One of our favorite moments at Hight Point Discovered is seeing our local community friends start new chapters in the journeys of their small businesses. For our friends at Pen+Pillar, that next chapter started with a brand new brick-and-mortar storefront!
While you’ve probably heard about paper and card company, Pen+Pillar, from us by now, we are thrilled to have the behind-the-scenes into this new phase of their company, which started back in 2016. There is no prouder moment as a community than seeing our neighbors’ dreams become a reality, and that’s exactly what happened for Pen+Pillar founders, Taylor and Justin Mahlke.
Taylor, the artist behind the wealth of greeting cards, notebooks, planners, stationery, and more at Pen+Pillar started the business as a side project in late 2015, primarily through freelancing designs of everything from tattoos to logos. In the meantime, she started building her paper brand.
“I started with paper simply because it gave me a lot of creative control over the product and it was very inexpensive to produce,” Taylor says. “And I always loved getting mail as a kid!”
In the beginning, Taylor says she didn’t “know anything about anything.” She bought a home printer and began printing each one of her cards and notepad covers from home. She would hand cut each piece and pad her notepads with chipboard purchased from local art stores.
“They looked awful back then!” Taylor laughs.
“No, they were good!” Justin, Taylor’s husband and Pen+Pillar’s co-founder, interrupts. “They just look awful compared to what we have now,” he teases.
“Since then, I have wanted to personally apologize to anyone who bought those products and also say thank you,” Taylor adds. “To go from that to where we are now…”
She sits in a studio, surrounded by hundreds of perfectly printed notebook and planner covers, and a litany of supplies ready to be turned into beautifully handcrafted products. While the scale and quality of Pen+Pillar’s production have increased since they started almost 5 years ago, what hasn’t changed is the original commitment to ethically made products.
Taylor and Justin always knew they wanted their products to be made sustainably and ethically, but also at a price point that would be affordable. When they were unable to find a U.S.-based company that could do that, they came up with another solution.
“We decided, ‘We’ll just have to make them ourselves!’” Taylor says. Taylor, as well as Justin – who left his second job to make Pen+Pillar his full–time job – now focus all creative and strategic energy into growing Pen+Pillar. The notebooks are assembled in the back studio of their storefront now, which gives them the creative freedom to create custom pieces with lined, dotted, or blank pages. And of course, any notebook can be made with their variety of beautifully designed covers.
But after Pen+Pillar started to grow, the Mahlkes knew they wanted to turn their company into something bigger than paper supplies.
“We started in wholesale,” Taylor explains, “and we sold to shops just like ours is now.” Over the years, Pen+Pillar’s products have been sold in more than 600 shops, and each month, they continue to add new shops to their list. And as they began marketing directly to the public through their online platforms, the idea of one day owning and operating their own store stayed in the back of Taylor’s mind.
“Small stores are the bread-and-butter of our business,” she adds. “That’s why we were excited to start a store, because we love working with other shops. And I just love shopping!” she laughs.
As the Mahlkes began searching in late 2020 for a potential site for their storefront, they were open to the idea that the store may be a long-term goal, given the changing market with COVID-19. But when their location on N. Main Street came open, they decided to jump on the opportunity.
“We really want to fill the gap of being a place where you can come and only shop small,” Taylor says. The Pen+Pillar storefront carries the beautiful cards, paper goods, and art prints sold on their website, but also includes everything from candles, to bags, to jewelry, to candy – all ethically sourced from small businesses like Pen+Pillar’s.
“Every product was made ethically, sustainably, and by a regular person – not a huge corporation,” says Taylor. “Story cards” sit on the displays with products, explaining to customers where each product came from and who made it.
“We want people to feel like they know who they’re buying from,” Taylor says. “We want to connect the makers with the general public.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed about Pen+Pillar is the Mahlkes’ dedication to supporting and empowering High Point’s local refugee community with their work. Over 10% of High Point’s population made up of refugees, and Taylor and Justin are both passionate about caring well for those neighbors in our city.
The Mahlkes themselves met when they were both serving Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, and Taylor’s parents worked with World Relief while she was growing up.
“Working with refugees has just always been our story,” she explains. Pen+Pillar remains dedicated to supporting local refugee populations by donating 10% of all proceeds back to local refugee resettlement. But their vision for that mission is growing, just like their business.
“When we talk to our friends who are refugees, one of the biggest losses is of dignity,” Taylor notes. “Employment and financial security are two huge ways to bring some of that dignity back.”
That’s why the Mahlkes hope to partner with local refugee resettlement organizations to employ refugees in their store. The Mahlkes also want to make use of local refugees’ talents by hiring artisans to be part of the production process of their new line of jewelry.
“We want to celebrate the diversity High Point has and really appreciate it,” Taylor says. “We want to work with local refugees, both by employing them in the store and making them known in the community.”
“Connecting people is really what helps change hearts and change a community,” Justin adds.
And ultimately, that’s what Pen+Pillar is all about: connection. Whether that be connecting local customers to a small business owner, connecting High Point natives with their neighbors who come from around the world, or simply providing connection through a greeting card mailed to a loved one, Justin and Taylor understand that communities are built on connection.
Discover our High Points,
The HPD Team
Visit Pen+Pillar: 1345 N. Main St. Suite 101
Photography by Maria West Photography