What’s the story behind KOOSHOO?
As with so much in life, when you connect the dots later on it’s evident that you were being led to a particular path all along. Our (Rachel and Jesse, married founders of KOOSHOO) tale below is just one of the many dots that led us to this business.
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.
Rachel was born and raised on a tiny, incredibly remote speck (Norfolk Island) in the south pacific that depends largely on subsistence living. It’s a place that is inherently sustainable and it’s where KOOSHOO is headquartered today. In our local language of Norf’k the word kooshoo means ‘feeling good’. When creating a company intended to uplift people and planet at every turn, it was all too easy to name the company after the word that summed up how we wanted people to feel when interacting with our products: feeling good.
As the first plastic-free hair tie, what is one thing that has surprised you about your journey to success?
Every single commercially-made hair tie you’ve ever owned before KOOSHOO was made of plastic. And when you stop to think about how long it takes for plastic to break down - even then leaving micro plastics - you realize that even the hair ties you may have worn as a child still exist somewhere. Sad to say but those little ties will outlive us all.
By our conservative estimates, 15 million plastic hair ties are lost/tossed daily in the USA alone. That’s like driving a city bus of plastic into landfill daily just to keep strays out of our faces.
And so when we started we actually set a goal of encouraging copycats. To us, success was changing an entire tired industry and that’s exactly what has been happening.
Well, kind of.
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. When we launched in 2012 we were the first and only plastic-free hair accessories brand advocating for our planet and people. 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 are simple ways planet-loving humans can join the plastic-free movement and minimize plastic use this July and beyond?
Reframe the concept of value.
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 North America we tend to ascribe good-value in our goods to low-cost and/or high-volume. The hair tie industry is a perfect example of this. The industry is in a race to create larger and larger pack sizes for less and less cost.
Not bad for consumers in theory, right? But what if that way of looking at value is not the only way?
We manufacture our products with two incredible partners - a social-good facility owned/operated by Nuns in India, and a 4th generation hair accessory family business in Japan. On a recent trip to visit our partner in Japan we were provided an overview of the local hair accessory industry. Can you guess the average pack size for hair ties in Japan? It’s 2. 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 in North America care of fast fashion and the aforementioned race for high volume, low cost goods.
We know the price the CVS-brands get their hair ties for in China. And we can tell you with 100% certainty the only way that price is achievable is if corners are cut - plenty 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 while the cost/volume is good value for you 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 we can say with certainty that our margins at our cost are less than the margins of the cutting-corners brands. We know hair ties can only be sold for so much so we absorb much of the above into our margin in order to make the ties as affordable as possible right now.
We use a hair tie as an example here but really, every product you’ll find at Hive is an example of real value for money. And as our grandparents can attest, when you purchase something designed to last, not only does it last, you also need less.
What is a solution to the plastic problem you're excited about?
Sticking to the realm we know best, we are most excited about textile innovations that will ultimately remove petro-chemical based fabrics (plastics) from the vast majority of clothing.
To this day, the single biggest challenge in the athletic apparel industry is that there is no natural substitute for spandex. This means that any fabric that has real stretch will also shed microplastics. Think yoga pants, stretchy jeans, headbands and more.
But we can see the innovation coming. There’s a company in Italy now creating stretch jeans with a superfine natural rubber fiber, rather than a synthetic spandex fibre. And there’s incredible promise from all sorts of other materials, with fungi presenting perhaps the biggest opportunity for natural textiles that stretch.
And the way to bring this about quicker is to both demand it, and support it. Push the brands you love most - email and/or call them (it works!) - and ask for more responsible materials. Where there is a demand, businesses and innovations follow. It’s ultimately consumers that will change the fashion industry and removing micro-plastics will be a gamechanger for our planet. And who really wants to wear tight pants made from plastic bottles when you stop to think about it?
What’s next on the horizon for KOOSHOO or what do you hope to do next?
Life is expensive. We have a young family and money is tight. While we believe the value we offer with our hair accessories is great, we still do want to continue 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.
Tell us about one thing on your mind right now either environmentally, socially, etc.
We’ve been selling hair accessories for 11 years now and times have, for the most part, been good. Inspired retail partners and brands globally were popping up daily with mission statements to uplift both their local communities and the planet.
But in the past 12 months, that’s changed. Recession is not the word the economic experts are using but in the wellness space, that’s exactly what’s happening. In the past year we’ve seen at least a dozen once-strong retail partners and wellness brands have to close their doors because sales are way down.
And we get it, between inflation and interest rates, life has gotten insanely expensive. And for many, that’s meant going back to conventional over ethical, mass over niche, plastic over planet.
And so our ask here is that if you can afford it, please support small businesses like Hive, KOOSHOO, or any number of the other incredible makers you’ll find on the Hive site. And even if money doesn’t allow right now, your words, recommendations, and influence are incredibly powerful when it comes to sharing with others the stories of these brands so committed to upliftment.
Small business is the backbone of our communities, and almost always the drivers of positive change in our industries. We can’t emphasize this enough: your support of small business really does make a massive difference. And chances are, when you do place an order with said small business, a very real person on the other side is doing a little happy dance! We most definitely are.
Want to explore more from KOOSHOO? Check out their plastic-free hair ties and scrunchies here.