“Warning: recipients may not want to unwrap” Sealed advises their followers on Instagram. Should you continue to read onto my interview with founder, Emily Hazan, such a warning you may find yourself wrestling with. We unwrapped the ins-and-outs of running a new business venture as a young mom, and how Sealed seeks to reinvent gift wrapping by making it a highly personal, customizable, and unique experience; transforming gift wrapping into a giftable experience.
Back in the fall of 2020, Hazan was standing in a 30-person or so line at a Homesense. It was busier than usual because a closure of malls and shops had just been announced in Toronto due to COVID-19. In the slow-moving line, Hazan’s mind started to wander into wondering about what people were going to do for the holidays, specifically, what are people who usually get their gifts professionally wrapped going to do for the upcoming season? Hazan became tickled with the idea of starting a gift wrapping service herself.
As the co-founder and creative director of the social media agency, SocialDrop, and a graphic designer, the idea was intriguing as it provided the opportunity “to get away from the digital world and start using my hands again.” But first, she asked her brother and business partner for his opinion, to which he replied “are you crazy you barely have enough time for SocialDrop with all your work and your kids at home.” She was about to drop the idea, when the next morning he called to tell her to give it a try. With her graphic design background, she created Sealed overnight, and launched it in late November.
Holiday gift wrapping. Photos courtesy of Sealed.
Can you take me through a typical day for you?
Now that the kids are older, there’s more time I need to spend with them. We wake up, it’s all-kid time: getting them out of bed, giving them breakfast or milk, changing their diapers, and then play time. As we’re playing, I have my phone on, I’m answering emails and taking care of orders. I try not to do that so much, but my inbox at the end of the day needs to be at zero, I need to get through it. I can’t go to sleep if I know someone’s waiting for a response. When they nap that’s when I do a majority of my work. I get about, on a good day, two hours of them both mostly sleeping at the same time. For SocialDrop, I’ll pull up my computer with both their monitors on my desk so I can hear them if they wake up. And then again, let’s say they’re up, then it’s more play time. And then bath time, bedtime, and then I pull up my computer and I do more work or I wrap, it’s basically two hours in the afternoon and then it’s until I finish at night. When my husband comes home from work, and says come watch TV with me I’m like I can’t, I have so much work, but some nights, my mind needs a break. So I’ll just shut down everything and I’ll sit on the couch and watch TV, but in the back of my head I’m thinking I have so much to do.
What were the challenges you initially faced with Sealed?
Because everything was closing, supplies were diminishing even online, people were just buying everything; Amazon was sold out of all the products I needed. I had to do a bunch of Michaels online orders because I couldn’t keep up, people were ordering and I needed more wrapping paper, craft paper, and tape. I was trying to keep up with all the demand, but at the same time, there was not much for me to work with.
How do you begin designing a package for a client?
My process is someone reaches out to me, and I try to get a bit more information about who they’re giving it to. So if it’s their mom or their boyfriend or their co-worker, whoever it is, I need to kind of tap into that person’s style. It’s very fun to design for each person. And whenever the client approaches me I get as much information as I can about them: what do they like and what are their favourite colours?
What projects are the most enjoyable?
My favourite clients are the ones that let me have creative freedom, and then that’s where I’m able to really work with my creative background and design something that’s more different, but some people obviously have a taste and, whatever the client wants, I’m happy to do.
When you go to the mall it’s not personalized, it’s just someone, perhaps semi-miserable, wrapping your gift for you.
Whereas I’m having so much fun with ribbon and colours and wax.
What are the aesthetic choices behind your wrapping paper and flowers?
The whole concept of Sealed is non-traditional paper. So I had a whole glitter collection, which people loved, it sold out in a second, but, because of COVID I wasn’t able to restock that. If someone says, I really like this gift, can you wrap it like this, I’d say yes, but let me do something different. I don’t like doing the same thing twice, it’s not creative and I can’t push myself. A good example of that was for Valentine’s Day; I was not into any of the traditional paper, and so I made my own.
And then the way I mix media, let’s say I don’t want to give someone ribbon, I’ll use yarn. So I’ll buy millions of colours and kind of start stranding and layering them on top and seeing what works. And I’ll use 3-D wooden letters to make another layer on top of it, and if I want a flower element, nothing fresh because it’ll die by the time they get the gift.
Non-traditional paper and mixed media. Photos courtesy of Sealed.
The candy gram cards you sold for Valentine’s day were original designs, do you want to make your own wrapping paper?
Because I have a digital design background I really want to maybe come out with a collection that I design that’s accommodating to everyone, people of all backgrounds, all holidays, all cultures. If people love it, I’d like to release a new collection of gift wrap every year, or every few months, that’d be my dream.
What has been the most rewarding thing about Sealed?
I don’t know if you’ve seen diaper or washcloth cakes. It’s not an actual cake, but it’s filled with baby items. In my opinion, they’re very tacky, and I don’t like them, so when a client approached me asking if I can make this for their friend, I suggested trying to think of something else, I find they’re very kitschy but she said I trust you not to make it kitschy, I know you can do it. So I made it elevated and chic, and she was blown away. I surpassed my expectations because I didn’t think I could take this thing that I’ve never been a fan of and be ecstatic about the results. I didn’t want to give it to her.
It went from something you weren’t enthusiastic about to—
Maybe making it take over Sealed, like no more wrapping, just focus on this. I think I can really blow it up if I market it well.
What do you hope for, for Sealed?
My biggest goal would be doing things for the commercial side; you know how the Eaton Centre has a huge Christmas tree in the middle of their mall with all the gift wrap? I’d want to be commissioned to design all the gifts; or for fashion brands’ holiday campaigns if they need little props in their background, I want to design those props.
You’re always juggling because you’re a mom, and working, how do you do it?
My son is now almost three, then I have a daughter, who’s six months. At the time, when I started Sealed she was around two and a half/three months. Babies nap every second so I would feed her, change her, play with her for five minutes, okay, nap time. And then I could get back to my work. Looking back at it now, how did I do that? It got to the point where I took over, we just moved into this house, and I took over my house, my entire dining room was packed with sparkles and glitter, and boxes, and just gift wrap everywhere. And then my son was running around, surprisingly didn’t even touch any of those tempting colourful stuff, he was well behaved, lucky for me, but it was definitely a challenge. I can really thank my family for playing a huge role, my mom and my mother-in-law. And whoever could, if they weren’t coming to help me with wrapping they would be with the kids or they’d take the kids out for the afternoon. I don’t think I could have done it without their help.
A wrapped gift for mom. Photo courtesy of Sealed.
Header photograph courtesy of Sealed.
Orly Zebak writes, designs sets and costumes, and makes art in various mediums. Her work seeks to challenge conceptions of female performativity in relation to womanhood, girlhood, and coming of age stories. In her spare time, you can catch Orly gardening—usually in her very comfortable off-brand crocs.
Orly earned her M.A. at the University of Toronto in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies.