Have you seen the difference between a parcel from Amazon and a parcel from, say, an Etsy seller? The difference is story - handwritten notes, pieces of lavender, layers of carefully wrapped tissue paper...
That's why I love to work with ethical businesses, which are often run by just one or two people. Some are bigger than Authentic House, some around our size or a little smaller. Authentic House is just me too, so really we're very similar.
And when you get a parcel in the post from one of these businesses, all those extra details give away something about the people who packed it. When I pack your parcel, I love it and yet will go agonising about all the little details even down to where I write a 'thank you!' above a last piece of paper tape.
So this week I wanted to give you a little view into how your box came to be. Let's look at the August box. And, if you ever wanted to set up a subscription box of your own, this is how I go about it:
I've been lucky in my first months as I haven't had to go far to find great people to work with.
A while back in May, when the Home Box was an idea in my head, I tested it with a lovely online group of ethical businesses and bloggers called Ethical Hour.
And that was how I met Jo and Maria:
Now this was only my second box, but when I choose the products that go in, I tend to ask myself:
Would I want it in my home?
Are you definitely going to use it?
Is it going to clutter your home up?
Will you like it, no matter your taste?
Is it good value for you?
With Jo's business, BUFF Natural Body Care, I had my eye on a box set of all Jo's body oil blends in little glass bottles. I thought one or two would be something for you to enjoy in the heat wave we had, to moisturise again after days out under the sun.
From the very beginning, Maria from Cassiopeia Knit Designs wanted to share with you her handmade makeup pads. I'd wanted to feature reusables like these since the start, so this was a great moment and Maria's are particularly beautiful because she crochets each herself.
Not my favourite part! By the time I'm chatting away down the phone with founders about all our highs and lows running a small business, it's often a little uncomfortable to talk about budgets.
If you ever had a mainstream beauty box like a Birchbox or LookFantastic, you might not realise they actually don't pay anything for their products. Companies give them free for the publicity, which means smaller businesses often can't manage the scale.
So, you might be thinking, how does it work with Authentic House? After all, we work with lots of small businesses - I've been planning ahead this week and the line-up is growing!
We reimburse the businesses we work with for the materials and basic costs of making your products. That means founders don't lose out and you can try eco-friendly products worth equal to or more than the value of your box. If you want to make it extra worth their while, go back to the contributors you love when you need a refill.
The theme for this month was an easy one - sustainable self care. Jo and Maria's body oils and makeup pads were an easy pairing and the resolutions I chose had been inspired by the small changes I'd been making in my own bathroom.
It's not news at all that sustainable living is a learning process. My partner Daniel and I had been trying out new products like a wooden toothbrush, solid soap and solid shampoo, and I'd bought a menstrual cup. A couple of months later, it was brilliant to see we had barely created any bathroom waste at all! So that's where 'look inside your bathroom bin' came as a resolution.
The second resolution, 'give a regular purchase to an ethical business', was as a result of the stories I'd heard so far from Jo and Maria, and Debbie and Lisa before them. Starting an ethical business is a leap of faith and you need people there to support you - financially and emotionally it makes all the difference.
This great paragraph sums it up:
What a lot of controversy there is around subscription boxes! Packaging arriving every month... All that waste...
From the very start I didn't want us to be like that. We pay nearly double the price on usual packaging to get our boxes, tissue and brown paper made from recycled materials. One thing we found when doing our initial research in June was that not every reputable company knows where their paper pulp comes from.
I loved discovering paper tape - it's eco-friendly sellotape. I do recommend it if you send a lot of parcels or for gifts. The advantage is it's completely biodegradable.
Our stickers are too - I've seen what happens when water hits them by accident (!) The disadvantage with the stickers though is that they come on a film that does look like it's plastic coated. I haven't yet found an alternative, though I'm still looking. Sometimes, when I get a spare sticker, I'll recycle it with a bit of pritt stick to extend its life.
An idea came to my head in July, when I saw my mum's Home Box knocking around the house and offered to refill it for her. I thought, it's probably going to be the case for subscribers too, and our boxes seemed durable enough to last quite a few times through the post.
So this month, you might have noticed each box has a label in the lid with our 'Box Challenge'. All you have to do is save up your boxes flat and send them to me when you have ten. I'll give you an extra treat in the next box to say thank you - and genuinely thank you to everyone who's started saving. My dream is not to have to send out any new boxes at all - that would be truly zero waste.
If your brown paper packaging does look a bit crinkly, or has the odd hole in it, that's because I'm reusing old packaging from before to wrap boxes. At times I've had my worries - we're so used to new, spotless packaging in life, but I concluded that if someone breaks this norm, it should be Authentic House.
And if you did get a bit more packaging than usual this month, it's because the bottles inside the August box are made of glass. I didn't want to risk them breaking in the post! Again, though that's all reused. I hope you'll reuse it again or send it back to me.
Each month I spend an hour or so on the phone with each box contributor, getting to the bottom of their story. I always wanted it to be a little like a magazine interview, telling how people got to doing work that is inspirational - because creating an ethical business really is!
They were wonderful stories this month. Maria's was about a heartbreak and bouncing back after being jilted at the altar to meet great people over knitting sessions. Jo's started with the influence of her mother and essential oils in childhood, to becoming a single mother herself and realising a life dream. If you haven't yet, you can read Maria's story and Jo's story here.
My bit of fun. In July's box I felt I hadn't had enough space to share the story of the box with you. For August, then, I dabbled with an open source software called Inkscape to design a simple magazine that you could enjoy reading and flicking through.
The idea I had for the visuals, which I'm going to enjoy carrying on this year, is to take all the items and bits of foliage I associate with the month and photograph it on white paper. It was a complete experiment this time with the bouquets my mum gathers from the allotment!
Here's my littlest sister Emilia helping me out with the arrangements. She also donated some sea shells for the background in Jo's article and her knitting for Maria's:
I've managed to order only the exact amount of magazines I need for the month (I keep them very carefully!) and they're printed on paper from sustainable forests. Ideally though, I'd like to get rid of the default silk finish to make them more biodegradable. It's a work in progress.
The number of boxes I need to pack grows each month - and that's a good thing! So I'll dedicate certain evenings to pure packing, listening to my new favourite podcast Sustainababble. I never thought I'd be giggling away to sustainability jokes, but honestly this one is addictive!
I always loved wrapping gifts, so maybe that goes into how I wrap parcels. Each one takes me quite a while and in the future I'm thinking about block printing the brown paper with colourful designs or creating special gift boxes wrapped in a beeswax wrap. Let me know if there's anything you'd like to see.
Which goes into:
I've been lucky with great feedback from many of you and constructive suggestions from my mum who keeps the quality high - of course she was my first subscriber.
Honestly though, let me know what you think, what you like best and what you'd like me to change or stop doing. My email is email@example.com. I'd love it if you got in touch.
Phew! So that is how our August box was made. And I never quite realised until I started, that running the Home Box subscription would be a logistical feat. The minute one month begins, I'm already planning the next month. September's box is on it's way soon.
For all those with an August box, hope you're enjoying it. And have a lovely weekend!