Tucked away in a mill in Kendal in the UK’s idyllic Lake District, James Cropper is a family-owned business specializing in paper and packaging innovation since 1845. The factory in which the business operates to this day has seen some historical moments, such as being one of the first paper mills to produce colored paper from synthetic dyes in 1856, and producing the remembrance poppies for the Royal British Legion beginning in 1978. In the field of colored paper, James Cropper creates 1,000 bespoke creations annually, with 184 shades of black and 62 shades of white to name two hue possibilities. The company’s TFP (Technical Fibre Products) subsidiary, founded in 1986, manufactures and develops wet-laid nonwoven materials for the aerospace, defense, medical, and wind energy industries.
James Cropper’s sustainability efforts include achieving net-zero emissions by 2030, operating a solar power-fueled facility, creating Selfridges’ shopping bags from recycled coffee cups (with 90% of the cup waste reverting back into paper, and 10% being used for other plastic products), and making paper from FSC- (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC- (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified wood pulp and locally sourced waters. “The world wants to move away from plastic. A circular mode of sustainability is extremely important and I think the world has grasped that it is completely necessary. It’s not a trend but a lifestyle,” Chris Schofield, Head of Design at the company’s Colourform division, tells BeautyMatter.
Colourform, founded in 2016, has worked with the likes of Lush, Floral Street, and Maison Ruinart, resulting in a bath bomb holder made from 100% recycled coffee cups for the UK personal care brand, interchangeable,100% recyclable and color-matched packaging for the fine fragrance brand, as well as a second-skin, mono-material bottle holder with a chalk-like texture made from natural wood fibers for the French heritage champagne producer. “We want to break new ground all the time. That's where our passion lies,,” Schofield states.
James Cropper recently unveiled its Pebble and Kiss mono-material designs, made from the company’s antimicrobial and antiviral PaperGard material. Schofield admits the day-to-day workings of the packaging innovation company are challenging, but in the best of ways. “There’s an incredibly steep learning curve. This type of very fine, high quality, 3D moulding is a quite new industry, but it is the future. We’re very enthusiastic in our hunger and passion to achieve the best product we can with our eye on quality,” he states.
James Cropper uses bespoke, specialist, grade-F aluminum machinery for production, created through a forming stage and two separate pressing stages on a six meter long-machine. The wood pulp is vacuum-sucked into the shape, the water is then removed from the pulp (within 60 seconds, the mixture goes from 98% water to completely dry) and in the final stages thickness, dimension, and detail are determined. “When you’re adding texture, embossing, or debossing, it really brings the product to life. It’s not just an insert card that is there to hold the product within a cardboard box. It's a real-life shelf presence,” Schofield enthuses.“It's a thing of beauty to be able to create things that are really pleasing to the eye and have a function as well.”
The shelf appeal as well as sustainability factor cannot be underestimated, with 72% of American consumers stating the packaging of a product influences their purchasing decision, and 76% of survey participants say they focus on sustainably made products. “I remember speaking to a customer who said packaging became vulgar. That relates back to if we look at something and it appears recyclable we desire it more because it feels better,” Schofield adds. He also sees clients requesting certifications and hard evidence for sustainability credentials, akin to the UK’s recent regulations on greenwashing with the Green Claims Code. In recent times, they have also been requesting additional enhancements like foiling and gluing, resulting in future prospects of a one-stop shop type of production model.
Commenting on the demand for mono-material designs, Schofield comments: “We barely put our toe in the water, yet what we can do is enormous. Once customers get increasing confidence in this as a replacement for traditional designs, then it will gain more and more momentum. It’s a shift from highly decorated large pieces to more simplified designs.”
As for future ambitions, the company is currently looking into possible collaborators for liquid-containing packaging options, alongside expanding their offerings overall. “Business wise overall, we have ambition to grow,” Schofield states. “Our goal is to decrease the time from concept to market to supply, accelerating our learning and abilities.” 177 years in operation, the business of James Cropper is as ambitious as ever about pushing the (paper) envelope as ever, and it shows.
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