Jaime Lee: A Balanced Perspective
Jaime Lee is lying on the floor of her apartment in Jalan Bukit Merah. We’re working on a rather unusual photoshoot—an Instagram-inspired life-sized flat lay, which she has gamely agreed to pose alongside her line of notebooks and greeting cards. Some might be hesitant to manoeuvre much while being six months pregnant, but Jaime is exceedingly accommodating and takes direction very well. As the creative force behind stationery purveyor The Paper Bunny, the talented designer has earned the moniker “flat lay queen”. She curates a gorgeous Instagram feed for her brand featuring flat lays of their products like notebooks, phone cases, greeting cards and clutches. In every photo, each item is artfully placed so that the proportions are just right—larger pieces are balanced with smaller ones and everything is perfectly coordinated in line with their signature pastel colour scheme. Not surprisingly, Jaime is just as well put together as her famous flat lays. Her partiality to minimalism come through quietly in what she wears and how she speaks—avoiding unnecessary flair. The only thing that stirs the perfect order that she epitomises, is when she breaks into an infectiously genuine smile—one of the widest, most natural grins I’ve ever seen. As I feel myself being drawn in, she answers my questions with such natural positivity and inner optimism that I cannot help but admire how that brilliance complements her pursuit of perfection. Jaime’s air of wholesomeness also extends throughout her home—a cosy, colourful space outfitted with stunning mid-century furnishings. Her cushion covers and wall hangings are emblazoned with upbeat messages like “no grouches allowed” and “loads of love and good vibes”. These same encouraging words also decorate The Paper Bunny’s prints, penned in her admirable calligraphy. She explains, “Our brand hopes to inspire people through design and empower people through words.”
HUI WEN CHIN: Who is the ideal The Paper Bunny consumer? What are her goals and dreams?
JAIME LEE: She’s a modern woman with two key strengths: great style and a big heart. She is trendy, sassy and has a strong sense of what she wants in life. But she also needs inspiration and wants to provide inspiration to others—so she writes notes to her family and friends, sharing the spirit of love and hope.
HUI WEN: Yes, your stationery sometimes includes uplifting Christian quotes. Would you consider yourself a religious person?
JAIME: I grew up in church. I’m a Christian and that influences everything I do. I believe it is God who helps me to run my business, and I rely on him for inspiration and strength. But I don’t see The Paper Bunny as a Christian brand. It’s just that my values come through in the products we create.
HUI WEN: Your flat lays are so pretty and organised. Would you say that’s also a reflection of your personality? Are you an organised person?
JAIME: [laughs] That’s funny. I’m not organised at all. My husband [Justin] is the neat one.
I have a good eye for what looks nice.
HUI WEN: What are your strengths then?
JAIME: I have a good eye for what looks nice and know intuitively what appeals to our customers’ aesthetic.
HUI WEN: What does “good design” mean to you?
JAIME: Good design is not just visually appealing. It is also functional in a way that can improve processes and lives. For example, we aim to ensure that our notebooks don’t just look stylish, they also have a variety of options of pages (lined or blank, alternate or perforated), which make them versatile. They become multipurpose books perfect for a range of uses: recording schedules, listing tasks to do, taking notes at meetings and journaling. The concept of design is so vast—it applies to every product around us, including our furniture, books, cups and even computers.
HUI WEN: Since the launch in 2013, you have created a lifestyle brand for The Paper Bunny. What does it take to create a brand?
JAIME: To create a good brand, you have to be consistent in your messaging, whether it’s visually or the tone of voice. Your customers need to know what to expect from you. For example, our customer base is primarily women so we focus on colours that would be appealing to them. It can be difficult to be consistent when you have so many ideas because you just want to be everything to everyone… but that would confuse the customer.
HUI WEN: Are there any other brands out there that inspire you? And what do you appreciate about each of them?
JAIME: I always admire brands that have a strong identity, especially fashion brands like Mansur Gavriel. They have a clean and beautiful aesthetic, which has helped them create a cult following. We know the type of women who would use their products and what to expect from them. Australian swimwear brand, Her the Label, has also gotten their branding right. Their look is sleek and minimalist, and everyone wants a piece of it.
HUI WEN: I read in Elle Malaysia that the best advice anyone ever gave you was to “do one thing well”. Why was this advice important to you?
JAIME: When I got that advice, I was thinking of creating leather products. However, I decided against it and chose to focus on our stationery range before I moved on to other things. The advice reminded me at a critical point in time that The Paper Bunny is a stationery and lifestyle brand. We need to stay true to our roots. A simple leather product wouldn’t truly represent what the brand is all about. It’s important to me that our aesthetic comes through in each and every product. And we’re not just making new products for the sake of it.
There was always a huge part of me that wanted to create.
HUI WEN: You were previously a lawyer. Is focusing on one thing why you gave that up in order to pursue The Paper Bunny full-time?
