Cardboard creations for the eco win
From pen stands to bookshelves, Karthic Rathinam’s recent venture, Out of the Box, makes furniture and decor items using cardboard
With focussed attention, Karthic Rathinam assembles two columns of cardboards, inserts them onto the other, and then folds the flaps of a separate box. He deftly places the cardboard flaps into the sides of a frame, fixes it atop a box and sits on it. The 23-year-old Chennai resident has just made a fully functional cardboard stool that can handle up to 150 kg. This is one of the many eco-friendly innovations by Karthic, who recently launched Out of the Box, a start-up that is dedicated to creating cardboard furniture.
His Eureka! moment occurred in 2018 when his college, International School of Design Rubika in Pune, where he pursued a Masters in Product Design, instructed students to move out of their hostels and set up their own apartments and work stations. “I was excited to set up my apartment. But the price of furniture would burn a hole in my pocket; I needed an alternative. I had about 40 cardboard boxes which I had used to move my things. I explored the idea of setting up my furniture in cardboard. And it all came together,” he reminisces.
For six months, Karthic lived in a home that was decked up in cardboard furniture — from beds to seating. “But I had no idea how to take this forward or even remotely wonder about the business aspects,” he recalls. After completing college in 2019, he interned as a product designer and learnt the tricks of the trade. But soon the coronavirus struck the world, putting a pause on his plans to move into the cardboard business.
Creativity during Covid
All hope was not lost though, thanks to the increasing demand for sanitiser stands. Mostly made out of steel, they were being sold at Rs 2,000. “I thought I could make this product better using cardboard at a much cheaper rate. I made a video of the stand and shared it with my contacts. I figured I would get a maximum of 10 orders which I could manually make and ship out, but the video went viral. Within a week, I received 2,500 orders from across India. Noida Metro rail had ordered about 60 of them,” he shares.
Knowing that this was no one-man army work, Karthic reached out to vendors across Chennai. “Most of them could not believe something as such could be done, so they rejected it. The small companies did not have the necessary machines to make these items. But finally, one vendor agreed to take up the order and we got to work,” he adds.
While the initial stages were not without challenges, Karthic remained steadfast in his approach. The news of the first 100 pieces rendered as faulty did not deter him from redesigning and ensuring the final product was assembled; all priced at Rs 600. “However, what I did not expect was the shipping cost, which was Rs 1,200 per piece. That was a blow,” he rues.
Learning from the missteps, this time Karthic decided to make the products flat and small in size, which turned out to be a success. “I started receiving orders from across the world. A person in Africa wanted to manufacture it there and sell it. So I licensed the products and he was able to sell 23,000 of them,” he notes, adding that all the raw materials are sourced from Ambattur.
Growing from mistakes
Just as his business was beginning to gather momentum, a few months into the pandemic, the demand for sanitiser stands dropped and his orders dwindled to two from 60 in a day; production was stopped in November.
February 2021 when he hoped to set up his venture, he was infected with COVID-19. While work had come to a standstill, he started building a team, mostly of engineers who were keen to learn. “They were all as passionate about cardboard as me. What started as a team of three has now grown to six,” he says. To market the products and keep them authentic, he had to build a brand. “The sanitiser stands were duplicated by many big-wigs. They made more than I did and I did not have the time or money to fight them. So I decided to start my own brand, ‘Out of the Box’,” he says.
True to his work and passion for cardboard, Karthic’s workspace too is a cardboard wonderland with windowsills and bookshelves and the table, all designed in cardboard. Nurturing their curious minds, the team also designed a scooter and a dinosaur out of cardboard.
Karthic used the money from his internships and the profit from the sanitiser stands to start his company. “It’s been six months since my office has been fully operational and we have designed about eight products in total in the first range which are ready to launch,” he says.
It was a challenge for Karthic to convince people that cardboard can be a good alternative to conventional wood furniture. “We decided to start small with a pen stand, desk organiser but we also wanted to show that cardboard is strong,” he adds. Along with that, the first range also consists of a table lamp, laptop stand, study table, bookshelf and hexagon shelf. They come in pieces that are assembled to reach their final stage. All the products have a water-proof coating and can last up to five years. With this start-up, Karthic aims to provide an alternative to wood and steel furniture.
Cardboard does come with its own set of flaws, Karthic admits. But he is not one to give up. “Cardboard is easily dented; a hole can be drilled and if one of the flaps is inserted wrong, the whole product might be useless. We are working on these solutions right now,” he says.
Bringing an Ikea-feel to his products, Karthic is ensuring that the customers too feel involved in the making of their products, and that’s why they have to assemble them. They can even customise and paint it. “The ultimate dream product is a cardboard house that you can just pack your house up in a box and set up anywhere. Wouldn’t that be cool?” Karthic asks.
Products are priced from Rs 49 to Rs 700. Order from Chennai can be delivered in a day while it takes 6-7 days to deliver to other states. For details, visit: www.outofthebox.sale