Melissa Mills believes in thinking inside the box. The founder of Vancouver-based Old Joy Gift Boxes spends her time curating the contents of gorgeous wooden crates, thoughtfully selecting and placing an array of items fated for a loving home.
Mills has assembled a roster of makers and artisans who create the handmade gifts that fill her boxes, including linens from Lissu, candles from Woodlot, socks and hosiery from Strathcona Stockings, and beers from Four Winds Brewing Company. Old Joy boxes are themed to suit a range of recipients, from Rituals for the one who loves to luxuriate in the bath, to Abode for the homebody, and even Man Crush for the guy who doesn’t shy away from the finer things. Each box is assembled to order, and Mills prefers to collaborate with the purchaser, ensuring that the recipient will love everything inside. “[When the] customer gets to help out in organizing what goes into the gift, [it’s] more of a heartfelt way of gifting rather than me just choosing everything,” she says.
For Mills, the inspiration for Old Joy dates back to childhood. “I always have loved [gifting] since I was a little girl,” she says. “I loved the hunt and the gather—and then once the gift is given, how those recipients felt, and just the joy of making people happy.” Starting Old Joy was something of a dream for Mills, but entering motherhood helped it materialize: “I had a baby and that pushed me into a space I had never felt, as a mother realizing, ‘Oh my goodness, if I can have a baby, if I could give birth, I think I could probably make this dream happen.’” This newfound confidence, paired with her eye for gifting, has helped Mills make Old Joy a success in just over a year. “I felt like there was quite a big hole in the market, as far as gifting went—there weren’t a lot of companies that were personal, that you could have a hand in curating a gift for a loved one,” she explains. “I just really saw room for my perspective in gifting in this industry.”
Giving tokens of appreciation and admiration is the objective of Old Joy, but the classic expression still rings true: it’s the thought that counts. “We do a lot of real sentimental gifting; yesterday I delivered a box to Children’s Hospital to an eight-year-old who had survived her second brain surgery, so having that connection with the client is really important to me,” says Mills. “That’s why the quality and function of these gifts also means a lot to me … I really believe in making these things work for your everyday life. It’s not just like, ‘Oh, it’s gorgeous, but it’s not functional,’ or, ‘The quality actually fails its reputation,’ or whatnot.” The entrepreneur tests out every product before including it in her roster, ensuring a high value is upheld. Old Joy puts emphasis Canadian wares, with the majority of suppliers based in British Columbia.
Floral elements are an unexpected but important element of Old Joy, with a bouquet of flowers, a succulent, or an air plant accompanying almost every box. Mills, who creates each arrangement herself, says that the plant aspect is “a hobby, turned into a love, turned into now a major component of this business.” Currently, Mills delivers the Old Joy boxes destined for the Lower Mainland herself, and they are packaged mostly by her with the addition of a few helpful friends and family members. She credits Instagram with helping her develop a customer base, and her company has blossomed in just 15 months. “I’m just refining this Jill of all trades … I mean, I’m 36 now, so I should have a few skills under my belt,” she says with a chuckle, before returning to pack and ship another box. Sometimes it’s good to be square.