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UCLA

Sugar and Stationery

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By Bekah Wright

Published Oct 1, 2013 8:00 AM


Chelsea Hoffman Shukov ’99 and Jamie Oberg Grobecker ’01 sweeten the stationery industry in an increasingly digital world.

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In a time when wedding invitations arrive via email and thank yous are sent through social media, Chelsea Hoffman Shukov ’99, and Jamie Oberg Grobecker ’01, are going against the grain and bringing back the art of pen and paper. The duo are co-founders of Sugar Paper, a stationery company based in Los Angeles. The uniting force behind the partnership? UCLA, of course.

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Sugar Paper founders Jamie (left), with her daughter Kate, and Chelsea (right), with her son Owen.

The two women forged their friendship at the Delta Gamma sorority in Westwood, a kinship that continued after Shukov graduated. Working for a management and production company (called Brillstein-Grey Entertainment) helmed by Brad Grey, who would later become CEO of Paramount, Shukov was transferred to a new company intended to bring television to the Internet. Alas, the start-up was ahead of its time, and so Shukov and art director Ophelia Chong left to search for new careers.

With Chong as her mentor, Shukov began considering her options. “I remember someone saying, if you look up and don’t want anyone else’s job, you’re in the wrong place,” she says. She began working in art direction, including corporate logo design, tapping her sorority sister network to find private clients, who needed everything from personal stationery to bridal shower invitations.

As Shukov got busier, she turned to Grobecker, who was about to graduate -- the two became business partners. After a while, meeting with clients at coffee shops became awkward. When a retail space next to one of their favorite spots, Clementine bakery-cafe in Century City, became available, Shukov and Grobecker snapped it up and Sugar Paper was born.

Another huge leap was soon to follow, when a special customer walked through their door – Reese Witherspoon. Impressed with Sugar Paper’s work, Witherspoon ordered three stationery designs for an article to appear in InStyle magazine about the revamping of the actress’ office.

Hollywood took notice. Sugar Paper’s roster now reads like a who’s who with regulars from Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow to Justin Timberlake. “Stationery is viral,” explains Shukov.

Sugar Paper’s word-of-mouth also caught the attention of Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, which regularly turns to Sugar Paper with projects. The duo’s hands-on, letterpress approach to printing completed on antique machinery is right up Stewart’s DIY alley. Also answering that old-school style’s call were publications like VOGUE, Vanity Fair, Lucky and Domino.

Now, 10 years after Sugar Paper’s launch, the original store has closed but another in the Brentwood Country Mart remains open. “We’re now sold in hundreds of stores nationwide, as well as in London, Japan, Australia,” says Grobecker.

Where is Sugar Paper turning for help with its growth? The place that brought its founders together, UCLA’s Sorority Row. “No one comes in to Sugar Paper as an expert,” explains Shukov. “When staffing is required we’ll go to UCLA’s Monday night Row Walks and let the houses know we’re looking for holiday help or retail staff.”

“We’re pretty geeky about being Bruins -- we’re so proud of our Bruin status,” says Grobecker. “Our education provided us with tools to open a business without having a business degree, as well as a lot of big-city savvy.”

Echoes Shukov, “There’s something we got at UCLA that’s hard to quantify – leading and guiding a team.”

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