Saving our planet; one bag at a time

February 10, 2009

Refashion is a great concept. Kind of cradle to grave to cradle…

Ever imagined them yucky plastic bags could become fashionable and eco-friendly?

An exhibit held last month at an LA store featured one-of-a-kind dresses made from plastic bags and other recyclable materials, designed by local L.A. artists.

Reusing plastic grocery bags and other material like cardboard, mussel shells, string, burlap fabric, wire and Christmas lights, the designers created pieces to demonstrate “how a mundane object, often used as a trash receptacle, can create stylized, eye-catching, inspiring creations.”

The world over, plastic is going out of fashion. Several cities are bringing in legislations restricting the use of plastic and eco-friendly initiatives are garnering attention.

We at Norquest are also doing our bit in this direction. See

Green is “in” and you too can be part of the growing bandwagon of eco-conscious citizens. Get yourself a reusable bag to start with and you’ll be doing a lot towards saving the environment.

February 3, 2009

Perception IS reality. Good guys DO finish first.

People judge you by what you do, not what you say.

Close your eyes for a moment. Now think of Rolls Royce. Or Mercedes, or Nike, or Toyota.

Each of these names evokes very clear thoughts, feelings, and images. They all have a strong corporate identity, or brand, associated with their name, and it is no accident. These companies have spent a lot of money getting you to conjure up specific images and feelings when you think about their business.

So the idea of creating a brand for your business is really quite important. While it might seem that creating a brand is beyond your reach, that branding is a concept for the “Big Boys,” think again. Branding is something you can, and must, do too.

Now think of your favorite hairdresser, or restaurant. Chances are that the images are equally clear. That’s what makes them your favorites. They know what they are all about and have taken the trouble to make sure that you share the same perception.

What this proves is that you don’t have to be a big multinational to build a successful brand.

Here’s why: Boiled down to its basics, a brand is the essence of what makes your business unique. It combines your name, logo, and purpose into an identifiable whole. Are you the friendly lawyer, the holistic market, the geeky computer consultant, or what? Without a brand, you may find that instead of being all things to all people, you are nothing to no one. A brand is a hook to hang your hat on, so that people remember you, which is probably more important to a small business than anyone else.

You begin to create a brand by carefully thinking about what your business is, what makes it unique, who your customers are, and what it is they want. Deciding upon a brand is vital because many other decisions will hinge on this one. Your name, logo, slogan, even the location you choose and your pricing structure depend on the brand you are trying to create. A discount motorcycle warehouse will put things together far differently than a Harley showroom.

You want to create a consistent theme through your ads, pricing, logo, etc. which reinforces the image you intend to create.

But branding goes even beyond that. Since your brand is based both on how you want to be perceived, and how you are in fact perceived, it follows that the other half of brand building is creating positive perceptions based on substance as well as style. How?

1. Discover what you do best and do it, again, and again, and again: A brand is a promise which essentially boils down to: ‘If you buy from us, and you know what you will be getting’ e.g., Volvos are safe or Atkins helps you lose weight. The key is consistency.

2. Offer superior customer service: All your hard work creating that cool brand will be a waste of time and money if it isn’t reinforced by happy customers. Customers should find it easy to work with you or buy from you.

3. Be a good guy: If your business practices good ethics, your brand grows. While good looks may get you a date, being a good guy will get you a mate. Pay invoices on time. Do more than asked of you. Do things when not asked. Help out in the community. That also builds your brand.

Remember, the two keys to establishing a strong brand are developing a specific identity, and then communicating that identity consistently. Do that, and your small business will have a hook that is memorable.

In today’s world when plastics are now perceived universally as being harmful, using a reusable cotton or a canvas bag to promote your brand immediately positions you as being a good company that cares about its environment.

Wouldn’t that be expensive? Stop by at and see how economical they can be.

Remember that bags have been proven to be the best bang for your promotional buck. Read this research to know what great value they can deliver.

Reusable bags go to the Academy Awards this year

The red carpet at the Academy Awards is going a little green this year. A reusable dry cleaning garment bag by Chicago-based Dry Greening will be the official “swag bag” for one of the Oscar after parties.

