Mail-Order Firms Go Green, Even Selling Rubber Neckties

DENNIS LASHIER, an employee at Art's Tire Service in Greenfield, Mass., has been making neckties from old car tires for five years. Touted as "the ultimate gift for the fashion conscious environmentalist," Mr. LaShier has sold more than 5,000 "Rubber Necker" ties in 32 countries.

His outlet is the "One Song Enterprises" catalog, a mail-order service offering, among other things, natural baby diapers, beeswax candles, and ecological light bulbs.

The rubber ties and other environmental offerings are fun, politically correct, and even better, may be bought with little more effort than picking up the telephone and reeling off a credit card number.

From ties made with whitewall tires to peppermint foot lotion, more and more mail-order catalogs are offering environmentally friendly products. Environmental issues

Victoria Johnson-Parratt launched One Song Enterprises from her home in Willoughby, Ohio. The catalog begins with the question: "The air is thick and the ozone level is thin. Our water is polluted, our top soil is disappearing, our garbage dumps are filling up and our time is running out. What's a human to do?"

Ms. Johnson-Parratt's response to her own question was to publish a catalog of "Environmentally friendly, cruelty free, recycled, organically certified and socially conscious products." Whether customers purchase these novelties to assuage a guilty conscience or to contribute to a better future is unclear, Johnson-Parratt says, but business has taken off.

One Song Enterprises, for example, has been flooded with calls for "Rubber Necker" ties, which come with a 500-year guarantee.

Johnson-Parratt distributed 1,500 copies of her first 382-product catalog (printed on recycled paper with soy ink) last year, mainly through word of mouth. She is preparing for the catalog's second edition, this time printing 10,000 copies.

Though Johnson-Parratt admits that much of the products' popularity is due to humor, some of her customers are very environmentally conscious: "People really like the fact that the shampoo doesn't have a bottle," she says of the bar-soap shampoo the catalog offers.

The Body Shop, an international chain store offering bath and cosmetic products, has been in the mail-order business since 1989, publishing five to six catalogs a year. Boasting no animal testing and naturally based products, Body Shop catalogs also evoke an environmentally friendly image.

The catalog is "issue oriented," says spokeswoman Paulette Cleghorn. Its pages are not only filled with environmentally sensitive soaps and balms - even banana hair putty - but also with company credos such as "Trade Not Aid," a reference to The Body Shop's policy of trading with third-world countries. Consumer trends

Walden's, a mail-order company in Oxnard, Calif., offers pitchers and goblets made from recycled glass and bronze sculptures crafted from telephone cables.

Audrey Knight, who started the company with her husband last year, says their goal is to sell products that are environmentally friendly but are comparable in quality to retail store items. "It's gratifying to get comment cards back from customers with thank yous," Ms. Knight says.

There has been an increase in the number of these types of catalogs in the past five years as shoppers become more concerned about the environment, says Deborah Zizmor, spokeswoman for the Direct Marketing Association in New York. "Catalogs tend to follow the trends of consumers," she says.

Not only can people feel good about the products they order, but they also can feel good about shopping at home since catalogs are "the world's greatest carpool," cutting down on the gas and exhaust fumes caused by driving from store to store.

Mail-order companies are becoming more aware of the packaging they use to ship orders. Shipping boxes are likely to be filled with cardboard and paper rather than plastic, Ms. Zizmor says.

The Body Shop even uses shredded office memos for packing - styrofoam peanuts are definitely "out." Walden's uses both unprinted newsprint and starch-based "popcorn" that dissolves in water.

"It costs more but I thought it was important for our business," Knight says.

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