Last month I had the pleasure of touring the new West Elm Store at the St. Louis Galleria. West Elm has brought local flair to their shops by collaborating with regional Etsy designers. When I visited the store, I was in awe of ReAuthored’s handmade hardcover books cum tablet cases. Located in Columbia, MO, and led by Maha Libdeh, ReAuthored takes vintage books headed to the scrapper and turns them into functional works of art. You have to visit West Elm to truly experience how wonderful the product is. For now, let’s hear Maha’s story and how ReAuthored and her Etsy shop helped her reimagine her life and career.
BB: What is the origin of ReAuthored?
ML: My former spouse and I started the business together and I took it over as my own when we parted in April 2011. Initially, we were inspired by a post we saw online. This guy had taken a book, cut out the pages, and put a Kindle inside. His girlfriend thought she was getting a book called How to Feed Your Man, but was pleasantly surprised when she flipped it open.
We loved the concept so much that we returned to the idea again and again. We got to the point where we decided that we could leave our jobs for it, succeed on our own financially, and really take control of what we were doing.
See the video below to see what ReAuthored is all about:
ML: Books have been ingrained in me since I was a child. I read all of the time. I would get so excited when my mom, an avid reader, would take me to the library as a child. Even today, at the end of the day, what I enjoy most is getting into bed and reading.
Therefore, you can imagine that initially it was tough for me to cut up books. I would remind myself that I was using throwaway books headed to the shredder that no one would use anyways. It was a better alternative to turn them into something artistic.
It makes me sad that people are moving away from real books. But physical books are a pain to transport. It also makes sense environmentally to transfer to electronic and it is neat to blend the two through ReAuthored.
BB: What is your version of the American Dream?
ML: It is different for everybody. Some people would say my 9-5 job was the American Dream. But for me it is about having control of my own life and the way my company impacts the world around me.
BB: How did your collaboration with West Elm come about? Where do you hope it will lead?
ML: West Elm was looking for Etsy sellers in Missouri to contribute to their new St. Louis Galleria location. They came across my shop and one of their buyers contacted me. It took my breath away. There are thousands of Etsy sellers in Columbia, MO alone. It meant a lot to me that I had something special enough to share with their customers.
It was my first wholesale agreement ever. This was the perfect push I needed to get into wholesale. Sometimes that type of encouragement is all you need to pursue new goals.
|ReAuthored on display at West Elm in St. Louis|
ML: Learning to rely on the community around me and ask for help were the hardest and best things to learn. When you put your work out there, you wonder whether or not people will like it. So many people have helped me get to where I am today.
The other tough part is finance. Every penny does not go into your pocket. You have to reinvest it. Determining how much I needed to grow and how quickly was difficult. What were we willing to sacrifice for these things? I realized financially I was willing to sacrifice a lot. And I learned that my happiness did not equal a dollar amount. My reward came from watching my business succeed.
BB: What is it like running the business on your own?
ML: It has been quite a transition, but a good one. Previously we had one office that we worked out of and a separate home that we lived in. Now, it is a weird feeling having your home and workspace collide. I am learning when to turn it on and off. And I am used to the silence of being alone all day. It is just me all day, but I like it. I can go at my own pace and stay flexible.
BB: What has the reaction to your products been?
ML: People really love them. It is neat to see their reaction. At first a potential buyer may be disinterested. But when I pull the books out, the reaction changes completely. She may see it and realize, “Oh my gosh. You do make art out of books.” I love the transformation from not interested to interested. And people especially love seeing something that was going to be thrown away transformed into something beautiful.
BB: How do you select the books for each item?
ML: I go through huge mounds of discarded books. I look at the condition and consider: Is it well bound? Does it look nice? Does it feel nice? I look at the binding and only use sewn binding because glued binding breaks easily. How might the paper react to the glue I use? For a device, I look at different sized books. And for the picture frames I make, the books need to look nice, have an appealing cover, and fit a 5×7. If all my considerations are met, I bring the books home with me.
BB: Where do you see your business in 10 years?
|Maha & her son Emmett|
ML: In the short to mid-term, I hope to expand inventory on Etsy, focus less on custom orders, and really hone in on which products customers prefer. Up until now, I have not been able to gauge interest in specific products because so much of the work I did was custom ordered. I would also love to collaborate further with other shops in Missouri to sell my products. I view wholesale as a great way to grow my business. Seeing the cases and holding them is something you cannot convey in photos.
In 10 years, I hope to still do this. What I want to teach my son is that you can do what you love. You do not have to fit into the box that society puts you in.
- Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. If you comment on Maha’s story, please include the name you registered with in Rafflecopter in the comment.
- Must be a resident of the United States to enter.
- Contest ends at 11:59pm on August 28th, 2013. Winner will be announced August 29th.
- If you have been chosen as the winner, you will be sent instructions to claim your prize. You will have one week to respond. If no response is given within that timeframe, another winner will be chosen.
All images and video (with the exception of the West Elm photo) are courtesy of ReAuthored.com
What did you think of Maha’s story? What do you think of the hardcover book tablet cases? Share in the comments below!