Dara Schaier started BOOP (Built Out Of Paper) in order to create an affordable, environmentally friendly line of furniture for our modern times. Anyone who has lived in a large city knows the pains of moving frequently, but we don’t think about the amount of waste we produce in the process. Using her design and business backgrounds, Dara has constructed a bookcase that solves this problem, and is looking to expand the idea further into other items. We chatted about the inspiration behind BOOP, her ideas for the future of the company, and the best self-care advice we’re received for the newsletter (hint: it barks!).
What was your career path before you created BOOP?
I’ve always had a keen interest in design—in undergrad I majored in Architecture and then did a second major in Art History. After a brief stint of thinking I would be a lawyer, I realized that I wanted to continue doing something creative, so I went back and did some post-graduate course work in Industrial Design at Pratt. Then I went to work for a printer and paper product manufacturer—it was an amazing job and it taught me a ton about manufacturing and about the paper industry in general. That’s where I was introduced to the idea of cardboard furniture, and I decided I wanted to pursue a business based on this idea. I figured I had the design skills, I had a lot of business experience, but I didn’t really know anything about running a business, so I decided to get my MBA, which is what brought me to Atlanta to attend Emory. I finished about a year ago and I’ve been working on BOOP full-time since.
What inspired you to create BOOP?
I’ve always thought about design problems and design problems that impacted me personally, and one I realized was that furniture as a whole has changed over the last generation. Our parents, for most of us, only lived in a few places their entire lives, and they pretty much bought their furniture for life. They invested in heavy, real wood pieces. As young people we move a lot: we like to live in urban places, we rent for much longer. That was certainly my situation. I was living in Brooklyn, moving every year or two for various reasons. On top of that our styles are changing constantly, our situations are changing constantly, so furniture has become more of a temporary purchase.
The industry’s response has been to make furniture cheaper by making it out of pressed wood and by making us do the assembly work, but that’s not the solution. Putting the burden on the consumer to do all of the assembly makes for a frustrated customer—you have to have tools, you have to have a car, you have to have the physical strength to bring it up stairs. Because they’ve made this pressed furniture so cheap, we treat it as disposable and it’s really not. Furniture is the number one least recycled household item in America, and every year we send ten million tons of it to landfills where it just sits. This was the cycle that I was constantly living and thinking about. We have this situation where we need temporary furniture but the industry isn’t providing it.
That’s why I created BOOP—the idea is that it’s furniture that’s easy to purchase, easy to put together, and easy to recycle. We do that by changing the material that the furniture is made out of. We make it out of material that’s more appropriate given the amount of time that it will be used, and that material just happens to be cardboard. Cardboard is an incredible material—it’s ridiculously strong, it’s made from recycled materials, and it can be recycled in normal city recycling. It’s still made in the US under sustainably sourced practices—the trees that are grown for cardboard are grown like crops and are replenished each year. It’s an amazing choice and an amazing material for something that we’re generally going to use for a year or two and then move on from.
I didn’t invent cardboard furniture—if you google it you will get thousands of images of incredible stuff that people have made, but really the only way cardboard furniture has existed in the past has been through people doing DIY projects or students doing industrial design work in cardboard. The idea here is to make this available to the average consumer. This idea has existed for awhile but it’s only recently that there’s been this amazing product market fit between cardboard furniture and the millennial generation, who have these characteristics of moving a lot, tastes changing, and caring about the environment. It just struck me as the perfect match.
Did you set out to create a sustainable company or did BOOP evolve that way?
Definitely, because that was one of the huge pain points that I felt as a consumer. I was constantly trashing this furniture and everyone I knew was doing the same thing. Walk down a street in New York and you’ll see tons of furniture set out on a daily basis and it feels horrible. We do our best to try to be better consumers in a lot of the things we do in our daily lives, like we’re really into this plastic straw movement now. It’s a little thing but it can make a big impact. Then we don’t follow through with so many other objects in our daily lives, so that was definitely always my intention.
Since starting BOOP how has your business grown, and what has the response been?
It has been a crazy journey in the past year. Initially I was testing the idea on people, seeing how they reacted. People always thought the idea was cool but it was a hard thing for most people to visualize. They have this preconceived notion of what cardboard is, and that’s the Amazon box that they get every month, which is not what my furniture is. I found that I had to take the time to make a viable product before I could do a lot of the testing that I wanted to do. I’ve only been shipping since May, and it’s the initial product which is the bookcase and people have been loving it. They think it’s strong enough, they think it’s easy to put together—it’s been taking people on average five minutes to put together—and everybody has been really positive about the idea.
What are some of the challenges you faced while creating BOOP?
