Why Natural Tree Rubber Can Change the Global Hair Accessory Industry
"Why is it that hair ties - one of the most common products in the world - are being built using plastic so as to outlive us as humans?"
That was the question we were asking ourselves back in 2010 when KOOSHOO was beginning to coalesce from dream to reality. Two years of research and development later we launched the world's first commercially-made plastic-free hair ties. The magic ingredient necessary to making them plastic-free? An ingredient as old as time: natural tree rubber.
What are conventional Hair Ties made from?
Conventional hair elastics are made from 'synthetic rubber,' a petrochemically-derived (plastic) cheaper version of the natural tree rubber that Mother Nature had already perfected. In other words, to produce the hair ties that most of the world has been using for decades, non-renewable petroleum is extracted from crude oil, which then releases chemicals that are toxic to almost all forms of life, not to mention the air pollution and greenhouse gases created through this process.
As has been well documented, plastic does not readily biodegrade; rather, it can take hundreds of years to break down, even then a trail of micro-plastics will remain.
For this reason, it's very likely that every hair tie you've ever owned (ours excluded) still exist somewhere. Yes, even those that you had as a small child. Not only that, they'll continue to exist long after we're gone.
The big businesses that dominate the hair accessory industry have cultivated an expectation that hair ties should be disposable. They pack packages with 50, 100, even 200 hair ties and do so while driving for a cost per hair tie in the pennies. The result is that losing (littering, let's be honest) a hair tie is given a societal pass, much like the cigarette butt that has long escaped the negative stigma of littering.
By way of example, check out how Goody, the dominant hair elastic brand in North America, leans into the normalization of littering elastics as they create posts like these:
The only way to make hair ties cost pennies, aside from finding the cheapest labour available, is synthetic, aka plastic, rubber.
There is another option, and that’s what KOOSHOO is committed to changing.
Where does our natural tree rubber come from?
KOOSHOO Hair Ties and Plastic-Free Scrunchies are made of just two materials: organic cotton and natural tree rubber.
We're proud to purchase our natural rubber from a fair trade rubber plantation at the far southern tip of India. The plantation is certified by the Fair Rubber Association. Their trees are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified and fair trade premiums are used to fund a free hospital that caters to surrounding villages. There is even a pension fund for workers - the first of its kind for any rubber plantation in the world.
The rubber used in our hair ties and scrunchies is tapped from a tree, in a similar fashion to maple syrup. A tree can yield rubber for 30+ years and staggered planting means it can be done sustainably if the motivations are in place.
There is a caveat here, the rubber straight from a tree is not useable as a commercial product for stretch. Therefore, the rubber has to be brought to a very high heat using an extruder to change the molecular make-up of the product and increase it's elasticity. While the core ingredients remain unchanged, this heating process changes the time-to-biodegradation from instant to a process that will take years. By our estimates, the natural rubber used in our products will take somewhere in the 2-10 year range to fully return to earth - a mere fraction of the hundreds of years synthetic rubber will take.
Why do we work with a certified sustainable rubber plantation to make our products?
Sadly, all “natural” rubber is not made the same. Rubber plantations are a major contributor to deforestation in South East Asia (where most natural rubber is produced to be used for car tires) and have led to dangerous population declines in animals like orangutans.
For this reason, we only work with Fair Rubber Association approved rubber plantations. The Fair Rubber Association not only ensures workers receive fair wages and safe working conditions, they also see that their plantations are certified sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
As a company, our mandate is to uplift all stakeholders - from farmers and animals right through to you, our customers. It's for this reason choosing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified sustainable rubber plantation for our products is so important.
Voting with your dollars for the future you want to see works. By supporting and sporting products like ours, sustainable natural rubber can become the future of hair ties globally.