Interview by Stella Gilbert ’22.
Recently I got the opportunity to speak with a successful alumna from NA’s class of 2013: SaVonne Anderson. Anderson is an entrepreneur and advocate for environmental justice, creating sustainable stationery and paper products with unique, earth-toned designs. You can check out her company, Aya Paper Co at ayapaper.co. Below are a series of insights from Anderson about entrepreneurship, sustainability, and the Newark Academy experience.
Can you give us a brief background about some of your creative endeavors?
I’m the founder of Aya Paper Co, where I design sustainable gifts and stationery. I worked previously as a graphic designer and studied New Media and Digital Design at Fordham University. I also published a book of personal essays in college and interned in the department of social good at Mashable.
Why did you decide you wanted to start your own company?
I was doing some freelance design and spending lots of hours working on graphic design at a nonprofit, but was getting kind of burnt out. I was the only designer there and doing photography, website, just a lot of hours of work. I learned lots of skills there that I use now, but I knew I was ready to do something that would let me think about a business from a wider perspective rather than just through communications and media. Since a lot of design jobs are focused on screens, working at a museum I got to explore more print and realized this was one of my passions. Plus, working for a client, you don’t have as much control over your work and that was getting pretty frustrating for me. I decided to do a personal project that I thought I would enjoy. I wanted to pursue something beyond my frustrations.
How did you start your work at Aya Paper Co.?
I started making these greeting cards. I was keeping track of nice things friends would say to me—like “You are so strong and beautiful and the world is lucky to have you”—and those turned into the first three greeting cards I ever designed. Those did well and seeing small successes gave me the green light to pursue this even more. We formally launched in July of 2019 after working for 6 months to get everything established. Those were the beginnings of me taking it all seriously. From July to January 2020, I did the work on the side of my full-time job, but I decided in the fall that I was gonna leave my job soon. My last day was in February of 2020. I was really enjoying the business and saw opportunities there and just wanted to take that leap to take advantage of them.
Did your time at NA help you reach your current successes?
Definitely. Being there helped me to be more independent, learn how to think for myself, and realize there are a lot of ways to solve different problems. English and Humanities especially helped me become an analytical thinker and interpret information to put out in the world and think about the world around me. Ms. Schottland was my favorite person in the world—she taught me about the impact of different social movements and how art can contribute culturally to the zeitgeist (one of the words she taught us!); she showed me the importance of artists in contributing to society. That made me feel confident in a creative career even now.
Have you carried any life lessons from high school to now?
Yeah, at NA it wasn’t about the subject matter, it was about how the teachers empower you to figure things out even when they’re hard. I remember Chem Honors, no one let me quit. You may not be good at everything, but that can’t mean you don’t do it. Trying new things and not always being the best at it. Not always comparing to what other people are doing. One bad month of sales, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. There are always lessons to learn and ways to cope with things not being simple or easy and seeing the full picture.
What would you say to young creatives at NA now?
To not be afraid to change your mind, evolve, and shift. At NA, I never thought I’d be doing what I do now, but just be in the moment and live the experiences because it’s important to be open to changes. There’s nothing that’s a waste of time. Everything along the way will help you out, there’s no right or wrong way, things will work out and you should follow what you are drawn to. You can take what you learned and your knowledge will always help you. Dont get too caught up in doing more than you can or are passionate about.
Any final advice for the reader who makes it to the end of this interview?
You may not be friends with everyone from high school 10 years from now, but realize who’s around you that you share passions with that you may stay connected with years in the future. It’s so important to stay connected with people around you—students and staff—you never know what it is you can offer to each other.
Interested in learning more about SaVonne Anderson? Check out these press links:
The Story Exchange: Giving Black People a Place in the Stationery Aisle – and the Climate Chaos Fight
Refinery 29: Zero Waste Isn’t The Only Answer To Sustainability—These 5 Women Are Rethinking Environmentalism
Parade: These 6 People Successfully Switched Professional Gears During the Coronavirus Pandemic
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