A Houston company is making DIY projects and crafting easier than ever with a subscription service that delivers a grab-bag of instructions and supplies to your doorstep each and every month.
Whimseybox is the brainchild of Alicia DiRago, founder of the crafting blog Dismount Creative. The company is just over a year old, and grew from the connections and crafting community DiRago developed online after moving to Houston from Chicago about three years ago.
A self-descried "recovering chemical engineer," DiRago was at a loss of what to do with herself after moving to Houston with her husband for his job.
"I was an engineer. I thought for sure I'd find a job in Houston. But when the time came to look for work I just did not have it in me."
Instead, DiRago set about trying to make new friends. But that wasn't easy at first either.
"There were classes or events in Chicago where people would get together and make jewelry or craft. but I couldn't find anything like that in Houston," she said.
Not long after the move, she started Dismount Creative, and began to hold classes and events as a way to meet creative types in Houston.
"I think people are more open in a class situation as opposed to just an event at a bar," she said. "I'm a class junky -- I'll take a class on anything. (Like engineering) it's all related to my love of making things."
Soon, DiRago had a flourishing audience for her blog, so she began to think about ways that she could reach even more people. A company called M & J Trimming asked her if she wanted to do a project for the blog with some of the items they sold. They sent her and a few other bloggers a mystery box full of supplies.
"When the box came in the mail, I was so excited. There's just a really joyful experience in making stuff yourself."
Randomly, about a month later, while at the Houston International Quilt Festival trade show, she met a woman who had made some of the ribbon in the box from M & J. The woman had no idea her product had been included in the project.
That got DiRago thinking. In the craft world, a lot of companies are mom-and-pop shops, some run by older owners, who have no idea how to use technology to their benefit, from social media to developing relationships with bloggers.
"I have this theory that different industries come online at different times," she said. "How come all this technology is transforming other fields but these crafting companies didn't know how to work directly with crafters?"
"Blogging can be a huge asset to a business," she said. And so she began to think to herself, "How do I make that into something that's sustainable."
Around the same time, Birchbox was gaining popularity. Birchbox is a beauty and skin care subscription service where curated make-up and "lifestyle" product samples are mailed out every month.
So DiRago contacted a couple of companies whose products she loved, put together 15 prototype boxes, and contacted a handful of craft bloggers whose opinions she valued. The bloggers weren't required to write about the project -- she just wanted their opinions. But some did, and pretty soon the basic informational website she's set up for the project was filling up with orders for the next box. There have now been 14 months worth of Whimseyboxes.
But that's not to say there haven't been growing pains. In the first several months, the boxes just contained supplies, with no direction. DiRago realized that a lot of people were ordering the boxes as a way to get started with DIY projects and had no idea how to use the objects they were given. So for the past six months, every Whimseybox has included a featured project along with instructions.
And the company has outgrown her house, where she used to have assembly line-style packing parties before sending the boxes out.
"There have been some late nights. We're not BFF with the post office. They think we're crazy. Once the guy came on foot to pick up 500 boxes."
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About those boxes -- Whimseybox keeps it local as much as possible. One of DiRago's concepts was that the boxes could be re-used as storage. The boxes are made locally out of recycled fiberwood, and are now packed at The Center, a community for adults with developmental disabilities.
DiRago likes to quote a friend when talking about Houston.
"Houston is really flat. Not just geographically,but socially, too. I feel like, if I wanted to meet the mayor, I could. That could happen.
"What's good for my business is good for the community."