It marks the first time ever that a dry cleaning accessory will be featured in the gifting lounge at one of the premier Oscar after parties.

The bag on offer is a reusable dry cleaning bag that is both a tote for dirty clothes being brought to the cleaners and a hanging garment bag for clean clothes being picked up from the cleaners. The water-repellant non-woven design is made from 100 percent recycled content.

“I thought if people were willing to bring reusable shopping bags to grocery stores, then why not the dry cleaners,” says Ann Foley, president of Dry Greening and creator of the bag.

The bag will be part of the official Billboard Magazine/Children Uniting Nations Oscar After-Party Gifting Lounge and would be used as a “swag bag” for celebs to store other items they choose from the Gifting Lounge.

“A number of celebrities are very passionate about the environment, so the sponsors knew this bag would be a big hit with them,” says Foley. “Also, the Dry Greening bag is a very different type of gift because it’s more than just a bag; it’s about promoting a greener lifestyle.”

Celebs going green is great news. Many people follow what they do.

Amazing fact: There are still people who think plastic bags are okay

Over one billion single-use plastic bags are given out for free each day. Free? The term is misleading. To understand the real costs, we must consider the “cradle to grave” multiple impacts and the effects of each phase of a bag’s life.

Phase 1: Production Costs

* The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both non-renewable resources that increase our dependency on foreign suppliers. Additionally, prospecting and drilling for these resources contributes to the destruction of fragile habitats and ecosystems around the world.

* The toxic chemical ingredients needed to make plastic produces pollution during the manufacturing process.

* The energy needed to manufacture and transport disposable bags eats up more resources and creates global warming emissions.
Phase 2: Consumption Costs

* Annual cost to US retailers alone is estimated at $4 billion.

* When retailers give away free bags, their costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Phase 3: Disposal and Litter Costs

* Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Turtles think the bags are jellyfish, their primary food source. Once swallowed, plastic bags choke animals or block their intestines, leading to an agonizing death.

* On land, many cows, goats and other animals suffer a similar fate to marine life when they accidentally ingest plastic bags while foraging for food.

* In a landfill, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade. As litter, they breakdown into tiny bits, contaminating our soil and water.

* When plastic bags breakdown, small plastic particles can pose threats to marine life and contaminate the food web. A 2001 paper by Japanese researchers reported that plastic debris acts like a sponge for toxic chemicals, soaking up a million fold greater concentration of such deadly compounds as PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product of the notorious insecticide DDT), than the surrounding seawater. These turn into toxic gut bombs for marine animals which frequently mistake these bits for food.

* Collection, hauling and disposal of plastic bag waste create an additional environmental impact. An estimated 8 billion pounds of plastic bags, wraps and sacks enter the waste stream every year in the US alone, putting an unnecessary burden on our diminishing landfill space and causing air pollution if incinerated

Recycling is not the solution to the plastic bag problem, either.

Recycling rates for plastic bags are extremely low. Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags end up getting recycled.

In addition, economics of recycling plastic bags are not appealing. From the process of sorting, to the contamination of inks and the overall low quality of the plastic used in plastics bags, recyclers would much rather focus on recycling the vast quantities of more viable materials such as soda and milk bottles that can be recycled far more efficiently. If the economics don’t work, recycling efforts don’t work.

For example, it costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32 (Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment as reported by Christian Science Monitor).

Furthermore many bags collected for recycling never get recycled. A growing trend is to ship them to Third world countries like India and China which are rapidly becoming the dumping grounds for the Western world’s glut of recyclables. Rather than being recycled they are cheaply incinerated under more lax environmental laws.

Even if recycling rates of plastic bags increase dramatically, it doesn’t solve other significant problems, such as the use of non-renewable resources and toxic chemicals in their original production, or the billions of bags that wind up in our environment each year that eventually breakdown into tiny toxic bits.

Using a reusable cloth bag is so much more sensible!

