. "We also have dozens of our deaf quillers at our factories—they are our best hands in the house," Houng says. "Our deaf artisans use their hands to make the cards, and our blind consumers use their hands to read the cards. This is a beautiful hands to hearts connection."
Working with World-Class Artisans
According to Wolf, her artisans are the heart of Quilling Card. They are family, too—both literally and figuratively. "My brother and sister-in-law were our business partners in Vietnam when we first opened our factories," she says. "We gathered uncles, aunties, cousins, neighbors, friends to join the company when we started it, and we are now growing beyond." When she welcomed her first employees, it did take some convincing to get them to stay on as part of the team, as many associated quilling with a hobby or seasonal work instead of a job with career growth opportunities. Wolf trains all of her company's artisans from scratch over the course of six months: They learn about paper specs, the "quilling alphabet," which are basic shapes used to make a quilled card, and design work. They also have a sign language translator on staff to ensure all of their employees get equal training. "By the sixth month, they will be able to work on all of our designs, quilling at an extraordinarily high skill level," Wolf says. Today, they have artisans who have been promoted into master quillers, trainers, designers, and managers.
Setting the Standard
Wolf's main goal is to remain true to her creative vision as an entrepreneur. "I believe we broke the paradigm of the greeting card industry by launching a 'non-greeting' greeting card line," the co-founder and CEO explains. "Each comes with a blank insert for customers to write their own message in any language that they wish." Even with initial pushback from retailers, she kept the area empty to allow people to write heartfelt words instead of defaulting to a message printed by manufacturers or written by copywriters. "We also elevated the greeting card industry by introducing expensive handmade greeting cards using ancient crafts," Wolf adds. "Looking back 10 years ago when we first launched our line, most retailers were concerned that they could not sell $9 to $10 cards, since the average retail price for their stores was $4 per card." This value has stood the test of time, as customers treat the cards as keepsakes.
Sincerely, Quilling Card
There are two major elements Wolf has homed in on during her entrepreneurial journey: Dreams and hard work. She tells other entrepreneurs to first believe in their business, but to remember that it takes perseverance to build it. And once the success you seek does come, make sure to lead with passion and compassion. "We maintain our success by being open minded, but not losing our focus," the co-founder says. "We are always open minded with customers' feedback and suggestions, and listen to our employees and staff for new and better ways of doing things."
In the short term, Wolf aims to reach more millennials and Gen Zers through new designs and by producing fine quilling art. The entrepreneur hopes that, over time, Quilling Card preserves and advances the art form for the next few hundred years: "As the leader in quilling, we feel obliged not only to share this beautiful art in finished products, but to also educate people and provide them tools to practice quilling."
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