Archive for January, 2013

From the floor: PPAI 2013

January 27, 2013


Does your lip balm have a pedigree?

Does your lip balm have a pedigree?

The 2013 Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) Expo took place at the Mandalay Bay Convention Centre in Las Vegas from 14-18 January. Fairware was there, sharing ideas with colleagues, scoping out new products, and noting trends.

What really struck us as we walked the floor of this vast trade show? It was the way that the concept of product responsibility has leapt onto the radar. Historically, the promotional product industry has viewed product responsibility through a compliance-based lens and paid attention strictly to the letter of the law. But in the Product Safety 201 session held at PPAI, Rick Brenner, CEO of Primeline, was quick to point out that product “safety” needs to expand to a product “responsibility” framework that includes social compliance, product quality and environmental standards.

When we walked the trade show floor, we made a conscious decision to ask vendors if they could supply compliance testing reports for their products to see where random suppliers stood on the safety aspect of the conversation. We were surprised at how many could supply those reports, and were clearly up-to-date on the issues. Our preferred organic lip balm supplier even had a poster of their testing and labelling standards in their booth.

The two sessions on product responsibility that we attended were full, and there were lively discussions regarding whose responsibility it is to manage product safety in an industry in which products travel through many hands before they reach the end user.

Also noted was the profile and attention PPAI has given to this important issue. They have a well-developed internal resource centre for members, featuring a dozen educational and capacity-building guides (from “How to Read a Compliance Document” to a guide on product, social and environmental best practices) as well as the Turbo Test, an intuitive online roadmap that will help distributors ascertain which rules, regulations and tests apply to which products.

We think that staying ahead of the curve on matters of safety and responsibility is good business, good citizenship, and good sense. It was great to see that so many of our industry peers think so, too.



A corking idea!

January 23, 2013
A stylish kit - not your average promo product.

A stylish kit – not your average promo product.

It seems that every day we get more bad news about how our species is ransacking the planet — encroaching on more wildlife habitat by clearing more land; overfishing the oceans; depleting the sources of some wonderful or miraculous material until there threatens to be none left for anyone or anything. You may have seen, for instance, the recent Guardian article on the supposed problems with the quinoa craze, and the passionate responses to that article.

These days, conscientious people are pretty much primed to believe the worst about these things, and that’s understandable. But at Fairware, we believe two things: we believe that humans actually do play a role here — it’s not hopeless, and we’re not helpless — and that’s why we’re in the business we’re in; and we also believe that it’s still really important to get the facts. Because sometimes, despite everything, things actually aren’t as bad as they seem.

Take the issue of cork. The general consensus in recent years has been that cork sources are critically endangered, and it’s unethical to use them. Synthetic corks are now widely used in the wine industry, from which the prime demand for the substance comes, and that’s seen as a good alternative. The truth, however, is a bit more complex and nuanced than it looks at first glance (isn’t that always the way?). In fact, cork isn’t endangered. (That story may have started when wine producers stopped using cork — some for economic reasons, some to avoid cork mold.) Unlike other trees, which must be cut down during harvesting, cork oaks are harvested simply by peeling bark off the tree; the tree itself is left to regenerate and thrive. As well, a tree that is harvested on the usual nine-year cycle will absorb three to five times more CO2 than one that is not. Harvesting cork is an ancient, sustainable practice and supports the livelihoods of many people in parts of Europe, in particular Portugal and Spain.

Sami Grover at Treehugger has a really fine article on the truth about cork, with links to other pieces discussing both the pros and cons of harvesting and using it. At Triple Pundit, Leon Kaye has an interesting look at the wine industry’s move away from cork and its possible environmental impact.

Fairware features some very handsome and practical cork products sourced sustainably from Portugal, such as the distinctive toiletries bag above. Take a look. Because it’s nice to enjoy some good news.

What does “green” mean?

January 16, 2013


We hear terms like “green,” “sustainable,” “recycled,” and “environmentally friendly” an awful lot, along with several of their avatars. They’re trendy buzzwords, like “natural” or “low-fat.”

But those shouldn’t just be buzzwords. They should actually mean things — specific, definable things. The promotional product industry is one step closer to that mark with the revised guidelines now out from the US’s Federal Trade Commission. Marketers and promotional product suppliers and manufacturers now have greater clarity — and greater restrictions — on just what they can and cannot say. Failure to comply with the FTC guidelines can result in fines. It’s an excellent step forward.

What does this mean in practical terms? Well, for example, think of the number of carrier or tote bags you’ve seen that have been stamped “recyclable” or had tags that said “Recycle me!” While these may be technically recyclable, the proper recycling facilities are often not readily accessible to the average consumer — so the statement is misleading. These types of bags (non-woven, plastic) do not, in fact, meet the FTC Guidelines for environmental marketing, and misleading consumers about them could be grounds for a fine.

