Ask the Retailer: Azeem Zakria of Scriptum

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Inside Scriptum
Inside Scriptum

What inspired you to work in the stationery industry?


I used to visit Florence and Venice quite frequently, and I’ve always adored Italian design and the tiny specialist stationery shops you could find tucked away down every back street. I wondered why we didn’t have anything like that in England, so I decided to create it myself.


Your CV in a nutshell.


I was working in the airline industry when I had the idea for Scriptum back in 2003, and have remained immersed in the stationery world ever since.


Tell us about Scriptum.


It is nestled in a row of independent shops on Oxford’s gorgeous Turl Street. We try to make every window display arresting. We usually feature quills, inks, handmade paper, leather-bound journals and fountain pens to entice passing stationery lovers. Luckily writing equipment is quite a common obsession in Oxford!


The inside of the shop, where we always play Italian opera in the background, is crammed on both floors with anything we think would look good on a desk - shelves and shelves of Italian journals, luxury papers and cards, marble busts, antique inkwells, sealing wax sets. Customers variously describe it as an Aladdin’s cave, a grown-up sweet shop, or my favourite - a little bit of Italy in Oxford.


Describe your role.


All the usual day-to-day admin of running an independent business, but with many bonuses. Creating and designing our own custom products is always a joy. We work closely with binderies in both Oxford and Italy, and paper mills in the Czech Republic. We order from over 50 different suppliers so that I can always be sure to pick the few best products from each, and I love curating our collection. I also particularly enjoy greeting our loyal customers who come back to the shop again and again. I feel that people appreciate their purchases being remembered the next time they visit.


What’s in store for the next 12 months?


I am lucky to have a fantastic team of very artistic and enthusiastic people, so over the next year we want to concentrate on collaborating with workshops and binderies to expand our range of in-house exclusive stationery products. Our customers rely on us to bring them exciting new designs and products, so sourcing the very best stationery Europe has to offer is an ongoing task, and one I do with pleasure.


How are you facing some of the challenges presented by the current retail climate?


We will be expanding the range available through our website to take advantage of the continuing shift towards online shopping. It’s taken us five years so far to weigh, measure, photograph and describe everything in the shop!


The nightmare of Brexit, I’m sure, will continue presenting its multifarious challenges both to small businesses who work closely with European suppliers, and to their customers whose spending power has already been affected by the financial uncertainty this ridiculous situation has created. We will strive to remain positive and find ways to continue working with the people who make the very best stationery in Europe, who are often not only our suppliers, but also our friends.


How has the industry changed in the last 20 years?


Writing seems to be variously lamented as being in decline and celebrated as having a renaissance in a periodic cycle of every five years or so. The stationery industry has its ups and downs like any other business, but in the 16 years I have run Scriptum I have constantly met new people who are passionate about stationery, writing, and the revival and maintenance of traditional techniques such as hand marbling, letterpress printing, and calligraphy. I firmly believe that we will never lose those arts.


How do you see analogue and digital working together in retail over the coming years?


With fine stationery, the importance of quality is paramount, and the easiest way to judge quality is to touch it, see it, and sometimes with leather journals, even smell it! With luxury items, I believe it is extremely important to have a physical space where customers can experience the products. They want to try out fountain pens, leaf through a journal, feel the tactile quality of handmade paper. The experience in the shop can then be enhanced by the convenience to the customer of an online store - we often get customers exploring the shop in Oxford, then later placing their orders with us online.


Our aim is to bring together the trust in the Scriptum brand, products, and service that a physical shop lets us build, with the reach of social media, which allows us to showcase and deliver our products to stationery lovers across the world.


What are your desk essentials?


A custom-embossed journal (usually with a Puccini quote for inspiration), an antique dip pen on a chinoiserie stand, and as many Victorian Swiss-carved wood bear desk ornaments as will fit in the remaining space.


What do you use notebooks for?


Everything. Personally, I am a complete technophobe, so I am happy to leave the technological side of the business to my colleagues, and simply concentrate on writing down my ideas the old-fashioned way.


Do you have a favourite pen?


I love fountain pens, and I can be a little fickle with my affections towards them, so my favourite depends on the day of the week. I am currently rotating between my Visconti Opera, a Kaweco Classic Sport in brass with a 1.9mm italic nib, a limited edition Conklin Duragraph with an omniflex nib, and the Conklin Crescent Filler Mark Twain, which I mainly use to accidentally squirt ink everywhere.


Why do you think stationery continues to sell in the digital age?


I have yet to meet anyone who does not appreciate receiving a handwritten note, letter, or card. I think as general written communication is performed more and more by typing or tapping, the very fact that someone has taken the time and extra effort to write by hand is more greatly valued and appreciated. I also think that people are becoming more aware of the dangers of too much screen time, and are turning back to using handwritten journals to organise their thoughts and calm their minds.


Who is your typical customer?


Anyone with a curious mind and a real love for classically beautiful writing paraphernalia. Our customers come from all over the world, and we love meeting everyone who shares our passion for stationery!

Upstairs at Scriptum
Upstairs at Scriptum
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