Selectism Q&A: Robert Feinstein, Founder of SOAPBOX

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SOAPBOX, the New Jersey-based furniture brand founded by RISD alumnus Robert Feinstein, is committed to simplicity and quality. The brand’s assortment of can-be-anything box furniture doesn’t require any tools to assemble, only metal connectors that simply clip onto the corners of wooden slabs. But what’s more impressive than the outstanding visual and conceptual easiness of SOAPBOX is how the company helps New Jersey’s local economy. Read on for our Q&A with Feinstein where we discuss how he makes each SOAPBOX, who he makes it for and who he makes it with.

When was your light bulb-flashing moment when you knew you wanted to create SOAPBOX?

About two years ago, I was driving and staring at this beautifully structured bridge all held together by angled clips and the idea came to me. If you put these panels together in the corner the way a bridge is built or the way you construct large-scale buildings, you could solve this problem of complicated furniture building. SOAPBOX is super simple: You don’t need two people to help assemble it; you don’t need a degree in engineering to know the directions.

Why did you decide to name your furniture brand SOAPBOX?

I studied architecture at RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design. I took a semester to [study at] the Architectural Association in London and a friend of mine brought me to Hyde Park, this speaker’s corner where they stand up in their soapbox and talk about politics and current events. And this is my soapbox: I’m going to stand up for all the things that I feel are important if I’m going to make a product — and that’s quality, giving jobs and making something that would last, making something that is simple.

Who is the customer you have in mind when you design?

It’s geared [toward] twenty somethings, early thirty somethings, newlyweds looking to upgrade. Our tagline is “step up.” Step up onto your soapbox and stand for something. Step up from lower price point products that don’t last. Step up to SOAPBOX.

Where do you source your wood and other materials?

The wood and plywood are sourced in the northwest of the United States, from Washington state. There is four layers of protection on the wood — Everybody thinks I’m crazy because every one of those coats is hand-applied and hand-sanded between each coat. Most furniture companies use a gun [to do that].

How does SOAPBOX help the local economy? What relationship do you have with your workers?

The wood is cut by a family-owned business in New Jersey about two towns away from Asbury Park. The father and mother run the business and they have some handful of workers. My metal guys are in a third-generation family-run business and it’s the same thing — I [work with] the grandfather, the father and the son. While they’re not under SOAPBOX, it’s a family, and I like the way it feels to work with them locally.

What are your future plans? What more can we expect from SOAPBOX in terms of product extensions?

We are only at the tip of the iceberg with the connector system. I have the T-system and a cross-connector which would allow the product to make different shapes. We have a lot of requests for doors. We’re also potentially working on a higher-end line where the wood is not veneer but solid.

Where can we find your products?

I made the choice to be the retailer because we plan on taking a slower growth approach. We’re taking our chances but I couldn’t be doubling the price to make it work with other retailers [and keep our quality standards]. Currently you can only find us on our website.

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