By Saba Kamaras, President and Co-founder of Spoonie Threads
August 2022 Update: Our package protection partner Route automatically includes Carbon Neutral shipping. When you add Route to your order, it directly supports an agroforestry initiative that removes CO₂ from the air. Their current project is in Brazil, and you can read more about their sustainability initiative here: Sustainability - Route
Sustainability is top of mind for most fashion companies. It’s no longer reserved just for niche brands, it’s a practice that should be a core focus for any business. I’d like to share the sustainable practices we have at Spoonie Threads, as well as some of our challenges in making eco-friendly products.
We started with the low hanging fruit: recycling, using recycled and recyclable content in our packaging, and minimizing paper use. We also pay for carbon offsets so all our orders are shipped carbon neutral. Then we moved on to our packaging, where things are more tricky.
In the past we packaged each item in its own clear polybag and then placed that into a plastic poly mailer. This ensured the product was well protected but it was also a major contributor to plastic waste and frankly, overkill. Thanks to Ecoenclose, we moved away from our recyclable poly mailers (that couldn’t be recycled curbside) to paper mailers. We’re happy that our paper mailers and shipping label paper is 100% curbside recyclable. Our main product packaging is still plastic at this time, which is not great – but does ensure that even if your paper mailer gets ripped in transit, your order is safe. The polybags we use are recyclable but they need to be dropped off at a store or recycling facility, which most people won’t do. Throwing any kind of thin plastic bag or film into your curbside recycling bin typically will clog the machines at a local recycling facility. Convenience is key in making sure that both companies and customers can do their part in making e-commerce more sustainable. We hope to move away from polybags entirely in the near future!
We also have small packaging elements like hang tags, care cards, and postcards that need to be sustainable. In theory this is simple. For hang tags and care cards we just need to pick recycled paper for our paper source and use a biodegradable twine (like hemp) to attach the hang tags. Unfortunately, choosing this option is significantly more expensive than choosing non-recycled paper and plastic tags. It shouldn’t be, but because environmental costs are usually externalized (a topic for another day!) that’s how it is. Spoonie Threads is still in the process of transitioning our smaller packaging elements to more sustainable choices.
After looking at our packaging, we considered our products. Our most recent drop of apparel items were made with in-stock fabrics, meaning no new fabrics were created for our line. This is a blessing and curse of being a tiny company. We can’t afford to order thousands of yards of fabric dyed to match exactly the color we want so we pull from existing fabrics to fill our small manufacturing orders. It’s not easy to make our product design fit with what happens to be available, but it does eliminate any new fabric creation. As we order new fabric, seeking recycled and organic raw materials is top of mind even though it sometimes costs more.
These are small steps in the right direction, but to make significant improvements in sustainability, we must address the most impactful drivers of change. A primary driver of sustainability is designing a cradle to cradle system, instead of cradle to grave. Cradle to cradle means creating a product that turns into an equal or better product at the end of its life cycle instead of ending up in a landfill. What’s difficult is that some products, ours included, can't easily be redesigned to follow that cycle.
At Spoonie Threads, we strive to strike a balance between sustainability and function. Take our G-tube Pads. These can replace single-use items like gauze and tape around g-tube sites. We use polyester fleece, terry cloth, and polyurethane laminate fabric (PUL) which has a water-resistant coating. The fleece and terry in the G-tube pads keep the G-button site dry, preventing irritation and granulation tissue. The water-resistant coating on the PUL means any liquid soaked up by the pad won’t leak onto clothing. However, this also means the PUL fabric won’t biodegrade quickly, nor can it be easily recycled. Once a g-tube pad is too worn out for further use, the only place for it to go is in the trash. We have yet to find a safe and cost-effective solution to recycle items like these, especially since they’re used around medical devices and may have bodily fluids on them. Also, like all synthetic blend fabrics, they can release microplastics into the water supply during laundering. It’s great that someone can reuse a g-tube pad over and over again, rather than going through wads of single use cotton gauze and tape, but it’s not a cradle to cradle product yet.
As a small startup company, balancing sustainability and cost is a necessity. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to invest in creating new sustainable fabrics, so we must rely on larger companies to take that initiative. That means we have to work with current options and wait until new material is commercially available for smaller brands. Luckily, many companies are investing in this type of development, and we are excited to see what future innovations will bring. Six or seven years ago, recycled polyester and cotton wasn’t readily available or affordable, but it’s much more available now. As we develop more products, we hope to incorporate more recycled fabrics and design products with circularity in mind.
Want to know more about sustainability for small businesses?
Check out Cultivating Capital's Small Business Guide to Sustainable Business Practices. Ecoenclose has a fantastic resource center, and we love this article on Sustainable Packaging Resources.
What about sustainability in the retail industry?
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition includes brands, retailers, manufacturers, and tools to measure your company’s social or environmental impact.
And for all things cradle to cradle:
Check out the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. This nonprofit works with businesses and all parts of the supply chain to increase the positive impact of products.