January 31, 2009

Research proves that promo bags give you the best bang for your advertsing buck!

According to a new research study conducted by the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), among businesspeople over age 21, revealed that advertising specialties beat out all forms of TV, radio and print advertising as the most cost-effective advertising medium available. The average cost-per-impression of an advertising specialty item is $0.004, making it less expensive per impression than nearly any other media. According to Nielsen Media data, says the report, the CPI for a national magazine ad is $0.033; a newspaper ad is $0.0129; a prime time TV ad is $0.019; a cable TV ad is $0.007; a syndicated TV ad is $0.006; and a spot radio ad is $0.005.

Among key findings, results indicate that:

* 84% of people remember the advertiser on a product they receive

* 42% have a more favorable impression of an advertiser after receiving an advertising specialty

* 24% indicate that they are more likely to do business with an advertiser on items they receive

* 62% of respondents have done business with the advertiser on a product after receiving it

81% of all promotional products were kept because they were considered useful. Guess what’s considered most useful? Bags, of course!

Reason For Keeping Ad Specialty Item (% of Respondents, Multiple Response OK)
Ad Specialty Useful Attractive Information Reference Other





Writing instruments















Desk/office/business accessories




















Recognition jewelry





Recognition awards





Source: Advertising Specialty Institute, January 2009

Additional findings included:

  • More than three-quarters of respondents have had their items for about seven months
  • Bags were reported to be used most frequently, with respondents indicating that they use their bags on average nine times per month
  • Bags deliver the most impressions, with 1,038 impressions per month on average
Number of Impressions Per Month
Ad Specialty Item Impressions/Month






Writing instruments


Desk/office/business accessories






Recognition awards


Other wearables


Source: Advertising Specialty Institute, January 2009

Timothy M. Andrews, president and chief executive officer of the Advertising Specialty Institute, concludes that “…  this research advises marketers and business owners to invest in advertising specialties now more than ever… Ad specialties provide measurable results for a… reasonable investment… (and) are gifts that break through the information clutter, reach consumers on a personal level, and provide real impact in a creative way.”

And now, the best news: Come to and surprise yourself with how affordable these attractive bags can be! And as a bonus, earn extra goodwill as our bags will position you as being environmentally sensitive!!!

January 29, 2009

Recycling of plastic bags - the myth is revealed

The worldwide recession has made it even more unviable to recycle plastic bags. It was always an expensive and unviable proposition, but today is has become completely unaffordable.

This article from the Boston Globe spells out the story.

Plastics, Benjamin? Not in Somerville, not now. On Jan. 14, the city announced that residents could no longer put recyclables in plastic shopping bags, because the recycling plant can’t handle them.

Paradoxically, the announcement came two days after the city started requiring large businesses to recycle those self-same bags.

A drop in the price of recycled plastic caused the changes at the curb - or, to be accurate, enforced the changes. Casella Waste Systems Inc., the city’s recycling contractor, never did accept plastic bags, said Sean Murphy, Somerville’s director of constituent services.

Some residents used them anyway to store extra bottles and cans. Casella employees simply shook the contents out of the bags, which can tangle up the machines.

“When the stuff was making money, they were willing to look the other way,” said David Lutes, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. Now it’s simply not worth the trouble.

The city’s hurting, too. With recycling, Somerville was always in the red, spending $460,899 in 2008 on 4,328 tons. However, in the past some money came back into the coffers via the sale of recycled goods, about $120,000 in the 2007-’08 fiscal year, Lutes estimated.

But “the bottom fell out” of the plastics market last summer, he said. (The store ordinance passed in early July.) The value of recycled paper soon followed. With less trade, there’s less need for cardboard; with newspaper circulation down, less need for newsprint.

The city had been considering “single-stream” recycling, under which paper and plastic go into the same bin. The price drops put the kibosh on that, Mayor Joe Curtatone said in December.

Residents may still pack paper and containers in clear plastic bags, a concession from Casella to reduce litter, Lutes said. Pizza boxes and other food-stained paper can’t be recycled. Neither can Styrofoam “packing peanuts.”

