Archive for the ‘Materials’ Category

Fairware Crush: Anonüm Design

February 12, 2013
Anonum (orange)

Is that the Enterprise on there???


We all hear a lot of talk about “community” these days. It’s thrown around in so many different contexts that it sometimes threatens to become an empty buzzword.

To us at Fairwarecommunity isn’t some trendy, warm-and-fuzzy concept. It means something real and vital. We know that true community requires knowledge and work and the willingness to give and receive support. It’s about defining common goals and working toward them.

Members of our community are frequent sources of Fairware “crushes”. We crush massively on colleagues, suppliers and clients who get what we do and share our values and desire to drive change.

Anonüm Design is a perfect example of a business on which we are proud to have a lovely crush. Anonüm is a Vancouver, BC manufacturer that rethinks the concept of waste and makes beautiful product out of things otherwise destined for landfill.

They take old printing blankets — things that cover the offset cylinder in the printing process for newspapers and catalogues — and make gorgeous computer accessories out of them. Every piece they produce is unique, because each blanket bears the impression of the last printing job for which it was used—so you might find the ghost of a headline on one, that of a picture on another, birth announcements on a third.

Truly, there’s simply nothing like them. We’ve partnered with Anonüm Design to provide custom-branded versions of their cool product. You can find the iPad cover on our site. Check them out.

We think you’ll fall in love, 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.”


September 26, 2012

From Flickr Common Creatives via @cobdogblog

Last week, we posted a piece on bioplastics and the problems that arise from improper disposal of bioplastic and plastic products. Primarily, we touched on the misconceptions regarding labelling. Labels are sometimes misleading and the terminology used is often confusing. We love that so many clients and customers are coming to us looking for sustainable alternatives to common materials like plastic. That’s why we want to further explore the differences between degradable, biodegradable and compostable to better manage waste and to make the most of these eco-friendly options.

The Environment and Plastic Industry Council states that the term “degradable” broadly implies that the product will break down into smaller pieces naturally, over a (vague) period of time. “Biodegradable” is the process that takes place after degradation, when the particles are consumed by micro-organisms, resulting in water, carbon dioxide or organic matter.

“Compostable”, meanwhile, refers to degradable materials that—under proper commercial or home composting conditions—turn into usable compost or humus that enriches the soil and returns nutrients to the earth. These products leave no toxic waste behind and the process takes between 90 to 180 days.

So, how do you actually dispose of these products properly?

As we mentioned in last week’s post, most municipalities in Canada and the US still lack the proper means to compost and recycle. Between that and misleading terms, well-intentioned customers are becoming frustrated.

With the help of some wonderful sources, including the Green Office, we’d like to clear some things up:


  • Compostable products must be disposed of in a proper industrial composting facility. If such facility is not available, these products can be disposed of in the backyard or in a home composter, though it will take longer for the products to fully disintegrate. Improper disposal of compostable products in the recycling bin will actually contaminate the recycling process.
  • Biodegradable products are most often thrown in the garbage. While this should theoretically be okay as these materials are thought to just “break down”, it’s really not. Landfills are basically built to entomb waste and therefore lack the microorganisms and oxygen to break down these materials in a timely manner. Until there are proper processing facilities for biodegradable materials—like in California and Washington—these materials should be disposed of through a composting facility. But again, with the green bin program only just taking off in major cities, most municipalities make it next to impossible to properly and efficiently dispose of biodegradable products.
  • Recyclables should always be disposed of through the municipal curbside garbage program—those blue bins that are handily available almost everywhere. If there is no access to these programs or blue bins, services like help locate drop-off locations.


As customers are becoming more inclined to choose products that are environmentally-friendly, eco-conscious consumerism has become a hot button for advertisers. While the Federal Trades Commission’s Green Guide regulates how companies can use the terms “degradable,” “biodegradable” and “compostable,” customers are still advised to beware of “greenwashing.” This is when companies deliberately lead consumers to think their brand is “green”, without actually being so. The next generation of green products can also be labelled oxo-biodegradable, hydro-biodegradable, photo-biodegradable or water soluble. With more and more terms being thrown into the game, companies are getting away with branding their products improperly—or even just making up terms that sound eco-friendly.

