The evolution of product packaging for the Loome tool.
Photo courtesy of Loome
Dust, fingerprints, and spills are a reality for retail shops. Plastic packaging protects items from damage and allows the customer to see exactly what they’re getting. Plus, it’s often more economical than eco-friendly packaging. So why should craft businesses opt for plastic-free packaging?
The World Economic Forum estimates that we recycle only 14% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging waste produced around the world each year. Worse, 32% of that waste ends up in our oceans.
Customers are pushing back against excessive packaging, and a misstep can lead to embarrassing press coverage for your brand. As consumer preferences shift towards more sustainable options, retail store buyers will factor in these market trends when they select wholesale products for their shops.
Meeting Customer Expectations
When the Loome tool debuted in 2016, product designer Vilasinee Bunnag felt it was important to show off her new invention. “I felt strongly that it was important that people see it,” said Bunnag, “So this meant plastic/cellophane. It worked well for us at that time because it was economical, it protected that tool and it served our goal. Since the beginning, our customers ranged from local yarn and crafts stores to national chains to international and plastic was adaptable to all of these segments.”
Now that the company is better established, Loome made the switch from plastic to paper packaging. “The wholesale and retail customers’ response has been extremely positive,” said Bunnag. “The product, the brand, and text pop more. Boxes also give us more surface area to design on so we can be more creative.”
Jessica Culligan, operations director for Cocoknits, says their craft tool brand strives to use only sustainable packaging. “Reducing plastic… is definitely a challenge in our very visual industry. Consumers want to see and touch products because we’re all crafters — knowing how things look, feel, and function is important to us,” Culligan says.
“Our biggest piece of advice when considering packaging is: think about what is required of the packaging and try to create the least amount of waste as possible.”
Cocoknits uses illustrations and text to showcase what’s inside their product packaging.
Photo courtesy of Cocoknits
Creating the Perfect Packaging
As they develop product packaging, the designers at Cocoknits consider how their knitting tools will be displayed within a typical yarn shop. The challenge: create packaging that protects the product, looks beautiful on display and communicates the use and value of the product to the customer.
This challenge becomes more difficult for brands who aim to use plastic-free packaging. Instead of using cellophane, Cocoknits often uses illustrations to show what’s inside their kraft paper product boxes. “All of our stitch markers have an actual size line drawing of the size and shape markers inside, as well as dots showing the colors,” says Culligan.
In lieu of fully custom product packaging, stock packaging can be adapted in creative ways. Cocoknits found packaging inspiration in chocolate truffle boxes and lipstick tubes. “[We] brainstorm and research what packaging shapes and configurations are out there, then think creatively about how to make it work for our products. When we find a shape that works, we use it for new products, which in turn enhances our brand recognition,” says Culligan.
We Are Knitters uses recycled paper packaging for their yarn and craft kits.
Amplify Brand Ethics
For brands developing environmentally friendly products, plastic-free packaging can amplify a commitment to sustainability. Using eco-friendly packaging is an on-brand choice for Ocean by the Sea, whose botanically-dyed yarns are wrapped in a recycled fiber label, seeded with wildflower petals and leaves. Dyer Ocean Rose says she chose the material to reflect the nature of her work. “I think it speaks to the botanicals I use to dye my yarn,” Rose said. “Sometimes if you plant the paper, it will sprout wildflowers!”
Ecommerce yarn company We Are Knitters uses paper bags to package their craft kits, using a full color image of the finished project to illustrate what’s inside. “We Are Knitters packaging is made of Kraft paper and is recyclable and reusable,” says Silvia Cuesta, a marketing associate for We Are Knitters. “It was inspired by the simple brown paper bags used at grocery stores across the US.” The company encourages customers to creatively reuse the bags, and is taking steps to reduce other plastic use in their products. “We’re trying to reduce plastic completely,” says Cuesta. “That’s why we’re designing a new packaging for our needles that does not have any plastic.”
Australian yarn dyer Happy Hank touts their water-saving dye process, and their sustainable business practices extend to packaging, as well. They ship every order in 100% compostable mailer bags, and their labels are printed with eco-friendly ink on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper. “It keeps us happy, knowing that we are a step closer to a zero-waste practice,” says Sai, owner of Happy Hank, on their website.
Designing Plastic-Free Packaging for Retail
Retail store buyers take merchandising into consideration for every purchase. Can I hang it on our standard displays? Will it stand up neatly on a shelf? As you design your product packaging, Loome designer Bunnag suggests doing some research.
“Walk into stores, see what stands out, what draws you in, and why. As you develop your packaging, keep top of mind: what do you want the package to convey, where is it going to be sold at and who is your packaging speaking to?”
For Bunnag, creating successful product packaging comes down to collaboration — working with a designer and a packaging manufacturer to find the best solution for your product. “Packaging is divided into two things: design and manufacturing,” says Bunnag. “If you have a strong design sense, go with your gut. If you don’t, work with a designer, have a confidante who has good design sense, and ask that person to help you if you need it.”
Erin is the textile designer and artist behind the home décor company, Cotton & Flax. She licenses her surface designs for fabric, home décor, stationery, and other clients. She’s also a teacher, writer, and enthusiastic advocate for small creative business owners. She lives in San Diego, California.