Published: February 20, 2021 Updated: March 27, 2023 8 min read
One of the things brands often forget to design and have made are all of their labels and tags. They become so wrapped up in making their products perfect they forget about the little details. Then, at the final hour, they quickly rush something to the printers to be hastily made and applied to their first production order. Don't make this mistake. The same care you take into designing a conscious product should also be taken for your labels and packaging. Plan all your paper products from the start of your design process. And, even better, focus on creating eco friendly tags for a more holistic and sustainable end product.
When we talk about sustainable tags we need to focus on three things. These three things are the materials used to make them, the way they are printed, and how they are being attached to the garment.
There is one more bonus thing I like to think about also, and that is preventing sustainable hang tags from ending up in the garbage. That challenge is a little more difficult, but if you are feeling creative, it can actually be a lot of fun, and something that adds value to your final product.
Before I jump into the different types of eco friendly hang tags you can use on your garment, remember this - Everyone's version of sustainability is not the same. If you are doing your best, and what is right for your brand, then yes, you are doing enough.
Try not to think about these options as a hierarchy of sustainability. But instead take into account your brand, what you make, and even where you make it.
For example, if your garments are made in Bali, but you want to import tags from Delhi, India - well that might not be as sustainable as using a local Bali option.
Using recycled paper is usually the most obvious option for brands. And, at this point, almost all suppliers offer some type of recycled paper. Which, is great.
But, I am going to take recycled paper one step further. Have you ever heard of khadi paper?
I know I talk about khadi fabric all the time - because I love it for so many reasons. From the jobs, it creates, to the fact that everything is done by hand and very low impact on the planet, to the super luxurious fabric it creates. I am team khadi. But, did you know that there is also khadi paper?
Khadi paper is made by using old paper, blending it into a paste, and then pressing it into new paper. Kind of like the art project many of us did in elementary school with newspaper.
But, unlike our chunky grey sludge paper, khadi paper is actually really pretty. It can be naturally dyed in a variety of colors. And, some artisans even press dried flowers into them to create something extra special.
I actually had my business cards custom printed on pressed flower khadi paper because I loved it so much. There are artisans all over India that make this paper, and a quick google search should point you in the right direction. If you are one of my clients, email me, and I will give you my personal supplier in Ahmedabad, Gujarat who is amazing and ethically employs local women.
FSC is a certification that is gaining more and more popularity in fashion. Especially in the rayon conversation. FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council. They basically run a certification that proves that the wood that was used to make products was sustainably and ethically sourced. While this is a great thing to look into for all your paper products like sustainable hang tags, and even packaging and boxes, I think this certification is going to become increasingly important for rayons.
I know rayons are a little off-topic here, but you know how I love giving too much information sometimes. If you are interested in learning more about FSC rayon you can check their site here.
More and more factories are trying to figure out what to do with all the teeny tiny fabric scraps left on the cutting room floor. And, making them into paper for eco friendly hang tags and packaging options is becoming more and more popular.
But, like with many things in the fashion industry, this "new" industry hype is kind of already old news. That is because money has been printed with cotton for a really long time. Listen to this -
"All U.S. money has been printed on the same kind of cotton-blend paper since the late 1800s. And Crane, a Boston-based company, has been the go-to source of this paper for more than one hundred years.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, dollar bills are made with paper that is 75% cotton and 25% linen. About 30% of the cotton Crane mixed into its currency paper used to come from denim scraps from the garment industry, Jerry Rudd, the company's managing director of global sourcing, told the Washington Post. The rest, he said, was from other discarded textiles."
I think that is pretty cool. Most of us are using recycled denim jeans to pay for our morning cup of coffee and we didn't even know it . Maybe we are all greener than we thought ;)
Sometimes the best solution is the easiest. You can skip the process of breaking down fabric scraps and turning them into paper, and instead, just use the fabric to make eco friendly tags. Why not try using a cloth hang tag with your company information printed or stamped (or if you are working with me in Jaipur, hand block printed) onto it?
This type of look can give your brand more of an eclectic bohemian vibe. And, if you are spending the time to source organic cotton textiles or recycled polyester for your garments why not re-use those ($$$) fabric scraps in other places?
