Story and photos by Sarah McCullen. Video by Olivia Schnetzler, Savannah Woods, and Sarah McCullen.
Inside Meek Hall, Ole Miss’s art department and oldest building without a renovation, fifth year student Bella Gonzalez bops around to 80’s tunes that ooze from the stereo and ride on the buzz from the air conditioners outside the long wall of thin glass windows where her studio is housed. She pulls month-emblazoned paper dividers and earth-colored filler paper out of a closet, spreads them out on a paint-splattered art table, and crunches them in a massive hole punch machine to make one of her signature Lala Letter planners.
Lala Letter, a shining new stationary line based out of Ole Miss, first stepped onto the scene with this signature planner this spring, but the idea was born in summer 2016. It was Gonzalez’s favorite day of the year– the day that she bought a new planner for the upcoming school year. She clicked and browsed, but a wave of disappointment swallowed her when she couldn’t find a planner that fit all her needs.She rallied, and resurfaced with the “overwhelming urge” to make her own.
“I thought to myself, ‘Bella, this is what you know how to do. You’re a graphic designer, you know how to market it. Just make your own!’ It was that day that I knew I would make a planner, but it was when I had to come up with a project for my BFA thesis that it came to life,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’s thesis, a final project required to graduate with a bachelor of fine arts degree, required an exhibition of products that included the Lala Letter planner, Lala listers, pens, greeting cards, and other earth-toned stationary and paper products. She combined her BFA thesis with her honors thesis by creating a business plan, officially launching Lala Letter into business orbit.
In preparation for her exhibition in April, Gonzalez handmade 50 planners, and sold all 50 before she defended her thesis. The next round of sales will launch at the end of this month, and will be limited to 500 planners, and a portion of the sales will go to conservation programs.
“If this is going to be successful, I want other things to be successful, and people are going to buy things they believe in,” Gonzalez said. “I believe every dollar that’s made here should benefit something, so this year, five percent of proceeds are going to nature and ocean preservation.”
It is from nature that Lala Letter affectionately draws it’s names for the colors of it’s products- ocean, cotton, and rust. The colors may change from year to year to coincide with the cause Lala Letter chooses to support, making each item produced limited edition.
“Whatever the cause may be, I want it to be a cause that I believe in, and that my customers believe in, and that way I’ll constantly stay up-to-date with those that I’m servicing,” Gonzalez said.
Derived from the last letters of her name, Bella says her most prominent desire for Lala Letter is to empower women by inspiring them to internalize the idea of being a “girl boss,” a term coined by Sophie Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal Fashion. From the organization of the planner to the witty quotes inside it, it was all crafted by talking to hundreds of girls about what they needed in a planner, and by sending out a survey to about 100.
“My biggest inspiration is the women around me, and I went to those women for every single thing. I’d see a girl pull out a planner in a coffee shop, and I’d walk over and be like ‘Can I ask you about that planner?’ and they’d look at me like ‘who are you?'” she laughed. “This is a conglomeration 250 different girls’ problems with their planners and a way for me to solve it.”
She also commented that it has been difficult to be taken seriously as a woman in the printing industry, often getting “written off” because of the stereotype attached to her appearance.
“It was hard sometimes to be taken seriously as a young, stereotypical sorority-looking girl, like walking into a print shop like, ‘Hey, can you print me a hundred planners,'” she said as she imitated those she encountered, waving her hands and rolling her eyes. “They were like, ‘Uh, you can’t afford that,’ or ‘you should go to this other little website.”
She said she learned to assert herself, and to defend her ability to produce her vision with confidence and tenacity, and that is the energy that has been driving Lala Letter. This is the energy Gonzalez hopes will osmose to those who use Lala Letter products.
“I want to show people like, yeah I have a good product, but there is a girl behind this product who will stop at nothing,” Gonzalez smiled. “I just think that millennial women are some of the most amazing and world-changing individuals, and I am so proud to be apart of that group.”
To buy a Lala Letter planner, and to see other Lala Letter products, visit LaLaLetter.com.