February 2021 Feature Story - Alyson O'Connor

Alyson O'Connor | Stationer | Rust Belt Love

City Lights Studio

We first met Alyson when we collaborated for a styled photoshoot in Buffalo. I was beyond thrilled that she joined us. Her designs speak for themselves. They are unique, personal, and beautiful! And the fact that they are able to print in-house is outstanding!

As all features we publish on our blog, I get to read them first before they go to publication. Her story was truly moving and exciting to read. Some of the best advice she gives to our readers is this, "trust your gut". I couldn't agree more!

Enjoy her story below.

Tell us about yourself - Where are you from and what did you wish to be/do when you grew up?

I am a classically trained visual artist specializing in pen and ink illustrations and custom stationery. Originally from Buffalo, New York, I moved to New York City after high school to pursue a degree in illustration from the Fashion Institute of Technology. A few years after graduating I moved back to Buffalo to be closer to family. I worked in advertising agencies until 2010, when I turned my side hustle into my full time job. I now run Rust Belt Love, a boutique design firm specializing in luxury invitations and stationery, with my husband, Nick. I design the invitations, greeting cards, and gift items, then Nick prints them on our letterpresses. Our shop is in the historic Market Arcade Building on Main Street in the heart of the Theatre District. Growing up I always knew I wanted to do something artistic for a career. The specific job, of course, changed over time, as I learned the different opportunities available for artists, and as these professions developed with technology.

City Lights Studio

What brought you to where you are today?

I sort of fell into wedding stationery accidentally, the way a lot of stationery designers do, designing invitations for friends and family for years, before deciding to start my own business. Back when I started my company, there weren’t a lot of other people doing custom invitation design in my area, so there wasn’t a ton of competition. The other side of that was that there wasn’t any community, or learning resources easily available, so we made a LOT of mistakes, and took a long time to learn some hard small business lessons. The market is much more saturated today, but there’s also an unlimited number of resources online to help you fast track through a lot of those startup hurtles. Now, there is such a great community of wedding vendors that it doesn’t feel so isolating, and honestly social media can be a blessing or a curse. I have wonderful friends in the stationery industry from all over the world that I wouldn’t have been able to connect with so easily 11 years ago. But - if I had played the comparison game on instagram before establishing my business, I’m not sure I ever would have left the starting line.

Michelle Godfrey Photo

What do you do professionally?

Our company specializes in luxury social and event stationery. We create wedding invitations for couples that want to wow their guests and set the tone for their elevated, beautiful event. We also just launched a line of sentimental letterpress greeting cards and gifts.

What is the number one struggle you find in owning and running a business?