Chelsea Shukov + Jamie Grobecker: Sugar Paper


Chelsea Sonksen

Photographs: Diana Relth

The powerhouse duo behind Sugar Paper, Chelsea and Jamie, met during their college years at UCLA. When they graduated, they realized there was a market for high-quality, tasteful correspondence designed for a younger demographic. Armed with an antique letterpress, the two began making stationery for themselves and their families. Now, thirteen years later, the women manage a 35-member team and coordinate five different business models: retail, wholesale, online, manufacturing, and licensing.

Although Jamie manages finance and Chelsea is in charge of marketing, they consult with each other throughout the day and are both deeply involved every aspect of Sugar Paper’s operations. “We made a choice at some point to have each other’s back,” Chelsea said. “We live on the same street, our kids are best friends, our husbands went to college together, and we work together all day.”

“And we still like each other!” Jamie added, grinning.

Over the past year, Sugar Paper has launched two collaborations with Target and designed a collection of holiday cards for J. Crew. Despite their steady growth, Chelsea and Jamie continue to host events in their Brentwood Mart shop. There is no shortage of excitement or hard work for these two, and, rumor has it, bigger things are still in store for the year to come.

What advice do you have for young women who want to start their own business?
C+J: Owning and operating a business is an enormous commitment. Your business becomes a large part of your everyday life. It is essential to align what you want out of your life and what you want out of your business. If you do that, you can do anything you set your mind to.
Is there a choice you regret or wish you had made during your company’s creation?
C+J: One of the most wonderful things about our story is that we just took the leap. We had such a steep learning curve in the beginning. We were completely underprepared, but we were so young and energetic, and we put in 18-hour days to make it all work. In the years since, we’ve both had children, and what we did then would be impossible now. These days we run home at 5 pm to make dinner and read books to the kids.

What changes has your company undergone since its conception?
C+J: We have grown a lot. We went from two girls and a letterpress to 35 employees, a warehouse, and nearly 2,000 accounts. We used to do all the printing ourselves, run the shop, and do all of the design. Now we have teams of people who work on those things with us. The only constant at Sugar Paper is change.

How do you run your company differently than a man would? Would you say that there is a difference?
C+J: There is absolutely a difference. Women with children have limits on their time that most men do not have. Because of this, we have to be extremely efficient with the hours we have in the office. There are many things we have to say no to simply because there isn’t enough time in the day to be a good mother and a good businessperson. Our children are enormously important to us, and they are a priority in our lives.

What do you look for in a potential employee?
C+J: We take our team very seriously, and we believe that the synergy of the team is very important. We look for someone with a great attitude, a strong work ethic, and a desire to learn. We value those attributes over a list of achievements.

What’s the best part of your day?
C: Putting my kids to bed. Reading books and having them share the things that are important to them.
J: The mornings. Waking up with my family, playing with the kids, andhaving my morning coffee reminds me that every day is a new day.”

What nourishes you?
C+J: We both feel lucky to be married to men who encourage us to follow our dreams. We share a group of friends—other impressive, working women—who are a great support system. Time with family and wonderfully supportive friends reminds us what the work is for.