Few people can say that their wedding invitations launched their business -— but Arley-Rose Torsone and Morgan Calderini can.
As artists, the two wanted artistic wedding invitations with panache and jazz, so they created a poster using Torsone’s creative hand lettering in bright neon colors. Then they printed the invitations on a letterpress, Calderini’s specialty.
After their honeymoon, the couple’s phones were ringing off the hook and emails were piling up from people who wanted to place orders for similar invitations. Calderini posted photos of their custom invitations online, and they were featured on Oh So Beautiful Paper, a stationery blog.
Their wedding invitation went viral — and Ladyfingers Letterpress was born.
Started in 2011, Ladyfingers does business globally and is headquartered in Colorado Springs. The two moved here more than two years ago to be closer to Calderini’s family in Black Forest.
“At the time, no one was printing in neon. No one was printing posters. No one was printing letterpress,” Torsone said. “We were making it fun, making it burst.”
Initially, people only wanted invitations in the same style as the ones posted online. For the first three years, the couple designed and printed custom, one-of-a-kind letterpress invitations at their Rhode Island studio. The business grew quickly to a large studio with seven employees.
“We were just an invitation machine,” Torsone said, though their client list grew to include Hollywood actors.
“The nice thing about celebrity clients is that their friends all get the invitation, so we’ve gotten a bunch of work from that,” Torsone said. “And now, all of a sudden, [we’re] in this inner circle of Hollywood craziness, like, ‘I just got a phone call from … THIS person!’”
Despite the brush with fame, the couple decided to expand their business model to other areas. As Ladyfingers Letterpress gained popularity, customers started to request other products, including stationery and greeting cards.
The couple responded by creating “a pretty rudimentary line” of greeting cards, Torsone said.
They unveiled their greeting card designs at the 2013 National Stationery Show in New York City, the major trade show for the greeting card industry.
“We had a terrific response,” Torsone said. “We had a name for ourselves because people would recognize Ladyfingers Letterpress from the custom invitations.”
Ladyfingers Letterpress now sells cards wholesale to 500 retail outlets internationally, for an average of 15,000 cards every month. The cards are popular in boutique shops on the East and West coasts, in Australia, Japan, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
The couple carved a niche for Ladyfingers by filling a gap in the greeting card market: cards for same-sex couples and cards for modern themes like fertility, transgender celebrations and for same-sex parents.
For instance, a card for couples facing fertility challenges won the Louie Award for Card of the Year at the National Stationery Show, considered “the Oscars of the greeting card industry,” Torsone said.
The card says, “Congratulations on your new bun in the freezer!” with a smiling test tube character waving from an open kitchen freezer door and saying, “Hi Moms!” “Hi Dads!” or “Hi Mom and Dad!”
“If you go to the grocery store to look for a card to give someone who’s struggling trying to have a family, there really aren’t any,” particularly for same-sex couples, Calderini said. “So we find our greeting cards are a little outside the norm of what you’ll find in a grocery store, precisely because life isn’t exactly a supermarket aisle anymore.”
The cards have a humorous streak. A Father’s Day card reads, “You’re one BAD DAD! And I mean that in a good way!” Another design for the transgender community reads: “New wardrobe. New pronouns. New name. But I love you all the same.”
After selling cards wholesale for the past three years, the business recently opened a retail store on East Bijou Street, yet another step in developing a strong retail presence.
Thanks to the storefront, the two artists can experience customer reactions to the cards. Watching their retail customers laugh at the messages has given them both new energy, Torsone said.
“It provides a new energy and excitement level you always need as a small business owner — how do you stay engaged and fresh?” Calderini said.
Their oldest printing press is a 1904 Chandler and Price platen press. They also operate a 1942 Vandercook proof press to create paper proofs before sending a job to the faster press. Ladyfingers Letterpress operates two Miehle Vertical presses from 1949 to print the greeting cards; one trims the edges after printing and the other is set up to make the fold.
The equipment inventory includes a paper cutter given to them as a wedding gift from a friend whose family used it in their multi-generational printing business in Connecticut.
“There isn’t a piece of equipment we have that is just a pretty hunk of metal,” Calderini said. “They’re too heavy to just be pretty.”
113 E. Bijou St.
Contact: ladyfingersletterpress.com, 401-523-3087