As most of you know, Hemlock & Oak is a little team of three at the moment. We design our planners in-house and manufacture them with ethical partners and materials in Canada. The actual process that goes into creating a planner (or any product, for that matter) is expensive, time-consuming, and challenging! That challenge was even greater because we were passionate about fulfilling our ethical and environmental values.
But you, our amazing community, helped make it happen last year during our Kickstarter. And you continue to provide sound feedback and direction for this new small business. For that, we're eternally grateful, because we wouldn't be here without you.
That being said, let's take a look behind the scenes!
After almost one entire year of designing, testing, and designing some more... we took the leap and launched our 2021 planner on Kickstarter. Here is a small snapshot of them coming off the press! This partner's press is impressively powered by hydro-electric power and wind, and they only use vegetable-based inks (packaged in reusable barrels). Their recycling program was also extremely meticulous, which was a big reason we decided to partner with them last year!
There was a lot of learning throughout the manufacturing process, but we worked through the challenges to ensure the product met our high standards. A lot of this had to do with getting the physical product as close as possible to our digital prototypes.
2. Preparing the details
Pop it in a box and go, right? Nope, not quite. Upon receiving them, we knew that we wanted to make sure your ribbons didn't fray (a personal pet peeve of one of our team members). Each ribbon was glued on the ends by hand to prevent fraying! And, yes, they're stacked on our dining room table.
During Kickstarter, we also decided to offer gilded-edge planners. Unfortunately, this was too expensive to ask our partners to do at the quantity we were creating. We also found out that it tends to be a bit of a headache. So, sadly, if you see really cheap books with gilded edges, it's most likely done with unethical labour. Sigh!
We looked into doing it ourselves and tested some books of our own with various gilding techniques. However, this process was really difficult, and we did each one by hand. That meant painting 2-3 at a time, waiting for them to dry, another coat, more drying... and then some varnish at 1AM or so.
In the end, we decided it wasn't a great use of our time since it delayed shipments, but the results were pretty! If we grow and can afford to get help for it in the future, we might offer it again.
3. Packing and shipping
Two of us packed all the planners and shipped them out to our wonderful #hemlockandoakcrew. We decided to stick with paper and cardboard only because of its ease of recylability and better renewability. Plastic has become a serious issue in the world and its oceans, and even with all of Canada's recycling efforts, only 9% of it actually gets recycled.
Only 9% of Canada's plastics are recycled, and 91% of the world's plastics aren't recycled. Most of this is ending up in rivers, oceans, and even our food.
We realized that even the small details, such as tape, cannot be recycled. That's why we decided to purchase water activated paper tape. It's completely biodegradable and 100% recyclable and repulpable. That means it doesn't cause any headaches for the recycling plants when your H&O box ends up in the cardboard recycling.
The drawback? We have to hand-cut and wet each piece of tape with a sponge. And then it gets sticky from the starch-based adhesive! So sticky fingers and countertops were abound.
It's not the most efficient taping method, but we got used to it pretty quickly last year. There's also a dispenser we're saving up for in the future!
One of our huge rolls of water-activated tape that's 100% biodegradable, recyclable, and repulpable!
The process of cutting all the pieces by hand before wetting them with a sponge and applying them to shipments!
In the end, shipping involved many, many full days of packing, packaging, taping, and delivering to our local shipping depot. On days that involved multiple trips, one of us would walk a batch up to Canada Post (with many stares at our huge blue ikea bag filled with parcels), while the other drove a larger batch to the depot. We shipped every day in December until we sold out just before the end of the month. It was a bit of a wild ride!
Of course, with COVID-19, not everything was as timely as it could be (hello, computer parts that came almost 5 months later!). But all of you were so understanding and patient, honestly, we couldn't be more grateful for such an amazing community.
So, what does the future hold?
For 2021, we are partnering with two small family-owned Canadian businesses. We've worked with them to make the binding lay even flatter and increased the width for more writing room. You can see what we did with the undated PDF in our downloads section (and it's also available for pre-order!). Our 2022 planner pre-orders are coming around the corner in August, and you can sign up for the mailing list to make sure you're notified of our launch.
We've also introduced 100% recyclable stickers (both the liner and the sticker itself) for both the undated and 2021 planners! It was important to us to reduce sticker liner waste, so while these were a long time coming, we think they were worth the wait. Notepads and other goodies are also on the horizon, but we don't want to give a timeline just yet.
On the topic of sustainability, we're also switching our labels to Eco-Enclose Zero Waste Labels for our postage! We've decided that we're done with wasting sticker liners and think it should be a thing of the past.
We're also busily working on a line-up of inspirational women who want to share their stories with the H&O community. Stay tuned to hear from amazing athletic and inspirational professionals!
Otherwise, we're dreaming of the pandemic to end, to have our own stall at a local market, and can't wait to meet more of you face to face.