The Moms of Ladyfingers Letterpress Talk About Life as Working Parents
September 9, 2019
The Bump presents #MomBoss, a series dedicated to showing off all-star moms. We catch up with mompreneurs behind products we love, influencers who get real about motherhood and SAHMs who can multitask in their sleep.
Finding the perfect greeting card is never easy, but Arley-Rose Torsone and Morgan Calderini have made it their mission to craft gorgeous letterpressed cards with inclusive messages that resonate with diverse communities. Their secret? Tapping into their own experiences for inspiration—especially when it comes to pregnancy and parenting.
The wife-and-wife duo founded Ladyfingers Letterpress, a Colorado Springs-based stationery and gift brand, in 2011 and welcomed their first son, Casper, into the world nearly three years ago (and now have two more babies on the way!). Here, the women open up about their business, motherhood and how they balance it all.
Torsone: “Morgan and I met while working at an arts non-profit in Providence, Rhode Island. She had just graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and was impressively assembling a community printshop armed only with an AmeriCORPS budget and an art school degree. I was like, ‘Who is this person? She’s getting things done, she’s inspiring all these people to come together, she’s getting equipment donated and she’s building community. Oh, and she built a hot air balloon in college and she’s also super-cute!’
I had been working as the organization’s communications director and handling all the design work, so naturally (and luckily!) we started to collaborate on print materials such as special event posters, invitations, business cards, etc. I was living at a feminist arts collective called the Dirt Palace, I had a fauxhawk and a rattail hairdo, and walked around with jeans covered in paint and ink. There was a little bit of Lady and the Tramp going on, but I have to say I sealed the deal when I made her a plate of my famous Macaroni and Meatballs. We didn’t share a noodle like the movie, but we shared a love of making things and bringing people together (and, coincidentally, a love for a good marinara)!
After dating for three years, Morgan popped the question and we got married a year later. We made our wedding invitations inviting our guests to a love-fueled dance party in the woods (with a ceremony and cake!), so we printed a wild, hand-lettered poster-size invitation in neon letterpress ink. We posted some images of the entire invitation suite online and they got picked up by our favorite stationery blog, Oh So Beautiful Paper.
We were instantly swarmed with requests to make un-boring and super-vibrant wedding invitations from couples all over the world. We quit our jobs at the non-profit and went out on our own a month after the wedding. We rented a studio, hauled a few presses out of basements and quickly grew our payroll to seven full-time employees! As a supplement to the wedding invitations we were making, we developed a greeting card line, which was launched at the National Stationery Show in New York in 2013.
Things were chugging along until a wildfire destroyed Morgan’s family home back in Black Forest, Colorado in 2014. A year later, after lots of planning and packing, we loaded a truck full of presses and our personal belongings and left Rhode Island for Colorado Springs. We found a perfect spot in the heart of downtown for our studio and decided to open up a retail storefront since we had the space. We also teach workshops from this location and operate our wholesale business from a studio in the rear of the store.”
Torsone: “We are LGBTQ-owned, family-operated and women-run! We may have learned a lot of business stuff along the way (apparently, while mistakes can be very costly, we’ve learned they can also be very educational!) but we are not really in the business of being a business. Instead I would describe ourselves as “Artists Making Money By Producing Things They Find Amusing And Helping Others.” We’ve been very fortunate to have found an audience who supports our work and allows us to live the dream! I’m not trying to say that all stationery companies are only motivated by a financial bottom line, but we have the privilege of making decisions from the heart as well. When designing new products, we don’t ask, “Will this make the most money in the world?” but rather, “Will this make the most difference in the world?” As an LGBTQ couple and as makers, we feel a responsibility to tap into feelings that are more inclusive and representative of a larger and more diverse population. We don’t claim to be the voice of every person or experience, but when we aren’t representing our own experiences in our work, we help to elevate the voices of others.
