From the green fields of Devon our new sustainable ecommerce packaging brand is born.
With 4.2 billion parcels being delivered over the last year in the UK, the team at Swanky, a Shopify Plus Agency based in Exeter, started looking for a way to help make ecommerce more sustainable.
Five teams pitched ideas for an eco-friendly ecommerce idea, and the winner was WoolShip - a brand selling sustainable wool packaging made from 100% British sheep wool. This is a business that is looking out for our trusty British farmers, as well as the planet.
Over the past few months, the shepherds of WoolShip have been beavering away setting up this new sustainable ecommerce brand. It’s exciting and it’s challenging, and we are truly enjoying the journey.
We sat down with Matt Abbott, Head Shepherd at WoolShip and Head of Growth at Swanky, to hear about the idea that started WoolShip and how it has evolved since.
Interview with Matt Abbott
Matt, what was the inspiration for this business? How did you come up with the idea of using wool as packaging?
Matt: It all started with a conversation I had with a friend who I’ve played cricket with for years. He’s a sheep farmer and he shared with me just how little farmers get paid for wool. It’s less than 20% of the cost of shearing. Yet wool is a naturally occurring byproduct that has so many different uses.
Wool is a product that we’ve known about for centuries. It’s been used for a myriad of things - from clothing to insulation - yet we’ve forgotten about it and have moved into manufacturing alternatives. These alternatives are not naturally occurring, they use enormous amounts of energy and water to produce, and create waste byproducts that have to be disposed of. They are often derivatives of plastic and are bad for people and our planet.
This got me thinking that there’s got to be a way that we can support British farmers and use this wool. We don’t want it to just be stored, binned, or composted. So we asked the question; is there another market that wool could be used in?
I started considering wool’s properties: it’s naturally protective, it’s a natural insulator, it’s great for cushioning… Those are all things you need in packaging.
After a bit of research, I realised we might have an idea here. You can manipulate raw wool into so many different products and this could give you a variety of packaging options.
And so, we did more research. We tried to understand how much can be done with wool and what the market is like.
At this point, the idea formed that if we were able to sell wool to the mass market - to everybody and anybody who is shipping something that needs to be protected - then we would be creating a hugely positive impact for British farmers, for British wool and for the environment.
Another ‘ram’ification of the business is that we can educate the end customer about what wool can be used for after its life as packaging.
What we’ve learnt is that wool can be used as a fantastic compost; you can add it to your home compost or straight into a flower bed. It can be used on top of soil for heat retention over the winter and heat resistance over the summer. It can be used to line hanging baskets or for pet bedding. It can be used as insulation or padding. If people are particularly crafty, it can even be used in felting. There are so many ways that wool can be reused and recycled.
And if people don’t want to do any of the above. They simply need to put it in a food bin and it will decompose safely.
We soon realised there aren’t any negatives to this idea. In fact, this business has a positive contribution at every stage of the chain.
So how did this turn from an idea to a sustainable ecommerce business?
Matt: I had the idea and this idea was chosen as part of the Swanky Unleashed programme. A team then made a business plan, built a brand and pitched it. They did a fantastic job and the idea was chosen.
Since then, we have brought this idea to fruition. We’ve sourced suppliers, created a brand, built a marketing strategy, forecasted our financials, and designed a website on Shopify - a platform that Swanky advocate and are experts in.
What are the values that will shape WoolShip going forward?
Matt: Our value of sustainability sits right at the centre of the brand. Everything stems from that.
We’re proud to guarantee that all our products use 100% British wool. If the business becomes international in the future, we would look to create a supply chain that uses 100% native wool for each of the countries we operate in.
I think it is important to be able to support the local economy and local farmers, because they do a lot for a country. They feed us and we need to ensure they can also make ends meet.
Another core value is that we want to be playful. If we’re honest, packaging can be dull. So we identified right from the start that we want to have fun with this brand; we want to bring it to life.
What areas would you like to see the brand being particularly playful in?
Matt: The way in which we communicate about ourselves is key. We want to have a good sense of humour and be playful with our marketing, with imagery. This would apply not only to the way we get the wool, but also to the way in which the wool can be used in its second, third and fourth life.
What makes WoolShip unique in the packaging industry?
Matt: There are no other companies offering wool packaging to the mass market in the same way we are - and this is a big market.
Other companies are using wool in specific ways for specialist packaging but this requires more processing. We want to minimise the amount of processing involved in order to use as little energy as possible. This keeps costs low and reduces environmental impact at every stage of the chain.
Of course, WoolShip is in its early stages at the moment, but what’s your vision for the brand in the future?
Matt: Even though we have no real idea of what the first year of WoolShip will bring, we’re super excited for it.
I’m excited by the number of positives to this idea that make it a no-brainer as a sustainable ecommerce solution. I’m excited that there is such significant international potential as well. And I’m excited about the training potential it gives the Swanky team.
What’s next for this sustainable ecommerce brand?
As Matt noted, we can’t predict the future. So for now we'll be putting our best hoof forward, implementing our marketing strategy, establishing this brand and using our ecommerce experience to help us along the way.
You can help us get there by sharing what we do online or by purchasing one of our products.
If you want to know more about Swanky Agency’s Unleashed programme, check out their blog post that gives more details about this process.
And if you have any questions about our products or process, please get in touch with us. We’re a friendly bunch and would love to hear from you.