The Subtle Art Of Practical Sustainability

So, recently on our Instagram stories (which if you don’t follow us, please do) we asked you guys what you’d like us to blog about. And, atop your list of suggestions was sustainability. And I understand why; we do make it a point to both produce, and encourage you to consume, in an environmentally conscious way.  

What I, as someone who is becoming ever more deliberate with my decisions will also attest, and even admit to, is that sustainability isn’t easy. Much like all things that deserve consideration, being a conscious brand takes time, effort and often, a trip back to the drawing-board. 

And I feel that nothing would illustrate my point more perfectly, than an anecdote. This is the story of me, Meraki’s earliest orders, and some compostable packaging. 

Once Upon An Ecommerce Brand...

If you've been a Meraki customer since our early days, then you have probably already witnessed, the various forms of not-so-appealing packages, which showed up at your doorstep. 

Our values have always focused on delivering the best product, and the best customer-experience. However, being the new kids on the ‘Direct To Consumer’ block, we almost discounted the relationship between the packaging, and the experience. 

For those of you that are new, let me paint the picture. Meraki’s earliest shoes were similar to the ones that you get in the mail now. The designs may have been different, but many salient features were the same. An insistence on using 100% leather, even the charming, and reusable, cloth bags that the shoes came with. 

But then, there were the mailers. 

The Art Of Personable Packaging 

As I saw it, we were already providing these shoe-bags, which customers were looking to buy on their own. ‘So’, we thought, ‘we’re probably doing something right’. And then, our orders included hand-written notes, and care cards. Which definitely helped with setting our product apart. 

But, was this really enough, for a generation of consumers who could compare the white, plastic, bubble mailers that they received when they ordered from us, to the sometimes extravagant, sometimes ‘hip’ boxes, which they’d see influencers un-box on Instagram? 

Short answer; probably not. 

We secretly hoped that the outermost layer of our packages would go unnoticed. At least,  until we could come up with something better. Something that would tick all of our ‘brand values’ boxes. Essentially, something that was equal parts sustainable, and unique. It had to subtly scream ‘Meraki’, without being over the top. 

The Infamous Mailers

Much brainstorming later, we realised that we couldn’t have it all. And when it came down to prioritizing what was most important, we went with being sustainable. After all, nothing is a bigger turn-off, than receiving a 200g package, of which 100g consists solely of trash, which will end up in a dumpster. 

After a bit of research, we found compostable mailers; which was amazing! They were modern. The mailers themselves were informative. They were cost-effective. But the best part? You put the mailers out, in your yard and they will break down within six months.

This was exciting. We were happy; at first. 

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good first step. But this situation has taught us a few lessons. The most important one being, that better isn't always actually better. 

On the first day of packing orders in our brand-spanking-new compostable mailers, we were smug; we had made a choice that felt good. Our shoes were ethically made, wrapped in a reusable cloth bag, packed in a compostable mailer. It was blissful, until we started sticking on mailing labels, or rather tried to, and every single one of them came off. We tried a different label maker. Nope. Nothing.

The only option available to us, was to resort to good-old-fashioned tape. And suddenly, our perfectly sustainable packages, were sustainable, no more. They were now plastered with tape, and paper. Which not only made them anything but aesthetically pleasing, but also dampened the ‘compostable’ tag, which we were so proud of. 

One Step Back

If you’ve ordered from us recently, then you’ve received one of these annoying, and even disappointingly annoying, mailers. As much as our heart was in the right place, the reality of the situation is that there really is no way to win for us, at the moment. 

We can dump all the mailers and be wasteful. We can print more cards to educate customers on how to clean the mailers, so that they can be compostable again. But of course, this will just create even more waste in the process. Or we can just let them be, and do the best we can with what we have.  

We learn new things, and some lessons stare us right in the face. And to end this not-so-happy story on a somewhat ambiguous note; I feel that the lesson here is persistence. We have to be humble enough to realize that, just because our intentions are pure, that won’t guarantee a slam dunk. Not every time, at least. 

But, the thing about values is that sometimes you have to fight for them. This is a tiny bump in the road; but rest assured, one step at a time, we will make that pipe dream of entirely sustainable packaging a reality. 

About the Authour
Eman Bachani, Founder and CEO of Meraki Design House