On packaging | with Alex Higgs07.10.2021
Q: Tell me a little about what you do.
A: I’m the ‘make-it man’. I came to Namsû through Two Times Elliott as I’d worked on a number of clients with them. I started off as a standard supplier route (although I don’t own factories) but I’ve always worked ‘cheek-by-jowl’ with factories here in Europe and in China. I was working for a packaging company and then because of the pandemic, I was kind of forced to re-evaluate what I do as everything shut down for a while. I was already running a packaging consultancy so I thought I’d go full force with that. I saw these disruptive, self-start, new entrepreneurs were coming to the fore in personal care that really need help. They’re usually a small team that’s created their own brand but then I come in when they need the packaging help. I can help them find what’s going to be cost-effective, or sustainable, or even both. So essentially, I’m a procurement specialist.
Q: So are you ever involved in the design process at all?
A: Well there’s a bit of a feedback loop. I think that despite the fact that it’s a similar model, the creative design world and the actual manufacturing worlds are very different and they both have their challenges. I like to think I’m good at bridging that gap and I always encourage brands to come to me as early as they can so I can understand their vision.
Q: Can you tell me about your work so far with Namsû?
A: Well I think that evolved quite quickly. There was definitely some clear vision on the primary packaging straight away and probably the secondary element needed fleshing out. Some of the initial ideas just didn’t work from a manufacturing point of view or a cost perspective. I think Namsû has been the most comprehensive project for me because I’ve been there start to finish really.
Q: And tell me a little about the final product for Namsû.
A: So, you’ve got your permanent case which sits on the shelf in the bathroom. Then what follows are these bottles with a lid that are the ‘refillables’. It’s a cartridge system essentially, and you’ve got a pump which you keep (and which we would replace if needs be). All the refills are kerbside recycled.
Q: And the bottles are plastic?
A: Well, this is where Namsû are different, as they’ve really turned the mirror back on the anti-plastic brigade, who believe that everything entirely must be plastic free. Well intrinsically, a product like this without plastic isn’t impossible, it might be glass. But this case, it’s plastic and it will last forever. The pump will last three or four years, and the guys at Namsû have an implementation for recycling the pumps. SO you can send your pump back, and it’s infinitely recycled. There is nothing in the chain that isn’t sustainable, but many would baulk because it’s plastic. Which is why Namsû have been very brave. Plastic is a phenomenal material and if you use it in the right way it will be brilliant at what it does.
Q: In your experience is this ‘bravery’ what is setting Namsû apart?
A: Yes. I’ve got an issue with another client at the moment who wants everything in aluminium tubes, but the problem is, they need a pump. Well they’re staunchly a plastic-free brand, but to be honest the non-plastic pumps are not effective and they break. The metal pumps have all got plastic cores and components in them anyway. I think this is where the market is spinning back a little. As long as we’re not looking at single use plastic then it’s a good material and we don’t need to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ so to speak. Namsû have really considered everything, including offsetting the carbon emissions for the manufacturer.
Q: Is sustainability a key factor for new clients now would you say?
A: Completely. The sustainability message or environmental impact will always come up in every meeting. Of course with the pandemic, the whole packaging industry has pivoted as it has had a drastic impact on cardboard supply and timelines.
Q: In terms of Namsû, what other considerations were there aside from sustainability?
A: I think premium-ising it was key. Initially, we started thinking about a ‘gift-box’ kind of idea, you know which might sit on a shelf in Selfridges or Harrods. But obviously that is far less prevalent now because most of the retail spaces are online, particularly for these kind of products. I’ve seen end-users complain about the amount of packaging; essentially with all the boxes and ‘unpacking materials’, it’s just going to end up in the recycling bin. So we pared it back. I think it translated really well; it’s very premium because of the small details, not the big rigid boxes. It’s the special finishes and knowing how to work with the right materials.
Q: Would you say then that it’s more the shopping experience that has changed packaging rather than sustainability?
A: Well they work hand in in hand. It’s not a product sitting on the shelf comparing itself with 50 other products, it comes through the door, direct to you. The more personal you can get, the better, whether that’s a handwritten or a ceramic tablet with the fragrance infused. That kind of thing. It’s much more engaging.