Do you like your job? I’m generally very happy in mine but I’m very glad to have the creative outlet of blogging. I think everyone naturally feels restless at times in life though. There’s times that I imagine going back to university, others when I imagine moving to the country and finding a slower pace, and sometimes I dream of home schooling the kids.
Why do I feel like this? Probably because deep down I’m wondering if I’m really living. Sometimes my life feels very safe. I look around at people travelling the world with their small children. I wonder at people applying for new jobs every few years. Or even being brave enough to start their own businesses.
I have a deep admiration of people who have the ability to do this. Particularly when they are building businesses based on their dreams. But how do you actually make that switch?! To explore that one, I want to highlight a business that really captured my attention last Christmas – Wrag Wrap.
Wrag wrap is basically reusable gift wrap made from recycled fabric. There’s no need for cutting, sellotape or additional ribbons – everything is integral to the wrap. Which of course means zero waste. I was so impressed with the concept that I wanted to learn a little more about the people behind the business. So to that end I decided to talk to Louise Oldridge, one of the founders of Wrap Wrap:
Can you tell me a little bit of background about yourself and where your business came from?
The business was born by myself and my sister-in-law, Nicky. We are both professionals who took some time out of our careers in order to have more time for our young families and it was during this time that the idea of re-usable gift wrap was born. We come from a very large family and we both noticed the piles of paper left after Christmas, much of it unable to be recycled. We thought that there must be a way of enjoying the tradition of wrapping a gift without all the waste that inevitably comes with this. After some research we came across furoshiki, a Japanese tradition of wrapping with fabric. What we have tried to do with Wrag Wrap is to introduce the idea of wrapping with fabric, whilst respecting what paper products do very well. We have therefore designed products which are very like paper in the way that people wrap with them, unlike furoshiki which involves folding and knotting.
Why is running an ethical business important to you?
This was such an integral part of our initial desire to do something to decrease the amount of paper waste. We are dismayed by the disposable lives that many people lead, where throwing something away in favour of the next new fashionable thing seems to be acceptable. We wanted to try and do something different, to develop a product that was the opposite of disposable, to help teach people that keeping hold of something and passing it on actually adds value in so many different ways. We, like many others, feel that the way we live our lives has a small but important impact on the global environment we all live in. Small changes made by people the world over can make a huge difference. Our business had to make us feel that we weren’t just filling up the world with more rubbish, and this was a major factor in us choosing recycled polyester for our products. Not only does it mean that we are re-cycling waste plastic, it also means that our products are robust and will last through many generations of wrapping gifts.
What’s your vision for you business?
We would obviously like to see the end of paper gift wrap, but realise that we are not going to be able to do that ourselves! The margin on our products is small, but we have kept it that way so that it is affordable for those people who wish to use more ethical products. It means that it is not really a product that we can wholesale and we don’t have a big marketing budget, hence our growth is going to be slow. However, we have a product that markets itself, as whoever buys it passes it on to someone else! We wholesale it to other ethical business’s who have the right sort of customers and so slowly we are getting the product out there. We have customers from all over the world and we are happy that we are providing like minded people with an alternative to disposable paper.
How do you stay true to your aims?
We are not chasing growth, we have very low overheads and we both have other jobs. This means that it is easy for us to stay true to our aims. I think it is important when starting out with a business to really drill down what is important to you and then make your business work in that way. We realised very early on that our products were going to be fairly costly to manufacture, yet we didn’t want to compromise on using re-cycled plastic as this was important to us. Hence we both knew we needed another source of income alongside this. Who knows what will happen in the future as the business grows, but we do know that we will not compromise on our ethical values.
What are the main advantages of being an entrepreneur? Any disadvantages?
Advantages are obviously that you can make all your own decisions and therefore work towards your own vision without having to compromise in areas that are important to you. Flexibility of work is really advantageous, although it does mean that sometimes it is very difficult to switch off from work. The lack of pay is another issue, that monthly salary coming in just doesn’t happen at all at the beginning and even then with a seasonal irregularity for us (Christmas being the busiest time). I found it personally rewarding as it meant that I was out of my comfort zone for much of the time, learning new things and meeting a lot of new people. It also makes you less shy about admitting when you don’t know or understand something and asking for help (lots of it!). Setting up the business was very busy, you have to do everything yourself and there are more jobs than you can imagine. However, now it is all set up it is fairly straight forward to run and we are immensely proud of our products and what we have achieved.
What are your top tips for people wanting to be more environmentally friendly in their everyday lives?
- Educate your children & friends
- Switch to renewable energy
- Drive an electric car
- Re-use & re-cycle as much as you can
- Invest in things that are made to last
- Eat less meat
- Buy seasonal & local produce
When I was talking to people about Wrag Wrap, one concern they had was ‘getting the paper back’ after giving it as a gift. Would you just ask for it back?!
A tricky one as we are culturally conditioned into keeping the gift and the wrap. Interestingly, the Japanese tradition has the recipient offering the gift wrap back. We say it is ok to ask for the wrap back, it generally becomes a bit of a talking point anyway and so it becomes easier to ask for it back. Something like ‘I hope you don’t mind if I take the gift wrap back, I am trying really hard not to use paper as it is so wasteful, and I have found this great wrap which I can use over and over again.