Finding ways to communicate during challenging life circumstances such as cancer, addiction, grief, and depression can be tough. How do we start conversations surrounding these situations? How do we sincerely express our concerns or love without getting weird about it? While greeting cards are usually the go-to approach for acknowledging things like birthdays, the loss of a loved one, and every special occasion in between, the $8 billion industry has become repetitive and often wasteful... Especially for creative, conscious consumers like us.
There's a new greeting card company coming out of the Bay Area that responds to this by answering our biggest questions with a transformative business model more in alignment with our needs and interests: Thoughtful Human.
Founded by Ali O'Grady (one of the most thoughtful humans whom I've ever had the pleasure of conversing with), Thoughtful Human is a zero waste greeting card company based in Oakland, California that provides us with creative, thoughtful ways to express ourselves and remind the people in our lives that we care for them.
Prior to launching Thoughtful Human, Ali spent her high school days crusading for global warming and those types of things due to her interest in environmental studies. Once she began college at the University of California Santa Cruz, she shifted her focus to psychology and got more interested in mental healthcare, philanthropy and social issues. Upon graduation, she fell into a professional career path in marketing before going back to her core interests with a start-up in Oakland called Back to the Roots.
Back to the Roots was a new urban farming company more aligned with Ali's original interests in sustainability and environmental issues. During her time there, she was able to work closely with Founders/CEOs in the food and tech space, gaining what she calls an "entrepreneurial boot camp" type of experience with lessons that empowered her to combine her interests and launch a business of her own.
"On the environmental side of things, I wanted to create something that was zero waste… And I also wanted to create tools that could really help people with some of the mental health issues that I observed and experienced personally. That is how I took off and started Thoughtful Human back in May 2016."
In the beginning stages of Thoughtful Human, Ali spent about six months working on focusing the design, operations, and logistics of the products on things like cancer, addiction, grief, and depression. She was a caregiver for her father who passed away in 2011 after a ten year battle with colorectal cancer, so these were all things that she dealt with personally. While grieving over the loss of her father, she was also affected by addiction issues that several members of her family were dealing with.
"Through those experiences I really saw how much difficulty people had talking about these types of things and how afraid people were to even ask. You know, it’s an elephant in the room sometimes with things like cancer and depression. What I found from talking to people about my experiences and their experiences, is how desperate so many people are to talk about these things. People don’t really know how to bring it up, especially over time... And that's really the inspiration behind the Thoughtful Human series: to create honest, but kind of quirky/playful ways for people to continue to create a space and conversation around these certain types of issues."
For Ali, a huge part of Thoughtful Human involves crowdsourcing and getting feedback to ensure that her products resonate with her community and other people who are going through challenging life circumstances. Not only does she cover the aforementioned themes, such as illness and depression, but she's also created series of cards that revolve around dynamic relationships as well. (Think — long distance relationships, lukewarm valentines, and strained friendships.)
"I’m starting with cards, but this is way more than a card brand. I see cards as a first step and a tool but, for me, Thoughtful Human is like a standard of behavior and a philosophy. I thought a lot about the process of supporting people through communication. The formula is empathy plus consistency builds trust… Which I think is the most critical factor that allows people to be vulnerable and actually start a conversation where we can grow and heal."
With Thoughtful Human, Ali aspires to build a community around these issues and connect people with the relevant demographic to fill the void she discovered when she lost her father. She noticed that there are support groups for widows, and even children, but not a lot of services that are designed for us 20-somethings who are grieving. Ali's purpose for running her business is deeper than just making a profit... She's passionate about helping people beyond the initial greeting.
Thoughtful Human is currently working with organizations so that the company can contribute to the community in a more holistic way. They have already begun picking up beneficiaries related to each card series from cancer and mental health organizations. In the near future, Ali intends to expand the brand's reach more into military-related groups for Thoughtful Human's long distance relationship series as well as organizations that support work place sexual harassment with legal funds, like the Time's Up campaign.
"The hard, but very beautiful part about this brand is that you don’t have to look very far to find people who are dealing with these things. It’s everywhere... So how do we help everyone talk about it?"
Perhaps what's even more transformative than the message behind this brand, is the physical product itself. Everything for Thoughtful Human (including the packaging) is printed on plantable seed paper that's unique and soft to touch, creating a homemade gift-like aesthetic for each greeting card. Artwork is printed bold and beautifully on this seed paper made from 14 different types of wildflower seeds. You can even plant it in soil to grow flowers, too!
"My focus was on how to create a product that causes no harm to the environment. Everything from the shipping labels I use down to the packing tape is compostable. It’s challenging to do, but a big part of my mission was to also create something that’s really sustainable."
It's clear that Ali O'Grady knows what she's doing when it comes to developing purposeful, creative projects. For her first independent business venture, she was able to cover all the bases by creating a brand that we can be proud to consume from. Thoughtful Human changes the nature of the traditional greeting card industry with an innovative combination of transparency, empathy and sustainability. Although she's just in the early stages of her journey, Ali reflects on the mindset that lead her to be the Founder she is today and shares the advice she'd give the younger version of herself in need of motivation to get started:
"Talk to a lot of people! Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions to anybody and everybody that’s doing something you’re interested in. It’s lead me in directions I haven’t expected. That’s something that was really engraved in me while at Back to the Roots, too — curiosity. The Founders there have created this incredible network of mentors and investors from some of the biggest companies out there that actually, actively mentor them as a really tiny startup in Oakland. A lot of it happened through cold e-mailing and just reaching out to people and taking that shot. I would tell my younger self to do more of that. Even just chatting with professors, and speaking with family and friends; anybody that’s successful. I don’t mean only successful in a straight business sense, but anyone that’s leading a life that you’re interested in or that’s inspiring to you; asking them how they’re doing it and how they got started."
And on what acts of self-care keep her motivated today:
"Self-care is challenging for me. This entrepreneurial, independent life is still relatively new to me so it’s definitely weird to come from a really fast-paced, high intensity start-up and workflow to being totally isolated.
I have this huge vision board on my wall, which may be a little bit cliché… But I break it up into tiles. I have one that says WHAT for what I’m doing. I have a tile that says WHY I’m doing it, and then I have one that says HOW I’m doing it, and then just reminders and inspiration. On the motivation front, it’s about really visualizing what I’m actually trying to do and I look at it every day.
I have the people that I want to partner with, I have the article features I want to land, the sales I want to be making for the WHAT stuff. For the WHY, I have pictures of people, mostly. Pictures of my dad in the hospital, pictures of people who are following me now battling with cancer and addiction, e-mails I’ve received from people since I’ve launched to remind me -- this is why we’re doing it. We’re doing it to move people, heal people, and help people. That for sure motivates me more than anything else. (I also have a tile that says BAD ASS HUMANS and they motivate me, too.)
For more on what I do for self-care... Running and music equates to self-preservation and therapy for me as well as being near water — I spend a lot of time down at Lake Merritt in Oakland!"
Ali's mission to help people all around the world communicate and heal through life's most challenging situations has been ultra inspiring to learn about. She's a true light worker — a Thoughtful Human making Dreams And Real Life Align.
writer, dreamer, lover.