Here’s a challenge for you: create a product that brings together art, design, and fashion, and that is widely available and affordable; do this in a way that’s ecologically sound; and make sure to develop a strong community around this new product at the same time.
It sounds like a tall order, but that was exactly the brief Elad Burko gave himself when he founded Paperwallet. Since its launch in 2007, the company has produced wallets made from Tyvek, a lightweight, recyclable material, and printed them with designs created by a panoply of artists—established and hitherto unknown—from around the world. Burko, who grew up in a home filled with art made by his mother, had always had a fascination with design; he says that the idea for his company came about when a friend came back from a trip to Italy with a gift: a wallet made by an Italian artist. Recalls Burko, “The artist printed his design on printer paper, laminated it, cut it, and sewed it together to create the wallet. I really loved it, and had the idea that every artist could use this medium to get their work out there.”
Burko started the search for materials to make a lightweight wallet, asking for samples of durable paper from a variety of manufacturers. He settled on Tyvek due to its toughness and recyclability—a crucial factor for Burko, whose commitment to environmental protection runs deep: “It’s clearly the most important issue for our collective future,” he states. Burko and his new firm developed prototypes inspired by origami folds, and came up with a wallet that’s tough, functional, and water-proof, and provides the perfect small-scale canvas for visual art.
For their first series of wallets, Burko and his company approached a handful of artists to contribute their work, including a few big names from the street-fashion world, such as graffiti artist Monsieur André. Other established artists, including the likes of UK street-fashion brand HYPE. and New York-based graphic designer and illustrator Philippe Intraligi, then saw what Paperwallet was doing and signed on. Says Intraligi, “I knew these guys were up to something great.”
Paperwallet has found ways to bring in new talent as well. They invite their followers on social media to send in wallet designs through the Paperwallet Artist Network and encourage artists of all stripes to submit their work, then they share the profits with those whose designs are chosen (a couple have already made the cut). One of their best-selling pieces is by SLip, an artist based in Lyon, France, who won a competition with his photographic mash-up of a lion in an cosmonaut’s helmet. For SLip, putting his creation on a wallet fit perfectly with his artistic ethos. “I love the idea that other people can have a part of my work—a piece of me—and they travel through the world with it,” he says.
SLip’s wallet recently traveled to a new destination: walk by the Guggenheim Museum in New York this winter, and you’ll see an eye-catching display in the shop window—a grid of bold, graphic images, all of them created for Paperwallet, stretching from floor to ceiling. SLip’s lion is there, along with a selection of other vivid wallets, clutches, and card cases available now in the shop and online. Burko’s little canvases have added up to something big: an inclusive, creative, and eco-friendly way of sharing art—and a perfect expression of the holiday spirit.
You can find Paperwallets and many other creative gift ideas in the Guggenheim’s online store. For Christmas delivery, please place your order by December 16.