April 1, 2007
By Stacey King Gordon
An earth-friendly package design turns heads for a cosmetic company’s groovy new line of lipsticks.
Global warming won an Oscar. Governments around the world are putting their heads together to address climate change. Consumers are renouncing plastic grocery bags and choosing hybrids over Hummers. With international consciousness about environmental issues at an all-time high, there’s never been a better time to launch a planet-friendly product that appeals to hipsters and hippies alike.
But even with the fast-growing interest in environmentally friendly products and packaging, it’s still not always easy being green. That’s what Hana Zalzal, president and founder of CARGO Cosmetics in Toronto, learned when she set out to design and produce an eco-friendly tube for her company’s new line of lipstick, PlantLove.
The company launched the lipstick, the latest addition to its line of high-end, celebrity-obsessed cosmetics, in January, rolling out 12 shades each designed by an A-list actress. But the lipstick’s packaging stole the headlines: the flowery lipstick tube, made of polylactic acid, is biodegradable, and comes in a paperboard box, made of 100 percent recycled post-consumer pulp, that is embedded with wildflower seeds, destined to become plants in their next life.
CARGO, which launched in 1996, gained a loyal following for its line of “jumbo” lip glosses, packaged in oversized metal tins, and the company has always experimented with innovative packaging, which is why Zalzal was selected as one of BRANDPACKAGING’s “brandinnovators” in 2006.
As Zalzal and her team considered its new lipstick product, they thought hard about how they could improve upon the already “brilliant” mechanism of the traditional swivel lipstick tube.
“And the answer was: wouldn’t it be great if the tube was eco-friendly, made out of renewable resources rather than non-renewable, petroleum-based plastic?” says Zalzal. “And that was how PlantLove was born.”
Challenging a packaging convention
For a small company prepared to help make a difference, targeting plastics seemed to be a solid first step. According to the latest data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plastics consumed 12 percent of solid municipal waste in the United States in 2005—nearly 29 million tons. And, only 5.7 percent of the plastics thrown away were recovered for recycling, compared to 50 percent of paper and “cardboard”, 22 percent of glass and 22 percent of aluminum.
Zalzal’s initial well-meaning idea became a personal, and significant, science project. In 2005, she began researching options for compostable and renewable plastic. “I went to the University of Toronto’s engineering faculty and spoke to people there who educated me on PLA,” or polylactic acid, a polymer resin made from corn and other starch-rich plants.
From there, Zalzal’s research took her to NatureWorks LLC, a subsidiary of the agribusiness corporation Cargill, which pioneered a form of PLA made primarily of field corn. According to the company, NatureWorks’ PLA is “the world’s first greenhouse gas-neutral plastic.” On the market since 2002, the material is starting to catch on with manufacturers of natural and organic products.
Once Zalzal had discovered PLA, her next step was making it support the functionality of a lipstick case. As with any early adopter, she found that the rest of the world hadn’t quite caught up. “The biggest challenge was that many of our suppliers had not heard of PLA or did not know how to work with it,” she says.
PLA has different properties from petroleum-based plastics, Zalzal says, which meant that molding the lipstick tube required a different process. The polymer is also more heat-sensitive, so Zalzal’s packaging supplier had to test the tube at different temperatures to ensure it would protect the product inside.
Sowing the seeds of change
When the experimentation with the new material was finished, the CARGO team discovered that the new PLA lipstick tube worked too well. “PLA looks like regular plastic, so the question was: how do we make this lipstick case stand out as something different?” Zalzal says.
To set the packaging apart from competitors, the CARGO team embraced a stereotype: an everybody-get-together, 1960s-inspired design of bright flowers and bubbly, heart-encased type. The design is feminine, fun and very groovy. “[It has] a kind of protest, love-in feel to it,” says Zalzal, who cites the elephant-painting protest scene from the Blake Edwards movie The Party as inspiration. “That was the feeling I was trying to capture: protest against harm to the planet while capturing the feeling of love and peace for the future.”
In a reversal of the way products are usually created, the name of the lipstick line followed the design of the packaging. “The name PlantLove was selected because it is a play on words,” Zalzal says. “It is also a philosophy: that the seeds we sow today impact the future.”
The bio-plastic lipstick tubes and flower-garden secondary packaging, of course, would mean nothing if the product inside was made from chemicals. The PlantLove lipsticks are truly for flower girls, made of jojoba, shea butter, natural oils from mangos and Meadowfoam flowers and an infusion of Cymbidium orchids. Five of the sheer, glossy shades were designed by celebrities such as Evangeline Lily, Lindsay Lohan and Maria Menounos. The rest are named for “places of ecological beauty,” such as Sagarmatha for the Himalayan region near Mount Everest, Killarney for the valleys of southern Ireland and Yakushima for the lush Japanese island.
Packaging that gets people talking
Zalzal says she’s seen worldwide consumer interest in the product but, more importantly, she indicates that she’s noticed increasing awareness of PLA as a packaging alternative since PlantLove rolled out in January. “I am glad that this lipstick will open up the possibilities,” she says. “Larger companies will see the proof of consumers embracing eco-friendly options and may follow suit. This is the first time we launched a product and actually hoped others would copy us.”
CARGO has received a good amount of press coverage for the product and its packaging, including spots on CBS’s The Early Show and the Rachael Ray Show, as well as magazine articles, and the company ran an ad in Allure magazine in February. To accompany the spirit of the product, CARGO donates $2 from the sale of each lipstick to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“This has been our most successful launch to date,” says Zalzal. “Consumers love the fact that the lipstick is eco-friendly.”
Where to go for more information...
• PLA polymer. Contact NatureWorks at 877.423.7659 or visit www.natureworksllc.com