The Perfect Statement On Holiday Consumerism: A $500 Cardboard Box

This clever gift lets you participate in the orgy of holiday spending, but also gives kids a simple gift to stimulate their creativity: a big empty box.


For the two-year-old in your life who has everything, how about a $500 empty cardboard box? This is real: The Bawx, a 2×2 foot recycled cardboard box, is now on sale for the holidays. It’s a commentary on everything from the materialism of Christmas to the fact that kids are often more likely to be glued to technology than making up their own games.


The Bawx is the brainchild of creative directors Jonathan Schoenberg and Gerry Graf, respective heads of TDA_Boulder and Barton F. Graf 900. Late one night, they started talking about the way children play.

“We both have kids, and were chatting about the insight that children play more with a box than a toy at a certain age,” Schoenberg says. “We thought it would be funny to create a company called Bawx…later it evolved into something altruistic.”

Available in four “models” that are actually identical, the Bawx is $24.99 for Model 1.0 (advertised as a car, fort, plane, and train, among other things) and ranges up to $499.99 for Model 3.0 (a jail cell, recording studio, rocket, and castle).

All of the proceeds go to one of two children’s charities. Surprisingly, Schoenberg reports that one of the reasons the prices had to be so high is that they wouldn’t have broken even otherwise with their low production run. “Originally we were just going to donate when we hit a profit,” he says. “Then we noticed that the actual cost of a box and shipping a box is expensive.”

Schoenberg and Graf hope that the Bawx will start a conversation about how people shop for the holidays–both how much parents typically spend and how long they’re stuck at the mall. “So much of my time this weekend went to contemplating and purchasing gifts that I could have spent with my kids,” Schoenberg says.

They’re equally interested in getting people to consider how much time kids spend with technology. “I grew up in a family where we weren’t even allowed to watch television. I don’t know families like that anymore. We’ve actually started that thing at home where everyone has to put their pixel devices in a bin at certain times,” Schoenberg says, explaining that he thinks tech impacts how quickly kids learn to communicate.


“I’ll be around these kids who are two years old and are really adept at an iPad, and they can barely talk. Even for my 13-year-old, so much of his communication is through text. If you call a 13-year-old, they’re almost confused,” he laughs.

Tech also tends to mean kids have less time for classic make-believe. “We’re both creatives at our own agencies, and creativity brings us so much joy,” Schoenberg says. “When you don’t allow these kids to sort of form their own thoughts, images, and everything is just offered to you with such access, it sort of reduces that. So Bawx was sort of a bit of commentary on that.”

Admittedly, it’s also pretty environmentally friendly; the carbon footprint of a recycled box (made in the U.S., no less) is negligible compared to what it takes to make an electronic gadget.

When asked why someone should buy a box that they can probably get for free in their own recycling bin, Schoenberg points out that it’s also an excuse to donate to charity.

He and Graf hope to keep Bawx going after the holidays, and make an even bigger push next year. And hey, if anyone can successfully sell an empty cardboard box, it’s a couple of ad execs.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."