Growing up as a third generation of a successful large-format printing company (Kubin-Nicholson), paper and ink were as familiar to Elizabeth Rees as teddy bears and crayons are to most children. Years later, Elizabeth put her marketing degree from American University of Paris to work, assisting Kubin-Nicholson with digital strategy and web programming and development. And in February 2013 Elizabeth created the first removable wallpaper company, Chasing Paper.
Chasing Paper, a company offering beautiful, well-designed removable wallpaper that will stick to nearly any surface, is focused on offering people an affordable, accessible design alternative that can instantly transform any space (without the headache). In just two years since launch, the company has soared, generating coverage from leading lifestyle bloggers and magazine editors while collaborating with top designers across the country.
As wallpaper makes a comeback and tops a number of home trend and design prediction lists, it’s refreshing to see paper at the core of an innovative, sustaining business. Even more exciting is the power of transformation effect that Elizabeth continually strives to accomplish for her clients, while helping them embrace the DIY experience. Today, Chasing Paper offers dozens of fresh prints and patterns in multiple colors to breathe new life into typical surroundings.
After sitting down with the 31-year-old CEO of Chasing Paper, it’s clear that she, like her amazing wall coverings, is anything but “typical.”
Q: You’ve mentioned that paper has always been an important part of your life – can you walk us through what ultimately inspired you to make a business out of it?
A: Ironically, despite living and breathing paper products for years, it didn’t become personal to me until I saw it through a different lens. For years, I had a rather simple view of paper. It was something we printed. It was this narrow scope, and it never occurred to me to really color outside of those lines.
But while helping my dad redo the company website, I began playing around with design templates and color schemes and it just clicked – paper is really a conduit to so much more. It’s the ultimate tool for creative expression. It’s a conversation piece; it’s a way to make a statement. Suddenly I was envisioning all the ways it could help transform spaces and breathe new life into a room and Chasing Paper (or Wallpaper 2.0 as I call it) was born!
Q: Walk us through some of the specific unmet needs your product line was designed to solve for.
A: When people hear the term wallpaper, their reactions are entirely different. For some, it’s something they’re desperately trying to remove. For others, it’s nostalgic; it reminds them of a home they grew up in or a room they loved as a child.
But no one thinks of wallpaper as “easy.” And not just in terms of removing it. It’s sold in rolls that are typically between $200-300. The usual vinyl material often gives it a shiny finish or an odor. And of course, you need someone to hang it! In creating Chasing Paper I sought to remove the intimidation factor and instill feelings of accomplishment to make the overall experience more rewarding.
Our products are sold in 2x4-foot panels with removable backings, so people can buy it and try it before committing entirely. The fact that it’s paper-based, and comes from an organic, renewable fiber, gives it that nice texture and grain, but it’s also durable and can be wiped down.
Q: What was the aha moment when you knew you were on to something?
A: In the early stages of building Chasing Paper, a friend reached out with an interesting proposal. Two sterile support beams dominated her current office space. As business grew and more clients visited the space, more and more concerns were raised regarding the dismal feel the beams created. Everyone hated how they looked, but it’s not something they could just tear down or replace. They needed a more creative solution that would make it less of an eyesore. I ended up creating custom printed wraps for the beams that would brighten the space and energize the office vibe.
I was blown away by the response! People even today comment on how that subtle change transformed the entire space, as well as boosted overall morale. That was everything.
But the truth is, I have aha moments on (what seems) like a weekly basis. To me, it’s about being inspired or obtaining new perspective. It doesn’t take much to send my mind racing. Whether I’m out with friends and the restaurant or bar motif influences a new print, or I’m poring through shared customer photos, I look at aha moments as momentum. Every day is full of risks; some pay off, some don’t – but I’m learning every step of the way.
Q: Tell us more about the “power of transformation effect” your products offer today’s consumers.
A: Environments are so personal. What you surround yourself with matters, it influences your mood, your focus. I’ve moved a lot and have had to make a lot of new places home. Blank spaces, whether it’s a piece of paper or a stark wall, can be paralyzing. But, it’s not just about paint or color. With Chasing Paper, you can select a print, pattern or design that speaks to you and helps you make a space truly your own. But, you can always change your mind! Tastes change, lifestyle needs change and we are a solution to that natural evolution. Just pull it down and start over.
Q: What’s the best part of your job?
A: I love seeing not just what people do with our products, but hearing about what the overall experience meant to them. We have so many fans that associate this product with their first home or relied on it to create a nursery for their first child. Our product has become this connection source and creative solution all in one.
User feedback is such an important part of what motivates me. For example, wallpaper isn’t just for walls! We have people using it to line bookshelves and old wooden boxes; some even cover their refrigerator with it. The individual interpretation is so rewarding.
Q: How many current varieties of paper do you offer? How do you select your designs, what is that process like?
A: Today we have about 60 different prints in multiple color waves. We started with 25 and while we were eager to grow, I’ve found it’s more important to strike a good balance. Options are great, but too many varieties can be really overwhelming. For that reason, I’m pulling patterns just as often as I’m adding to keep things fresh. We do a photo shoot each quarter and typically introduce 6-10 new prints.
Design is central. We range from simple, basic prints to hand drawn/designed and water-colored options. We’re very fortunate to have great partners who lend their expertise and design insight on a regular basis. I also receive about 20-30 emails a month from artists and designers of various backgrounds who share their work and propose licensing deals.
In the end, it’s a really collaborative process. I can handle more of the basic prints, and then I curate more elaborate and customized prints/patterns from experts.
Q: What has been your largest obstacle in creating this business?
A: How fast to grow! There are no operating instructions for running a successful business. I’ve learned to take it day by day and never be in hurry to grow too quickly. You’ve got to let the creative process happen naturally and celebrate the little wins along the way.
Q: What would your advice be to others trying to turn their passion into a business model?
- Trust your gut. Everyone has an opinion (or suggestions on what you could or should do differently); I have people sketching prints for me on napkins when I’m out! But when it comes down to it, everyone defines success differently. Every decision has to feel right. Stay in your lane.
- Don’t compare yourself to others, it’s never apples-to-apples and you’ll only drive yourself crazy.
- Make sure there is a place for what you do in the market. You can think it’s the greatest thing in the world, but if the demand isn’t there or the timing isn’t right, everything can fall apart. Do your research first.
Q: Any design tips for people looking to transform their space?
- Be bold. Wallpaper is a statement no matter what you choose – so be fearless!
- There are no rules. I think many times we get stuck in old ideas about how wallpaper has to be used – there are so many creative uses for wallpaper. Tabletops, accent walls, backsplashes, faux headboards – the list goes on!
- Busy prints help to disguise wonky walls. If you live in an old building where there isn’t a straight line to be found, stay away from stripes, where those imperfections will be noticeable.
- Mix and match. Mixing prints adds texture and interest to a space. Don’t worry so much about things matching; just work from a color palette and find pieces you love.
- Give into the counterintuitive. Little spaces can be a great place for a big bold print. We love a strong wallpaper game in a powder room or foyer.
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