On Packaging - Part 2, Execution
When we last left off, I had finally settled on recycled kraft paper mailers for my packaging. But that’s just half the story – deciding is one thing; executing is another.
I specifically wanted 100% recycled material (that being the most sustainable), and I wanted the mailers to be custom printed (so you know what the package is as soon as you see it). If you try to google “custom recycled kraft paper mailers,” however, you get a lot of search results that aren’t actually “custom recycled kraft paper mailers,” or even “kraft paper mailers at all”. For example:
- We offer eco-friendly printing, but don’t have mailers
- We offer eco-mailers, but only in recycled plastic
- We offer kraft mailers, but they can’t be custom printed
- We offer custom printed kraft mailers that are recyclable! (but don’t actually contain recycled content)
Perhaps I should have launched a “custom recycled kraft paper mailer” company instead of an apparel brand...
I did find one company that had exactly what I needed, and their minimum order quantities were reasonable, too. They even had the option to print in black algae ink, which is super interesting and more sustainable than traditional printing options. I reached out to them, worked with their designer on the logo, got a quote, and was ready to go until then – silence. I was ready to order but for a full week, nobody would respond to my (multiple) emails or phone call. With a lead-time already long at 6-7 weeks, I quite literally didn’t have the time to wait an additional week just to place an order. Furthermore, as a start-up company, I am looking for suppliers that I can partner and grow with – and this was not a good start to a new relationship.
With regret, I continued my search for a packaging supplier. By now I was forced to think outside the box. Maybe my problem was trying finding one supplier that could do everything (package and custom print). Maybe instead, I could find a packaging supplier, and then have the mailers printed separately with a third party? Maybe I could print them myself? Can you even print a mailer bag with a desktop home printer?? And then I had it – stamps! I would hand stamp the packaging.
I researched this possibility and discovered that not only was hand-stamping a possibility, it was perfect – there was a custom stamp provider literally two hours away from me; it was cheaper both in the short and long term than custom printing; and it was more sustainable.
Stamps are one of the oldest and simplest forms of printing. You just need some kind of carved block, ink, and an inkpad. This is in contrast to the printers of today – even the simplest home printers have hundreds of little parts that take significantly more resources to make than a stamp. And, printers use a considerable amount electricity to run and maintain, while a stamp... well, just runs on you. As for ink, both stamps and industrial printers have a range of sustainable to harmful options – our ink is water-based, oil-free, and poses no health hazards (here’s the link to the ink Safety Data Sheet).
Once I figured out how to print (stamp) the mailers, it became easier to find plain recycled kraft mailers. Salazar packaging had exactly what I needed – a 12.5” x 20” x 4” 100% post consumer waste recycled gusseted mailer bag. The gusset would allow the mailer to expand in size, which meant I could use one bag to hold up to two pairs of pants if needed. The 100% post consumer waste material was a bonus - this meant that the bags were made of paper products that people had recycled, actively diverting material from landfills (in contrast to recycled industrial waste, which is also good but happens earlier in the supply chain). Furthermore, Salazar is a family owned retailer in the US, who sources products from American manufacturers (like Wisconsin Converting, Inc.).
It took seconds to order my packaging online with Salazar. With that done, I ordered my custom stamp and ink from PromoteSource, another American company. Finally, finally, my packaging adventures were over.
Until, a few days later I got a lovely email from Salazar explaining that their supply chain had been disrupted by COVID-19 and my packages would be delayed until mid-November, though they did have other options ready to ship that day. This was excellent customer service, but now I was in a sticky situation. My product would arrive the first week of November, just barely in time for the holiday season. If I delayed launch to wait for the packaging, I would be sitting on thousands of dollars worth of product and missing the height of the retail season. As a startup company, I couldn’t take a financial hit like that. I had to go with the backup packaging – a fiberglass reinforced kraft mailer bag.
Though this bag is not made of recycled materials, and cannot be recycled due to the fiberglass, it is made of sustainably sourced and renewable materials, offers better product protection in the mail, and still offers the sustainability benefits of being lightweight to ship. Furthermore, the fiberglass reinforcement means that you can reuse this bag several more times than traditional kraft paper mailers.
At last, my packaging was settled. But there is one more thing I would like to point out with our packaging. When you receive your purchase, inside the mailer bag there will be another plastic bag enclosing your product. I know – after all this research, we’re still using a plastic bag? The reason for the plastic bag is for protection, both at the factory and in the mail. Once a product is cut and sewn, it needs to be stored somehow while the rest of the order is completed. Plastic bags keep the product clean of debris while it waits (there’s a lot of fibers and threads floating around on a factory floor). When the order is completed, the factory ships the product to our distribution center in cardboard boxes, and here again the plastic bags offer more protection (from rain, dirt, spills, etc.) while the product is in transit. For this same reason, we keep the product in its original plastic bag when we ship to you. At the end of its life, the plastic bag can be recycled along with your grocery bags.
We are always improving and searching for new, sustainable materials in both our products and our packaging. This is just our starting point. We have our eye on some interesting things – materials made of shellfish, seaweed, limestone quarry waste, pineapples, mushrooms, and more. Some innovations have not yet hit the market, and for some, Waxwing Labs needs to first scale in size. Until then, we do our best to reduce and reuse where we can. For starters, we’re fans of these DIY paper bag planters :)