The Daily Progress
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - A local business is bringing wall-mounted deer trophy heads to living rooms around the world. But don't worry _ no animals were harmed in the making of these products.
Chris Jessee, founder and owner of Cardboard Safari, started making cardboard game head trophies out of his home after leaving his job at the University of Virginia in 2007.
"It's been kind of a wild ride these past few years," Jessee said. He originally made and sold model trains, but after working with a construction company on a model building, Jessee said he became interested in making cardboard products.
"You don't worry about cardboard because the cost is so low," he explained. It was Jessee's cousin, an "avid deer hunter," who suggested Jessee make cardboard trophy heads.
"No matter what question you ask him, it gets back to deer hunting," Jessee said. Now, Cardboard Safari produces bison, moose, longhorn cattle, rhinoceros and elephant trophy heads. Most trophies are available in small, medium and large sizes, and range in price from $13 to $61.
Cardboard Safari also makes wreaths, gift boxes and model rockets.
Rock Paper Scissors, a boutique stationary shop on the Downtown Mall, started stocking Cardboard Safari's products in November 2007. Jessee said his products were an instant hit.
At the suggestion of a friend, Jessee took his Cardboard Safari to the New York International Gift Fair, where he said about 50 businesses _ including Urban Outfitters stores in the United Kingdom _ placed orders.
Now, Jessee and his 10-person staff design, produce and ship the products from the company's 4,500-square-foot River Road warehouse location.
Nate Main, a Cardboard Safari designer, said the cardboard creations begin as 3D models on his office computer.
"It's kind of involved and takes some thinking about it, but there is software to help with some of the tricky parts," Main said.
After he creates a 3D model, Main "slices up" the image into pieces that can be etched onto cardboard using a laser cutter.
"When you break it down to the elements, it's kind of an oversized printer," Main said of the machine.
Then, Main works on how the model will be put together. He said he usually revises a new product 10 to 12 times before it's ready for mass production.
The products are sold unassembled to make shipping easier, Jessee explained. The pieces of the models fit together through a series of slots and notched pieces of cardboard, and are numbered for easy construction.
The smaller models can be assembled in about 15 minutes, Jessee said, while the larger models can take as long as 30 minutes to complete.
"It's kind of like a puzzle," Main said, noting that some customers are drawn to Cardboard Safari products because of the hands-on assembly.
"They slot together. They're pretty straightforward," Jessee said.
The models are available in brown or white, but Jessee noted that some customers get creative with their animals by painting or attaching colorful wallpaper or wrapping paper to the pieces.
Main said he keeps a "running list" of new items to develop, and added that some of his design ideas come from customer suggestions.
He is currently working on perfecting a miniature version of a human skull, which Main said is mostly anatomically correct.
Cardboard Safari products are available at a number of retail locations across the country and through the company's website, http://www.cardboardsafari.com. Local customers can purchase cardboard animal décor at Rock Paper Scissors and the Blue Ridge Eco Shop.
The Daily Progress is published in Charlottesville.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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