For sisters Melinda Gonzalez and Sarah Cullins, letterpress printing is the industrial means to an elegant end. It’s a family affair, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Baton Rouge natives Gonzalez, 29, and Cullins, 26, have designed stationery since their college days, but began their business, Fiore Creative, just two years ago. Both are alumnae of the University of Southern Mississippi with bachelor’s degrees in graphic design.
Fiore Creative uses an antique 1920s letterpress to print fine quality paper products, such as stationery and invitations. The sisters found their printing machine in Detroit. The concept of the business is a more hands-on approach to the process of craftsmanship and making the product a piece of art, versus generating something digitally, Cullins said.
“We got deeper and more passionate about it, and became obsessed with paper and type, and wanted to take it to the next level,” Gonzalez said.
After Cullins followed in her older sister’s footsteps at USM, both relocated back to their home city. Their alma mater strengthened the bond between them as they sought jobs in their field.
Gonzalez and Cullins were individually freelancing in Baton Rouge post-grad, and decided to merge their talents to develop Fiore Creative. The business’ test run was when Cullins designed and printed her own wedding invitations in 2014.
The sisters keep family a recurring theme in their joint endeavor. The name for the company came from their Italian great-great- grandmother, whose maiden name was Fiore. The name means flower, which was perfect for the fit of their style and evolving art of design and letterpress printing, they said.
“We wouldn’t be here without without our family,” Gonzalez said. “They have helped bring this dream of ours to life and including them in the business name only felt right.”
Both designers have full-time jobs as graphic designers in Baton Rouge, and fulfill client requests in their spare time. The letterpress machine is based in their parent’s garage in Central, Louisiana. The Gonzalez’ will often assist their daughters with the physical printing process of demanding jobs.
Their parents have been supportive since the very beginning, the sisters said. Their father, Vincent Gonzalez, retired from ExxonMobil, has been helpful with the mechanics of the press, while their mother, Patti Gonzalez, is responsible for the organization of the studio.
“They knew the restraints of local printing and believed in our work and in us. Just like our press, we are a well oiled machine,” Gonzalez said.
The startup’s main market is primarily younger brides. The duo’s favorite type of client is the kind of bride that allows them to be involved in all steps of the wedding, from their save the dates to their thank you cards, Cullins said. The pair aims for total event branding with their services.
“Our goal is to bring out their style in the most beautiful way,” she said.
While much of their business comes from word-of-mouth in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas, the sisters have also done work for customers in California, Tennessee and Mississippi.
“Really the best thing about stationery and invitations is it mails out to hundreds of people and so they see your work and ask about it and compliment it,” Cullins said.
The modern method of printmaking combines the classic quality of the letterpress with the versatility and technology of today.
“It gives you a little bit more flexibility to choose your own style and be able to integrate your colors,” Cullins said. “Letterpress offers a dimension that when you open it, you’re just like ‘wow.’”
The process of creating invitations can take from two to three months, from the first client correspondence to shipping the finished product.
Gonzalez and Cullins first talk or meet with the client to understand what type of product he or she wants. They then design them digitally and upon client approval, send off the design to be made into polymer plates. If a design requires a hand-drawn element, the sisters draw and then scan their designs.
When they receive the plates in two to three days, the sisters hand-feed each paper into the letterpress. It takes about 10 minutes to print 50 invitations, Cullins said. They also cut the letterpress paper and mix the ink themselves.
“I think it speaks for itself,” Cullins said. “I think there’s a desire to have that personal level and to go back to the basics of beautiful things, and appreciate it and slow down a little.”
By hand making invitations using a classic style of printing, Gonzalez and Cullins are able to personalize the experience for their client, unlike a computer.
“I think our niche is the custom aspect, where the client gets one-on-one personal attention,” Gonzalez said.
The sisters’ ultimate goal is for Fiore Creative to grow into a full-time enterprise, along with their own studio space. While they want to expand the company and possibly use an online selling platform for other pressed goods, they intend on keeping the personal connection aspect intact.
“We love it so much that it being a full-time job probably wouldn’t even feel like work for us,” Cullins said.
While stationery is their main focus, the co-owners aren’t opposed to exploring other options in the future. They both love the Baton Rouge area and plan on staying in the city long-term.
Both sisters enjoy the collaboration process, and critiquing each other’s ideas. The dynamic of their relationship improves the workflow, rather than hinders it. Due to their close bond, they haven’t encountered any significant challenges to their decision-making process as business owners.
“Working together really has been a breeze,” Cullins said. “People say working with your family is so complicated, but it’s not when she’s your best friend.”
Editor’s Note: This story previously said that the Fiore Creative hand draws their designs. They produce their designs digitally unless it requires a hand drawn element.