Ali O’Grady’s wavy blonde hair rests calmly on her shoulders and reaches down to the middle of her back. O’Grady has fair skin with bold features, and a glimmer of determination in her eye. She is the founder of Thoughtful Human, a greeting card company redefining what that categorization means, in more than one way. Combining new creative elements with a zero-waste sustainability surprise for the card recipient, her company – Thoughtful Human – lives up to its name.
In 2011, when Ali was just a young adult, O’Grady’s father lost his battle with cancer, beginning a turbulent and confusing time in her life. In her grief, and eventual healing period, she began to “notice more and more communication issues” around her. It is the ultimate irony of this twenty-first-century – we have the ability to be so unimaginably interconnected, and yet reaching out is becoming harder than ever. But sometimes, the simplest answers are the most well-suited.
“It just became really clear that so many of us wanted to show up but didn’t have the words or tools to navigate challenging conversations, and that a lot of people were left feeling isolated and alone as a result,” Ali writes.
Shortly after another loss in her family and a relative’s birthday that she had forgotten to reach out to, O’Grady was driving home and thought: “it shouldn’t be so hard to be a thoughtful human.”
In October 2017, she would start her own small business and one that has been received with overwhelming positivety. The business, she says, was started from her “little desk in [her] bedroom, in a rental, with a slew of roommates.” It has grown leaps and bounds since then.
Thoughtful Human makes greeting cards, but not in the way most have come to know them. The company’s offerings differ in two major ways from brands found at your local drugstore or paper shop and push the industry to a whole new level.
Firstly, Thoughtful Human uses new categories to divide its offerings. It sticks to some of the originals like “sympathy,” “graduation,” and “thank you’s,” but it also gets deeper with the circumstances the cards can be used in, a remarkable difference from the somewhat stale categories larger brands have been long adhering to. It is through these categories, says O’Grady, that connection can be forged during times when people feel most isolated and afraid to voice their struggles. Categories like coming out, rehab, recovery, depression, and even cancer and other physical ailments have entire selections dedicated to them.
When asked why she expanded into such unconventional spaces for her offerings, O’Grady shared, “Many of the subjects we cover are perhaps unusual for mainstream cards and retailers, but they certainly aren’t uncommon issues.”
She’s right on the mark. According to the National Institute of Health, nearly one in five adult Americans struggles with their mental health – more than 51 million people. “We want to shift the model,” she writes, “from platitudes and niceties to encouraging people to show up honestly and consistently in tough moments.” This, she says, is what gives way to genuine connection and healing.
The connection growth is not the only thing sprouting up around Thoughtful Human, though. The company’s second major distinction from the competition is that its cards are zero-waste and legitimately plantable. Each one is crafted from seed paper, which is a biodegradable, post-consumer recycled material combined with non-toxic, water-based inks and laboratory-tested harmless pigments. After receiving the card, recipients can plant them in a pot of soil to grow a new wildflower houseplant. The seed paper includes all non-GMO seeds, free of noxious weeds, and is a combination of Bird’s Eye, Clarkia, Black-Eyed Susan, Catchfly, Snapdragon, and Sweet Alyssum seeds. When planted, the cards sprout into colorful and eclectic floral arrangements with eye-catching pops of natural beauty.
O’Grady says she has always been passionate about sustainability, particularly beginning in high school, where she would engage in initiatives to promote waste regulation and raise awareness about more sustainable ways of life. “I knew when I started my own business that it had to be low-to-no-waste.”
The founder says the company, its mission, and sustainability efforts have been received positively. “It’s really clear how desperate so many of us are to communicate around our pain and struggles. And when you give people that space…it creates palpable connections,” O’Grady said.
While some companies may see “sustainability” as a buzzword to drive their sales, O’Grady is adamant that isn’t the case with Thoughtful Human. It’s not corporate social responsibility. She says, “it is the brand.” You can shop Thoughtful Human online here and products are available at select Barnes and Noble and World Market locations across the country.