The best feeling is when customers come up to us with tears in their eyes, thanking us for making a card they can give in support of their trans daughter, or a card they can give to their friends who are struggling with infertility. We are driven to share our experiences in the form of a greeting card so others won’t feel so alone. One of our favorite sayings is, “Shared happiness is doubled happiness and shared sorrow is halved sorrow,” and weirdly enough, we think that greeting cards are one of the best ways to share those emotions.”
Torsone: “In 2015 we won Card of the Year for our ‘ Congrats On Your Bun In The Freezer!’ card, which depicts a vial of sperm in a freezer, waving, ‘Hi Moms!’ with his little mittened hand. We were in the process of doing IVF back then and saw a lack of cards on the market made for people like us. We didn’t think anyone would buy it but it’s been one of our hottest cards and have added a ‘Hi Mom and Dad!’ and ‘Hi Dads!’ version. Another favorite is ‘ Thanks for loving me even though I just basically cried, puked and pooped everywhere for the first few years of my life!’ Maybe one day we’ll get this card from our kids? (Ahem, Kids, are you listening?)”
Calderini: “One of our bestsellers in the parenting category is our Mom Yelling happy birthday card. As parents, we were inspired by the constant ‘Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom’ that children use to garner attention. At the very bottom of the card it says ‘Happy Birthday.’ The card is so popular, we also have a version that says, ‘I Love You’ and ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’”
Torsone: “Oh, you mean, ‘Which cards are not inspired by our real-life parenting experiences?!’ Our best products are ones that are made about experiences that we know so deeply because we’ve lived them, which is why we have a lot of best-selling cards about infertility and IVF. It’s a hard topic to write about if you haven’t gone through it yourself, so we try to contribute in ways that help connect people by finding the silver lining in something that’s really hard and sometimes really difficult to talk about. And maybe even laugh about it because you can’t cry about it anymore!
Torsone: “Well, it was a breeze until he started walking! For the first 11 months or so, Casper came to work at the studio with us every day. He’d nap in the back office and fall asleep to the hum of the presses. We even brought him to a trade show where he hung out with us in our booth when he was 7 months old! Now that he’s older, we find ourselves asking, ‘How do other working parents—who don’t have the flexibility of owning their own business—make it work?’
Luckily we have an incredible employee (who also happens to be Morgan’s mom!) who helps us keep everything together. Before we had Casper, we would just work insane hours and not think anything of it, but now that we have a family, we’ve been very strict about our working hours. We don’t live to work anymore, we work to create happiness and balance for everyone in our lives. When we think about it, our parenting ethics are pretty similar to our business ethics (Be honest! Be conscientious! Be kind! Treat others with respect! Try to make the world a better place! Don’t be a jerk!) so by exposing our kids to the way we run our business, hopefully those things will somehow become ingrained in them.”
Torsone: Oof! Well, we are blessed with some very non-morning people (I’m part of the guilty party), so our mornings are usually a little rushed and hectic. Casper will try to convince us he needs chocolate for breakfast, and we’ll try to make sure we aren’t wearing our slippers out the door. Casper is transitioning to a new school this year, which also happens to start an hour earlier than the one he’s used to, so wish us luck as we try to acclimate!
Once he’s dropped off at school, which is relatively close to our work and home, Morgan and I head into the studio for a fully productive day of uninterrupted toddler-free work! We then close the shop at 5 p.m. and head over to collect our child for the evening. We do our best to balance cooking dinner while pushing him on his swing/playing baseball with him/playing trains/etc. We love the fact that he wants to play with us all the time, but we’re hoping that he’ll eventually grasp the concept that we also kinda have to run the house too.
In the meantime, we’ve devised a plan to help entertain him: Morgan is pregnant with twins! So between managing a toddler, a business and a superbly pregnant wife, our ‘typical weekday’ is anything but typical. We try to maintain consistency as much as possible, so after dinner, playtime and a bath (and usually a little YouTube where Casper searches for videos of kids playing with wooden trains, because of course), Morgan and I usually collapse into bed and try not to talk too much about the day because this is our sacred quiet time.”
