Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 30, 2021

Art at the heart of new Chattanoga success Story

Phillips’ art boxes just what anxious parents needed

As the pandemic rocked many Chattanooga businesses, one local venture expanded from the owner’s home to a 6,000-square-foot warehouse in a year.

Founded by mother-of-three Melanie Phillips, Kids Art Box helps teach children ages 3 to 12 how to create art.

The kits arrive on the doorsteps of Phillips’ customers with the supplies and instructions needed to complete projects ranging from mixed media flower bouquets to origami robots.

A former engineer from France, Phillips launched sales of her first product – the Mommy and Me Art Box – on the cusp of the pandemic.

Phillips sold just 14 boxes her first month, but sales soon rocketed. Before long, she and her family were squeezing through stacks of supplies as they navigated their home.

“Boxes were everywhere,” Phillips says. “All over the dining table, down the corridor and on our porch. Art supplies took over our garage.”

To give Kids Art Box – as well as her husband and three sons – room to breathe, Phillips moved her business to a 400-square-foot office near downtown Chattanooga in June. Two weeks later, she switched to a neighboring 600-square-foot office.

When the new space proved no longer adequate in August, Phillips began looking for a warehouse.

“We were constantly limiting our marketing and supplies because we couldn’t produce more boxes without a larger space,” she recalls.

In September, Phillips moved Kids Art Box and her team of 20 assemblers to a new 6,000-square-foot warehouse in Highland Park, thinking it would be enough space for three years of growth. By the end of 2020, Phillips says she realized Kids Art Box will probably need an even larger base of operations.

While the rapid expansion has been head-spinning, Phillips says she never hesitated as she took another step forward.

“We received a lot of positive feedback from the beginning, so we decided to invest heavily into growing the business,” she explains. “It was nerve-wracking at times, but because I believed so much in the benefits for families, and because we kept receiving positive feedback from customers, it seemed worth the risk.”

Phillips partly attributes the high demand for Kids Art Box to the mounting scarcity of art education in public schools, which she says have not only had to adjust their curriculum in response to budget cuts but have also become more focused on the subjects students need in order to do well in college.

“There’s a strong emphasis on STEM classes, which is great, but art has taken a backseat,” Phillips says. “However, art is just as important as other subjects and is an integral part of a child’s development.”

The first and most obvious benefit of arts education is the improvement of fine motor skills, Phillips contends, which occurs when children draw, hold a paintbrush and glue small gems onto things.

Phillips also says the sensory nature of making art, which comes into play when children paint with different textures and play with clay, is beneficial to young minds.

Above all, Phillips believes the arts can enhance a child’s creativity and problem-solving skills.

“When children use all their senses to play with different mediums, tools, textures and techniques, they’re able to explore new possibilities and experience the world in new ways,” she maintains. “This allows them to invent new ways of thinking, creating and expressing themselves.”

Phillips’ art boxes incorporate the Montessori learning method, which she describes as child-led learning. While she designs her kits to teach different techniques, she says she also leaves room for the child to explore his or her creativity.

“We want everyone’s end result to be different and personal, so we provide as much leeway as we can for children to make the projects,” she explains. “We want them to enjoy the experience of making the art and take pride in their creations, which boosts their self-esteem.”

Phillips says the pandemic also opened a door of opportunity for Kids Art Box, which provides tactile, interactive learning at a time when many students are taking classes virtually.

“At the height of COVID, nearly 93% of children were learning online, which is not conducive to art, and we filled that role pretty well.”

Phillips started creating art with her children as a hobby. Early activities included an ice sun catcher with bits and pieces of nature frozen inside, color hunts and other nature-oriented projects. Phillips and her children also did sensory activities with Play-Doh.

She says her sons loved it. “They really enjoyed both the experience of making art as well as the time of connection with me.”

As time went on, Phillips created more and more activities for her then 2- and 4-year-old boys, including stamps, marble prints with shaving foam and paintings with pinecones and feathers.

She then began posting their finished projects on her Instagram page. After gaining interest from 15,000 followers, Phillips launched the Mommy and Me box.

Phillips now boasts a broad range of customers, including parents who home-school their children and parents who work full time, and her sales total over 20,000 boxes.

With kits ranging from $35 for a monthly subscription to $45 for a one-time purchase, Kids Art Box is already approaching $1 million in sales.

Kids Art Box sells three different lines, each of which is tied to a different theme every month. The original Mommy and Me box currently comes with five activities focused on the home garden, as well as an oat bars visual recipe, for example.

Phillips also sells a Daddy and Me Art Box for children ages 4 to 7. The current box in this line contains activities centered on robots.

Kids Art Box aims its third line of kits, dubbed My Artist, at children ages 6 to 12. Each month features a different artist and their art.

“Our current box is all about Mary Cassatt. It contains four activities, including a mixed media reproduction, a floating chalk print, etching and collagraphy techniques and a diorama,” Phillips describes.

The mother-of-three promises she speaks from experience when she says her art boxes can save busy parents precious time.

“We curate and test each activity, and the kits come with tutorials and all the supplies you need to do the project – except for the baking supplies and ingredients. There’s nothing to prepare – no planning, no shopping and no testing for parents.”

Phillips does, however, encourage parents to join their children in the creation of art. Not only will younger kids need an adult to read the instructions and help, but some boxes also contain several of the same activities so parents can make art alongside their children.

“The fun part is where adults and children connect,” Phillips assures. “As parents, it’s incredible to watch our children grow, to bond with them and to glimpse into their minds through the art they create.”

Phillips’ efforts to introduce children to art could not be more different from her first career.

She grew up in France and then moved to the U.S. in 2004 to complete a masters’ degree in engineering at Clemson University.

Phillips then moved to Las Vegas for her first engineering job. While there, she met her husband, Nick, and they started a family.

Three years ago, her husband’s job relocated them to Chattanooga.

“Although the position was a temporary assignment, we decided to stay, as we love Chattanooga,” Phillips says.

When Phillips and her family moved to the Scenic City, she also quit her engineering job, which gave her more time to spend with her children.

Since Phillips had always loved art, she started making projects for them to do together at home.

After she began sharing their creations on her Instagram page, @thisfrenchmom, her followers began encouraging her to begin selling kits.

The rest, Phillips says, is history.

Phillips says she sees additional growth for Kids Art Box ahead, as well as more stability and less risk. She also wants to maintain a positive work culture.

Above all, she wants to remain open to all the possibilities the future holds for Kids Art Box.

“It’s been amazing to see people from all over the country sharing feedback with us and the artworks they made with their children. I love that they’re connecting with each other through our boxes and that we’re making life easier and more enjoyable for so many families.”