It’s possible to recycle plastic shopping bags, Lutes said, but “my understanding is it’s much more expensive,” especially when they’re covered with drips of stale Pepsi and other household gunk. Companies want clean bags, like the barrels-ful a large store can collect.

The city’s commercial plastic bag ordinance specifies that stores with 5,000 or more square feet must collect and recycle all clean “plastic carryout bags.”

Of course, stores are a major source of plastic bags. Estimating six per customer, Mike Dunleavy, manager of the Market Basket supermarket on Somerville Ave., figures that his store distributes 180,000 plastic bags a week.

It’s not hard to believe. On a recent morning, the front of the store was a bumper car rink of shopping carts, each loaded with white plastic bags.

The market beat the city to the punch on plastic-bag recycling, introducing the option well over a year ago, said Dunleavy, who added that customers appeared to like the service. Many, he said, “want to not use plastic bags at all.”

Under the new rules, fines for stores that fail to offer the recycling option range from $100 to $300. On the resident side, some people came home on Jan. 12 to find their recycling bins festooned with tickets, Lutes said. They were just warnings, however, with no financial penalty.

Casella, the city contractor, gave short notice of the crackdown, but the city got an indefinite reprieve to educate the public.

So far, that has translated to a press release online and some training for the recycling pickup crew (not employed by Casella), Murphy said. He planned to use the city’s 311 information system to get the word out, but first had to learn how big a problem the plastic bags actually were.

He worried that the bags indicated larger problems for the recycling business. The cost drop “just doesn’t bode well” for plastic recycling, he said. “If there’s not value [in it] . . . it’s not as attractive for them to collect.”

Maureen Barillaro, a volunteer with Somerville Climate Action, was concerned that the crackdown might make recycling seem too big a hassle. In her neighborhood, she’d observed, many people don’t put out their recycling correctly.

That said, she thought that recycling was supposed to make people think. “If you want to throw something away and not think about it, that’s what the trash is for,” she said.

Lutes said residents’ care “will help us maintain our costs, and it will hopefully help on the revenue side,” he said.

Concerned citizens can take comfort in knowing that recycling is still worth the city’s while. Even in today’s market, Lutes said, it’s cheaper than throwing all those tomato cans, junk mail, and water bottles in the trash.

The best solution is, of course, to use reusable fabric bags. See the line at They are so attractive and so easily affordable.

January 28, 2009

Turning trash into bags

Entrepreneur Stuart Gold runs a successful business turning trash from the streets of Ghana into trendy fashion accessories.

“Our bags are complete trash”, runs the fairly appropriate tagline for Gold’s company, Trashy Bags that turns discarded plastic bags into useful and attractive bags for sale locally and for export.

On account of the undrinkable tap water in Ghana, consumers purchase several plastic sachets of ‘pure water’ daily. The sachets are thrown away after use and abundantly litter the streets of west Africa.

In the capital Accra alone, waste produced from plastic packaging was projected to reach an average of 60 tons per day in 2008. That adds up to 22,000 tons of plastic in one year. This figure has risen in just ten years by about 70%. Despite this rise, it is estimated that only 2% of plastic waste is recycled. The remaining ends up on the streets, choking drains and increasing the risk of disease.

While Trashy Bags does its bit to clean up the environment, it also works on awareness campaigns on what they call the 3 Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Besides that, it employs and trains many people from Madina, a poor community in Accra, who would have otherwise been unemployed.

Around 200 people work at Trashy Bags to collect, clean and sow the garbage together into tote bags, sports bags, backpacks and other varieties of bags. The people of Ghana also pitch in by collecting the discarded plastic and bringing it to designated collection points. They earn a token amount per 1000 plastic bags.

So far, around 10 million sachets have been collected from the streets and over 6,000 bag have been sold through this enterprise.

We also tried an experiment of this kind. See We’ve had to shelve that exercise for the time being but plan to restart an effort in that direction fairly soon.

Meanwhile we laud everyone doing good work that saves the world from plastic junk.