The thing that took the longest and the thing that I budgeted the least amount of time for was finding the right manufacturer. I knew that I wanted to make my product in the US because the infrastructure still exists in the US, and making it here ensured that I was using good labor practices and using good raw material. It was hard to find an American manufacturer because a lot of them are not willing to take a chance on a new idea, especially in the paper business. It’s a really old, really conservative industry, and they make their bread and butter by making cardboard boxes. It’s like if it’s not broke don’t fix it, so it was a matter of finding a factory that had the same entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to try something new. It took a lot of networking and going through potential factories, and finally I found this amazing factory that happens to be 20 minutes from my house and it's been great ever since. But was a journey, and I encourage anyone who is trying to make a product or make something new who is having trouble getting it manufactured to keep plugging along at it. It really does take that long, it's a process of finding the right people to work with.
Right now BOOP only offers a bookcase—what other products do you have in mind?
Coming up is this modular collection that is made up of bases and tops. The tops, when used alone, can be artwork and hung up on your walls. The bases, when used alone, can be stools or side tables. When the tops are connected to the bases they can be any kind of table. It’s going to be geometric and on-trend in terms of the shapes that we’re seeing in design right now, and use on-trend colors that people are interested in and want to have in their environment, along with some interesting prints. I am working with some artists who are going to do some limited edition pieces. That’s really such a cool part of being able to make this furniture—because it’s paper you can print whatever you want on it, we can change the colors by the season. We can do these artist collaborations and really embrace design.
Is the BOOP bookshelf sold anyplace other than online?
I don’t have anything in brick and mortar stores yet, I’m open to the idea! I do pop-up in random places—I’ll pop-up at a popular food spot or a flea market because it’s awesome to see the product in person. It’s fun to see people pick it up and comment that it can hold things. Seeing and feeling it is an important part of the journey towards making this cardboard revolution happen. In the future, with these new products, we’ll be popping up in more places and hopefully in New York. I really see it as such an amazing product for New Yorkers who don’t have cars, live in 5th floor walk ups and move all the time, so hopefully I’ll be seen in New York with cardboard under my arm!
What does a day in your life look like?
Everyday is completely different—I’m doing everything at the moment. I’m packing boxes, I’m shipping. I’m working on a re-brand, doing all the visual designs, redoing the website, designing this collection, testing prototypes, working on content for our Instagram, creating everything that I use for marketing. I have a big photo shoot coming up and am working on making a video that highlights everything that’s going on, so everyday is putting out a different fire and then trying to work in the time to do long term planning. But that’s what keeps it exciting.
How do you unwind/practice self-care?
The cheapest and easiest thing that I’ve ever done for my mental and physical health was getting a dog. He instantly relaxes me, and I feel like he understands what I’m going through. He’s an emotional support. On top of that he keeps me active, so we’re always out and about walking and running. I highly recommend getting a dog!
What's some advice you were given or wish someone had given you?
I guess this is cliché but I do think about it pretty often, and it’s that saying “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.” It’s just so true. There’s never a good time to start something, there’s never the perfect idea, there’s never the perfect team, there’s never the perfect situation to do something that you’ve been thinking about. It’s really about taking that leap of faith a lot of the time, and it can work out, it can not work out, but doing it is so much better than wondering about doing it. I try to live by that as much as I can because I’m naturally risk averse and this is obviously a very risky way to make a living, but wondering what if is an unsatisfying position to be in. I recommend if there’s something you’re passionate about just take the leap and see how it goes.
What's up next for BOOP?
The new collection and a re-brand that’s coming with it. The collection is likely going to be a pre-sale, and I’m deciding what that will look like—could be a Kickstarter, so keep your eyes peeled! There are minimums in manufacturing something so it helps the business to get a lot of orders upfront. We’ve got initial prototypes ready for this collection, we’re working out the tweaks and soon we’ll have production ready samples which will lead to pictures and video and some cool content that will get people excited about the idea.
What's your sign and how do you feel about it?
I’m a Cancer—I feel like I don’t identify with Cancer because a crab seems like a sucky animal and I don’t really like the water, but I am really jazzed about my Lunar New Year sign which is the Tiger. I don’t know too much about what it represents but I do think tigers are awesome and would be a good spirit animal.
What are you currently listening to?
I highly recommend a podcast by this company called Lumi—it’s a packaging company for direct consumer, e-commerce brands. They have a podcast called Well Made and they interview entrepreneurs and deep dive into what they’re working on and how it came to be and how design influences what they make.
What are three spots to visit in your neighborhood?
I’m in East Lake in Atlanta, which is kind of east of downtown. It’s a super cool area because the New Yorker in me feels like it’s suburban, but you can still walk to restaurants and cafes and shops.
Poor Hendrix: An awesome neighborhood spot with a lot of regulars. They let dogs on the patio, and it’s very chill and they have interesting bar food and the menu constantly changes.
Mary Hoopas: I think this is the best fried chicken in Atlanta!
Muchacho: A coffee spot that has a California vibe and is very focused on design. The menu is trendy but awesome.