The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 15, 2012

Branching out: Small company puts Waseca on the map making iPhone cases

Nell Musolf
Special to The Free Press

WASECA — Jon Lucca has a goal in mind. He wants to put Waseca on the map as a supportive community for small businesses. Lucca and his business partner, John Woodland, founded their business one year ago. Twig produces iPhone cases that are made out of a paper composite that is strong, durable and environmentally friendly. In one sense, Twig has already put Waseca on the map.

“There’s a map of Minnesota with a star over Waseca on the package that our Twig cases come in,” Lucca said. “We’re really proud that we’re doing all of this from Waseca.”

Twig cases are made out of Richlite, a product that is made from a combination of eucalyptus wood from trees in Brazil and softwoods from Sweden. Richlite was created during World War II for the aerospace industry. The iPhone cases that Twig makes are composed of the equivalent of about 100 sheets of stacked paper, creating a laminate that is stronger than solid wood.

Lucca demonstrated the strength of a Twig case by throwing one -- with an iPhone inside -- down on the floor of his place of business.

“I love to do that,” Lucca admitted after picking up the case and showing that the phone inside is fine. “We have a video of John throwing his Twig across the room. It knocks over a guitar, bounces off the wall and still protects the phone. One of the reasons my partner had this idea to make cases out of paper was because he’d gone through a million wood cases that kept falling apart on him.”

Since Twigs are made out of paper, they are lighter and less bulky than other cases made from wood or bamboo. They are also light, weighing in at under an ounce. The fact that Twigs are environmentally friendly is important to Lucca and Woodland who note that theirs is the only iPhone cover that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and Rainforest Alliance Certified (certifications that mean the materials meet stringent land-management and environmental standards).

Since Twigs are made out of paper they don’t require lacquer, varnish or any other kind of finish. While it seems as if using water on a product made out of paper might result in disaster, that isn’t true. Cases can be cleaned with plain water and the company recommends using a damp cloth or a soft toothbrush dampened with water for cleaning. Richlite is used for a variety of construction products including countertops, cutting boards and guitar fingerboards. It is also used in outdoor skateboard parks -- all items that come into contact with water.

Twig cases can have plain covers or feature designs that include public domain art as well as work from local artists such as Mankato’s Jason Knudson. Some cases display photographs that were taken by Lucca and then transformed into artwork. Customers can send in their own art and have that put on a Twig, too.

“We pretty much find artists we like and then track them down,” Lucca explained.

Some of Lucca’s own artwork is included in the Twig cover collection.

“I took a picture of a wren that had been visiting our backyard all summer long,” Lucca said. “After the wren stopped coming, I took the picture and put it on a case so I still get to see the wren every day.”

Even the packaging that Twigs are shipped in comes under the scrutiny of Lucca and Woodland. With the launch of the new iPhone 5, Lucca designed packaging that could be reused as a recharging or video stand.

“I’ve heard that people don’t throw our packaging out,” Lucca said.

In addition to the company’s owners, Twig employs one full-time employee, several part-timers and is also helped out by friends who volunteer. One friend, Jason Jones, connected Twig with the popular group blog Boing Boing when the company first started.

“Being with Boing Boing really gave us a bump in sales,” Lucca said. “We got a ton of traffic the first month.”

Jones admires the cases although he admits that he doesn’t use an iPhone.

“But if I did have an iPhone, I’d also have a Twig,” he said.

At the moment, Twigs are sold online at http://www.twigcase.com and at Zinnia’s Boutique in Waseca, and might be available in more stores in the future. Lucca and Woodland are looking forward to helping their Waseca-based company grow.

“I love being a local business,” Lucca said. “We make an environmentally friendly product that we’re proud of and it’s made right here in Minnesota.”