Alton Weekes is a luxury stationery designer whose pieces are closer to works of art than just simply cards. They’re multidimensional with nods to nature in the form of flowers or butterflies, and sparkle with crystal accessories. Weekes’s stationery is carried in the most exclusive stores in the world and is beloved by celebrities, event planners and recurring customers alike. A former navy veteran, Weekes starting selling his first cards in Harlem and credits his neighborhood as the birthplace of his business.
We spoke to Weekes about how his love for stationery started early in his childhood, why he prefers to carried in a few exclusive locations instead of everywhere and got an inside glimpse of his creative process.
When did you first discover stationery?
Alton Weekes: I discovered stationery growing up when my mom would give me and my siblings stationery. Eventually I started making my own, using a blank piece of paper, folding it in half and just drawing on it in my bedroom. I was trying to imitate my mom who would give cards to friends and family. I also started giving them these handmade cards and I just loved how they reacted. People loved them and it made me want to do them even more. As I developed my artistic skills and started selling, I wanted to expand but I didn’t have a sales background. I learned that if your city or town loves you, the world loves you. The first place that carried my product was The Studio Museum in Harlem. Jamie Glover was the buyer there and took my pieces which ended up a 20-year run. Next was Hue-Man bookstore where I had my own rack in the store.
I started thinking, maybe I can be in Barnes & Noble. I went into a store and saw my high school classmate, and told him I wanted to get my cards in the store. He introduced me to the buyer and I ended up being in the 23rd Street store, at Union Square and Astor Place. That eventually led to a few more individual retailers and mom & pop shops. Eventually I got into Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s and Fortnum and Mason. Lots of high-end stores, after all my cards retail for $20-25.
We live in an increasingly digital time, during what special moments do people to use your cards?
People love my cards for weddings, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s day. We also have occasions like baby showers and events. I really know who my audience is, for example, my cards don’t contain sentiments. That’s because a lot of customers of mine are great writers themselves!
On your website, it says “Our products are not in all places” why did you decide to keep your brand more exclusive?
I knew my market wasn’t the Walmart store even if I wanted to be sold everywhere. I can’t design for this customer, I always loved more high-end design. I had the Papyruses of the world came calling me but I would have needed to move into their nexus or location which I didn’t want. I wanted to stay where I am!
Have any of your customers told you any stories about what your products meant to them?
Yes, I have a line of cards that I call my butterfly line. People usually buy them for Mother’s Day and a lot of people tell me, the card made their mother so happy. Also, for events, a lot of people tell me that my invitation sets the tone for the occasion. They know what style it will be and how they should dress. I’ve even had someone tell me “your card got me back with my girl during Valentine’s Day.”
I love to connect with people and with COVID a lot of that market has been lost. I don’t do digital, people want to Zoom, text or Facetime all the time, however when someone does get a card, they say “wow.” There’s nothing like having cards during the holiday season!
What goes into the craftsmanship of making your cards? Do you have any pieces that are particularly complex to make?
Yes, my cards can’t be copied. They are created using the finest paper and embellishments I found traveling the world. I use a lot of personal design papers designed by me or friends which I implement into my creations. I do a lot of tearing, ribbing, and crystal placement. I love rice paper and vellum — I love textures and I love feathers. I use lots of natural elements.
I went to school to learn technical skills, to do things like create my own typeface, package design, and advertise. I have a degree in visual presentation and exhibition design from FIT and also have a Masters in Art Administration from Baruch.
Who are some notable Alton Weekes customers?
Former Essence editor Susan Taylor was one of my first fans. So are Denzel and Pauletta Washington, I delivery holiday cards to them all the time. There are also lots of senators and politicians that buy my stationery.
How does Harlem inspire you?
Harlem inspires me because it gives me the energy and buzz of a city that’s thriving. When I step into the streets, I’m looking at a lot of things – fashion, architecture and people. I might see a beautiful patchwork coat and then think about making a patchwork card that could be great for Father’s Day. I’m always taking clues not just in the streets of Harlem but also magazines and blogs. I love walking in Central Park a lot, I always visit Seneca Village. That’s the part where African Americans lived before they were booted out, before the city made it eminent domain. The plaque tells you there were homes, schools and businesses there by African Americans before, it tells the history.
Do you have any secret talents?I was a chef in the navy, I still cook to this day and learned how to from both of my grandmothers. One grandmother was from the south and one from Barbados. I always fell in love with how my southern grandmother set the table for Thanksgiving and Easter, it made me want to create events. It was the start of the Alton Weekes brand!