Karst Stone Paper offers a twist on the old game of rock paper scissors. The Sydney-based startup transforms rock – or rather, recycled rubble – that it sources from construction sites and mining quarries into paper and refined stationery products. The founders say it’s a future-friendly process that requires no trees, water, waste acids or bleaches (which is how you usually produce paper).
“It’s possible to make beautiful paper without timber, water and waste and using only a third of the usual carbon footprint,” Karst co-founder Jon Tse told Broadsheet. “The need for paper isn’t going away anytime soon, but the need for a sustainable paper option is now crucial, so we came up with one.”
Tse and his co-founder Kevin Garcia discovered stone paper by accident while on a work trip in Taiwan, where they visited a factory that was using stone paper for food packaging, transportation and labelling. “We were like, ‘This is awesome’, and could see the potential application of this raw material to notebooks and reams of paper,” says Tse. “We thought, ‘Why are we harming trees and not taking advantage of this no-brainer opportunity?’ It just snowballed from there.”
Karst’s paper is made by grinding down rubble waste to extract calcium carbonate, which is crushed into a powder and combined with a non-toxic, recyclable binding agent. That material is then used in its range of pretty journals, planners, sketchbooks and notebooks. Not only does it constitute a more sustainable alternative to traditional pulp paper, it’s brighter and smother than traditional paper, as well as waterproof and tear resistant. Tse says you can't submerge it in a bowl off water but if drops fall on the page you can wipe them off.
“We knew we had something unique on our hands with the material, but we’ve added some coating on the stone paper to make it soft, rich and luxurious,” says Tse. “We believed making a sustainable alternative to traditional paper would be enough to entice people to buy it, but we also wanted to make something beautiful that we were proud of.”
From the flagship notebooks that debuted in 2017, Karst has now expanded its range to include multiple notebook sizes and bindings, along with a planner, a notepad, a sketchpad and woodless pencils – all with the same clean design and understated palette.
“The guiding lights for how we wanted our brand to be perceived were Aesop and Acne Studios,” says Tse. “We like that minimalist look that’s not in-your-face, but rather about high-quality product with a lot of thought behind it. That’s how we see ourselves, as the [skincare brand] Aesop or [fashion retailer] Acne Studios of the workplace and stationery.”
And workplaces are buying in. Tse and Garcia bootstrapped the company with $30,000 in savings two years ago, and have since garnered more than 70,000 customers in 84 countries to generate more than $1.2 million in revenue.
Facebook, WeWork, Dermalogica and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative have all adopted Karst products to hit their sustainability goals and make their offices more eco-friendly. Karst products were also included in the official TED Conference goodie bag in Vancouver in April.
The next steps for the company? Creating A4 reams of paper to be used in printers, continuing to expand online sales, and developing a network of 200 bricks-and-mortar stores worldwide.
“Our ambition is to see Karst Stone Paper in every office and every home,” says Tse. “We want to scale up the positive impact as much as we can.”