For two decades, Orinda, CA-based KeepCool has been developing reusable and insulated soft-sided bags for leading global retailers. Recently, the company launched the next evolution of its sustainable, animal-free bags under Out of the Woods.
According to Pierre Barlier, CEO and founder of Out Of The Woods, it has always been in the DNA of KeepCool to reduce the use of virgin plastics, as it’s the most efficient way to divert new plastic from entering landfills and oceans. “That’s the main drive behind our never-ending search for better and more sustainable fabric options,” he says.
In 2007, KeepCool created the Better Bag, the first reusable bag made of 80% recycled plastic bottles, which it improved and evolved to be made of 100% recycled plastic bottles by 2011.
Following this, KeepCool looked at what could be a more sustainable option for other bag categories made of either petroleum-based materials, leather or cotton fabric. “Of course, those first two options are not at all sustainable, and cotton, whether it is organic or not, has its own inherent challenges due to the amount of water required to produce. 20,000 liters of water are required to produce one kilo of cotton, which yields a single pair of jeans and a t-shirt,” Barlier says.
Out of the Woods bags are made from what the company believes to be a sustainable fabric option, Supernatural Paper, which is comprised of tree cellulose obtained from responsibly managed forests. In addition to the material itself, the process is also responsible. “93% of the water used to make Supernatural Paper is returned to its original source in as pure a state as it was extracted. The remaining 7% is lost to evaporation during the production process, so even that returns to the environment uncontaminated,” Barlier explains.
According to Grace Jeon, Head of New Ventures at KeepCool, the multi-step process in the making of Supernatural Paper starts with cellulose—precursor to paper before it is turned into pulp—followed by addition of proprietary latex—the bonding agent which gives Supernatural Paper its washable properties—before the combined material is cured by heat. Depending on the thickness of the material, the ratio can be about 70/30 cellulose and latex, she adds. The cellulose is derived from slow grown trees, which provide greater robustness and resistance properties.
“We knew we wanted to use a material that was equal parts sustainable and desirable,” says Barlier. “The material, which we now call Supernatural Paper, is not only sustainable but durable, washable, 100% vegan, and — if I do say so myself — beautiful. It’s almost indistinguishable from leather in its look and feel.”
KeepCool looked for opportunities to use Supernatural Paper across different styles, the result of which is its line of Out of the Woods bags—a range of totes, lunch bags, coolers and wine bags. Additional styles are in development. “We will continue to explore new opportunities for creating real impact, by using Supernatural Paper in categories where historically, petroleum-based or other less environmentally-friendly fabrics are used,” says Barlier.
The initial launch of Out of the Woods bags featuring Supernatural Paper took more than two years. It was critical that the products delivered on construction and function while ensuring attractive, affordable price points. The company continues to make improvements on the material.
A selection of Out of the Woods bags is currently available at Office Depot stores across the U.S., as well as in Whole Foods stores in Southern California. Out of the Woods will launch at Target stores on July 21, as well as on the brand’s website, www.outofthewoods.com, this summer.