As demand grows for “zero waste” and “plastic-free” products, more and more options will become available to customers. This is great! We got into this business to inspire others to make better, more accountable products and we’re seeing that happen now in real time. That said, there is a difference between saying something and actually doing something.
We here at KOOSHOO are all about the doing. For us, our actions will always speak louder than our words.
At KOOSHOO, we believe a consciously operated business must be accountable to all stakeholders in a supply chain (all the suppliers that are involved in a product being made), not just the end customer. While we’ll always strive to make the best possible products for end use, we’ll readily admit that doing good by the people making our products is of equal importance.
Over the past several years, we’ve been working behind the scenes to improve on just that.
With immense pride, we’d like to introduce you to our newest manufacturing partners - partners who exemplify what it is to be a consciously operated business.
Manufacturing Responsibly Overseas
To this point in our history, every product we’ve made has been done in the USA.
Going overseas for a production run was not a decision we took lightly. Finding partners that were both certified and audited regularly was our first priority so that’s where we started - finding and vetting facilities that had Fair Trade and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) accreditation.
Once we had a shortlist, we started interviewing partners to ensure that their values were in line with ours. This involved hours of calls, months and months of samples traveling to and from and ultimately multiple visits by us to India to meet with them. In the end, we found a group of partners that outdid even our wildest expectations.
It’s our great pleasure now to take you behind the scenes to meet some of those new partners.
The Sisters Who Love to Make Ethical Hair Ties
Our new cut & sew facility is a Fairtrade certified facility owned and operated by nuns.
Yep, you read that right!
Set amid lush farmland and a sprinkling of other garment sewers, our new cut and sew resides in the laid-back (by Indian standards) southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Just past an always smiling, always radiant security guard, the grounds of the cut & sew facility reveal themselves. Two large buildings, each 3 stories tall, sit side by side on the long, horizontal site where they are surrounded by veggie gardens, flower beds and a tucked-away fruit orchard of passionfruit, coconuts, oranges and the new-to-me fruit of chikoo.
One of the buildings is home to an immaculate cut & sew garment facility. Cut & sew, for the record, is the industry term for the manufacturing facility where garments are cut, sewn and packaged.
Over the past 9 years in this industry we’ve visited dozens of manufacturing facilities and I can say with confidence that this is the nicest garment facility I’ve visited - on any continent. There’s tons of natural light, open windows, views across the countryside and all the safety installations necessary of a tightly audited Fairtrade facility (Fairtrade is one of several certifications they hold).
What’s more, everyone you meet is happy - not just smile-for-the-customer happy but real, authentic, laughing-while-you-work happy. The second building is a convent where the nuns - or Sisters, as they’re referred to affectionately on the grounds - call home.
The cut & sew itself is a social good enterprise in which profits are used to fund humanitarian causes and empower members of their community that have been left behind. At present, profits are being used for a cancer treatment centre for those without access to care in the neighbouring state of Kerala (where most of the Sisters are originally from). I have been invited to visit the clinic, which I will do on a subsequent visit. Over the years they’ve also provided funding for an HIV treatment clinic, a leprosy care facility and many more causes.
They also pride themselves in providing vocational training to impoverished young women and people with disabilities from their local communities. Back in the 90’s as school teachers, they noticed that young women and people with disabilities were often being left behind by society. Their solution was to start a knitting mill where they could provide jobs, training and livelihoods for those the system was leaving behind. The cut & sew business soon followed.
Right from the onset, they committed to organic cotton, becoming one of the pioneers in India for exporting organic cotton from the country - something that India has since become famous for, now exporting more than 50% of the world’s organic cotton. Over the years, they’ve also worked with some of the world’s best ethical fashion brands - brands that we admire greatly and looked to when making our decisions.
In addition to all the feel good stories, they have the paperwork to back it up. They have Fair Trade certification, GOTS organic certification (Global Organic Textile Standard), ISO 9001, and Flo-Cert certifications. In other words, they’re tightly audited and always striving to do better by the people they employ.
I have been to their facility twice in the past year, working closely with the Sisters and their team of local creators (employees are of all faiths) and will continue to travel there regularly to ensure our products only get better from here.