JAIME: Well, yes and no. The journey from working as a lawyer to becoming a creative happened organically. I started in the legal field because I studied law. The path was laid out for me: Go to law school, find a job, train at a law firm and practise law. But there was always a huge part of me that loved to create. When I stumbled upon graphic design, I loved it and decided to pursue it through further studies and working on wedding stationery. However, I wanted to create products that would reach and impact real people in their daily lives, so I started The Paper Bunny. At the beginning, I didn’t think I was going to hire a lot of staff and create a huge business. The real focus on the business came much later. In fact, it was only in the last year that I left my job.
HUI WEN: What made you leave?
JAIME: I faced the prospect of having a child, working a full-time job and also running The Paper Bunny. All three of these roles are huge. I couldn’t physically handle it and had to decide whether I would stay as a lawyer or leave to work on my own business. The Paper Bunny still had so much to give, so I decided to leave my profession.
HUI WEN: With so much more potential to grow, what’s your greater vision for The Paper Bunny?
JAIME: We hope to grow internationally. Our products are already in stores in Hong Kong, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, South Africa, the UK and United Arab Emirates. With The Paper Bunny’s strong social media presence, it is easy for us to get noticed by stores all over the world and they reach out to us wanting to carry our products. That being said, in the next few years, we’ll be more proactive with our choice of cities so our products reach a wider audience.
HUI WEN: Does your legal training help you now as a business owner?
JAIME: Definitely. Apart from being able to size up contracts, my legal training has taught me to be careful, concise in my communications, analytical and efficient. So even though I might not still be a practising lawyer, I don’t regret any of it.
HUI WEN: What are the things you look out for in contracts with stores that carry your products?
JAIME: You know, it’s funny—I can read a contract and immediately see the pitfalls. But I might not have the bargaining power to change anything. Then, I ask myself: What can we do if we really want the deal? And are we ultimately willing to walk away? Contracts aside, there are so many factors to weigh. The letter of the law is one thing, but if you have good relationships with your business partners, that can take you so much further than just negotiating a contract.
HUI WEN: What’s a typical day like for you now?
JAIME: Every day is a little different. Also, it’s all going to change when we move into our new office just across the street from our home in two weeks. I usually get up and make breakfast for Justin, exercise and read my Bible before starting work or heading out for meetings. By lunchtime, I'm back home. My team then comes over to work until it's time for dinner. Thereafter, I either eat in or attend events. If I decide to stay at home, I work, watch TV shows and spend time with Justin.
HUI WEN: Would you describe yourself as an introvert or extrovert?
JAIME: I’m an extrovert—I enjoy meeting people and cannot go a week without attending a group gathering. Without my friends, I would feel lost. But I also do appreciate quiet moments to myself. Sometimes, I work better alone.
I’m always thinking about my staff and whether I’m showing enough concern for them.
HUI WEN: What do you think or worry about when you are alone?
JAIME: I worry I’m not good enough to manage this whole business by myself. I’m always thinking about my staff and whether I’m showing enough concern for them. In terms of product timelines, I also wonder: Are we pushing out new products quickly enough? Are the products what customers want? Moreover, I think about how can I better understand the business operations as well as be a better creative and boss.
HUI WEN: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced running your business so far?
JAIME: Coming from a corporate background, having to manage all the components of the business is new to me. The creative component is just one part—I’m good at that, but I wish I was better at finance and accounting. I speak to friends to gain insight into how they deal with financial matters, and I have an accountant who helps with the actual number crunching. Hopefully, with that assistance, we can get all our finances in order.
HUI WEN: How do you overcome self-doubt?
JAIME: I pray, talk to my husband who is a huge source of encouragement, and try not to dwell on it. You can’t be perfect and there’s no benefit in worrying. Just grit your teeth and work on getting better. When you work on your weaknesses, you soon move ahead.
HUI WEN: You seem so emotionally strong and healthy. What does being a “strong woman” mean to you?
JAIME: A strong woman is resilient in the face of adversity. She is not overwhelmed by the different roles she has to fill. Instead, she picks her priorities, and chooses what is best for her and the people around her. At the same time, she is humble and willing to ask for help when she needs it.
HUI WEN: The last few years must have been amazingly busy for you, juggling both law and The Paper Bunny. Many women find it difficult to have a work-life balance. How do you make sure your relationship with your partner stays strong?
JAIME: Thankfully, I found my husband before the business happened. We met in law school. Although he has a full-time job as a legal counsel, he helps me with decisions throughout the day and I ask for his opinions via Whatsapp. Communication is key because how often you speak to your partner reflects whether they are a priority. Family is so much more important than any to-do list. We watch Netflix together, go to church and hang out with mutual friends to stay close.
HUI WEN: Finally, with such a busy life, you must need a break. What is your idea of the perfect vacation? And when is the next one?
JAIME: I just got back from San Francisco—Justin and I got to spend plenty of time with each other and our friends. We also took a road trip to LA and Yosemite Park, and it was a beautiful experience. For now, we’ve got to put travel on hold because I’m having a baby in three months.
Edited by Wy-Lene Yap