What is Boya and how it’s made?
Maja Mesić is an industrial designer from Zagreb, known for her award-winning product Boya. She has built a company around this small and innovative object, a drawing tool. In January last year, she presented the product at Creativeworld and Paperworld Fair in Frankfurt, standing side-by-side with the field’s biggest names like Faber-Castell, Carioca, Staedtler.
As usual, we were curious about how she built her business!
Boya is a teardrop-shaped soft wax pastel. Its innovative shape gives the user much more usage options than a regular, stick-shaped crayon. Maja had to completely design the process of creating the Boya because the product required a different process of manufacturing than a standard crayon. Making crayons starts with mixing the dry substance, melting, pouring it into moulds and getting it out again. The challenge with the teardrop shape was that it required a two-part mould, so she designed that too.
This overview is overly simplified because the design was not a straightforward process. When creating a new product, each phase of the production is a phase of an idea, experiment, trial and error.
‘It’s not simple to make one Boya, even though it looks like a simple product. We currently have 20 different colours, and each substance is melted at a different temperature. It’s not a large difference in temperatures, but each degree makes a significant difference.
After the substance is mixed, it goes into the moulds. In the beginning, we worked on a tiny machine; we had metal moulds and a huge problem with air that would stay captured inside. It took us four years to solve that issue. And then I got a much better machine and needed to rethink the process again! As soon as I started working on that first machine, I thought “How will I achieve a larger production; I cannot progress with this?” So, I was searching, and it took me another four or five years to find what I was looking for.”
She got in touch with the company and visited them to see the production based on the machine she wanted. ‘When I saw the product they made on that machine, I knew the sky would be the limit for me. It was the ‘it’ moment for her. She can now produce 16 different colours simultaneously. With the new machine, the quality of Boya is doubled, as the centrifugal process allows better compression of the substance.
While the regular crayons have 5 to 6 grams of material in them, Boya weighs 20 grams. The production capacity is three thousand crayons a day, which gives enough volume to start exporting Boya and think about a bigger story. However, it wasn’t always like this.
The beginnings of Boya
Maja designed the first Boya while still at the university. She was satisfied with the design, but she has put it in the drawer, with an idea to sell it later. She saw it as just another product she designed.
Her idea was to finish studying and open a design studio to do client work, just like the most designers do. Luckily, she didn’t. The confidence in her product, a healthy dose of self-esteem and the blissful ignorance about the sacrifices required, luckily took her in another direction. Starting the production, she became a business owner and a producer, promotor and a seller.
‘I always thought Boya was a good idea – cool, very functional, good to use, and I wanted to see it as a product, even if launched by somebody else’, said Maja.
Red Dot Award
In 2008, she got a Red Dot award for the concept. Since the Red Dot is like Oscar for design, the award gave her the confidence that the idea is worth pursuing, so she decided to do it herself.
‘I didn’t know anything, didn’t have any money to fund it; I just had a vision, an idea and a desire. I started by looking for people that could help me making the substance for Boya and provide advice on machinery required. It took me four years, and I finally got the sellable product’.
Perhaps it’s unusual to be so goal-oriented, without a backup plan, investing years to get to the final product, but that’s exactly what Maja did. ‘I haven’t bought myself clothes or anything else for four years, because I needed to invest in moulds and things like that so there was no room for anything else’.
Maja shared how she remembers each detail and the two most important moments: The first being June 2012, when the first machine got delivered to her. She bought it with money she earned by doing other jobs. What followed were months of experimenting with moulds, different temperatures and processes in general.
The second important moment was when she made the first connections with a few stores in Zagreb, in November the same year. Her hard work led to the moment when she brought the first five basic sets of Boya to the first store, not knowing if she would sell any. After two long days, the owner finally called her and said all sets were sold, and immediately ordered some more. That was the tipping point for Maja: ‘It was one of the happiest days of my professional life!’
The learning process, funding the growth and plans
‘Before I started producing Boya, being a designer, I looked at the design of the product. Now, the first thing that comes to my mind is “How is this made”? How does the material enter the mould? How did they solve that or that?” Because the process of making something is larger than the product itself!’
Designers are taught to look at things from different angles. They learn by researching, analysing and dismantling to the smallest detail. The finished design is the endpoint of that process.
Maja understands that ‘Although I have a small company, I basically have the same process as any large company. The only difference is that a team of people or departments are doing the work in a larger company, and I am doing everything by myself, the paperwork, marketing, promotion, and sales! My company will also become larger. I don’t know when it will happen, but it will, and I am looking forward to delegating some work.’
In 2015, she opened the shop in Korčula, which raised her profit. She managed to achieve this with the hundred thousand HRK she got from Zagrebačka Banka’s contest for the best young entrepreneur. This funding also helped her to apply for more significant EU funds. She successfully applied for similar contests before, and usually won, three times so far!
Maja is a perfect example of how one can make it in the business world in Croatia. She is also an example of what you need to be in order to build the momentum and start seeing the benefits of your work.
She is far from finished with Boya, but she is also far from where she started. Maja has big plans for her brand and herself, expanding production to other drawing materials is one of them. She is currently working on a water-soluble substance trying to make the ‘watercolour’ Boya.
Having a company is a commitment; sometimes, it feels like having a baby that grows differently. ‘Currently, I still have a lack of time, but I am working to change that because of the desire to be creative and working in that field, and I know it will happen.’ She wants to see Boya self-sufficient and herself doing something else, once her first venture can work without her.