Ordering online has become such a source of conflict for me since starting my resolutions for 2017. Buying items online detracts support from my local community businesses. It takes planes, trains, and automobiles to deliver, which requires extra fossil fuels and energy costs. But perhaps the most tangible argument against ordering online is the excessive packaging.
But its soooooo easy! Whaaaaaaaaa!
Let me give you an example of what I mean.
I love the quality and creativity of the Tea Collection’s kid’s clothing. I’ve ordered numerous articles of clothing for gifts, and they were really the only clothes I would buy brand new for my kids. Even when shopping consignment, thrift, or via online forums (such as Facebook or Craig’s List) I would search out this favorite brand. Each outfit seams comfortable, well-made, adorable, nice enough for dressier occasions but not so much so that I prevented my kids from just wearing them for whatever activity might be in store for us. They don’t require special care or ironing, because, yeah right, I NEVER iron. They always the first articles I pull from the closet or even fresh from the dryer. The company even seemed to tow a mindful image and was “local,” hailing from San Francisco.
BUT EVERY SINGLE ARTICLE OF CLOTHING COMES IN ITS OWN PLASTIC BAG. Not unlike most other clothing companies.
Since the clock struck 2017, I started making more mindful purchases. Its kind of annoying, actually. Excited about Easter, I started envisioning my girls in matching Easter dresses. I spoke to Lily about my desire for picture-perfect dresses, and together, we justified that if we made the order together, it would come in ONE box instead of two, delivered by truck to ONE doorway only, and we could simply request that they send our items without the plastic bags.
Now, I’ve requested items be shipped without plastic before. Usually for items on Etsy or Ebay, where its likely one person packaging my purchased item. I would simply message them before making the purchase, asked them how they planned to package the item for shipment, and if they would be able to accommodate my request that it NOT be wrapped in plastic. This tactic has worked brilliantly in the past, so I figured a company like Tea, with their robust customer service, small and local vibe, and mindful company ethics, would be able to follow suit.
First, I made several wrong assumptions. Tea Collection products and main headquarters may be in San Francisco, but their factories manufacture their clothing worldwide, including China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Their distribution facility is in Texas. Hence the baggies. Apparently, when the clothing is made, it has a long way to go, so to protect it, they wrap them individually in bags. So when I call San Francisco and ask them to skip the plastic, it would require that they contact someone in Texas to take the product that arrived from overseas, unwrap it and then ship it to me.
They do participate in some give-back philanthropy, but their biggest claim is that their products are ethically made… meaning fair wages, good working conditions, making sure their factories aren’t “sweat shops.” Good stuff, for sure, do NOT get me wrong. But a lot of other companies do this as well, and I’m looking for more.
Several email exchanges ensued. I planned to wear them down and essentially harass them to get what I wanted. It wasn’t within the fabric of my being to let this subject go. I asked Lily and Sarah to write and ask for plastic-free garments. We all got the same polite email back, copied and pasted verbatim. I asked my MIL and she sent an email as well. At one point, I was told that they were communicating with the warehouse director about our request, but that still resulted in a “No.” Finally, I got an email saying that the CEO wanted to know which companies I was ordering from that would ship without plastic. I’ll attach my response email below. Its long and preachy, but it does have links to companies who I believe are making great strides in reducing their packaging waste. One company even provides packaging that is not only recyclable, but can be “reimagined,” used as an activity for kids.
So I didn’t order those Easter dresses from Tea Collection. I feel they did a fantastic job listening to my requests and I do believe they will take it into consideration in the future, and hopefully rethink those polluting plastic baggies. Instead, I found two adorable coordinating princess dresses at a local thrift shop and my local children’s consignment shop, Ella Bunbee. I think I paid a grand total of $10 for both, and after my failure with Tea, that felt damn good.
But, Dear Readers, here is my call to you: How often do you order something online? How often does someone respond about an item, “Oh, I just got it online,” like its this magical place where items are just magically waiting to fly trailing magical fairy dust to your home for you to effortlessly obtain? I don’t expect you to stop ordering online, but could you ask, before every order you place, that your item come wrapped in a sustainable and plastic-free way? Usually there is a comment section or a customer support link. I’m going to preach that in numbers and dollar votes, we can change this single-use, throw away mentality and mindless plastic waste. You will probably be told NO. But ask anyway! With ALL purchases!