Recent amends to the Federal Trades Commission’s Green Guide and the Canadian Standards Association and Competition Bureau have tightened regulations on companies using these terms and require that environmental claims be made clear, specific and verified. Any claims made must now be backed up with evidence.

But, as with everything, it is up to the customer to use discretion when buying—and to always read labels correctly and to use and dispose properly. And let’s not forget that waste—any waste—should be reduced. Cutting back the purchase of one-time-use products and reusing or repurposing is always the best choice when thinking green.


September 18, 2012

We talk a lot about sustainable alternatives to commonly used products here at Fairware—from re-purposed and recycled items to organic textiles. It’s actually quite amazing how many options there are when making a conscious choice to buy better products.

Take plastic for instance. From plastic containers and packaging to utensils and bottles—so much of what we come across in everyday life  is made from plastics and they can have a devastating impact on the environment, human health, species maintenance, and the ocean.

First, let’s talk about what makes common plastics so damaging. Common plastics are obtained from petroleum, which significantly increases the production of greenhouse gases and makes the plastics reliant on fossil fuels. Aside from what these plastics take from the environment during manufacturing, there is the major issue of what they leave behind. Some common plastics such as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polystyrene are notable for the hazards throughout their life-cyle.  The production and disposal of some plastics can threaten the life of ocean species and animals, but also humans.

So, in short: the production common plastics is threatening our environment and health. Yet, their uses are vast and the need for plastic is unavoidable.

Enter bioplastics or biopolymers, promising to be a safer, environmentally responsible alternative. While there are other types of “biodegradable plastics” on the market, for the purpose of this post, we’re looking at bioplastics such as PLA are plastics that are derived from renewable living sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, potatoes, and rice. And as with most innovations, they’re bring opportunity and have risks. We explore both below:

But the biggest draw towards bioplastics is in its lifecycle. Most—though not all—bio-materials disintegrate rapidly in commercially managed composting processed. In theory, this means there are less harmful waste left in our ecosystems. Bioplastics that are not biodegradable are used to make non-disposable items such as cell phone casings or car interiors. The objective of these bioplastic applications is the use of sustainable, renewable resources in production rather than the end of life biodegradability.

According to some studies, bioplastics account for a whopping 42% reduction in carbon footprint. However, that’s not say these studies haven’t had their fair share of disputes. For example, Environmental data from NatureWorks, the only commercial manufacturer of PLA (polylactic acid) bioplastic, says that making its plastic material delivers a fossil fuel saving of between 25 and 68 per cent compared with polyethylene, in part due to its purchasing of renewable energy certificates for its manufacturing plant.

There remain critical changes that need to be made in the bio-plastics game. Powering farming machinery and irrigating crops rely heavily on petroleum as an energy source. There are also concerns around the use of genetically modified organisms in agricultural feedstock production and using a food based crop for fuel.  Finally, there is a major lack in composting and recycling infrastructure. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco have successfully implemented proper composting and recycling infrastructures. Without this infrastructure, most bioproducts end up as trash in a landfill. The emergence of a third party certification agency (BPI in the US) tasked with certifying a manufacturers claims regarding compostability to international standards will help to standardize what is and isn’t suitable for municipal composting.

Getting consumers on board is the first step towards implementing the proper production and composting infrastructure needed to make the best of bioplastic technologies. The first step comes in helping consumers understand the environmental, human and economic impacts made by their purchases (no small task, we know). But confusing labels often mislead consumers. Take “bio-based,” for example, sounds like a product branded like this would be biodegradable, right? Actually, this is not necessarily the case.

“Biodegradable,” meanwhile, does not always mean compostable, but rather that the product will eventually disintegrate. Bewildering labeling is actually a major factor of improper recycling and composting – it’s confusing to say the least. We are going to further into the FTC Guidelines on compostable vs. biodegradable vs. degradable in our post next week, so stay tuned for that!

Like all new, sustainable technologies and initiatives, there is good and bad. The development of bioplastics shows a promising push towards renewability and compostability. But there needs to be continued consumer education of how these products are properly used as well as adequate means to compost and recycle these bioplastics before this technology reaches its full potential.