January 20, 2009

Want consumer loyalty? Give your customers a canvas bag

Stanford marketing Professor Baba Shiv who was declared the Graduate School of Business Trust Faculty Fellow for 2008-2009, conducts research into consumer decision making processes.

Guess what his research established: According to surveys done by his graduate students, many shoppers say they are less likely to carry a retailer’s branded reusable bag into a competing store. “What these bags are doing is increasing loyalty to the store,” he says.

I just read this at an interesting blog called Murketing (the Journal of), who is focused on the concept of unconsumption, which is what you do with products once you’re through using them. Much like the blog I earlier wrote on the cradle to cradle concept, where once you’re through with a product, it should become raw material for another product, not have to be thrown away.

Every time your customer leaves his house carrying your canvas bag, he’s acting as a walking billboard for you, as a walking testimonial that he agrees with your intelligent decision to give away a reusable cloth bag and save your city’s environment from plastic bags.

January 17, 2009

The real world beyond Fair Trade

This morning’s Indian Express carried an interesting article from the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. The level of sensitivity Nicholas demonstrates is rare amongst Westerners. I guess living in the East has give him a perspective that would be difficult for people living in the West to acquire.

Even while appreciating the good intentions behind organisations such as Fair Trade, who certify (for a price) organisations who comply with their standards for workers’ compensation and treatment, he wonders whether Fair Trade is achieving more good or bad.

Fair Trade is committed to denying market access to sweatshops. But, he argues, if they were to sensitively look at the alternative employment options people in poorer countries are faced with, perhaps it would cause them to think a little beyond the obvious. Here’s what he says:

“My point is that bad as sweatshops are, the alternatives are worse. They are more dangerous, lower-paying and more degrading. And when I struggle to think how we can really make a big difference in the development of the poorest countries, the key always seems to be manufacturing. If Africa, for example, can only develop an apparel industry, it will boom.

Now, there are lots of reasons why Africa doesn’t have a garment industry (except for Lesotho, Namibia and a few other places), and they include corruption, poor infrastructure, and quality control. But it’s also true that if a major apparel maker went into, say, Liberia, it would be competitive only if it paid very low wages - and that would get the company in trouble with the press and sweatshop watchdogs. So there is zero apparel export from Liberia (a fragile country with huge unemployment and a wonderful president whom we should be trying to support).

One of the best aid programs for Africa is AGOA, which creates incentives for American imports from Africa, and it should be expanded. The European equivalent, EBA, is a farce and should be combined with AGOA. But to do all this, we need to rethink sweatshops. We need to build a constituency of humanitarians who view low-wage manufacturing as a solution. And that’s the point of my column.

Incidentally, I’m all for “fair-wage” clothing that is based on paying decent wages and providing decent working conditions. More power to those brands. But I think they reflect a modest niche, and the denunciations of sweatshops end up taking jobs away from the poorest countries”.

That is the real issue. One day, long ago, I was invited to a government business dialog on whether the minimum wage law should be applied to the garment industry in Gujarat (this was 20 years ago. The law does apply to this industry today). While I like to think of myself as a good human being who would like to see every human being prosper and lead a good life, I argued against it. Here’s why.

When the law applies employers tend to become more conservative about the number of people they employ because they have to remain sustainable. Without such a law in place they would employ more people and thus cause more people to get trained with sewing skills.

Sewing is one of those skills which can allow people to sustain themselves even if they don’t have a job (I know lots and lots of people who learned how to sew at one of the factories I have used who have their own machines and run a nice little bespoke sewing business of their own from their homes).

My contention was that if more people learned the skills it would do more good that just a few being able to earn higher wages. People like us, who are fortunate enough to have customers who pay higher prices for high quality standards have to pay higher wages anyway to attract the best people, and that is not going to change because of any laws.

So, I can easily relate to what Nicholas is saying. Of course it is easier for me to relate because I live in India and can daily see the vast number of people who have to find work for themselves without having any job whatsoever.

It’s an unfortunate fact that while we have trade unions and lots of laws that work towards improving workers’ lives but all those are restricted to people who have jobs. Any job.

