You may have seen these minimalist, delightfully colorful, notebooks in your favorite local gift shop or in a few online boutiques and not given much thought as to their potential for social impact. Aside from their alluring simplicity and high-quality designs, these notebooks support something much greater. This small but mighty company was started by four friends who saw a disturbing trend in local public schools that were cutting funding for a broad range of creative programs at an alarming rate.

Arts programs in public schools around the country have been withering and breaking under the pressure of budget cuts and standardized testing over the past several decades. Public school educators that believe in the importance of the arts are often left with a hard decision: walk away from entire arts departments or purchase the needed materials out of their own paychecks—something that most teachers cannot afford to do. The result? High schoolers are graduating today having had very little arts education and, at times, zero outlet for creativity, which can be detrimental. Public – Supply entered the retail scene with a big goal in mind: to support creativity and art in public schools.


“Whether students are painting, acting, singing, writing, or coding, that creativity helps students become more engaged in the classroom, at home, and in the world.”

Public supply hopes to change the widespread fallacy that art is of lesser importance and attempts to provide free art material to teachers and schools who want to retain their creative programs. Public – Supply has committed to donating 25% of their profits to high-need schools where teachers can use the donations to fund the purchase of basic art supplies like paper, paintbrushes, markers, etc.

As of today, Public – Supply has reached over 54,563 students in over 287 classrooms to fund creative projects in everything ranging from paper making, ceramics, music, video arts, creative writing, and more. We were able to pay Public – Supply a visit to their DUMBO, Brooklyn-based studio/office space and chat with them about the future of the company and what it’s like to work with schools in need. Read on below!

Photography by Lindsey Swedick

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

Please tell us a little about yourselves and Public – Supply.

Public – Supply is a stationery brand that exists for one simple reason: to support the creative arts programs in public schools. Each choice we have in running our business we approach as an opportunity—keeping everything made in the USA, sourcing environmentally-friendly materials, annually challenging our business practices for improvement through the B Corporation assessment—but ultimately, that’s why we’re showing up every morning.

Some of our customers aren’t even aware that’s our mission. Early on, there was a conscious choice made that we wanted people to initially pick up a Public Supply notebook because it’s a beautiful, quality object. Every classroom project we’ve funded is published on our website, but we decided it would be more impactful to have the design and marketing be less overt than traditional mission-driven brands. Hopefully, we can be an example of something that, to us, seems obvious: if you’re lucky enough to have a business, responsibility should be non-negotiable as a part of the framework and vision for its existence.


“…if you’re lucky enough to have a business, responsibility should be non-negotiable as a part of the framework and vision for its existence.”

There’s a unique perspective to P – S thanks to our combined backgrounds and past lives, which span across anywhere from architecture to classical piano to museum education; really one of only things we share is that we’re all lucky to be products of public school art programs. In typical New York fashion, there’s a daily balance for all of us, between running the company and engaging with other projects, so we operate on a lot of trust and coffee.

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

Public – Supply was born out of an increasing need for support in arts education in public schools. What initially opened your eyes to this issue and inspired you to start a business to try to change it?

A number of our friends were beginning teaching careers and sharing their experiences with us of navigating the high level of bureaucracy and extreme lack of resources within the public schools systems in New York City, and around the rest of the country. We had been loosely aware that funding for creative arts programs in particular weren’t as robust as they had been during our time, but those personal stories gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse that we couldn’t walk away from. That was back around 2010, and unfortunately the issue has only grown since. We joke our goal as a company is to ultimately become irrelevant. There’s a lot of work to do.

You believe, rightly so, that arts education is not a luxury but a right for every child in public school. What are some of the challenges teachers face in trying to maintain arts programs in today’s social climate?

A federal Department of Education survey released just last month showed 94% of public school teachers reported paying for supplies without reimbursement, on average at least $479, saying at this point, “It’s just something we kind of naturally do.” There’s nothing natural about having to personally give back a huge portion of an already ludicrously slim paycheck, and teachers also give up so much of their personal time as well. The New York Times just ran a story interviewing teachers from all around the country, who spoke to having materials out-of-date by decades, working additional jobs, having to build their own classroom furniture, and turning to DonorsChoose (our main charitable partner) for supplies. Government funding for the arts and cultural programs accounts for around 0.003% of the proposed Federal budget for this year. We’re being told from all sides these institutions and outlets for expression have no value, when in reality we’ve probably never needed them more.

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

Tell us about your studio/retail space.

Thankfully these days, our space in DUMBO (mostly) serves as studio only—though we used to stamp, pack, and ship every single order from here ourselves. We’ve partnered with a fulfillment center to take care that side of the business and are stocked in some clothing & bookshops around the neighborhood, so there’s a bit more room these days.

The lore is that this space used to be a fairly notorious motorcycle garage, and is now a historical landmark, but the biggest pros are probably that we’re a block away from the waterfront and there’s room for the office dogs, Ruby and Palmer. Having a small business and team, you’re always trying to find new ways to be resourceful, so there’s been nights where we’ll order pizza and put a movie on the projector to get notebooks for a big order wrapped in time, or the front of the office will get converted to a product photography studio for half a morning. We all share our space and time with Public – Supply’s sister company, Studio Tack, so there’s an atmosphere of collaboration and a lot of different conversations going around at any time.

What have been the most challenges and the most rewarding aspects of this business?

As varied as our backgrounds are, none of us came directly from careers in retail, product management or printing, so honestly we’re learning on our feet every single day. That can look like taking after-hours classes to diversify our skill sets or doing in-depth research when creating our initial employee handbook to make sure we’re creating a foundation that speaks to a company culture of diversity, creativity, and personal growth.

Having an organic approach has left us faced with plenty of unexpected challenges, but it’s also allowed the flexibility to solve it however is best specifically for us. There’s not another company staffed or structured quite like Public – Supply. That’s half of the fun, though; and also gives us space to make sure we’re taking care to balance it all with our lives outside of work. The nature of a small business is that it’s never-ending because there’s always one more thing you could be doing to grow it. Everyone has a good understanding of those foundational things that need to get done in a day though, then make the call on what they have the capacity to add on to that.

Without a doubt, the most rewarding part is when we get to fund a classroom or support a project hands-on. At the end of last year, we were able to fund a classroom in every single state. That was a good moment.

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

Where do you seek inspiration for your minimalist designs?

We don’t necessarily look to objects that one would consider minimalist. We are, however, always in search of beautifully designed buildings, household wares, objects that have paid attention to the details. When all the small elements have been thoroughly considered, often loud graphics or large formal design moves are no longer needed. That quality of intuitive and considered design are often found in the everyday objects of utility, the things we often overlook because they work so well. Lately though, many of our products have been inspired by a simple color palette, like the tone we call Memo across our lines.

west elm LOCAL — Public Supply

What is it like being a part of small business community in NYC?

You’d think starting a business in a city with so much competition could be isolating, but it’s actually been really inspiring to discover the smaller, supportive communities that operate within it. Owners at other growing NYC-based companies, like Keap, [reads], and CW Pencils, have been great, continuous sources of shared advice and opportunities. Maybe it’s because we’re all a little incredulous we were mad enough to start a business here, but at the same time couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The B Corp community is great for sharing resources with other mission-driven companies, and bigger companies like Leesa and Patagonia frequently host open discussions and panels to give insight on how they operate. It’s always great to run into someone who said they first picked up a notebook at McNally Jackson Books—they were the first shop to ever take a chance on us!

Get the Look

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts