Behind The Brand: Kooshoo
We all know that plastic pollution is a problem, and if you are here chances are you have already cut so much plastic out of your life! But here's one that maybe you haven't thought about, or just didn't know enough about: Hair ties! How many hair ties have you lost, or broken over the years? Sadly, a lot of commercial hair accessories are plastic, and will be around (somewhere) long after we're done with them.
Changing the world one small accessory at a time. That's the vision behind the small but mighty family business Kooshoo, headquartered on tiny Norfolk Island and led by husband and wife team Jesse and Rachel. Their plastic free, sustainably sourced and ethically manufactured hair ties and accessories are designed not only to last longer than traditional plastic hair ties, but are created by a supply chain of certified organic, fairtrade entities who work for the greater social good. Read on for the absolutely amazing interview with Jesse, on all things Kooshoo, and their solid and ongoing commitment to creating a better future. A manufacturing facility run by nuns? Read on!
- What made you decide to start your own brand and company? Where did the idea come from? What was the inspiration?
A wrong turn while traveling through rural Borneo in 2009 led us to a man who happened to own the first recycling plant in the area. He took us under his wing and revealed to us an area of his home island so destroyed by the industry that existed only to produce goods for Western consumption. We were in our mid twenties, invigorated by a desire to make a difference in the world. That moment in time with the recycling man in Borneo ended up changing the direction of our lives.
What began first as innocent research into the power of conscious consumerism, zero waste and plastic-free movements soon evolved into deep dives into social-good supply chains, the incredible potential of plant-based textiles, and the importance of fair wages and ethical treatment. It was clear that what we’d seen in Borneo didn’t have to be; rather, a better option for all - farmers, workers, consumers - was possible.
When we got home from that trip we set out on a path to create a sustainable product that fills a need and empowers customers - without adding to the load that is weighing down our planet. We set out to make one small, positive change that would have a big impact. In 2010, KOOSHOO was born. Two years later, in 2012, we began selling KOOSHOO products - making us the first commercially-made plastic-free hair elastics in the world.
- In a few sentences, how would you describe your brand and products? And what makes your brand and products so unique and different to other products on the market?
Kooshoo means feeling good in the Norfolk language, and feeling good stems from the choices we make.
When you choose Kooshoo hair accessories you are choosing organic, biodegradable and plastic-free products that are stylish, last longer and don’t damage your hair. It's quality, style and performance without the ethical compromise. That's a choice that feels good.
- Out of all your products, which is your personal favourite and why? (We know this one is hard – we love all our children the same right?)
The product that changed an entire industry: our Organic Cotton Flats Hair Ties. These were the world’s first commercially-made plastic-free hair ties back in 2012 and while they’ve come a long way since 2012, they remain our flag-bearer to the world because of their incredible properties:
✓ Made from plants, not plastics
✓ Lab-test-proven to be 6x stronger than conventional hair ties. We have heard from customers that have used one 5-pack for up to 5 years.
✓ Super-soft organic cotton that’s kind on hair; Fair Rubber Association natural tree rubber that’s strong enough for an all-day hold
✓ Hand-crafted in a Fairtrade, social-good facility owned and operated by Nuns (can you get better karma?)
- What motivates you on a day-to-day basis?
Our kids. It’s a cliché answer but also impossible not to be true.
We expect our kids to be kind and considerate to others, not to litter, to think about their purchases before making them, and to treat what they have with respect so that it will last. If that’s our expectation of them, then it’s only right that we lead by example.
This is why we choose to work with Fairtrade certified partners to ensure workers are treated fairly, it’s why we endeavour to keep our supply chain plastic-free (no litter), and it’s why we only make products that are better quality than the rest so that they last in your hair but not in a landfill.
We want the world that are kids grow into to be one in which business is used to uplift people and planet and this is what motivates us most to push forward without cutting corners.
- What have been your biggest work challenges so far?
Reframing the concept of value for customers.
We hear from customers often that our hair elastics are expensive. We get it. They are more expensive than conventional alternatives but there's a very good reason for this.
In the western world we tend to attribute good-value in our goods to low-cost and/or high-volume. The hair tie industry does this by constantly creating larger and larger pack sizes for less and less cost. On paper that’s sounds like a good deal for customers but what if that way of looking at value is not the only way?
We manufacture our products with two incredible partners - a Fairtrade certified facility owned/operated by Nuns in India, and a 4th generation hair accessory family business in Japan (a signatory to the ILO (International Labour Organization)). On a recent trip to visit our partner in Japan we were provided an overview of the local hair accessory industry and can you guess the average pack size for hair ties in Japan?
Two hair ties on a pack! That’s it. Not 30. Not 50. Not 100.
It’s 2 because if your hair tie is well made, and you value it, you don’t need more. It’s such a simple concept but one that has been lost over the past few generations care of fast fashion and the aforementioned race for high volume, low cost goods.
We know the price cheap hair tie brands pay to have their hair elastics made and we can tell you that the only way that price is achievable is if corners are cut - many of them. Workers are not paid living wages. Working conditions aren’t safe. Materials harm the earth both when extracted and when disposed. Dyes are toxic and poison local waters. Single-use plastics abound at every turn. And what’s more: hair ties snapping are a feature, not a flaw (they need you to buy more).
So here’s our biggest challenge: explaining to customers that while the cost/volume of cheap hair ties is good value for them on paper, it certainly isn’t for the people and planet affected by their creation. It’s by design that as customers we don’t see or hear any of that other story - the one usually happening overseas. Part of the implied agreement when we purchase those too-good-to-be-true products is that we don’t ask questions.
But we’ve been making hair ties in 3 countries for over a decade now and we know the true cost of a hair tie made right:
✓ Ingredients made from plants, not plastics
✓ Fair trade and organic certifications on all materials
✓ Fair trade manufacturing
✓ Fair trade & organic dye certifications that return waters cleaner than they received them
✓ Packaging made from plants, not plastics
✓ Products lab-proven to last 2-6 times longer than conventional alternatives
And as our grandparents can attest, when you purchase something designed to last, not only does it last, you also need less. Once you reframe value in a good, you’ll see it in a whole new light.
- Tell us about an achievement that you’re super proud of and happy about. Have you been nominated or won an award, got featured somewhere or just received amazing feedback from your customers?
We’re a small family business with a great little team. In the past decade, our business has been able to transform an entire industry and of this, we’re exceptionally proud.
When we created the world’s first plastic-free hair elastics, we did so hoping that other big brands would follow suit because we knew that alone, we’d only be a drop in the bucket. And that’s exactly what has happened as a tired, unchanging industry has had to react to the success of our products by introducing better-for-the-world products of their own.
But hold on. While we celebrate an industry shifting, it’s important to note that greenwashing is more prevalent than ever in this industry.
We probably shouldn’t have been surprised by this but still, the level of greenwashing that we’ve seen flood into this space over the past decade has been disheartening. Today, every major hair accessory brand has their “planet” line but if you delve beyond the proverbial apple skin, you realize that many of those claims are only that deep.
Being planet-friendly is about so much more than replacing synthetic materials and calling it a day. It’s about uplifting and protecting workers, encouraging organic farming, dyes that don’t harm waterways, removing plastics from supply chains, and building better products that last. And not all natural rubber is made equally. Rubber is a cause of major deforestation in Asia and is why we choose to only use Fair Rubber Association certified rubber from FSC certified plantations.
So while an industry like ours changing is a good thing, we strongly encourage you as consumers to ask questions and validate claims so that you’re supporting the true changemakers, and not those just looking to sell more by slapping a trendy word on the packaging.
- What's next on your horizon and any exciting plans?
Life has never been so expensive. We know - we have a young family, a small business, and money is very tight. While we know the value we offer with our hair accessories is great, we are constantly innovating in a way that allows us to bring our prices down without compromising on our values. We understand that this is the ultimate path to making plastic-free hair accessories the norm, not the exception.
We're working on projects and efficiencies right now that will hopefully bring our costs down before long. This, in turn, benefits everyone as truly responsible hair accessories become that much more affordable, and therefore accessible.
We want to see a future in which a compostable hair tie is the only hair tie available and we believe that given the runway and customer support, we have the R&D tailwind to get there.
- What’s one of the best pieces of advice that you’ve received (either personally or professionally)?
Early on a mentor of ours said something in passing that we latched on to as a mantra with our business: “simple is hard enough”.
You’d think making a small product like a hair tie is simple, and in a way, you’re not wrong. But making a hair tie the responsible way, well, that’s one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. Convincing suppliers to create new materials for us, finding fair trade certifiers for every ingredient, testing thousands of concepts to get a product that’s on average 2-6 times stronger than any competitor, visiting dye houses to see their water testing results before returning waters to local waterways, and the list goes on.
So today when looking at an innovation, life choice, or new product we always return first to that simple mantra, “simple is hard enough”, because it keeps us focused on our goal while limiting the detours that the human brain so loves to introduce.
- For something a little fun. If you had a magic genie and were granted three wishes, what would they be? Or if you were stranded on a deserted island and you could have only 1 3 items, what would they be? (How could you possibly pick just one?).
Magic Genie, let’s make this world better:
- Make consciously-created, environmentally responsible, and socially uplifting products the norm, not the exception.
- Let society’s greatest accolades and rewards go to teachers, healthcare workers, small business changemakers, and all those striving every day to make our world better, rather than to the bankers, politicians, and profiteers who covet power to the detriment of people and planet.
- Allow humans to always see what bonds us, rather than what is different about us, so that we may work together to overcome our planet’s biggest challenges.
- What’s one thing we’d find on your bucket list?
Travel the world with our children to volunteer, learn languages, and learn ways in which we can together contribute to a brighter future.
- What’s one of your best health and wellness tips?
Do something that brings you joy every day. You watch a child and their motivator to do something is almost always the joy they’ll derive from it. For many adults, making time for joy in a world that demands so much of you can seem like a nuissance; however, that joy, however small, is fuel that makes everything else worthwhile. So whatever brings you joy, arrange your life to make sure there’s room for it because your life will be immeasurably better for it.
See for yourself why these gorgeous, fully biodegradable hair accessories are always a best seller here at First Ray! Just try and stop your customers from buying them up with values like these:
- GOTS certified cotton
- Fairtrade certified
- Plastic free AND zero waste
- FSC certified Rubber
- Zero nasties
Shop Kooshoo plastic free hair ties today, and help support the countless communities and social enterprises that Jesse and Rachel work so closely with. If you haven't already, simply create a wholesale account and get shopping!
And check out our marketing and assets hub, equiped with all the images, copy and videos you need to easily promote Kooshoo to your customers!