But the larger part of our population seeks daily work for themselves without having a job of any kind. No one appears to be worrying about them. Not the well meaning folks at Fair Trade, nor the trade unions, nor, for that matter all our government bodies.

But Nicholas Kristof has recognised this and appears to be making an issue of it in the New York Times and on Facebook.

I hope he succeeds in making the point that instead or restricting employment further by limiting market access to registered people, powerful bodies like Fair Trade should recognise that creating more jobs in countries where unemployment is rampant would serve the interests of humankind far better than just improving the lives of those fortunate enough to have jobs.

We, at Norquest Brands, are confronted with a very real issue related to this which we’ve been figuring out how to deal with. Our marketing would be benefited by getting ourselves registered with Fair Trade. But, in doing so we would have to take away jobs from some people who we employ on humanitarian grounds. These are some old ladies who are being maltreated in their homes and so we allow them to come “work” at the factory and earn a small sum of money to raise their standing in their homes. As they don’t have any skills we cannot afford to pay them the minimum wage but they are grateful for getting some earning as that raises their standing in their homes and that matters immensely to them. We can do without them quite comfortably, but they need this and that matters to us.

So what do we do?

I asked a specialist consultant on Fair Trade. He said you’ll have to make up your mind whether this is more important or market access is more important to you.

So, thus far we’ve stayed away seeking registration, but the number of customers who ask for this is increasing and we’ll have to go that route sooner or later.

What will happen to these old ladies then?

Simple, said another consultant. Start 2 companies, one Fair Trade and the other not Fair Trade - and employ them in the other company. He told me of a very successful and well known company where their Fair Trade registered presence shows an employment of 300 people, while they actually have almost 5000 other people employed “otherwise”.

It is simple to execute such a plan but it doesn’t appeal to me because I’ve always believed in transparency and honesty. Being “clever” in that manner is aesthetically offensive to me.

Having said all this, let me clarify that while we are not Fair Trade registered, we ourselves, as human beings have provided factory conditions that are definitely not what one thinks of when they hear “sweatshop,” not because anyone told us to but because we are people who live by a code that we will not do anything that we can be ashamed of. So, to satisfy our own sense of right we’ve worked to make the factory a pleasant and enjoyable place to work. The assumption that all employers are exploitative unless some Western agency certifies them as decent human beings is insulting and offensive. There are millions of human beings like us who do a far better job being guided by their own sense of right and wrong without being told what to do. Both, the Western world and the Eastern world have a mix of some good and some bad folks.

I am racking my brains trying to find a good solution to this quandary. If you read this, please do share your point of view with me. I’d be grateful for all the perspective I can get on this.

January 13, 2009

Secret revealed: How to conquer the world

Can’t do it overnight, you’ve gotta work at it, one bag at a time, one customer at a time, but it pays off and pays off handsomely.

Not only does it earn you money and all the goodies that money can buy but it also gives you the satisfaction of being good human beings, able to earn the liking and respect of other human beings.

The formula is simple, you’ve got to love what you do and the folks you do it for. If this seems like effort, you’re in the wrong game. Do yourself a favour and switch to doing something you enjoy and love.

This isn’t about CSR. CSR is reactive, while to do this you have to be proactive. CSR is mechanised, while this is about love, for which there is no software available except all the software humans are blessed with, mainly the ability to love.

We practice this every day and get much joy from it and love it when a customer writes in tells us that they could feel it too.

Thanks Natalia, for reminding us again today what we stand for.

And thanks again, Kaajal and Arjun and Disha for communicating this love to our customers, and thanks again Sanjiv and Alpesh and Jayendra and all the other folks at the factory and the office for making sure our customers get the products they like and that our logistics team get them to the customers bang on time.

Here’s what Natalia wrote when she sent in her picture from Italy:

Dear Kajaal,

Here you have a picture of me holding the bag and a picture of the bag in itself.
and here our comment:

The bags looks very nice and the quality is good as well!! Thank you so much for the good collaboration.

Best wishes, Natalia

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