Here’s the letter:
Dear Suzie, or who it may concern at Tea Collection,
Thank you for asking me to respond by providing you with names of companies with sustainable packaging practices. See, yours is, well, it was the only company that I was buying new clothing from for my children. Besides what grandmas provide as gifts, we were pretty much sticking to purchasing gently used clothing or consignment.
I didn’t realize I would need to keep emailing you to get a response (“after you emailed us and I was hoping to hear back from you so that I could follow up.”). I thought that since I had emailed you, and you said you were passing along my concerns, that I should wait for you to close the loop with my request, because for a brief moment, I held a glimmer of hope that you were actually working on a way to ship my order without plastic baggies.
Between working, dealing with vomiting children, hauling kids to doctor’s appointments, homemaking, trying to stay up with the multitude of current aggravating events, and trying to do my part to help the planet and lighten my carbon footprint by making mindful purchases and voting with my dollar, I hadn’t made the time to find clothing companies with mindful packaging and green practices a priority. I appreciate finding a company that has adopted green and ethical principals that I can have confidence in to market ethical products. I simply don’t have time to fight battles such as these with every single purchase, so I do a happy dance when I can buy with confidence and not need to micromanage every little detail. It is a short list of companies, but it is growing.
If you don’t think that consumers notice or care about your packaging materials, you are wrong! I placed my first order with Thredup, and while the items are consignment and a different type of clothing business, they are shipped wrapped in tissue paper and in cardboard, which is much easier to reuse and recycle than plastic. It doesn’t seem to ever show up on FAQ pages on company websites how a product is packaged and shipped, but people DO notice. I posted with on a mom’s group on Facebook, and here are just a few of the quick replies I received (I did remove names).
Mellissa Ahern (https://www.facebook.com/mellissa.ahern?fref=nf) Has anyone ever ordered from ThredUp? I want to know how they ship their clothing? Is it wrapped in plastic? Box or bag shipped? Any details would be appreciated. Also, any other companies that you order from that don’t ship in plastic bags? Thanks!
-I’m a long, long time TU shopper. Like their company worked completely differently when I first joined. Items you order come in a box wrapped in tissue folded nicely.
-No plastic from ThreadUp! Hmm everything comes in plastic from other companies. LLR ship to their consultants in plastic, but the consultants ship in tissue paper from what I’ve seen.
-Old navy is the worst
-I cringe when I watch the lularoe videos. I really hope they recycle the bags.
-All that plastic drives me nuts.
-Clothes from Thred Up come in nice REUSABLE tissue paper. I keep it (purple, I think) and reuse for gifts.
I find it charming that your CEO would want to hear from me about which companies in his industry are making strides to utilize less packaging. Is he really ignorant about greener packaging? Because by you asking ME, I feel like you are shining me on. I’ll be honest; I know nothing about the clothing industry. I don’t even like to shop. I used Google, and here are a few sites I found that point to sustainable packaging with clothing companies. Please check out H&M, REI, Puma, and Icebreaker. Read more:
Here’s a blog that describes “reimagined” packaging material for upcycling from Icebreaker (not just recycling), with fun activities for kids to do with leftover packaging:
Another way to make packaging material more sustainable is to clearly label how it can be disposed of, and if it can be recycled, HOW and where it can be recycled. There are a number of large companies currently participating in this particular program: http://www.how2recycle.info/labels. While recycling more isn’t necessarily the point as is a reduction in materials in the first place, packaging that is easy to recycle (plastic is not easy to recycle) and are clearly labeled as such make consumer responsibility and involvement higher. I use some Beauty Counter products because they offer some of their products in glass containers (easily recycled), and their packaging clearly states how to recycle items and the packaging itself.
You are right and I absolutely understand that unwrapping my order and disposing of the plastic in a location before it comes to me does not reduce waste and is NOT the point… while it will be less to ship, it will reduce no waste. At least, not in the short term. But I hope in doing so, or at least by making my request, I hope that you will strongly reconsider how you package your wonderful products in the future. I’ll be looking for that company who makes the switch to better packaging, or better yet, sets an industry precedent, and buy the hell out of it.
You obviously take pride in a quality product made with fair labor practices, so why wrap it in something that will just end up as pollution?