PaperWool, LLC makes ottomans and pillows stuffed with 100% shredded junk mail. Watch the promo video here:  Cushions & Cubes have windows through which you can see the stuffing and a zipper down the back for refilling. They are containers for stories, allowing people to showcase their personal style while doing something good for the planet.

At the start of this grant year, I had a product concept but no physical prototype. I had a vision for a business, but had not incorporated one. Now, at the conclusion of the Creative Incubator, I (and the PaperWool brand) have come a long way from that point. I used the funding to develop the product, create a marketing plan, and lay out a manufacturing process.

  • Valerie Linhart Mallya, Founder, PaperWool LLC

Major Pivots

Based upon research of potential customers, the law, and the competition, I made the following pivots throughout the course of this grant:

  • To line Cushions & Cubes, Papeool has turned to 100% natural wool, reinforcing its commitment to creating green products.
  • ‐premium to mid-­‐premium so that it can enter the home furnishings market in a space that not already saturated while being competitively priced against products that are eco-­‐friendly, yet not green inside and out.
  • ‐stuffed only, whereas Cushions will be offered as either pre-­‐stuffed or stuff-­‐it-­‐yourself. The stuff-it-yourself pillows come with a zipper tag on which customers can write the personal story behind their paper collection (ie. drafts of a first novel or old family recipes).

Customer Feedback

Through the following events, I was able to: (1) shape the product around potential customers’ feedback; (2) gage demand for the product based upon the public’s response; (3) tailor brand messaging to phrases that appealed to potential customers and key words that they themselves used to describe the product; and (4) market the product prior to launch.

  • Invited people to sit on a PaperWool Cube in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square Park.
  • Presented a PaperWool Cube at Philly Tech Week’s Signature Event (held in Urban Outfitters headquarters) and ran a contest inviting attendees to guess how many catalog pages the Cube contained.
  • Participated in the Lean Startup Machine, working with a teammate to interview customers and retailers in Philadelphia places where our target audience hangs out—the home décor section of Barnes & Nobles, for example. PaperWool’s presentation placed second. (
  • Displayed PaperWool mini Cushion & Cube at the Exhibiting Artists show in Philadelphia’s Buyers Market: The American Made Show. (Retailers provided written comments after visiting the Exhibiting Artists space.)
  • Attended a series of Arts Business Institute workshops, which covered wholesaling and how to get products into stores.


As the idea developed, I had the chance to discuss this project on a number of different occasions:

  • As fellow in GoodCompany Group’s Ventures accelerator and during its Investor Pitch Day (­‐group-­‐investor-­‐day-­‐social-­‐entrepreneurship/).
  • As panelist for Women’s Business Center’s Success in the City; as presenter to The University of the Arts Board; and as part of three videos (one in support of the Corzo Center and one for Empowerment Group’s Women’s Business Center and one for GoodCompany Group).

Brand Development and Marketing

To define and establish the brand:

  • Developed PaperWool’s trade dress, from the logo to taglines [Stuff. Sit. Stay.], to other brand messaging.
  • Worked with a marketing consultant to frame the PaperWool brand and present its products.

Manufacturing Planning

Grant funding has allowed me to work with manufacturing consultant who is co-­‐founder of MIO.

  • Planning to manufacture locally through a Philadelphia cut-­‐and-­‐sew vendor.
  • Worked with local graphic designer to translate product patterns into digital files that can be easily updated and distributed to the cut-­‐and-­‐sew vendor.
  • Constructed numerous prototypes, testing green alternative materials and various construction methods. This allowed me to: (1) streamline the pattern for cut-­‐and-­‐sew production; (2) ensure a durable, high-­‐quality product; and (3) further support PaperWool’s commitment to green products inside and out.
  • Conducted a trial with 3Sisters Sustainable Management in Philadelphia’s Center City in order to test collecting junk mail on a local level.

Other Activities

Researched product liability and other laws pertaining to the shredding and selling of U.S. mail, product safety, labeling requirements, and questions surrounding providing PaperWool’s products to customers pre-­‐stuffed.

Met regularly with Corzo Center advisors to discuss findings from legal research, marketing strategies, and construction methods.

Conclusion and What I Have Learned

The PaperWool website will be launched soon, with Cushions & Cubes available for purchase through our website and other retailers shortly thereafter.

Starting a business requires help from many sources. I learned that it is vital to reach out to people to successfully navigate this intensive process. By incorporating their efforts and varied perspectives, the result is far more comprehensive and rich than what I could have accomplished on my own. In this regard, I am extremely grateful to those who have assisted with PaperWool’s growth, particularly to the Corzo Center Creative Incubator and Wells Fargo Fellowship who funded this endeavor.

  • PaperWool