As we all know, Christmas can be a time of massive waste, with piles of used wrapping paper, toy packaging and the remnants of Christmas crackers and their cheap, plastic toys heading to landfill. New Zealand company Waste-Free Celebrations has come to the rescue with a range of waste-free solutions for Christmas. Along with their gorgeous, reusable Christmas gift bags, they have designed and created beautiful packs of handmade, reusable crackers that can be stored away to be loaded again year after year. You can either fill them yourself or purchase one of their filler packs, which includes carefully curated, NZ-made items from small businesses, jokes printed on craft paper and even snaps for that authentic cracker-pulling sound. Their reusable cotton crowns add the finishing touch to their beautiful, handmade, patent-pending “Re-Crackers”. Founder Emma Sutcliffe talks to The Natural Parent Magazine about the inspiration behind Waste-Free Celebrations and their business story so far.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
In August 2020, my husband and I were both unemployed due to Covid. There were no jobs here in Wanaka, so I decided to “use what I have in my hands”, which was a sewing machine and an idea.
I had made tonnes of bags years ago for my family and extended family. I was sick of wrapping for 5 kids and hated the waste. I tried wrapping in fabric the first year but that took longer than paper so whilst it reduced waste, it didn’t reduce time/stress. When I gave out my bags, everyone loved them. It was a comment from my niece that I should make bags to sell at Wanaka’s Sunday market that launched the idea.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
I bought 100m of fabric and a few spools of ribbon and made some bags up. I also baked a few hundred construction grade gingerbread ornaments as a biodegradable option for decorating your Christmas Tree. I made my own website, which was very basic, and photographed everything on my phone. It was total amateur but it hit the right note. After one market day and 12 hours online, I had sold out. But, stupidly, I hadn’t set an inventory level online – it never occurred to me that I would over sell. But I woke up the next morning to orders from hundreds of customers with no product to send them. Mild panic set in. I ordered more fabric and did a shoutout on Facebook for more sewing staff to help get through the orders. Within 2 weeks, I had 12 women sewing for me.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
The biggest innovation is our patent-pending reusable cracker. After I launched the bags, there were many copycats who popped up and completely plagiarised my product (right down to the size of the bags, names, set composition and photography). I needed to do something they couldn’t copy, that we could own and grow.
I tried every reusable cracker pattern on the internet. There are a plethora of napkins on toilet rolls – lots of options that don’t pull apart, or don’t pop… nothing functioned like a proper cracker. It needed to pull apart with tension, go off with a bang, smell like explosives, contain a crown a joke and a mini novelty. Anything short of that was not a proper substitute for a cracker. It also needed to be durable for decades and washable – plus it had to be quick to make as so many crafter patterns take half an hour to sew a single cracker. You’ll never make money like that. I had my aha moment when I was playing with thick cardboard tubes that run through bolts of fabric. I noticed that one fitted very tightly inside the other. My husband got out the hacksaw to chop it to size and I fiddled with a removable sleeve design. I slid the sleeve over the tubes and pushed them together then asked my husband to pull. We fought and struggled to pull them apart – just like a disposable cracker. At that point, I just looked at him and said, “I think I’ve done it”.
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
I don’t! A new business that sucks all your money is a total energy drainer. When you invest heavily in something, you need it to work, so 2021 has been head down, bum up. Balance is something we will aim for next year now that the ground work is done, the mistakes have been made and the systems set up.
I want to raise my daughters with a working mother. I think it sets a good example for what they are to expect in life. I want them to see us work hard, invest, and make something grow. I was raised very traditionally to be a “50’s housewife” and I don’t think it did me any favours. You’ve got to get off your arse and make life happen yourself.