Still here, still alive: Chunky Paper

Mamiya RB 67 - Portra 400

Pop-up shops and events are rare during this pandemic, when most are spending their days at home trying to keep their loved ones safe. Through my weekly visits to Los Angeles’Chinatown, friends in the community told me about a new space that had opened around the corner of aplaza, tucked in a cozy space off of Hill St. The shop is called “Chunky Paper”, a neat shop with a new, creative take on the traditional red envelopes that are distributed through the Asian community during Lunar New Year. 

The owners of the shop, Jeff and Julie Lien, are a husband and wife team with a background in graphic design. We had an interesting conversation about the Lunar New Year holiday. I was curious about Chunky Paper’s origin and wanted to know more about their experience having a pop-up shop during a pandemic. While their pop-up has come to a close this weekend, their online shop is still available to purchase red envelopes, and you can expect to find them back in May with a permanent spot in Chinatown for AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.) 

Q1: How did you both start a pop-up shop?

We had an idea to create red envelopes for F&F (friends & family) because it was something we’ve wanted to do for a while. We started designing and producing them. We have a design studio (Yellow Mascot) where we’ve been making greeting cards and art prints for a while. So we were lucky to have materials and practice with paper goods. From there we started an Instagram and just had some fun sharing it out. The pop-up came about just around this time, which was a few months before Lunar New Year. A friend (now our landlord) reached out in response to some of the stuff we were sharing, and offered us the spot. Great timing. 

- What were the risks that needed to be considered when you started? 

Not having done a physical pop-up before, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We considered costs of producing at scale, rent, sourcing inventory, and decorating. Outside of costs there’s timing, and trying to create a schedule where we would be able to design products, reach out to collaborators, decorate the store, and plan out marketing. 

  + Does your budget determine how long your pop-up can exist? 

Of course. Budget is a gatekeeper that affects all startups. That and I’d say how much of a workload you can handle with a small team (for us, it’s just us two). At the peak of our pop up for example we ended up working 16-18-hour days to keep up with demand as we got closer to LNY. That can be demanding for even the most energetic of people. 

+ Was there positive feedback from various individuals prior to the pop up that pushed you both into starting the pop-up?

Yep support from friends and family will be there if you look for it! But equally important we felt good about what we were making. In fact, we were originally making stuff for our F&F in the first place, so it worked out well. As far as pushing us to start a pop-up, that came more from already being in “start-up” mode with our design studio, so it was more timing that pushed us to start.

- How did you secure your current space?

Luck! And relationship building. We met our current landlord through our design work. At the time (over a year ago) we didn’t expect to be renting a spot in her building, we connected through our mutual love for Chinatown and wanting to promote Asian American designs.

+ Does size of your space matter? 

Depending on what your vision is, what your products are, sure space matters. Having a space that compliments what you’re trying to do is important. There is flexibility involved as you’re probably not going to have everything on your checklist, but that’s part of the fun. We needed to build out the space so that we could highlight our envelopes and then fit in art for the show. Good thing the spot had lots of wall space so it was pretty straightforward!

Q2: Since you’ve opened in February for the Lunar holiday, how did the transition feel going into March toward the end of your pop-up?

Great! Lot of positive feedback from customers and the community

- Were there adjustments that needed to be made, such as adjusting the shop to be a gallery space to sell pieces from local artists?

We learned a lot from the first few weeks. We had known we wanted to do more than red envelopes, based on the design process/timing. So, we expected to incorporate more products, namely art. Even before we opened we began convos with artists to product art pieces for our “I’m From Here” show. Lot of planning on a nightly basis. Even as I type we’re still planning out final things we want to do before we conclude our pop up.

- Were there customers still purchasing red envelopes after the holidays? 

Yep! We’re blessed to have supportive customers. Some have purchased envelopes as art pieces for their home, some collect them, and many have purchased them to give out for birthdays and other special occasions. We did our best to design fun envelopes that were fun to look at and give away :)

- What kept the momentum for Chunky Paper to finish strong? (did media coverage from local news help? collaboration with individuals or with the community?)

Hard work! Continued support from everyone who’s visited us, liked one of our posts, or given one of our envelopes to F&F!

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