Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Handmade paper, cards, books, and paper-making supplies
Owner Pam DeLuco takes everything from blue jeans to cattails to create eco-friendly paper and paper products.
When DeLuco appeared on What Not to Wear, a makeover reality show, in 2007, she says the host told her, "You should write your memoirs, not wear them." The constructive criticism led her to pursue book-making and letterpress before she got into making paper.
DeLuco started Shotwell Paper Mill with an idea for BANDmade Books, books she'd develop with rock bands. After publishing a title in collaboration with Cake in 2010 that featured paper covers made from the band's old cotton clothing, DeLuco, who also works as a bookkeeper, started making and selling paper by the sheet.
It was a natural progression from her work with yarn. "I've been involved in textiles for 40 years," she says. "I make yarns. I'm a hand spinner. I knit." Making yarn "is so similar to paper," she continues. "I just fell in love with making paper."
After the Cake book came out, a second BANDmade project with Australian rockers OK Go! materialized, with the idea of printing on paper made from the pulped T-shirts of fans. "I made thousands of sheets of paper," says DeLuco. But then the band's management changed and the project stalled, so she put books on the back burner and focused on paper.
She started out in her garage, then moved to a small industrial space on Shotwell Street in San Francisco's Mission District (thus the name). "Paper is a wet process," says DeLuco, noting that she needs a floor drain and heavy machinery.
The supply chain is local and sustainable. "I use all recycled raw materials as well as plants I can forage myself," says DeLuco.
That means she utilizes materials ranging from Pampas grass to coffee grounds to spent grains from brewing to donated clothing from customers and sources like the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco.
DeLuco cuts textiles and plants into square-inch pieces to run through a Hollander beater. After an hour or two of beating, the resulting pulp is poured into molds, pressed, and cured. The final products are sold both by the sheet and incorporated into products like stationary, product labels, and paper dolls.
There's a big difference between Shotwell Paper Mill's model and mass-market paper manufacturing: Large mills are not able to handle multiple material streams, and often use and release toxic chemicals during manufacturing. "I don't have any chemicals in my paper," says DeLuco.
DeLuco says she hopes Shotwell can provide a model for coffee roasters, breweries, and other manufacturers to look at bringing paper-making in-house. "There's no reason a business couldn't close its own loop," she notes.
Challenges: Awareness, conversion, and competition. "The challenge with handmade paper is people don't know about it," says DeLuco. The subsequent hurdle is "for people to not just be aware of handmade paper, but to be willing to pay more for it."
She says the first time she saw a $12 chocolate bar brought on sticker shock, but then she learned the quality was better. "What happened over time is we got educated," says DeLuco. "I see the same thing with paper: '$2 a sheet? But a ream of paper is so cheap!'"'
The cost of doing business in San Francisco presents another issue: "A lot of handmade paper is made where labor is very cheap and rent is very cheap. I just can't compete."
Opportunities: "Journals might be something I'd like to produce and get into," says DeLuco, citing a good match between premium leather-bound journals and handmade paper with a story behind it. She's also planning to put out a book on handmade paper with photos of her dog, Rags.
Shotwell Paper Mill offers paper-making workshops and that's emerged as a driver for growth. "The educational side actually does the best," says DeLuco. "These days, people want to do it themselves."
Needs: "Customers," says DeLuco. She sees handmade paper following a similar trajectory as pottery as the craft wins more converts. "People just don't know what is going into it."
Marketing and visibility are also needs, she adds. "If I did more social media, I could grow it a little quicker."