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Freeman Magazine - Spring 2008

IN THE NEWS

My Brilliant Career: Jon Sherman

Owner, Flavor Paper

JON SHERMAN (MBA ’00) was sitting in his kitchen with a friend back in April 2003 when she excused herself to take a phone call. Sherman didn’t know it at the time, but the phone call would mark the beginning of a new career for him.

Sherman’s friend, an interior designer, had been trying in vain to get in touch with a tiny screen printing company on the coast of Oregon that produced spectacularly colorful wallpaper. The company had been founded in 1970, but its psychedelic motifs and saturated hues eventually fell out of favor and the company essentially ceased operations in the early 1990s. The caller that morning informed Sherman’s friend that not only was the company out of business, it was in the process of destroying all its screens, equipment and remaining stock of wallpaper.

The revelation piqued Sherman’s interest.

“I had never seen wallpaper that I thought was interesting and had never even considered using wallpaper in anything I’d done,” recalls Sherman, who at the time was working for a private equity firm developing real estate projects. “I thought there was an opportunity there.”

Sherman hopped on a plane and headed to Oregon. When he arrived, the owner made him an offer: Sherman could have all the company’s assets for free—including its original designs and screen printing equipment—if he would agree to move them within 48 hours. Among those assets was a 6,000 pound, 48 foot steel vacuum table—no easy task to transport 2,800 miles. Sherman had 24 hours to make a decision.

“I called every interior designer and design store that I had ever worked with and asked them if they thought there was a market for something like this,” Sherman recalls. “Basically, everyone’s response was there’s nothing like it out there and we could sure use it. I decided to jump in and took the $5,000 gamble of moving everything to New Orleans.”

Sherman located a vacant warehouse in the Bywater district the day he finished cleaning out the company’s space in Oregon. He signed a contract to purchase it the day he got back to New Orleans and moved in four days later.

In May 2004, just six months after starting up operations in New Orleans—and in the wake of both a fire and a train wreck at the company’s Bywater headquarters—Flavor Paper was a surprise hit at the 2004 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, earning a glowing write-up in Newsweek and a “best in show” designation from The New York Times. Since then, Flavor Paper has become one of the hottest names in contemporary wall coverings. Combining vintage early-1970s designs with updated colors and playful modern elements, the company’s custom-made, hand silk-screened wallpapers have attracted high-profile clients including Lenny Kravitz, Nike, MTV, W Hotels, Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Angelo’s Wonderland Beauty Parlor in New York, for which Flavor Paper created the world’s first scratch-and-sniff wallpaper.

“I think we’ve been pretty key in the revival of wallpaper,” Sherman says. “Wallpaper used to be something meant for the background with dull textures and lots of beige. We helped bring it to the foreground again. We make wallpaper that’s a design statement rather than something you’re using to cover up a bad wall.”

After four years operating out of its New Orleans headquarters, Sherman plans to relocate the company to New York in 2008. In addition to being closer to suppliers and clients, the move will enable Flavor Paper to open its own showroom as well as work more closely with collaborators to expand into new design arenas, including rugs, lampshades, fabrics and more.

“We’re looking forward to expanding into a lot of other things,” Sherman says. “We’re growing ridiculously fast. We’ve done more business this month than we did our entire first year. It’s exciting.”

Last Updated 11/19/08