Elizabeth Rees doesn’t want any apartment dweller aching for stylish digs to lose their security deposit.
The Wisconsin-born entrepreneur has created peel-and-stick removable wallpaper — this is not your grandmother’s vinyl contact paper — in an array of colors, designs and hip patterns. “I have lived in many apartments throughout my 20s and love the idea of customizing and making a space my own,” says Rees, 30, who founded Chasing Paper last March in New York. “Wallpaper is transformative and fun.”
It helps that paper is in Rees’ blood. Her grandfather was in the printing business, and her father and 86-year-old grandmother now run Kubin-Nicholson, the Milwaukee printing company where Chasing Paper’s products are manufactured.
Related: Meet 10 Young Women to Watch in 2014
Still, before starting her own company, Rees spent nearly a year researching decorative paper — and only found low cost options (the aforementioned contact paper) or high-end designer wallpaper. There wasn’t much in the middle, she realized. She visited manufacturers, looked through their samples, and came up with her current product: A paper that has a fabric feel, with some texture and grain, but uses a low-tack adhesive.
The paper comes in 2-feet-by-4-feet panels, as opposed to rolls, and is generally priced at $30. It’s suitable for renters, who often are prohibited from painting or wallpapering, as well as design neophytes and commitment phobes, who might fear the decorating process, Rees says. “I believe that design should be affordable and accessible,” she says.
In its first year, Chasing Paper made $100,000 in annual revenue, a figure that Rees hopes to grow to $2.5 million in five years. Running a self-funded startup has not been without its challenges. “Growing slowly and organically means that you have one opportunity to make an impression,” she says. “But sometimes, things go wrong and unhappy emails are sent.” At first, Rees says she took customers’ complaints personally, then realized it was an opportunity. “Acting quickly and being responsive and understanding has helped me win over customers for life,” she says.
Rees uses web tools like Shopify, an ecommerce platform, to analyze product sales, margins, customers’ geographic location and other information. And as a young entrepreneur, she’s learning to shut out other people’s “helpful” tips. “Everyone wants to tell you their ideas, give you their advice on how to do it, but I’ve learned I need to trust my gut,” she says.
The process is worth it. “I am working hard for a product I adore,” she says. “I love being able to make a product that is used in nurseries and new homes, and breathing new life into old furniture.”
Why do you deserve to be on our Young Women to Watch list?
“I have made my home all over the world, in tiny villages in the hills of India to the bustling streets of London. I have collected so many stories and experiences that help me craft my story and fed my entrepreneurial fire. I spent my 20s learning from other fantastically smart woman and plan to spend my 30s giving that back. I am completely dedicated to my business and making it something lasting and successful.”