On the web
Learn more about Boulder's Whimseybox at whimseybox.com.
Alicia DiRago grew up in a "crafty" household, spending days making crazy costumes, 3-D worlds out of paper and collages from magazines.
Later in life, the chemical engineer turned to hands-on hobbies as a means of relaxation after hours of delving into data and spreadsheets.
But as arts and crafts evolved and gained popularity as "DIY," or do-it-yourself, in the digital world, not all elements of the industry seemed to have advanced, she said.
"In the modern Internet world, I was frustrated because I couldn't buy supplies online," she said.
So DiRago created a place to do just that.
DiRago, 33, heads up the Boulder-based Whimseybox, a company that operates a monthly craft kits subscription service and an e-commerce store for projects and supplies.
Whimseybox — a graduate of Excelerate Labs, the startup accelerator program now operated as TechStars Chicago — has recorded "tremendous" growth in subscribers and sales within the past year.
"This year, the main focus is moving into the broader e-commerce (business)," DiRago said. "(Including focusing on) intelligent matching between all the creative projects you find on the web and matching those with the supply list."
Whimseybox launched in December 2011.
But "launched" may be a bit of an overstatement, DiRago said.
"At that time, it was a WordPress site," she said. "The idea was to make it easier for people to start making things."
Whimseybox formed as a result of DiRago's own frustrations from not being able to buy materials online. She wanted a way to bring DIY to the modern Internet age.
In 2009, DiRago and her husband moved to Houston, where he had landed a job. She quit hers in Chicago will the full intention of finding another position in the energy-rich job market in Texas.
But Houston would end up being a locale for another career to blossom.
DiRago created a DIY crafts blog and started to teach classes. Both the blog and classes started to grow in popularity and DiRago discovered many others had the same difficulties as her.
"It was pretty hard to find the supplies online," she said, noting industry leaders such as Michaels only had brick-and-mortar presences. "I started thinking, 'How can I reach more of these people?' And that's really where the idea (developed)."
Whimseybox relocated to Boulder last year and currently consists of a five-person operation based out of an 1,800-square-foot office in downtown. A week or two each month, a slew of temporary workers join Whimseybox's ranks to help hand-package the Whimseyboxes.
What's in the box?
For $15 per month, customers can have a Whimseybox — a kit to make a specific craft or art project — delivered to their doorsteps.
"Every month, you don't know what the project is going to be; we include the instructions and all the materials," she said. "We do not assume that the subscribers have all the materials."
In a recent jewelry-making box, for example, the Whimseybox came with two sets of pliers.
There's a LEGO-like approach of providing a roadmap for a project, but the intent is not to stifle imaginations.
"We didn't want to suck the 'creative' out of the 'creative experience,'" she said.
That's where the company's website also can come into play.
Through Whimseybox's site, customers can order past boxes and also pore through popular crafts — perhaps some they've come across on Pinterest boards — and find both instructions and a one-click means of purchasing supplies.
That latter avenue is what DiRago and crew hope to expand to include partnerships with existing online bloggers and crafters.
Whimseybox, which has raised under $1 million in seed funding to date, plans to make a presentation to potential investors later this month at the Venture Capital in the Rockies Winter Conference.
'Industry is strong'
At the end of 2012, the arts and crafts industry had an estimated value of $30 billion, according to data from the Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Craft & Hobby Association.
The industry remains incredibly healthy, said Andrej Suskavcevic, the association's president and chief executive officer.
The crafts and hobbies industry experienced a boost as families turned to lower-priced activities during the recession, he said. That momentum has accelerated in part to the web, he added.
"Overall the trend of the DIY/craft industry is strong," he said. "We're seeing a lot of new players getting in, particularly the younger generation."