Because the response to our plantable packaging has been outstanding, we reached out to founder Heidi Reimer Epp of Botanical Paperworks. So many of you had questions about our environmentally friendly, plantable packaging (as did we), and we wanted to see if we can actually answer them! Heidi was super generous to agree to an online interview. We hope you enjoy learning about their plantable packaging process as much as we did!
Botanical Paperworks Background
Botanical Paperworks is a Canadian based company. They sell plantable paper in the form of thank you cards, calendars, wedding invitations, and even coasters! Their sleeves are quite easy to plant. Just wet the paper, plant in some soil, and give it tender, love & care! It'll yield into a wonderful wildflower.
How Our Green Packaging Idea Started
When Clare and I started thinking about packaging during the initial startup phase (circa January 2013), we had thought that we could dedicate a weekend or two to finalize it. How naive! The entire process took a good 4 months to get to a stage where we experienced a lightbulb moment and another 2 more months where we finalized the look and feel of the packaging. Here are the top 3 takeaways from our packaging and design experience:
- People tend to forget about you. Packaging is hard stuff, really. You may think that the information you put on your packaging is relevant and noticeable. Think again. Most people, even those who frequently use your product, ever pay any attention. Few people could tell us where our website was located on our sleeves, even though we thought it was super apparent at the top of the bar! The hardest part about a startup is figuring out how to find ways people will remember you.
- There are too many different types and uses of paper. Even if you can nail down the design and messages that go onto the packaging, there are other packaging challenges. There's huge differences between using thin paper, thick paper, textured paper, etc... In addition, there are so many ways to package soap. There are too many uses of paper. You can use sleeves, boxes, tags, or wrapped paper. You need to balance the aesthetics along with practicality of scale.
- Making a memorable first impression of your brand isn’t easy. Packaging is the first impression and it really tests your understanding of your brand. Just saying that you want your brand to represent a simple, back to roots, and a playful lifestyle is easy. Getting your packaging to convey that is difficult.
One of the wrapping ideas we considered for two months was shipping our soaps in nice gift boxes (I mean, it's funny now, but somehow we thought we wanted to replicate the "Apple experience" to make a good first impression). Our light bulb moment came when we realized just how much paper is wasted each year through such boxes. Would people reuse them? We thought, “Yea right.” And that's when we started thinking beyond just recyclable paper. We definitely wanted to use recycled paper that was more environmentally friendly. That's when we thought about plantable paper. Luckily, a company already existed to serve our need- Botanical Paperworks.
Since we discovered Botanical Paperworks, we've packaged all of our full bar soaps in plantable sleeves. We buy 8 x 11 sheets of plantable seed paper and do all of the printing in-house. Each sheet fits about 4 sleeves. At $1.45 a piece, that comes down to about $0.50/bar for packaging when accounting for ink and printer wear & tear. From a business perspective, that's not cheap, but we think going greener was totally worth it. For us, it means that your purchase goes beyond a bar of soap. It can provide the means for a parent to teach their kids the meaning of sustainability and what we can do to be more environmentally friendly. It gives parents an opportunity to interact with their kids in planting the paper, slowly nurturing the plant, and reaping the fruits of their labor.
Our Cupid's Love & Sunshine Bar: Craft fair buyers always do a double take when they hear our packaging is plantable.
Interview with Heidi Reimer Epp of Botanical Paperworks
Q: We know that Botanical Paperworks started when Mary Reimer wrote a book on projects made using paper. How did your team start making paper in the beginning? Did you make it at home? Was it outsourced?
A: It all started with the programs for my wedding, actually. My mom, Mary, was a teacher who used papermaking in her elementary school classroom to teach her kids about recycling and sustainability. They made sheets of handmade paper from discarded paper and then turned the sheets into handbound books filled with their creative writing projects. When I was planning my wedding, I knew that her handmade sheets would be gorgeous for a wedding program. She willingly designed and produced over 150 programs for the wedding!
The programs received rave reviews from the wedding guests and that got us thinking about whether we could start a business making handmade paper. We designed a product line, created prototypes and visited stores. When 100% of the stores that we visited placed orders, we knew had a viable business concept.