ECO-SHOPPING: Organic Cotton vs. Conventional Cotton

July 17, 2012

Cotton Bail > Common Creative @virgohobbs

As we noted a few weeks ago in our post on Nature’s Path, there remains a fair bit of ambiguity around the word “organic” for the average consumer—particularly when talking about clothing. When we launched our new website this month, we wanted to make it easier for customers to choose organic by customizing a search for organic fibre products. We want to shed some light on why we are keen on this particular textile, and give some insight into the differences between organic and conventional cotton.

As far as sustainable textiles go, organic cotton is the most popular and most readily available. However, just as with bamboo, the question remains: how eco-friendly is it really?

The fact is conventional cotton crops use the most chemicals out of all other crops. Cotton attracts a wide variety of insects, making it the most pesticide dependent crop in the world. Cotton covers only 2.5% of cultivated land globally, yet it accounts for nearly 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides. To put that into perspective: nearly one-third of a pound of chemicals is needed to grow enough conventional cotton to make one single T-shirt.

Organic cotton minimizes the need for agricultural chemicals through methods that include crop rotation, intercropping, mechanical or hand weeding, and the use of mulches. Even the seeds planted are stripped of pesticides and are free of genetically modified organisms.

A popular misconception is that organic cotton crops require more water than its conventional counterparts, but this is not necessarily the case. By maintaining healthier soil, the farming of organic cotton requires less irrigation, because the plants are able to use water more efficiently. Also, increased pesticide use can seep into local streams and public water supplies. Aside from the obvious dangers this has on the environment, using contaminated water on cotton crops can actually slow its growth, requiring more water to speed up the process.

Though the advantages of organic cotton are clear, there is a major drawback. The largest producers of organic cotton are in India, Turkey, China and Africa—and the biggest consumer demand is in North America. As we discussed a few weeks ago, not all shipping methods are created equal—and the environmental impact of shipping via the ocean is far less than trucking a product from long distances within the country. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know exactly how an organic crop is transported from the farms to processing plants, and finally to retailers. Luckily, demand for organic textiles is growing and local production of organic cotton—mainly in North Carolina, California and New Mexico—continues to expand to meet that demand.

The emergence of organic cotton, as well as recycled cotton—a fibre we are also fans of—signals a shift towards a more conscious consumer base. However, no matter how many benefits there are to organic or recycled garments, the customer “care” phase of a garment has the harshest impact on the planet. Studies show that the everyday washing, drying and ironing of clothing account for 60 to 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing to cut back on laundry, wash by hand, hang-dry, or stick to cold-water washing cycles makes a big difference, regardless of whether the garment is organic or not.


Use a solar powered clothesline > Creative Commons by @kittenishkitten

For more in-depth insight into organic cotton, please check out this wonderful posting over at the Textile Exchange. The author (Liesl Truscott) has done a remarkable job of gathering some very eye-opening facts and presenting a strong background on both organic and conventional cotton.

BRAND BUY-BACK: A Look at Eco-Cycology

July 10, 2012

Photo from Creative Commons; Lydia_Shiningbrightly

In a culture of consumerism, the lifespan of a product tends to be short and linear. It is made, sold, bought and then very unceremoniously tossed in the trash when it has been determined unusable or simply unnecessary. That is why we are thrilled by a growing trend towards eco-cycology. has listed eco-cycology as the 4th biggest trend of 2012. While the concept isn’t necessarily new, its rise in a time of economic woes reveals that consumers are becoming increasingly more aware of the financial value of their goods beyond their typical lifespan. Brands are taking this sentiment to heart.

So, what is eco-cycology anyway? It is best described as the recycling and repurposing of old products by its original manufacturers. Way back in 1990, Nike broke ground on this scheme (somewhat literally) through its Reuse-A-Shoe Program. To date, Nike has collected over 25 million pairs of run-down shoes, which have then been ground up to create a material that is used to make athletic and playground surfaces, as well as fresh, new shoes.

One of our clients, outdoor goods brand, Patagonia, has reclaimed 45 tons of old clothing to make 35 tons of new products through its amazing Common Threads Initiative. Their commitment to this philosophy is also evident in their general business purchasing as well. Fairware developed custom USB drives for Patagonia out of recycled wood pallets to help the company cut down on its paper usage and share video product knowledge with its dealers.

