Urbanic Paper Boutique offers a curated selection of creative gifts
story By Nicole Borgenicht | PHOTO by Sam Dryfus
Audrey Woollen’s magical store, Urbanic Paper Boutique at Free Market Playa Vista, is in fashion but not trend driven.
“Urbanic is a blend of natural, cotton paper, warm earthy colors and textures, mixed with style and a twist of inspiration from urban lifestyle,” Woollen says. “It is urban mixed with organic.”
The boutique carries a curated selection of beautiful and unique cards, stationery, wrapping paper, party supplies, desk accessories and small gifts. Its best sellers are signature candles, greeting cards, stationery, notebooks and pens.
Woollen doesn’t base her business on trends though. She buys items with themes and designs that are popular across industries such as art, design and fashion, but not simply for the sake of being on trend. Urbanic changes with each season, but what doesn’t change is the character of the shop.
“The brand is aesthetic, street and stylish,” Woollen says. “There are softer colors of a female undertone, a lot of muted colors and color stories for each season. There are also seasonal and holiday gift boxes.”
After Woollen received her bachelor’s degree in journalism, public relations, and advertising from Temple University in Philadelphia, the New York fashion industry swept her up as a designer sales rep. Working in New York, Woollen represented high-end contemporary individual designers showing their new lines and collections, setting up trade shows, traveling and selling.
“I learned the wholesale side of retail all over the country,” Woollen says.
In 1998 she began working in downtown Los Angeles, selling in showrooms and at market, many of the designers she’d represented in NY. Eventually Woollen went freelance, working all trade shows and servicing boutiques.
“It was fun and exciting, lacking sentiment,” Woollen says. “My ah-hah moment was I wanted to create a (paper) boutique version with select beautiful designers in the United States and internationally.”
Nonetheless, these experiences set the road map in varied market and wholesale to retail business for her passion.
“I found meaning behind what I’m doing now,” Woollen says. “Now all is based on thoughtfulness: someone is having a baby, sorry, wedding and so on. Pair that with a love of desk things, back to school time, greeting cards – I used to spend my allowance on all of this.”
Even prior to the retail opening, Urbanic had made a splash helmed by Woollen at the Santa Monica farmers market. She also had a booth at what was then a hot spot at the Merchant’s Mart in Santa Monica with only a small space in the Main Street farmers market at the time.
“I ordered from tiny designers and tagged all the merchandise,” Woollen says.
When the 1,200-square-foot space opened on Abbot Kinney, she went to work.
“I built the business from scratch,” Woollen says. “I went to the paint shop. I had a blog and made friends. I blogged late at night after work. I would blog that I was pregnant and made a lot of late at night blog traction. I had free press from my blog. I discovered a lot of people are into fashion and designers that love paper too, and they came in. I added a gift-wrapping service.”
The business grew and Woollen had become part of a network of people-building business.
“We were featured in Japanese magazines and in Vogue as a special niche, and people could feel my passion,” Woollen says. “Business improved. Then GQ printed that Abbot Kinney was the hippest (shopping) place in America, and all the rents went up. The recession hit us as a brief dip, but an international buyer purchased half the block and business got good again.”
When Playa Vista began developing, Woollen had her eye out for another store. But it wasn’t until Alchemy Works’ owners suggested she also get a spot, that Woollen became inspired to do so. Pre-COVID-19, Woollen had a space in Alchemy Works’ pop-up in downtown LA. Then with COVID-19, everything closed. Urbanic has been at Free Market now for six months.
Woollen’s assistant director is Melody Hansen, who has been with Urbanic for eight years. “She’s my right hand and an integral force behind the business,” Woollen says. “She helps coordinate my ideas and makes them happen. My products include greeting cards, small gifts, baby and kid gifts, party goods, desk accessories, wrapping paper and ribbons, stationery and rubber stamps. We sell a lot of our locally made candle line, and we are different from a big box stationery store because we curate a cohesive collection.”
Urbanic Paper Boutique
12751 Millennium Drive, Playa Vista