Fashion & Beauty | August 5, 2015

Field Notes

Writing & Recording The American Dream

Some things are made to last… like memories. Field Notes is an American company that helps people record, keep and recall those memories in unforgettable style.


Headquartered in Chicago, Field Notes gives its customers a wide range of very unique, tactile notebooks. They help to transform special recollections into tangible treasures you can have and hold — like you can almost feel the moments coming to life in your hands in the form of their finely crafted materials.

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Field Notes could be described as a blend between spontaneous creative combustion and thoughtful strategy. Sound like an unusual combination? Field Notes is a company that got its very start by combining great elements.


Take its founders for instance. In 2006, Aaron Draplin, a designer from Portland was making a name for himself through his work for a variety snowboard and outdoor equipment companies. In the meantime, Coudal Partners, headed by Jim Coudal in Chicago, was busy churning out advertising and design work for sports teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Houston Astros, as wells as an eclectic blend of broadcasting companies and restaurants.


Through an online design battle Coudal set up, the two parties met. Draplin and Coudal collaborated on “Shhh! Cards” and, in the process, the two decided to join forces on a “field notes” idea that Draplin had started creating and sending to friends.


Before long, the teamwork became formal and Field Notes were starting to be produced for sale online.


With eight employees and an army of creative energy, Field Notes continues to inspire and supply people everywhere with something unique, yet functional.


Today, you’ll find Field Notes in all walks of life, used by celebrities and as movie props, these distinctive creations are equally at home among those climbing a hill on a summertime hike, as well as those climbing the ladder in their corporations.


One of those supplying the magic at Field Notes is Bryan Bedell, who claims no title with the skyrocketing company, though admits, “I’m a designer/photographer. We all do a bit of everything.”


Part of the beauty of the Field Notes success story is that it is still written on paper. What? There’s no touch screen beckoning through the darkness? Like America itself, Field Notes continually reinvents and builds upon a timeless classic.


“Well, put simply, we make notebooks, which a lot of people are doing,” Bedell says. “In retrospect, it was already a saturated market when we got involved and there's lots more competition now — both from similar notebooks, and high-tech equivalents.”


So why are Field Notes such a hot topic and commodity?


“I'm not exactly sure why ours are so popular,” Bedell admits. “I'm sure the early success was a result of Aaron's popularity in the design world and our network of blogging friends, but it keeps growing so I guess we're doing something right.”


Bedell points out there’s something about the “feel” and experience. “There's a certain luddite appeal, to be sure. I figure most of our customers are as hooked to their smartphones as I am, so they probably like the security and familiarity of an analog notebook.”


Field Notes memo books are made in the U.S.A., so that's helped them find an audience too,” Bedell explains. “Aaron's original design is really solid and simple and stands out. We tell a good story in our copy and our films, we're honest about our history and the roots and inspiration of the product.


Bedell also says the Field Notes brand of customer service and personal connection with customers has “helped us a lot along the way. We have an army of Field Nuts (an unofficial fan club) and other users who have really help us spread the word,” he says.


As Field Notes climbed off the blueprints and into life, it could have tried to climb onto the shelves of the typical spots to vie for attention with its competitors. But, like its unique look and feel, Field Notes wanted a distinctive marketing strategy.


“Instead of focusing on stationery shops and bookstores with dozens of brands of notebooks already on display, we went to some more unorthodox retailers, like men's boutiques, feed shops, outdoor stores, more mom-and-pop kinda places and built a great retailer network of interesting shops, both in the U.S.A. and internationally. Except South America,” Bedell smiles. “If anyone out there knows a shop in South America, give us a call. We have a dealer on Reunion Island off the coast of Madagascar, but not *one* in South America? What's up with that?”


Part of the appeal Field Notes promotes is its limited editions and subscriptions. “It definitely helps set us apart, too. It keeps people interested and helps us stay focused on the core product but also gives us room to try out new things and surprise people,” Bedell emphasizes.


If you flip the pages of this relatively young success story, you’ll find a remarkably American production strategy.


“All our paper products are designed, sourced, printed, and manufactured in the U.S.A. The paper comes from various mills, French Paper in Michigan, Finch in New York, Neenah, Mohawk, and Graphic Wood Technologies in Wisconsin, Yupo in Virginia, and a few others here and there,” Bedell says.


“The staples, shrink wrap, everything is sourced domestically. We print and bind the books in the Chicago and Milwaukee area so we can monitor the quality, and we ship everything out of our Midwest headquarters here in Chicago.”


And the leather cases? As Bedell says, “They’re hand-made by Tanner in Portland, Esquivel in L.A., and Iron and Resin in Ventura, CA. Our archival boxes are made in Brooklyn. And our Fisher Space Pens are made in Nevada.”


Like a young artist who first discovers her craft and ability, the Field Notes team continues to appreciate how much they are, well — appreciated.


“From the beginning, we were surprised it took off so fast. As soon as we got the site running we were selling notebooks. And it keeps getting bigger,” Bedell remarks. “The first "COLORS" editions sold out in no time, which gave us the idea to do the quarterly limited editions and subscriptions. Those editions get bigger and bigger but still generally sell out before too long.”


As Bedell says, the best of part of what he and the Field Notes crew does is “just making something people want—that they get excited about,” he says. “When you're doing advertising for clients, you always feel like you're pushing someone else's product to people that don't necessarily want it, but with Field Notes, we believed in the product all along, and we feel like we can just be honest and have fun with them and people will buy them and use them, and be more than simply satisfied, but actually excited about something that is honestly, usually kind of mundane.”


One of the Field Notes points of pride involves the remarkable Shelterwood edition.


“Shelterwood was huge,” Bedell says. “It was just so different from anything we'd done and there was a lot of nail biting and testing to be sure it would work well and be just as useful as a regular notebook, and it was exciting to see it come together and become so popular. Personally, Night Sky was one that I felt was 'my baby' and it came out really well and was very popular. I loved the Ales and Lagers "Six Pack." too. Each edition is so rewarding, it's always a lot of work and worrying about a new edition, and when it comes out is so great to see that people like it!”


While the secrets of the next Field Notes release are held as closely as a Field Notes notebook itself, Bedell points to continued innovation.


“We're always throwing around ideas for new products and we can't talk about them until they're released but the summer edition's something we've never tried before, I think it'll be another 'hit,'” he teases. “We try to grow organically and responsibly. We could put out more books in smaller editions and charge more and make more money maybe, but we don't want to "Beanie Baby" it. We're not making collectors' editions. We're making notebooks and we want everyone to have a crack at them, and use them. We try to stay focused on the product, and just keep making the best notebooks we can.”


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Credits // Author: Dave Danielson   Photos Provided By: Field Notes

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