Kula resident Sara Smith was pregnant with her first child when she got the idea.
It was a time of "heavy gifting," with lots of friends getting married and having babies, and lots of showers to attend. "I felt inundated by wrapping paper," she recalls.
To her dismay, she learned that most Maui recycling centers don't accept the glossy paper, and she wasn't able to find a more environmentally friendly brand.
Kula resident Sara Smith works with The Maui News on her eco-friendly wrapping paper through her company Wrappily. While pregnant with her first child, she received many wrapped gifts and learned that most Maui recycling centers would not accept glossy wrapping paper. So she developed a company that prints wrapping paper on newsprint. She is shown inside The Maui News pressroom.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Since debuting with four types of wrapping paper, Wrappily now offers 11 different sheets, each one reversible, for a total of 22 designs. Smith works with The Maui News’ presses for part of her line, and a printer in Honolulu for her other collection.
KRISTY COPPERFIELD photo
"I love a beautifully presented gift, but I hated that it would just get torn up and thrown away," she says.
Around the same time, the economy was crashing and she was watching the rapidly changing newspaper and publishing industry with concern. As newspapers cut back on staff and coverage, "I got to thinking about newspaper presses," she says.
Smith's father and grandfather had worked in the printing industry, and she had worked for the magazine Maui No Ka Oi, so she was in familiar territory.
With cutbacks in publishing, she reasoned, her idea could solve two problems at once: "I thought, why don't you just take the patterns and print them on newspaper presses?"
With the birth of her first child, and then her second, Smith filed the idea away - too busy to pursue it. But a few years later, when she started having time to reflect again and get back to work, she decided to look into it more seriously.
"I just figured somebody else would have done it already by the time I got around to it," she says. "But nobody did."
After conducting some initial research into what it would take to launch, Smith took her plan to "Start-up Weekend." In the program, would-be entrepreneurs make their pitch, and members of the group vote for their favorite ideas. Participants then form teams around the top proposals, and they spend the next 54 hours working together to form a business model, conduct market research and get the project ready to launch. At the end of the weekend, the top projects are presented to local entrepreneurs.
Smith's idea was selected for development, and at the end of the weekend, Wrappily was ready to debut - and it was the winning project.
"That was an amazing experience," she says. "It was just that jump-start I needed to get going."
With help from Maui-based startup investment firm mbloom, Wrappily launched its first line of eco-friendly wrapping paper in November 2013, and conducted a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo in December and January. While the campaign didn't meet its funding goal, Smith says the real value it provided was exposure.
"The excuse to go out and talk to people about your product is irreplaceable," she says.
Smith says her first three months with Wrappily was "like a freight train out of control."
In between supplying local retailers and fulfilling orders from her website, Wrappily.com, Smith was doing phone interviews and even appearing on a Honolulu TV news program to give Christmas wrapping advice.
"My phone just kept lighting up," she says. "I had the sinking feeling: 'I've screwed myself for every Christmas to come.'"
Since debuting with four types of wrapping paper, Wrappily now offers 11 different sheets, each one reversible, for a total of 22 designs. Smith works with The Maui News' presses for part of her line, and a printer in Honolulu for her other collection.
Smith calls the look and feel of her wrapping paper "humble," although, she notes, many customers love the matte, soft aesthetic of the uncoated paper.
It's also more environmentally friendly, she says, noting that newsprint can be recycled up to seven times, or even composted.
And her next goal is to expand her business to the Mainland. Next month, Smith will head to the Seattle Gift Show to debut Wrappily in the Pacific Northwest.
"I just think that's going to be my best bet to get in front of as many people as possible," she says.
A key part of her business concept, she explains, is that Wrappily can be replicated across the country.
"There's a newspaper press in every town in America," she says. "At its core, it's meant to be a local product."
In addition to Wrappily.com, Smith's wrapping paper can be found online at Amazon.com and Etsy.com; on Maui at stores including Hue, Pearl, Mana Foods and Holiday & Co.; and at retailers on the Big Island, Kauai and Oahu.
* Ilima Loomis is a Maui-based writer and editor. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neighbors and "The State of Aloha," written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.