In 1968, a nine year old boy sent away for an offer on a cereal box, and received an envelope containing luggage labels from around the world. Forty six years later, he still has that envelope and its contents. He never could have predicted that his interest in ephemera would one day mushroom into a business with clients around the globe.
The young lad, Brad Parberry, grew up, and like his peers, pursued the traditional route to success, earning a degree in accounting, and an MBA in International Business, eventually working in finance for a major pharmaceutical company. But he wasn’t happy. Something was missing.
He applied for a fellowship to study in Italy for a year, and serendipity stepped in. While roaming the market stalls one day he happened upon some beautiful calendars with botanical prints. He returned again and again, captivated. “I think I could sell these in the states” he told a friend, and the germ of an idea was born.
In 1989, he started a small company out of his apartment — CAVALLINI & CO., after his mother’s maiden name — and began importing those Italian calendars, convincing the printer, after much haggling, to use a much higher grade of paper.
Soon he began sourcing his own images, scouring the archives of antique and rare bookstores, flea markets and more. Following his instincts to create what he loved, Brad then expanded from calendars to wrapping paper, greeting cards, gift tags, journals, tea towels, tote bags, and more.
Today, Cavallini & Co. is comprised of a mid-sized team of paper-lovers with a variety of skills. Orders are assembled by hand in their San Francisco warehouse, carefully wrapped in Kraft paper and packed in double wall boxes. Employees have no formal titles; the group resembles more of a family unit than a business team. There is an easy, cheerful camaraderie, and in time crunches, everyone works in the warehouse to get orders out.
When asked what quality he looks for in an employee, Parberry responded, “Kindness,” adding, “We don’t hire bodies; it has to be someone who will contribute. We want people with opinions.”
In this digital age, one might assume that calendars are passé, but Cavallini clients are extremely loyal, buying year after year. Why? Because the calendars aren’t just calendars — they’re art.
Parberry doesn’t consider details like customer demographics when creating products. What’s important is how the vintage iconography populating its products speaks to the present. “We approach things we love, and the audience follows,” he observed.
Cavallini’s ephemera is carefully categorized by topic in a seemingly endless series of art drawers scattered throughout individual offices and several rooms primarily devoted to storing it. Often while creating a product, Parberry will recall a specific butterfly or cat that he knows he has — and rest assured, that paper scrap will be found and considered for the project.
While the archives form the basis of imagery used on Cavallini products, images are typically tweaked to stay true to the brand’s philosophy of less is more. Paper products are printed on the company’s signature Italian papers and presented in simple packaging to form the brand’s essence. “The product has to speak for itself,” emphasized Parberry. “People have a connection to what we do.”
Today, calendars are still the signature Cavallini product, yet it is the giftwraps that are Parberry’s favorite item. Meanwhile, new product categories are always being brainstormed, such as the recently introduced Wrap Packs consisting of sheets, Baker’s twine, paper tape and gift tags.
To this day, Parberry is energized by the hunt for the unusual, unique and amazing. His multi-room archives are museum quality, and he continues to produce outstanding designs with the found images season after season.