Inside Meek Hall, Ole Miss’ art department and the oldest building without renovations on the Oxford campus, fifth-year student Bella Gonzalez bops around to ’80s tunes oozing from the stereo, riding on the buzz from the air conditioners that line the 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, made its debut with this signature planner this past spring, but the idea was born in summer 2016. It was Gonzalez’ favorite day of the year – the day 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!’” Gonzalez said. “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’ thesis, a final project required to graduate with a bachelor of fine arts degree, needed 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 and officially launched 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 is set to launch at the end of May and will be limited to 500 planners. 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.”
Nature is where Lala Letter affectionately draws the names for the colors of its products – ocean, cotton and rust. The colors may change from year to year to coincide with whatever cause Lala Letter chooses to support, making each item produced a limited edition.
“Whatever the cause may be, I want it to be a cause that I believe in and that my customers believe in,” she said. “That way, I’ll constantly stay up-to-date with those that I’m servicing.”
Derived from the last letters of her name, Bella said 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 was all crafted by talking and sending out surveys to hundreds of girls about what they needed in a planner.
“My biggest inspiration is the women around me, and I went to those women for every single thing,” Gonzalez said. “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 and added, “This is a conglomeration of 250 different girls’ problems with their planners… and a way for me to solve it.”
Gonzalez said it’s been difficult to be taken seriously as a woman in the printing industry, and she has often times been “written off.”
“It was hard sometimes to be taken seriously as a young, stereotypical sorority-looking girl, walking into a print shop like, ‘Hey, can you print me 100 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 learned to assert herself, though, and to defend her ability to produce her vision with confidence and tenacity. And that energy – that Gonzalez hopes will osmosis to those who use her products – has been driving Lala Letter.
“I want to show people, ‘Yeah, I have a good product, but there is a girl behind this product who will stop at nothing,’” Gonzalez said with a smile. “I just think that millennial women are some of the most amazing and world-changing individuals, and I am so proud to be a part of that group.”
To buy a Lala Letter planner or to see other products, visit LalaLetter.com.
Video, story and photography by Savannah Woods, Sarah McCullen and Olivia Schnetzler.
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