Huong Wolf, CEO and Co-Founder of Quilling Card, Keeps an Ancient Art Alive and Uses It To Make the World More Inclusive
Huong Wolf is the CEO and co-founder of Quilling Card, a handmade greeting card business based in Massachusetts. The company has a manufacturing facility in Vietnam, where artisans create each quilled art card by hand, a process that takes one hour to complete. Quilling is an ancient Egyptian technique, where artisans roll and shape long, thin strips of paper and glue them down to make intricate designs. Earlier this year, Quilling Card achieved two Guinness World Records, including Most People Quilling Simultaneously and Largest Quilling Paper Mosaic.
Huong had a successful career in global marketing before taking the leap into creative entrepreneurship. Read about how she pivoted her career in this inspiring interview. Also, don’t miss the story of the company’s braille greeting card line. It’s a beautiful example of how art can make the world a more inclusive place.
Artisan Joy: What is quilling?
Huong Wolf: Quilling is an ancient Egyptian art. This is the art of rolled, shaped and glued paper that results in creating a unified, decorative design. The name quilling is thought to come from the origin of the art—birds’ feathers, or quills, were used to coil the strips of paper around. At Quilling Card, we translate that art in an accessible way, creating quilled cards that are beautiful pieces of art and ways to connect and express yourself.
AJ: How did you become interested in quilled art?
HW: I spent my career in global marketing for large multinational brands, and my husband Raphael was an entrepreneur his entire life. We discovered quilling while we were living in Vietnam. I have always been passionate about handmade products and bought a few quilling wall art pieces as home decor for our apartment in Saigon prior to the birth of Quilling Card, so I knew about quilling as an art form, but hadn’t thought of it as a greeting card.
At some point, a friend asked Raphael to check out a quilling factory that was for sale in Vietnam. He actually misunderstood and thought it was quilting! He thought it may be interesting because he was in the textile business for many years. But when we arrived and learned about the intricate art of quilling, we were immediately intrigued. He thought it would be great if we could create greeting cards featuring quilling. We created an LLC company the very same night at our apartment in Ho Chi Minh City. Our passion for quilling and entrepreneurship were essential elements in the birth of Quilling Card LLC.
AJ: When did you realize that you could turn your craft into a business?
HW: We just celebrated our ten-year anniversary! Quilling Card is a full-time job for myself, my husband and more than a dozen employees in our US office as well as hundreds of skilled artisans who craft our cards in Vietnam.
I made the decision to go full time fairly quickly after visiting that factory and creating our LLC. I left my corporate job once we made this decision, and I’ll never forget my boss’s reaction—he laughed at the idea I was going from marketing huge multinationals with giant budgets to creating greeting cards. But I knew it was time for a change, and I was excited to create something meaningful for other people. When I first started to observe how people were reacting to the cards—in awe at this beautiful form of art they had never known of before—it gave me the confidence that the Quilling Card would be a success.
We launched Quilling Card during the National Stationery Show at Javits Center in New York City on May 12, 2012. We are a grassroots company founded in our humble apartment in Saigon and completely self-funded, with a few family-and-friend loans here and there. We have grown the business year over year from a one-woman show to over 500 women and men now, even during the challenging years of COVID, and we take pride in maintaining full ownership.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration?
HW: We are inspired by a wide variety of things: artwork, scenes in nature, ideas from our customers and our team! We are in the midst of launching an artists line, first featuring our “Starry Night” greeting card. This was inspired by a project we undertook to celebrate our tenth anniversary: a Guinness World Record title for the world’s largest paper mosaic—a larger-than-life feature of Van Gogh’s famous painting.
Another great example is our Braille line, which we launched because we recognized a gap in the market, which has very few Braille cards. We knew that the 3D nature of quilling lent itself beautifully to Braille, but beyond that we recognized a unique opportunity. We have dozens of deaf quillers at our factories, and we thought it was a wonderful chance to have our deaf quillers make cards for our blind customers. The deaf use their hands to make the cards, and the blind use their hands to read the cards, creating a special connection from the hands of the artisans to the hearts of card recipients. We partnered with one of the country’s leading schools for the blind in this project which gave us tremendous feedback and great consumer insights that were invaluable to the successful creation of this collection.
Beyond that, the designs are inspired by what we believe our customers will love, and if you look at the hundreds of designs we have available, you’ll see that we’ve thought of nearly everything and are always introducing new cards!
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
HW: Quilling Card was selected for Shark Tank in 2020—but we turned it down! I seriously considered it, but my husband and business partner, Raphael, pointed out that we had grown the business to the point that we really did not need investors. That being said, if we’d gone forward, Mr. Wonderful would have been my choice for a Shark to take an investment from!
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
HW: The notion of perfectionism is so subjective when it comes to any kind of art. Throughout our design development process for each card, it is easy to find critiques and want to make revisions with each and every draft—a natural tendency for any creative, as you mentioned.
How we view perfectionism in our quilled designs is not defined purely by aesthetics, though. It is defined by a design that while beautiful, will also evoke an emotional response and be able to convey special meaning or symbolism. We make sure to keep focused on working towards this goal throughout the design development process of each card.Huong Wolf, CEO and Co-Founder, Quilling Cards
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their art out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?
HW: Don’t hesitate and just do it! It is the best way to continue growing and developing your craft, and the only way you will start finding your audience. If you believe in your work and have perseverance, you will likely end up being surprised at what unexpected opportunities may come your way once you start sharing your art.
AJ: What’s something that surprised you about running a creative business?
HW: I’ve been surprised at how impactful our cards have been for so many individuals and at the potential each design we create has to touch people in such special ways. We have had many customers reach out and share stories of how our cards had been part of such significant moments in their lives.
AJ: Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?
HW: We’ve certainly received bits of criticism throughout the years, which we know is just something to be expected. It is important that we make sure to always stay open-minded and be able to use criticism to make improvements to our designs and business. Our customers have given us valuable feedback over the years that we are grateful for.
AJ: What’s a cause you are passionate about and why? Please list a link to a website where our audience can learn more about this cause?
HW: I have lost many college friends and coworkers to breast cancer. We once had a customer call us and ask if we had any designs with a theme related to battling cancer. Her friend, who loves quilling, was in hospice and had only two weeks to live. We immediately created a breast cancer ribbon design and hand wrote a message to send directly to the breast cancer patient to get there in time. The design is still in our line today.
We also created a special design in partnership with the Joy to Life Foundation. They are committed to providing resources to underserved women in Alabama providing free mammograms, building awareness and promoting overall good health and wellbeing. We give 20 percent of sales of this specific card design to support the foundation.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: What brings you joy?
HW: What brings me joy is to see our company and quillers grow professionally. When we first started our business, it was very hard to recruit and retain talent since many did not believe that quilling was a career; they thought quilling was a hobby or seasonal job. Today, we have people who come to us knowing nothing about quilling, but through our training, coaching, and development program, have become master quillers, designers and senior managers.
Another joy of mine is to read our Google reviews from customers who our cards have significantly impacted. They share the effect the card had on their lives or how it enhanced their relationships with family and friends. Finally, the most rewarding part of our business is that we created the market for this ancient art form and we are responsible for keeping quilling alive and flourishing in the modern day.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity. Story originally published on 7/29/22 and title and subtitle updated on 8/2/22.