This 23-year-old man makes durable, water-resistant cardboard furniture

This is out of the box, where Rathinam manufactures cardboard furniture. “We don’t just think outside the box, but also what we can do with the box,” he says. THAT’S TO SAY.

His inventions? Worn only out of necessity.

At a crucial time in her life, Rathinam from Chennai, India had to make a difficult decision.

In 2018, the property of his college was seized by the Indian state government due to a alleged land scam, and 90 students in his group were given two choices: go to France and attend a college-affiliated design school in India, or move to a small temporary campus with limited learning facilities. For 70 of them, choosing France was obvious. For Karthic, well, he was one of the 20 who decided to stay in India.

Three years later, the Rathinam startup is building furniture that could give Ikea a hard time.

Rathinam’s DIY furniture in her university accommodation in 2018.

Provided by Karthic Rathinam

“I had to sort out my accommodation when I moved to the temporary campus. Initially, I considered furnishing the place myself, using my skills as a design student. My first option was wood, but I realized it would be unaffordable. That’s when I noticed the boxes lying around – I had moved in with so many of them,” the 23-year-old tells us.

He wasted no time. The sophomore made a few necessities, including a bed, wardrobe, bookshelf and chair, from the discarded boxes, which lasted for a solid eight months. Word of mouth spread and soon Rathinam had friends come to his house to see the marvel.

Experiment, fail, adapt, improvise, repeat

“It was more of a proof of concept,” he says.

Looking ahead to 2020, Rathinam had graduated and gained more skills through his internships as a product designer. Before he could rack his brains and think about future possibilities, the pandemic hit. “I noticed that the disinfectant dispensers sold in the market were rather expensive. So I decided to make a low-cost one,” he says.

He built one out of cardboard and shared the video of the stand on Whatsapp. It went viral, driving 2,500 orders across India in the first week. “It took me by surprise. Also, logistics wasn’t something I could handle on my own, so I reached out to factories, met a lot of suppliers, learned the ropes of management of a company, and more. I had to change the manufacturing model too,” he says.

This 23-year-old man makes durable, water-resistant cardboard furniture

The sanitizer is standing.

Provided by Karthic Rathinam

Early parts were faulty, but Rathinam wasn’t the only one backing down. But, once the final product was ready to go, he realized that the shipping costs were higher than the product he had made. The quick-witted Rathinam has flattened his sanitizer dispenser and added DIY instructions so the customer can assemble it themselves.

In a short time, Rathinam received orders from all over the world. A team in South Africa approached him about a collaboration in which they would manufacture the dispensers and give him royalties for the design. This led to the sale of nearly 23,000 pieces.

But the euphoria was short-lived. Demand for sanitizer stalls plummeted and Rathinam recognized he needed to branch out and refine his “proof of concept” of making cardboard furniture.

Really out of the box

After a few hiccups, including contracting COVID-19, Rathinam decided to refine his idea and move to Gujarat, an Indian state known for its good quality paper. He worked with a small team and slightly modified the properties of the paper, which made it stronger. However, he had to return to his home state of Tamil Nadu as the idea was touted as too unconventional by the sellers.

With things settled, Rathinam and his team of four got to work. Fascinated by the material that once furnished his living space, he created designs designed to take advantage of the structural properties of the material.

At the beginning of this year, after several prototypes and tests, Out of the Box launched eight cardboard products, including a stool, a desk organizer, a laptop stand, a pen holder, a square shelf, a hexagonal shelf , a table lamp and a desk.

This 23-year-old man makes durable, water-resistant cardboard furniture

The Out Of The Box team.

Provided by Karthic Rathinam

Each product on the website can be disassembled into a flat package for shipment. “One of the main things I emphasized was the absence of adhesives. Everything works on the principle of interlocking, which makes the process easier for the customer,” says Rathinam. It also ensures that the customer feels involved.

How sturdy is the furniture? “We use corrugated cardboard, which is more durable. We had to sift through several prototypes – at least 50 – to get to the end. We also made sure we knew the properties of cardboard like the back of our hand. he orientation of the flutes – wave-like structures that give strength to reinforce the corrugated – is used to our advantage. We have spent a lot of time researching and identifying the pressure points of the cartons. Each design is cut in a way that adds structure to the solidity of the product, while making assembly of the furniture extremely easy for the user,” he explains.

In addition, all products are coated with a plant-based starch coating that makes them water and oil resistant. They are also extremely economical, which Rathinam was adamant about.


This 23-year-old man makes durable, water-resistant cardboard furniture

Rathinam envisions a future where cardboard furniture is the norm.

Rathinam is aware that it is part of a larger movement in which there is less waste, products are environmentally friendly and part of the circular economy.

“Initially, that was not the plan,” he admits. “But we started partnering with many organizations that strongly believe in sustainability. Cardboard is 100% recyclable. And now we’ve implemented completely carbon-neutral office spaces. big goal. to create a sustainable alternative to wood, plastic and other materials used to make furniture while making it economical and customizable. Ideally, the end goal is to make cardboard products the norm among people,” he said.

Has it ever had a target audience? “Yeah,” Rathinam jokes immediately. “Initially, I focused on students and startups. So I made a generic range, which is the one that is present on the site at the moment. We are currently planning an office range which will have candle holders, tables, bookshelves, and cardboard door frames. The next group we look at is children. Cardboard is lightweight, and there’s no doubt that it’s dangerous if it accidentally falls on them,” says -he.

The fourth line would be for pop-up stands. “Imagine packing an entire stand for an event into a box and then unpacking it to set up your pop-up. I’ve seen concepts like this done with plastic, but obviously cardboard is definitely cost effective. can be easily printed on, again saving on banners and other advertising materials,” says Rathinam.

Cardboard can have its own flaws, and the Rathinam team is working on the same. “We’re looking at pests and fireproofing the furniture while sizing it. The long-term goal would be to turn it into temporary living quarters,” he tells us.

Although the cardboard is recyclable, Rathinam wants Out Of The Box to come full circle. “We plan to set up a space where people can throw away their paper and other cardboard. In return, they will receive one of our products, depending on the weight of the paper they have thrown away,” he says.

It all sounds very rewarding if you ask me. Is this what he always wanted? Rathinam smiled. “My father is an architect, my mother and my sister too”, he continues. “I was helping my dad make house models and I was rendering my sister’s CAD work. So I already had this creative flow that worked for me. But I didn’t want to get involved in architecture. That’s how I ended up choosing product design. And now I like to create things for the benefit of others,” he adds.

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