Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Interview with Ingredients Matter's Ken Hubscher, taken from the Alternative Channel's Leaders in Sustainability Series
Ken Hubscher shares his views on the future of ribbon and why Ingredients Matter.
Leaders In Sustainability is an exclusive series of interviews with those at the fore of the sustainability movement, both in the corporate and non-profit sectors.
By Chris Advansun and Kassandra Linklater
What does oil consumption and water bottles have to do with ribbons and bows? “Everything,” according to Ken Hubscher. Alternative Channel recently caught up with Hubscher to discuss Ingredients Matter, his new line of ecological, environmentally friendly ribbon.
CA - We are fascinated with the Ingredients Matter project. Give me a sense of where this project originates and what the genesis for this was?
KH - Well, Ingredients Matter International was my idea to try and
create an eco-initiative for our company. We are a sixty-year-old
family run business, started by my grandfather, and we are the experts
in ribbons, bows, and custom packaging for the luxury market. At the
end of 2007, after seeing the amazing eco-wave that was just vesting
out there in the market place, I decided that I wanted to create
something that was unique to both to my personality and to the
personality of the company. I thought it would be cool to come out with
an ecological ribbon and given that we have been doing ribbon for sixty
years, we should be the leaders in sustainable ribbons as well.
I first started doing a lot of investigation into what it meant to be “eco” and what was available in terms of materials in the market place. I then started working with a variety of component manufactures to create specialty yarns that are made from 100% recycled materials including scraps and polyester from manufacturing floors. By using recyclable plastics, which are basically taken in, re-mashed up, cleaned out, melted, and re-extruded into filaments, we were able to take those filaments, chop them into yarns and basically weave replica ribbon out of them. So we are using a 100% recycled yarn to make a 100% recycled ribbon and that was the logic flow behind ecological ribbon.
I then took a deeper look into what the ecological advantages of this were and found that the primary advantage is diverting materials from landfills. So instead of having water bottles and scrap materials all over the place that may have no economic value when they end up in the landfill; we diverted it and turn it into a tangible, usable project.
The second advantage is that you do not need to use virgin oil to produce new polyester and nylon yarn to make more ribbon. This is a huge advantage. The amount of oil used to make ribbon in the world in nominal compared to the amount of oil used in every other industry but we have to start somewhere. I believe an initiative starts with having a collective amount of energy put forth in the same direction and that in turn will create an end result that is sizable enough to measure.
So in the ribbon world, did we solve the oil crisis by creating Reribbon? No, but did we create a product that is part of a consciousness of a market place? I believe so.
CA - Looking on your website, it states that it may be only a small fraction of the amount of overall oil consumption that would go into creating ribbon using virgin materials but technically it is still a huge amount of oil
KH - It’s all relative like everything in our lives.
Speaking of industry, do you know why it is difficult in the ribbon
industry to measure things like carbon footprints? Because most of the
products are made off shore and why are they made offshore? Because
people have an agreeable idea of what a product should cost, and they
all say I’m willing to pay this amount for a product, and we are have
become quite conditioned to that.
So in order to have a product that is sellable, which by the way is the only way to sustain a business, is to have it made offshore. One of the things that we are doing is working to have yarns made in North American and then we ship them offshore to produce our ribbons. In a sense, we are kind of organic because we are sustaining a local economy by procuring yarns that are made locally, thus sustaining an industry here and we are keeping it within the parameters of economic affordability of the mass consumer, which makes it a product that can actually make a difference.
CA - To compare the two products, is there a quality difference or an appearance difference?
KH - I challenge anyone in the ribbon industry to do the Pepsi challenge, with the ribbon challenge. I challenge them and they will just be guessing. If you do it a thousand times, it will be a fifty-fifty just by natural statistical odds.
CA - Wow, impressive. Talk to us a bit more about the marketing and where you are today in terms of getting the word out there.
KH - Classically, Hubschercorp, which is the parent company, is an
expert in custom ribbon projects. So we cater to retailers, large
chocolatiers, confectioners, jewellery companies, and the cosmetic
industry. We generally cater to people who purchase ribbon and bows, in
a creative way, but as a commodity per say, because they have to
deliver a packaged or gift-able product for their consumers. Ribbon is
a commodity, so there is a known value for ribbon. And to produce a
product that is slightly more expensive than your packaging budget,
which every year they aspire to shrink while natural resources cost go
up, is going to be a hard sell.
So why would a large retailer switch over to reribbon? Well they won’t unless they were going to leverage a whole marketing campaign off of their new eco green packaging initiative, which is not happening, the paradigm shift is not there yet because budget constraints won’t allow for it. People want recycled paper in their recycling bags, its not there yet, people want biodegradable additives in their plastics, it’s not there yet, it’s still too expensive. But the reality is that people are still going to go to retail stores, even if the prices still go up, and it will eventually keep going up because nothing is going down, except for the amount of oil in the ground. So as everything goes up, it will kind of equalize; a lot of the reasons why these earth-friendly products are more expensive is due to volume issues. Plus the process and materials, because they are derived naturally, are more expensive, and perhaps they aren’t developed enough. You’ll get to a point where the natural evolution of the market place is such that everything will equalize and the desire of the mass consumer will eventually motivate the suppliers or retailers per say to appease their appetite for eco products.
As for our current customer base and whether their actually the target clients for what we’re doing, I would have to say “not exactly.” Our target clientele for Reribbon actually is more a Susie Johnson, the average American consumer, the end user. She sees the value of the overall product and she puts an emotional value on it. For example, she might look at the product and say, “I could buy this regular satin ribbon, for X amount of dollars, or look at this, this is beautiful, it’s all eco packing and its 100% recycled ribbon. I can’t tell the difference and it is within my 10 to 20% threshold of price differentiation that I can except in order to make an earth conscious choice.” Bingo.
CA –You are passionate about this personally, but this isn’t passion absent of a strong business argument and I want to thank you for sharing the story of “Reribbon” with us.
KH – You are welcome. Thank you.