Torsone: Well, we don’t, really! I mean, we created this life because we like it and it’s the kind of life we want. Our collaboration doesn’t end when we leave the studio. We love bouncing ideas off each other, no matter what time it is. We love sharing the ways we work together with our son, and showing him what it truly means to be a part of a community. Believe it or not, we like hanging out with each other, and aside from small side-projects, we’re usually spending most of our time together. On the other hand, if one of us doesn’t want to talk about work, we’re really good about switching gears and respecting that space because we know how it feels to want to just turn off for a little bit.”
Torsone: “I’m not one of those people who always imagined they’d be a parent. I never fantasized about having kids or felt like being a parent would be central to who I was as a person. But when I met Morgan, having kids suddenly made sense. We had a life that I loved so much that I wanted to share it with other people—people I wanted to raise in this beautiful universe that we cultivated. I also realized we needed more people to eat macaroni and meatballs with, coincidentally.
I don’t think I had a lot of expectations about who I’d be as a parent because I figured I’d just play it by ear! And so far, I’m doing just that, so I guess you can say I’m spot on where I thought I’d be? In all honesty, I never really worried too much about being part of a parenting team because Morgan and I already had a history of working together on really big projects. Aside from working together in our business, we also tried really hard for many years to build our family, so by the time Casper arrived, we were already well-versed in understanding the importance of communication, sharing and delegation. Parenting with Morgan has been easy. It’s the whole “conscientiously raising a growing human being” that throws me for a loop once in awhile.
Calderini: “Yes, going through such a fight to build a family changed me. Having experienced loss and finding a way through the grief of it has meant that I treasure things that the past me would have maybe been less patient about. Getting up in the middle of the night, getting puked on and getting to have a million doctors appointments to watch our twins grow are all celebrated. I find I have so much more capacity to be patient with myself and others.”
Torsone: “Here’s the ‘lite’ version: We have tried everything, but Casper just doesn’t like going to bed at night—or staying asleep, for that matter! Our friends at Sapling Press have a card that says, “Dear Diary, I thought I was just really tired but it’s been 5 years so I guess this is how I look now.” And I fully believe I am headed down that path (and I’m not even the one breastfeeding!). I’m not the kind of person who is able to function well when sleep-deprived, so trying to be a good parent while desperately trying to keep my eyes open at the same time has been somewhat of a challenge.
Here’s the ‘honest’ version: If I can be real for a minute, the challenge of getting pregnant to begin with has been one of the most trying and difficult things we’ve ever had to deal with. As a queer couple, we didn’t have biology on our side, but add infertility issues on top of that and we were faced with all sorts of trials and tribulations. It took us several years to have Casper, and took us another two years filled with almost constant fertility treatments to get pregnant with these twins. As anyone who has personally been afflicted with infertility knows, it can be an all-consuming struggle. The treatments, tests, appointments, drugs and necessary waiting periods made it difficult to be productive at work when our minds and bodies were fraught with “what-ifs” and “why mes?” Trying to be a positive and up-beat figure in our son’s life was sometimes really hard when our bodies were shrouded by the hormones, shots and drugs. We did reciprocal IVF, which means we were able to use my eggs and donor sperm to create embryos that Morgan is carrying. We sympathize with anyone who is going or has gone through this, but we learned that sharing the burden of infertility has helped us grow stronger as people and as parents.”
Calderini: “Everyone has an opinion on sleep and are quick to offer a list of “well have you tried…”. I’ve read every book and Pinterest post about sleep and sleep training. Not all kids fit into a method prescribed by a book. It took us a long time to learn what helped our son fall asleep, and none of it came from a book. Lots of folks would think we were out of minds. So now, I try to remember that listening is the best way to be a friend, and if someone asks, I really temper my response with, ‘Well, this has worked for us.”
Published September 2019