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Birchbox Man Q&A: Inside Public - Supply’s Quest for More Creative Classrooms

We've already shared our thoughts on the importance of putting pen to paper. That sentiment is ever stronger when the process also funds creative projects in classrooms around the U.S. That's why Public - Supply's work caught our eye: The company creates high-quality, well-designed notebooks and pencils, with 25 percent of profits going directly to teachers who are incorporating arts education into their curriculum. We chatted with co-founder Adam London about the org's mission, and why creative education needs support now more than ever.

Why was Public - Supply founded?

The four founders come from a variety of backgrounds: We're designers, teachers, writers, and entrepreneurs. But we felt that arts education—and the time we spent doing creative work in class—was important to us becoming the people we are today.

Art classes help kids develop confidence, empathy, communications skills, and project management skills, but quantifiable research doesn't translate to federal or state funding. In New York City, for example, funding for arts classrooms has been cut by 85 percent since 2007. We hear about similar budgets cuts in other school districts nationwide, and we've found that teachers often cover budget shortages out of their own pockets. In fact, teachers spent $1.6 billion of their own money for in-classroom purchases in 2013.

How do you pick the schools or classrooms that you partner with? How can others nominate themselves as a fundable project?

We do the majority of our giving through DonorsChoose.org. It's a great platform because it makes transparency so easy: Customers can go to our website and see where our donations have gone, the exact amount given, and what that money went to purchase.

Donors Choose is also great because we can learn about the students, teachers, and specific lesson plans we're contributing to ahead of time. The only difficult thing has been that there are so many worthy projects to fund.

How do you find designers for collaborations on notebooks and other materials?

With our founders coming from multiple industries, we had a pretty diverse network of creatives and potential collaborators from the start. We've also felt lucky to receive a friendly response from the design community, and have worked with a couple of design partners just based on them getting in touch through our site. The notebooks are fairly flexible aesthetically, and can fit a lot of contexts. Collaborations are one of our favorite parts of running P-S.

The initial design by Studio Tack in Brooklyn felt minimal and classic, but also highlights a range of bright, strong colors. To us, the design walks a line between referencing styles that are familiar and also continuing to build a new aesthetic. We're aiming for a feel that isn't tied down to any era, and hopefully that translates across everything we do.

How many students and classrooms have you reached to date?

15,536 students in 90 classrooms.

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Photos: Case Watson

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