In fact, we’ve been happy to work with numerous brands that are moving towards reusing old products. To promote its Environment Foundation, Aspen Snowmass had us use pre-loved employee ski uniforms to make fun ‘up-cycled’ totes and messenger bags. And for Aveda, we used bicycle inner tubes to make durable, recycled (and cool) makeup bags.

It is our hope that eco-cycology becomes the norm rather than a fleeting fad. The possibilities for repurposing old products are endless, and it’s a movement that really makes sense from every angle. Brands can cut down on their environmental impact and material costs when developing new products that are designed to be re-purposed. Customers can really feel good about what they are buying, knowing that their purchase has given new life.

SILICONE WARS: Is Silicone Rubber Safe?

June 26, 2012

Silicone Pint Glasses

Brightly coloured silicone has been trending for years as a safer and more aesthetically pleasing alternative to Teflon or plastic products. Being curious types, it’s prompted us at Fairware to question: Just how safe is it, really?

Silicone is heat-resistant synthetic compound made from naturally occurring resources including carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in combination with silicon atoms. The rubbery material has been popping up rapidly on store shelves, particularly in the form of cookware, water bottle nozzles, and a variety of other products that come in direct contact with food and drink. Manufacturers maintain that is it safe, and Health Canada backs the material as having no reaction with food and beverages.

There are plenty of bright sides to this versatile material, including its low toxicity, low chemical reactivity, and low thermal conductivity. It also emits no hazardous fumes and it is non-biodegradable, making it technically recyclable—though many recycling centres unfortunately still refuse to accept it. The leading manufacturers of silicone-based products belong to four non-profit organizations that deal exclusively with promoting the safety of silicone from a health, safety, and environmental perspective.

Despite the green light from Health Canada and its four non-commercial organizations, there are still concerns. The use of silicone in cookware is a relatively recent, and there remains very little research to debunk worries of possible long-term side-effects on health and on the environment. And the stamp of approval from Health Canada is, frankly, a little dubious. Non-stick Teflon cookware, for instance, has been deemed safe for humans by the government agency, despite causing cancer in test rats.

So, there is really no concrete answer to the question of safety surrounding silicone – while it is clearly a less toxic material than many on the market, questions remain. It is our hope that the increasing use of silicone in products will prompt further and more stringent testing—and that consumers will continue to demand more insight into the products they buy.


Bamboozled? Getting the facts on Bamboo Textiles

June 11, 2012

We’ve re-posted this from 2010 because it’s still a good primer on bamboo & it’s still a material that people have lots of questions about.

At Fairware we’ve had plenty of interest in apparel with bamboo content. In addition to being easy to care for, soft and silky, bamboo fibers have been loudly touted as the newest and greatest in eco-apparel.

But there are conflicting facts about the environmental attributes of bamboo textiles so we’ve taken a closer look. The following is based on our online research and we welcome your comments, input and suggestions.

Bamboo: The Plant

The premise that bamboo textiles are eco-friendly is largely based on the sustainability merits of the plant. Part of the grass family, bamboo is the fastest growing plant on Earth (giant kelp is second). Instead of taking centuries to mature, like hardwood, bamboo can be harvested after only 3 to 5 years.

Bamboo is also self-sustaining with an extensive root system that sends up new shoots each year. This substantially reduces the need for intense cultivation practices. The large root system also helps prevent soil erosion and improves the water-holding capacity of the watershed. With sufficient rainfall, bamboo crops don’t require irrigation. (more…)

Pantone’s Color of the Year: Honeysuckle Pink

February 3, 2011

Pantone “the global authority on color”, recently announced the new color for 2011. Following on 2009’s mimosa yellow and 2010’s turquoise blue, 2011’s color is pink, very pink. Specifically, honeysuckle pink.

According to the Pantone website:

“…Honeysuckle emboldens us to face everyday troubles with verve and vigor. A dynamic reddish pink, Honeysuckle is encouraging and uplifting. It elevates our psyche beyond escape, instilling the confidence, courage and spirit to meet the exhaustive challenges that have become part of everyday life.”

So prepare yourself for more pink this year. Pink weddings, pink rooms, even pink credit cards.

At Fairware we’re still waiting for our first request for pink SWAG. It’s sure to be super chic and all the rage. Looking forward to it!

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