Pairing vintage advertisements with cheeky slogans, Harvard graduate Anne Taintor created a thriving stationery and accessory line that is currently sold in more than 3,000 stores in 25 countries. Oprah Winfrey is among Anne’s loyal clientele. The Anne Taintor collection is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Anne discussed her inspirations and accomplishments in our cakechow.com exclusive interview.
Irene Swain: How did you become interested in greeting cards and stationery?
Anne Taintor: I’m interested in humor, and greeting cards just happen to be a prefect medium for my message. They’re accessible to everyone, and thanks to all the advances that have been made by environmentally conscientious printers, I can get my message across while keeping my carbon footprint relatively small.
What is your favorite item that is currently available at AnneTaintor.com?
That’s a very difficult question to answer! Magnets have been in my line longer than anything else, but I still really love them; they give me a platform where I can say anything. I’m also delighted by all the little things I carry with me every day; I smile every time I pull out my coin purse!
What was the first vintage collage product you sold?
My very first products were hand-made, one-of-a-kind pins. When I finally realized I could repeat a phrase to make multiples, “intellectuals gone bad,” a fairly succinct description of my own life, seemed appropriate.
What new releases can we expect to see in your e-store soon?
I’m very excited about the new magnetic postcard we are debuting this spring. It’s stationery and it’s a gift. And I love that it’s made in the USA! Our flasks and coasters have been so popular that we decided to expand the bar line with some very cool shot glasses as well.
How do you think of new captions for the vintage advertisements? Is there a specific brainstorming process involved?
I’ve been writing captions for 25 years! Until about four years ago, I wrote virtually all the captions myself, although I did have a few that were written against their will by my brilliant daughter and her equally brilliant cousin. I used to follow my nephew around with a notepad, which drove him crazy. I now work with about a dozen writers. Most of them I haven’t even met in person, but I love them like sisters, and a few brothers. It’s like a long-distance brainstorm; I throw out an image, a phrase that needs to be completed, or a concept to explore, and I get some fantastic material that I then get to play with until I have a sound bite that sounds authentic for my “Taintorettes” to utter.
Is there a new caption contest on your blog each month? Do the caption contest winners have their caption sold in your e-store?
Our caption contest was an idea we hatched to celebrate my 25th year in business, but it has been so much fun, I may make it an ongoing thing. I won’t be putting all the winners on products, but this June we will have a wonderful new magnet written by February co-winner Teresa McIntyre.
Had you always planned to be an entrepreneur?
Becoming an entrepreneur was the furthest thing from my mind. I actually had an identity crises when I realized I had become one. My plan, if you can call it that, was to be an artist. My thesis advisor gave me a graduation gift of a beautiful little book of Matisse drawings which she had inscribed “May you continue to find pleasure in life by trading what you see with what you learn. I know that in that process you will give pleasure to others.” I may not be doing exactly what I planned, but I find it extremely rewarding to hear from so many women that my work brings them pleasure and laughter.
What jobs did you have after graduating from college? Your website mentions cartography.
I love maps, and I loved cartography. But this was back when we drew in the roads by hand with a scribing tool! My favorite part of every state atlas was drawing the map and grid for the back cover. I really had to learn the state and then translate that knowledge into an accurate and pleasing drawing. I loved everything about cartography except for the mandatory overtime. I also worked in a mini-sweatshop, which killed my life-long romance with the sewing machine. And I waitressed. Oh, how I waitressed!
What is your favorite thing about owning and managing your own business?
Freedom! I work hard, and managing an inventory-based business can be extremely stressful. The upside is that, as long as I get my job done, I can take time off pretty much any time I want.
What are your current roles in the Anne Taintor company, in addition to being the founder and owner?
My most important job is to constantly scout out and organize new sources of imagery, to work with writers, and, when I’m really having fun, to make collages. I also manage inventory, which doesn’t sound exciting, but if someone is going to make a very expensive mistake, I prefer it to be me. I also read a ton of email, trying to figure out what we are doing right and where we need to focus our energy to do things better.
What is your typical workday like?
