It’s not everyday you’re online shopping and the about section gives you chills. But that’s what happened to me when looking at Raw City Paper. Laura Ellison founded the company in February hoping to combine her passion of making the old new, and the battered beautiful. Her line of handmade and dyed paper journals are made from 100% recycled paper she makes herself and then filled with recycled, high quality journaling paper. The covers are dip dyed in fun colors and feature beautiful gold custom calligraphy. Of course mine says “Boss Lady” on the front, a reminder of everything I strive to be. Even more inspiring was my conversation with Laura, a woman who had the courage to start something new to fulfill her creative expressions and support women transitioning out of homelessness.
Her process is a redemptive one in practice and metaphorically. Her big idea is to create beautiful things from discarded paper waste, made by women looking to change their lives.
How did you get your start?
I was working an office job in Virginia and just realized I wanted something more in life. I wanted to be creative and not just in my hobbies. At the same time I became passionate about the homeless community and was building friendships with many people who were homeless. It kept happening and I began to wonder how I could realistically and sustainably help them. I could be their friend and buy them dinner sometimes but I wanted to actually help them. I discovered Miriam Designs, a company with an amazing social mission. I saw the model and knew I wanted to do something similar. So I just learned to make paper and that became my thing!
What the process?
I start with huge piles of paper a friend of mine who works in an office brings me, then I take that, shred it, blend in a little water and it becomes a pulp-ey mixture. I add in one ingredient to strengthen the paper, then mix it up and put it in the box my Dad made me. It’s called a mold and deckle. From there I press out all the water and hang it to dry. Then I dye them and add the calligraphy, and lastly sew in the journal pages. I don’t make the paper on the inside but it is 100% recycled. Each one is hand made and the lettering is custom.
What’s the best piece of advice you have received before launching?
Before launching I took a chance to talk to a woman whose business I really admired, Gracie from Miriam Designs. We emailed and talked on the phone because I had so many questions, but there was one thing that really stuck with me. She said passion is found in what breaks your heart and makes it race. The idea of passion is all you need if you want to do something bad enough. If it gets you fired up, it will keep you going to make it happen. Even with no experience. Poverty and homelessness breaks my heart so I had to create something beautiful around that.
What’s the advice you give to other people?
At first I was afraid to tell people my idea because I didn’t think they would get it. But don’t be afraid to sound silly. Say it out loud and in saying to others it will evolve and change. Reach out to people who have done it before. Gracie’s experience and passion was so valuable to me. It helped me a lot. Actually telling people your idea and asking for help. Go one step at a time. I used to worry about having a business plan all nailed down, but it’s so much better for me to take it one step at a time.
“You don’t have to figure it all out, you just have to start.”
Looking back at yourself as a child, what traits did you have that make you the best CEO?
Always making random things. I made shoes for my dad out of wooden blocks, put cardboard and wood and painted it. I would always make things from random junk in my house. That’s always been a part of who I am, resourceful and creative.
The ability to help people and see others enjoy what I am creating. I find working with your hands is therapeutic and very calming. It makes me happy other people can experience this with me, take a break from crazy, stressful things in life and focus on making something beautiful.
Who is your Charleston fan girl?
There’s so many! Kris Westerson, she makes paper too! She is super talented and has given me so much great advice and help. She’s a huge supporter and encourager. She does bigger fine art pieces that are really beautiful. Another is Grellow Designs and she does beautiful wooden cutout clouds that she hand paints and then painting on canvas.
What’s your spirit animal?
A chipmunk – I love them! And i just got an acorn tattoo. It’s not for that but it works.
You can find these beautiful journals at rawcitypaper.com, Mercantile and Mash, Seacoast, Mac and Murphy!
AND during the month of September 10% of all sales goes to the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition. Laura will continue to donate 10% of her sales until she can hire women full-time.