Samantha Finigan and Whitney Swaffield, a third-generation letterpress printer, first met while working at a New Hampshire ad agency in 2007. Although they initially bonded over a love for their respective pups, Gus and Ruby, they soon discovered they had something else in common: the desire to start their own business. At the time, Swaffield was creating invitations for her own wedding, and she and Finigan had started printing stationery for friends and family, too. Opening their own paper-goods shop, then, just seemed to make sense. “We realized that we both had a passion and a skillset that wasn’t being offered here,” Finigan says.
And so, in 2009, Gus & Ruby Letterpress was born. Specializing in handmade, one-of-a-kind event invitations, the Portsmouth-based company has grown to include three brick-and-mortar locations, including a brand-new shop that opened in October 2020 on Beacon Hill. “Neither of us ever imagined how this little [operation] would evolve into the joyful business that it is now,” Finigan says. “It’s not lost on us how lucky we are to do what we love day in and day out.”
Why bring Gus & Ruby to Boston?
SF: Boston was actually the number one place [we had in mind] for our third store. Anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of our clients on any given year were already coming up from Boston to visit us in Portsmouth [and Portland], so we knew that there was a market for people who wanted the [custom-stationery] experience. We bring a lot of new ideas to Boston because our design sense and aesthetic are different from other [local] stationers. And we truly do it all in our own shop: We are the designers, the printers, and the people who put the wax seals on the back of your invitations. There’s something really nice about being able to say that you know who [touched the] pieces that are so important in your lives.
Why should couples opt for custom paper invitations rather than digital ones or announcements from an e-commerce site?
SF: When you’re working with real people, they have the clients’ best interests at heart. No online stationer is going to email you and say, “Hey, that’s not the correct way to word something” or “These two colors are probably not going to look great together.” Having somebody who knows what your vision is and who wants you to feel like everything came out perfect in the end is invaluable.
WS: Also, paper is one of the few pieces that will last more than a lifetime if you take care of it. Being able to look back at your parents’, grandparents’, or great grandparents’ wedding invitations and learn more about what that day was like for them is such an incredible thing, especially [now when] everything is going digital. It’s truly a keepsake.
What were your own wedding invitations like?
WS: I got married in late August 2010 and had an outdoor wedding at my grandmother’s house. It was a super colorful wedding, so my invitations were printed in various colors and had hand-drawn dahlias and calligraphy. I put them inside muslin bags printed with our names. It was years ago, but I still look at them and think, “Oh, I just love these so much.”
SF: For my wedding, I said to Whitney, “Design whatever you think is going to be beautiful.” I trust her implicitly. The inspiration was a Vermeer still life, so [the invitations featured] really deep, moody jewel tones. It was very type-driven and had lots of interesting colors, such as eggplant and deep plum, along with copper foil.
What’s your process for working with couples on custom invitations?
SF: Typically, the initial contact is a consultation either by phone, Skype, or in person in one of our stores. We’ll talk about your love story and who you are as a couple, which really influence the overall look. It can feel very overwhelming as a client to try to distill your vision into tangible design elements, but that’s why you’re hiring us: to understand your [goals] and translate [them] to paper.
After that, we generate proposals and email those to you. Once everybody feels comfortable, we start the design phase—and that’s where the magic happens. We’ll show you two to four different concepts within the first proof. We want clients to leave feeling like the process was painless and fun, and that the final product really is a reflection of both them as a couple and the experience they’re trying to create for their guests.
How has COVID-19 affected the way your business operates?
SF: We were already pretty adept at working with clients remotely, as many of our couples are not local. But we’ve taken this time to fine-tune our remote experience to make sure that all of our clients feel the love and the bespoke experience we set out to serve even from afar. For example, we’ve [tweaked] our sample-package process to [ensure we] get paper and ink swatches into the hands of clients so they can still see and feel the physical elements of our designs without having to be in our space.
We’ve also been helping our current clients navigate this changing landscape by being proactive about the language they add to their invitations—including details about how any new information will be disseminated—and by reaching out to clients who have had to make the tough choice to postpone to get them started on change-the-date cards. Providing beautiful design for this announcement is so important; it helps remind our clients that though postponing may be disappointing, the celebration will happen [eventually]—and we and their guests are still so excited for them.
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