In 2014, just as we'd launched The MiA Project, we were already entering a long holiday season. Not the timeframe so commonly labeled as such, not the time of consumer hysteria. It was almost summer time, and the many patriotic holidays were upon us. We wanted to throw a launch party; we wanted to celebrate Memorial Day through Labor Day sharing American-made, sustainable party supplies available for purchase with you. But hold on a minute. As we scoured party stores, mass retailers, and online we found that most disposable party supplies, namely the American and July 4th themed, were made, well, you can guess where. So we did what we do. We entered research mode. And we found Susty Party, a Brooklyn-based company creating vibrant, sustainable and compostable tableware, employing non-profit factories who in turn work with the visually impaired. Susty Party is above and beyond what we expected to greet us on our journey of locating American-made disposable tableware. They address virtually every concern we possess that led us on our journey: environmental awareness and sustainability, supply chains, knowledge of the people and the factories we're helping employ, working conditions, and more.
Susty Party was created by Emily Doubilet and Jessica Holsey. Their backgrounds and their passions are impressive, and cumulatively they illustrate a simple fact that is often overlooked by people of every age: you can't possibly manufacture your destiny nor mastermind it. Sometimes your calling is unearthed in the most interesting of ways. For Emily and Jessica, it was a chance meeting at a party. Emily's parents are underwater photographers for National Geographic, and she studied Environmental Studies at Oberlin College. Jessica focused on Economics at Harvard University and was captain of the women's basketball team. Together, they've created something the marketplace was desperate for whether it knew it or not. Meanwhile, they've been featured in Forbes' "30 under 30" list in 2014 in the "Food & Drink" category. Following is our conversation with Emily.
What did the business look like the first year of your existence?
It started as just an online store selling compostable and environmental disposable tableware to make it easier for entertainers or every day hosts to find eco-friendly disposables, which, I can tell you as an environmentally-minded entertainer myself, wasn't so easy to come by at the time.
If you can pinpoint it, what was the a-ha moment or moments in creating Susty Party?
Performing in a global warming burlesque show that I choreographed and realizing that despite all the environmental awareness, there was so much plastic waste!
Tell us about non-profit factories: what does that entail? What is the business model?
We contract manufacture our products with various non-profits who aim to empower people with disabilities. For instance, we partner with the NIB (National Industries for the Blind) who employ and provide support services to people with visual impairments. These awesome folks work on many areas in our supply chain, from hand packaging to fulfillment to aspects of machine operation. We also create certain products (such as our new recycled paper towels and biodegradable garbage bags) that donate a portion of proceeds to support female entrepreneurs through microloans via the non-profit Whole Planet Foundation, which rocks! We want all our products to support a social mission in some way.
How did you find the factories you work with?
Research, referrals, industry tradeshows, networking, and more research! We are very picky. We look to partner with companies across our supply chain that support our social and environmental mission, such as our non-profit partners, and that maintain responsible business practices.
How do your respective backgrounds and passions compliment each other in running Susty?
We're really lucky to be opposites in many complementary ways that make for an enviable business partnership. (Seriously, so many of my friends have told me that they envy our partner relationship!) Jess has a finance background and economics degree from Harvard, she leads our operations and many aspects of our business management. I've always been involved in theater and entertaining, and have an environmental studies degree from Oberlin, which has all translated really well to sales, marketing, and design work.
Do you find many people know what the word "Susty" means?
People usually have an "ah-ha moment" where they put it together: "Susty is short for sustainable!"
We're thrilled you manufacture here and that you focus so intensely on design. Since our existence, one of the realizations that just broke our hearts is that most plastic items involved in celebrations, namely the 4th of July, aren't produced here! Imagine that, all these American themed items and they're made in China. What are some products or items that are rarely made sustainably that really irk you?
It's true, most partyware and tableware is not responsibly made - and that's why we set out to change the game! There are a bunch of paper straws on the market that look like our Susty straws but they're not. They're made in China with really thin paper, non-eco materials, and they disintegrate almost immediately! This is a major pet peeve! That's why we use the only paper straw factory in the USA and our straws actually have eco-friendly paper and ink sourcing, and they last much longer!
In five years from now...?
Be a household name that people look to for sustainable, beautiful home products. We aren't just going to be Susty Party, we've already started on SustyHome and that's not the end.