Baltimore is full of talented artisans, with plenty of opportunities to buy locally made products. When it comes to shopping for gifts, however, sometimes even the best of us crumble under pressure. A number of well-known gift basket companies have provided a convenient all-in-one gift service for year for those who want to send their congratulations or condolences by way of cellophane wrap and a tower of flavorless fruit. But for gift givers looking for a more unique, meaningful, and high-quality gift, the market gets significantly smaller.
Wole Ajagbe, of Clarksburg, hopes to fill that gap. His company, The Whiff Co., sells specialty packages featuring handmade items from local artisans paired together in themed combinations related to the seasons. Ajagbe works closely with artists from both Maryland and D.C. to create unique offerings for customers who lack the time or creativity to otherwise pull off a great gift.
Currently, The Whiff Co. presents one themed gift box at a time — adding and retiring them with the changing seasons — and taking the extra website space to feature short videos on the crafters he works with and present a full artistic vision alongside the purchasing opportunity.
The business is a true labor of love, and not Ajagbe’s full-time gig. He works in management at a large, well-known corporation (one he chose not to name in our interview, but was easily found by Googling his name). Affiliated artists I spoke with said he is among the more professional buyers they’ve ever worked with.
Ajagbe spoke with Baltimore Fishbowl about how his business came to be. Here’s an edited transcript of the interview:
BFB: Can you tell me a bit about the service you provide?
At The Whiff Co., we curate gift boxes with the help of local makers to make it easy to send a box to someone you care about. Each box is inspired by a season and the emotions that surround that season. In the spring, we were inspired by the newness and promise of the season and released BLANC, a set of floral teas and a tea cup. In the fall we really wanted to tackle darker emotions, especially with a myriad of tragedies that occurred in such rapid succession. So we released Nocturne, a gift box with bath salts and a candle to encourage self-care.
These inspiration points translate into everything we produce—from the packaging to the art direction to the marketing—so that when you see the final product it feels like one complete thought.
What hole did you see in the gift market that Whiff Co. is solving?
Most gift boxes are comprised of a lot manufactured samples. We found that the more items that fill a box, the lower each item’s value falls. We take pride in not only keeping box items distilled to the essentials, but also ensuring the items are handcrafted by makers who could easily be your neighbor. We also ensure that everything in the box is reusable; we want it to serve as a constant reminder of how much you’re cared for (and protect the environment, too).
What is your background?
Let’s just say it has little to do with what I’m doing now! I originally went to school for aerospace engineering, but decided not to go back when my current employer hired me full-time in 2008. I always had a creative bent, though, a lot of which I picked up from my father, who taught me how to draw and shade with colored pencils and pastel and then CorelDRAW back in the mid 1990’s. Art electives were usually among my favorite classes while in grade school, but this quickly switched to physics and calculus in 11th grade.
What is your personal history with crafting/shopping from local makers?
Most of this was vicarious. The Whiff Co. was inspired by a dear friend and fellow creative mind who periodically sent care packages to her then-boyfriend stationed overseas. I was amazed by her creativity and attention to detail and knew how well each item would be received when [he] finally opened the box.
I felt that there had to be others who had every intention of sending a gift that was just as meaningful, but didn’t really have the time or creativity to pull it off. This is where I saw my opportunity and, after a series of iterations, The Whiff Co. was born.
I noticed you only have one box for sale on your website.
It’s true. I retire each box as the season ends to keep as little inventory on hand as possible. This will (mostly likely) change in 2018 when I curate boxes that fit any season.
Why is this a great partnership for artists?
I think what makes this a brilliant partnership with makers is the exposure piece. When someone opens one of our gift boxes, we treat it as an introduction to the makers who crafted each gift. This is a delightful way to expand their footprint. It’s also why we dedicate a section of our website to highlighting our maker partners, complete with portraits and shots of their production process. We’re always looking for more makers and plan to release more boxes in 2018!
Who is your main customer?
Anyone who wants to send a meaningful gift but doesn’t necessarily have the time or creativity to pull it off. Our core customer has been anyone between the ages of 25 and 34, but I hope to be a gifting service for everyone.
Why should people buy handmade/local gifts, rather than shop at the mall?
Most items that you can find at a mall are mass-produced and, most likely, made by a family of machines in a factory. These items have lost their humanity and, arguably, some of their quality as a result. Sending gifts that were made by hand ensures that the love and care of the gifter and maker are preserved in the process. Also, sending through us is efficient, because we take care of the packaging and shipping. All you have to do is tell us where to send it to.