I personally love seed paper. I think it is a lot of fun. For those of you that are not familiar with seed paper, basically, it's paper that has plant seeds pressed into it. When you are done with the paper, you can plant it outside and flowers or trees will grow! It is as simple as that.
If you are going to use seed paper, something to keep in mind is the types of inks that you print with (I will talk more about this in a minute). If the paper is going to go into the earth and biodegrade, then you definitely don't want toxic inks that can lead to groundwater contamination. So, make sure to choose an earth-friendly, non-toxic dye when printing.
This one makes me laugh. People are making paper out of animal poop.
That's definitely one way to re-use waste.
Elephant and panda are two of the most common animals used for this type of paper.
The paper comes in a variety of colors and has a bit more of a craft feel, kind of like construction paper. The bonuses are that the paper is tree-free, chemical-free, and hand-crafted.
I don't see many brands using this type of paper, so if you are looking for something unique maybe poo is for you and your eco friendly tags.
What is wheat straw? Wheat straw is basically the stalk of the wheat plant. Because it is not food, traditionally it has been considered waste. But, now some companies are using it to make paper.
And, the material is gaining popularity. In the United States Columbia Pulp has created a $250 million straw pulp mill in Washington! They claim to use 70 percent less energy and 75 percent less water than conventional wood pulp mills!
This is the dry pulp that is left after the extraction of juice from sugar cane. Historically it has been used as fuel for electricity generators. But, now people are also making paper out of it.
If you are looking for a non-wood source of paper, that upcycles waste, I would definitely check out this underutilized paper product for eco friendly hang tags.
Remember it's reduce, reuse, then recycle. So, how about reusing paper?
You can use paper that already exists and is a "waste". How cool would it be to have sustainable hang tags that are made of old vintage maps, playing cards, or greeting cards?
This look gives your sustainable clothing tags a one-of-a-kind custom feel. And, creates small unique details that could help generate buzz about your line.
The reality is that a majority of the printing inks we use are toxic, and they probably should not end up back in the earth. So, when you are designing your eco tags, keep that in mind. And, make sure to choose your inks accordingly.
Have you heard of Air Ink? It's pretty cool. And, they are originally from Delhi, India - so you know I love to support this company.
Straight from their website "We upcycle air pollution into sustainable inks, paints, coatings, plastics and construction materials"
You can even use their air pollution ink to print on apparel! If you haven't heard of them already. I definitely recommend checking them out.
I know Jaipur is known for block-printed fabric, but did you know that you can also block print paper? One of my favorite local companies for hand block printed paper products is Pink Artisans run by a lovely husband and wife team.
Their paper products are very elevated, and make the unboxing experience feel really special.
As a bonus, Jaipur as a city is very conscious about the chemical dyes that are used in communities. That is why many artisans opt for plant-based or low toxin options.
After you pick your sustainable hang tag material. The next thing you have to think about is how it is going to be attached to the garment.
Usually, there is a safety pin that will attach the tag to the garment. If you really care about where all of your materials are coming from you might want to use upcycled metals, or even go as far as to ensure that the alloys that you are using were mined ethically.
Disclaimer - tracing metal origins can be extremely difficult and can require a lot of detective work.
Or, sometimes the sustainable hang tag is attached directly to the brand's woven labels on the back of the garment. There are so many options here from plant-based to upcycled factory scraps.
Here is one of my favorite ideas that I am loving right now. Using the hang tag cord as a free bracelet that can be re-used and worn by the consumer!
Speaking about consumer end-use - can you think of ways your paper products can be re-used by the customer? Maybe the back has a really cool print design and can be used as a coaster. Or, maybe you can fold it up into origami. Maybe your boxes can become draw organizers?
Think about creative ways your customers can use your paper products to not have them end up in the garbage.
I know custom hang tags are the last thing anyone usually thinks about. But, I hope this was helpful and got you thinking about things that might otherwise fly under the radar. Keep your eye on the blog because I will be sharing new posts about stickers and garment tags soon!
And, as usual please leave your thoughts in the comments section!
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I have spent over a decade living and working in fashion factories, seeing firsthand how clothing is made.
And now, I want to share with you everything I know. To help you navigate supply chains, and launch your own conscious clothing brand.
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