Fast forward a few years when Mary and I were writing our first book, 300 Papermaking Recipes, and we stumbled on the plantable seed paper concept. We loved the idea of an eco-friendly paper that composted itself into flowers. So we spent several years testing and developing seed packaging production methods. Initially, we launched a product line of wedding favors and invitations printed on the seed paper. As demand grew, we expanded into stationery and promotional products, special event stationery and sheets for printers. Eventually the sales of plantable seed paper outstripped our other handmade papers and we made the decision to rebrand as a plantable seed paper company.
We have always produced all of our plantable seed paper in-house and in those early days. It was me and Mary working in her basement! Now we have a large facility filled with equipment and talented staff who make our business what it is today.
Q: If production wasn’t immediately outsourced, at what point did it become outsourced? Where is the paper made today?
A: Botanical Paperworks is vertically integrated, meaning that we do it all. We manufacture the paper, create the designs and produce the finished products. It's great for our customers because we can offer them complete customization and fast turn-around.
Q: How has Botanical Paperworks grown since its start in 1997? (i.e. employee growth, additional warehouses?)
A: We've grown from just the two of us to a staff of 25 wonderful people. At the beginning, we divided our work between my Mom's basement and my home office. Now we're all together in a large warehouse space in the historic Exchange District of Winnipeg.
Q: How were you able to promote your products in the beginning? What products did you initially roll out?
A: Our first products were wedding invitations and wedding stationery. Funny story - we've been selling online since the very beginning when our graphic designer encouraged us to put three pages on a website. I remember him telling us that "they say the Internet will be big", which is the hugest understatement now!
Q: Can you give a brief overview on how the plantable paper is actually made? How long does the entire process take (and each major step)?
A: We start with a slurry of post-consumer material paper, paper that we've gathered from local businesses and schools (check out this inforgraphic on our eco-commitment). The seeds are added and sheets are formed. The sheets are dried under pressure to keep them flat and smooth.
Q: How many sheets of paper does Botanical Paperworks make each day?
A: Lots! Our production is very scalable so we produce what is needed for the orders we have on-hand. We work with customer big and small, from Fortune 500 companies like Starbucks and Pepsi to brides ordering their wedding invitations and kids buying Mother's Day cards.
Q: We know that the pulp base of the paper is made from 100% post-consumer materials. Where do the seeds come from? How are the plantable papers colored?
A: The seeds in Botanical Paperworks' seed paper are sourced from different seed suppliers across the US and Canada. All of the seeds are tested and approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture. The testing confirms that the seeds are free of invasive species and noxious weeds. We're the only plantable seed paper producers with this special certification.
For coloring the papers, we use pigments that are specially formulated for papermaking.
Q: How do we know what seeds are in each sheet of paper?
A: Products will state whether the seeds will grow wildflowers or edible herbs. Check out this resource for the seed names and planting instructions
Q: What is the greatest challenge in hand papermaking?
A: With plantable seed paper, we're always working to get a flat, even surface. The seeds create a bumpy texture but our equipment has evolved to the point where the paper is extremely smooth, given that it's embedded with lots of seed.
Q: What does your consumer demographic look like?
A: It's fun for our customer service team because they get to talk to so many different customers. On any given day, they'll help brides choosing their invitations, a client planning a funeral and ordering memorial cards, a corporate customer buying promotional products for a business event and someone calling to buy a gift for a friend.
Herb Rustic Wedding Favor
Q: What is your most popular product?
A: On the wedding side, the Herb Rustic Wedding Favor is really popular. For promotional products, the Large Matchstick Garden, Double-Sided is popular for Earth Day and the sheets of Seed Paper are great for crafting and graphic design.
Check out their Botantical Paperwork's website for their complete product listing! We love them because they're a small business doing giant things and stimulating consumers to think how individual buying actions can make an enviromental impact! And if you've had experience with plantable paper, let us know in the comment box below. We'd also love to hear from anyone who has tried planting our sleeves and your experience!!