The same standards are applied to terms like “eco-friendly” or “earth-friendly”. Moving forward, suppliers and distributors can no longer use these terms to make vague statements about the environmental attributes of a product.

One step closer to “Say it like you mean it.”

Sustainable style

January 16, 2013


When it comes to living green, fashion has always lagged a bit behind. While a few companies like EDUN and London Ethnic focus on producing hot style while upholding ethical, sustainable practices, those are definitely not the norm when it comes to the garment industry and its ilk.

Historically, recycled and sustainable clothing items of even the humblest sort have come in only limited colours and styles. Fairware’s not a fashion house, but we’re happy to report progress here: the days of scratchy, boxy t-shirts are over — and we no longer have to tell clients, “You can have any colour, as long as it’s ‘eco-grey’!”

Our assortment of sustainable apparel is getting more fabulous all the time, from stylish Blue-Sign Approved items to hipster hoodies. Check out what we have to offer — we’re thrilled to offer gear that’s good-looking, high-quality, and the real deal ethical deal.

Be aware. Be very aware.

January 16, 2013

In November 2012, a fire ripped through the Tazreen garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 110 people. It was, in fact, just one of a string of such fires the country’s garment industry suffered last year, and it was a high-profile reminder to all of us that workers’ rights and safety are fragile things in many parts of the world.

Consumers are thinking more about that part of the manufacturing process — the part that involves human workers and their hands and skill and health — as well as thinking about the end of that process when they purchase goods. Just as the tragedy of the Tazreen factory was a hideous object lesson in the importance of our safety as workers, we’re correspondingly reminded by shows like CBC’s Marketplace of how we can be put at more subtle peril as consumers. That show has exposed things like the misleading labels that manufacturers often affix to consumer goods, and reminds us of the need to be informed, cautious, and sometimes downright sceptical when we do business. Fairware understands that scepticism — because that’s the way we shop, and that’s what we have in mind when we source the goods we sell. Responsibility begins at home, and at our office.

Increasing consumer campaigns for workers’ rights, and against the use of unsafe substances in consumer products, are raising awareness among consumers, and among the brands in the promo industry that are Fairware’s customers. Videos like the one you see above are just one way in which people are calling out companies that think they can dodge their responsibilities when it comes to health and safety. Demands for greater supply-chain transparency and fewer toxins in the manufacturing process will have a trickle-down effect on our industry overall, and on what we’re able to do. We think 2013 will be a year of real improvement.

And we like that.

Hidden dangers we can actually fight

January 16, 2013
Rubber duckies of DEATH!

Rubber duckies of DEATH!

We all remember the nightmare reports — melamine in milk, lead paint on Fisher-Price toys, yet another Toyota recall. Here in North America, we often take product safety for granted, until we’re reminded by scandals like these ones of how fragile it can be. Increasing awareness of product safety and how it can be secured continues to influence Fairware’s own industry in what we think are some positive ways.

The Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 now requires American manufacturers and importers of consumer products to show proof of compliance with CPSIA standards by way of third-party testing for lead content and phthalate limits in children’s products. This increased vigilance meant that just last month, US Customs and Border Protection authorities seized a shipment of Christmas-themed rubber ducks deemed to contain too much of the chemical phthalate to be safe for children.

This sort of thing encourages an increase in transparency within the industry supply chain, and it helps us at Fairware do our jobs better. Many manufacturers now include third-party testing results on their websites — making it easier for distributors like Fairware to share product information with our clients. We like this trend, and we expect it to continue in 2013.

Putting it all together

January 16, 2013


Many of us can attest to the fact that collaboration in just about any area has benefits almost everywhere, all the time. Despite the fact that the promotional product industry is worth about $20 billion a year, it’s a bit of an undone jigsaw — a lot of people are doing their thing in small groups that don’t get many chances to communicate and connect with each other. That’s why trade shows can be so great: they’re full of the kind of energy and creativity that emanate from an atmosphere in which large numbers of people have convened in the same place with many of the same goals. Trade shows are occasional, however, not the business of every day. We need more.

The development of social media and different tech platforms is helping to bridge that communication and collaboration gap among innovators in the industry. We’re excited about the aims of some of the outfits involved in this movement, and about the potential here. consists of a group of industry leaders who have launched a platform for the sole purpose of sharing and collaborating. From their technology articles to their podcasts, they’re sharing great content — including a podcast by Denise on sustainability — and bringing the industry together.

Another site, Commonsku describes itself as “a next generation CRM, order management, and social collaboration tool for the promotional products industry,” and it lets suppliers and distributors connect like never before. We’re really happy to see folks like these surface in the cyber sea to throw us all lifelines and get us on-board together, and 2013 should bring more of them to the surface.

It’s really heartening to think about the powerful ties that Fairware and its colleagues will be able to forge in the near future. We’re hopeful, and we’re working hard to fuel that hope — because that’s the kind of work that’s never wasted.

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