I spend way more time than I would like on the computer and way less time than I would like with scissors in my hand. But really, every day is different.
How did you first become interested in vintage style?
My mother was obsessed with auctions and garage sales. One day when I was about eight years old, she bought me an old wicker basket full of vintage fabric scraps. I was hooked.
What has been your favorite vintage purchase so far?
The door to my studio! I bought it for $20 at an old barn in Maine in 1996 and brought it with me to New Mexico. It’s my own little piece of New England in the high desert! It’s so small, I had to get a new laser copier because my old one wouldn’t fit through the doorway.
When did you start collecting vintage magazines?
In 1985 I came across a stack of old Ladies’ Home Journals at a garage sale in South Portland, Maine. I could almost literally hear the women in the magazines speaking to me. I get a huge kick out of the exaggerated stereotype promoted by the advertisers of the ‘40s and ‘50s, and I find it a wonderful visual counterpoint to commentary on the stereotypes with which women continue to struggle.
Are you required to obtain permission from the original artist or photographer before reusing their vintage advertisements in your collection?
I primarily use ads that are in the public domain, so that I don’t have to worry about getting permission. When I want to use editorial content, I have to research the copyright status of the magazine, and I can’t stand the anguish when I learn I can’t use an image with which I’ve fallen in love.
Your magazine collection must be monumental! Do you collect any other types of vintage items?
I’m trying to stop collecting; I already have more stuff than I will ever need. But there’s always a place to display one more piece of vintage textile. I have drawers full of vintage tablecloths!
Where do you like to shop for vintage clothes and housewares?
I miss the garage sales in Maine and Montreal! It may be because northern New Mexico was settled later and is more sparsely populated than New England, but whatever the reason, the garage sales just aren’t the same here. However, there are a number of wonderful group antique shops in the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque.
Do you wear vintage clothes often?
I still have a few old favorites in my closet, but most of the time I live in a t-shirt and jeans.
What is your favorite decade of fashion?
I love the ‘50s. The shapes and colors are delicious. My kitchen was designed around a robin’s egg blue reproduction ‘50s refrigerator.
Is the rest of your home decorated in a particular style?
I live in a Santa Fe style straw bale house in northern New Mexico. I love the architecture, with its thick undulating walls, but I’m not really attracted to any other aspect of Southwestern style. So my home looks as though a New England garage sale exploded in the desert.
Where were you born and raised? Do you have any childhood memories that connect with your current occupation?
I was born in Lewiston, Maine, and lived there until I left for college at 18. My mother clearly adored my father, but I got the impression she hadn’t realized that marrying him would lead to a life of child-rearing and cooking (she was a law school graduate). I got the sense, as did my sister, that Mom was pretty frustrated. This had a huge impact on me. I remember lying in bed as a little girl worrying about growing up to be a woman, and all I feared that entailed. So I’ve pretty much made a career out of overreacting to gender expectations.
Your office is in New York, but you live in New Mexico. Do you telecommute or travel back and forth on a regular basis?
I live in the tiny town of Youngsville in northern New Mexico. My business was based in the neighboring town of Coyote until the end of 2006, but it just became too difficult to run a business out here. Trucking companies wouldn’t pick up shipments because our zip code was not in their data base. I moved the office to Brooklyn and I’m there a few times a year. I have a fabulous staff and I mostly work with them by phone and email.
What are your hobbies?
When I’m not working I want to be outside. So if hiking, swimming and snorkeling count as hobbies…
What is your family life like?
On my 50th birthday (the date was chosen so that I could remember it) I married my beloved partner of thirteen years, who is proud to be the inspiration for many of my lovingly man-bashing designs. I have one fabulous daughter by a previous marriage.
Any future goals?
I keep trying to carve out more time for non-product-related collage. I love engaging in open-ended work, without a focus on results. I find it exciting and meditative at the same time, and anything that feeds me that way also feeds my product line.
What are you most proud of?
Proud may not be the right word. I feel extraordinarily lucky and grateful that I was able to create a career for myself that allowed me to be a full-time mom as well as to support my daughter.