The plastic-free, organic Hair Ties, affectionately known as our FLATS, are available on our website and made by this incredible team. This amazing team is also responsible for our popular, Fairtrade Plastic-Free Scrunchies and our unisex Organic Twist Headbands.
Accountability from Start to Finish in our Plastic-Free Hair Ties Supply Chain
While the vast majority of the human hours that go into our products take place at our cut & sew facility, we still do work with a number of other partners to bring our products to life. Just as with our cut & sew, it was critical to us that we meet and vet these other partners first hand to ensure that they not only had certifications in place but the people and facilities to back them up.
Perhaps the question we receive most about our plastic-free hair ties is ‘what dye do you use’? In the USA, we used what’s called “low-impact reactive dyes”. That’s basically a fancy way of saying we used the lowest impact chemical dyes available, rated safe against even a newborn’s skin. We have always sought to do more than that but sadly, organic certified dyeing almost doesn’t exist in America on a commercial scale (or the volumes were way beyond anything we could commit to).
We’re so excited to say that our new dyes are not only organic certified but richer and more vivid than ever. Our dye house (a facility I’ve personally visited) has both OEKO-Tex and GOTS organic certifications. All water used at the facility is treated in a 5-stage process that cleans the water to drinking standard before being released (or reused). If you're curious to know more about our dyes, we go deep into the specifics of different textile dyeing techniques in this recent blog post.
Other upgrades to our products include:
Our organic cotton is now Fair Trade certified (in addition to GOTS organic certified, which we’ve always had!)
The labels on the hair ties themselves are now softer, dyed more richly and 100% GOTS organic certified.
We have re-engineered our elastic to provide 20% more stretch while retaining its current bounce-back - making for an improved product experience for people of all hair types.
We are also working with the small family farms in Kerala, a neighbouring state in India, supplying our natural rubber to achieve a sustainable certification - read more about that certification from the Fair Rubber Association here.
We continue to use 100% recycled FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper for our packaging and we’ve added a debossed texture to enrich the customer experience.
Why Supporting Consciously Sourced Products Matter
We created the world's first plastic-free hair ties back in 2010 and proved to the world that demand exists for a product like this. The world - and competitors - took notice.
Recently we found a manufacturer based in China that shows photos of all our products on their website and says "we made these and we'll make them for you too". That, of course, is a lie. We've never made any of our products in China and that company is simply stealing our photos.
But what is true is many "drop-shippers" have also found that listing and purchased knock-offs of our products from them without ever having to go to their facility to vet any of their claims. Drop shipping is a form of business wherein a seller accepts customer orders without keeping stock on hand or ever having to vet a facility.
While imitation may indeed be the sincerest form of flattery, and we are thrilled to see the world taking notice of more plastic-free alternatives, we believe that the people and communities behind our products - the farmers, harvesters, cutters, sewers, dyers... - are equally important and for this reason, KOOSHOO products will always be vetted, fair trade and come from a responsible supply chain - that's our guarantee!
Ultimately, manufacturing with these partners supports our mission of uplifting every person involved in the making of our products while also allowing us two other major advantages:
We shrink our environmental footprint as both the organic cotton and natural rubber are grown nearby to our facilities. We are also now able to go direct from source to the markets where our products are sold (ie, Australia, USA, Canada, UK...), cutting down on thousands of miles of redundant transport in our supply chain.
We get to work with one of the greatest artisinal cultures in the world. The textile know-how in India allows us to make products and styles that we'd only dreamt of to date. We have 5 new product styles that we've created with these partners over the past year and a half and the first, the world's first and only plastic-free scrunchies, have already proven to be a huge hit.
We started KOOSHOO because we believed that we could create more good in the world via a business than as individuals. Many years of sales later this concept remains at the core of every decision we make. While we will continue to make limited edition products in the USA, we believe the addition of the partners listed above will not only improve our products dramatically but also create a lot more good along the way. We’re incredibly proud of this and hope you are too.
Thank you for joining us in this journey and choosing to support small, consciously-operated companies like KOOSHOO.
Every time you choose to support a company doing things right, know that your choice benefits more people (and animals) than you can imagine!
Our extremely popular FLATS Hair Ties are shipping now. Find them here and be sure to let us know what you think!
Jesse & Rachel