Book of British Luxury 2020 | The Paper merchants: G . F Smith

“Close your eyes and feel the quality between two fingers: the feel of unique luxury, warmth and honesty. That is when you realise the power of consider paper and print.” This power is vividly encapsulated in the 2020 Book of Luxury, which – thanks to our partnership with G . F Smith, the most remarkable paper merchant in the world – is printed on a array of fine, sustainable, papers.

We spoke with G . F Smith’s joint Managing Director John Haslam on the company’s heritage, how it has evolved for the 21st century, and ‘why paper is the new digital’…

Can you tell us more about G . F Smith and what it stands for as a business?

George Fredrick Smith founded our remarkable company in 1885. George was a man with a singular passion for fine paper. Both he and his son were driven by the belief in its beauty and possibilities and shared an admiration for the craft of the printers and publishers that used it. Together the Smiths travelled the world in search for the most extraordinary and beautiful paper. They employed the most passionate and engaged people and were driven to offer exemplary service. Today we share these ambitions and beliefs.

We are obsessed with the simple beauty and limitless possibilities of paper.”

What’s your vision for the company?

G . F Smith have a vision to become “The world’s most respected and remarkable fine paper company”. We are obsessed with the simple beauty and limitless possibilities of paper. As a Company, we  are custodians of a remarkable legacy- 130 years making and curating the World’s finest and most distinctive papers. We work in partnership with brands, creatives, designers and specialists providing the foundation for those who seek to create.

People are and will always remain the fabric of G . F Smith. We’ve built a welcoming team passionate loyal experts in a thriving independent company. Every one of us is dedicated to meeting the needs of our customers, pushing innovation and responding to the demands of our twenty-first century audience. Paper remains a profoundly important and valuable material, as relevant today as it was at our founding in 1885. People are our foundation. Paper is our passion.

Paper remains a profoundly important and valuable material, as relevant today as it was at our founding in 1885.”

Finally, I am simply guardian of Brand G . F Smith. Our vision is to establish a new Board of Directors that will ensure George Fredrick’s legacy is maintained for decades to come.

G . F Smith has recently acquired Fine Art Paper Supplier R . K Burt & Co. Is acquisition a key way of growing your business, and how does acquisition complement your existing offering?

For over 20 years we have been in communication with R.K Burt and discussing the possibility of the two companies coming together as one. G . F Smith have always communicated with the creative market and built an emotional attachment that must evolve and expand as the individual relationships develop.
R.K Burt have built an attachment through expertise and premium technical factors.

Of course there are many opportunities and exciting developments to investigate between the two but fundamentally both parties sell fine paper but via two very different channels, in this case we belief that 2 + 2 will = 6 not 4 as is the case with the majority of mergers.

Sustainability is a key concern for the luxury sector at the moment; how is G . F Smith embracing this issue?

Paper is one of the planet’s truly sustainable products. Sustainability unfortunately attracts a lot of ‘green washing’, jumping on the current band wagon to save the planet. We all need to act more consciously and do everything we can to make small changes to the way we live and the way we manage our businesses.

At G . F Smith everything we do is linked to doing it right, both sustainably and ethically, of course we must do more and we will.”

In a digital age, is paper becoming more of a luxury product? And how is this impacting on your business?

I believe paper is the new digital. Gen Z have grown up in a digital world and when they experience life beyond a screen, the world simply explodes. Of course digital is paramount to any successful brand but we must all embrace it and set strategy beyond it, but with it!

How can paper / print help luxury brands connect with discerning customers?

I believe that one eye sees and the other feels… When you browse the duty free whiskey at the airport your eye is often drawn to beautiful packaging, your perception of the quality is established before you even take a sip . The same is said for cosmetics and chocolate, take a look at Charlotte Tilbury or Iain Burnett the Highland Chocolatier.

Take a piece of G . F Smith Colorplan Ameythst 350gsm, embossed with a sandgrain texture. Close your eyes and simply feel the quality between two fingers, feel of unique luxury, warmth and honesty. That is when you realise the power of consider paper and print.

What does British luxury mean to you?

I don’t believe a British brand can even think about the luxury sector until they truly believe in their ability to offer best in class with service as well as quality and reputation and offer it with a disruptive and adventurous attitude.

British craftsmen have a unique quality and self belief that places the UK well and truly in prime position. The world looks to us as the benchmark in luxury.”

What do you see as the future of luxury?

I believe as Gen Z begin to establish careers and explore the world of quality and desirability they will be discovering a whole new world beyond the digital space they have grown up in. They will be influenced like no other generation, influenced by their peers to realise what is luxury, and how they can embrace it. The future of luxury will be the strongest it has been in many decades.

As brands we simply need to understand how to communicate with this complicated new Gen Z which represents 25% of the population.

What inspires you?

The passion in people that care about things!

What was your big break?

Self belief.

What piece of advice would you give to someone entering the luxury industry now?

Don’t confuse your idea with running a business. Believe in your ideas and run with them but let a financier run your day-to-day accounts. Plus, don’t forget luxury doesn’t have to be expensive – it simply has to be desirable.

What’s your favourite luxury? 

My favourite luxury for under £10 has to be a flat white at Kaffiene on Eastcastle Street. We all need a coffee. but I always want a beautifully crafted coffee.

My favourite luxury has to be a glass of fine white burgundy in a Richard Brendon + Jancis Robinson delicate, refined and perfectly balanced wine glass.

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