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“I’m a real dirt bag” – these were the words two Kiwi women proudly stamped on the first 100% home compostable courier bag they made together in 2018.
The powerhouse duo behind Better Packaging Co. had spent the last two years working on a more sustainable option to a plastic courier satchel, and finally they had the “dirtbags” to show for it. Soon, thousands of consumers around the world would be paying more attention to the excessive amounts of plastic waste involved in their online shopping habits.
A typical brand founder story will usually state that ‘it all began with a huge passion’. But ask Rebecca Percasky why she decided to start a business with her friend Kate Bezar, and she’ll be honest with you. “Kate and I joke that we have a packaging company because we so passionately dislike packaging.”
It’s something many of us can relate to, whether you’re an online shopping addict or not. During the era of Covid lockdowns, we relied on ecommerce for just about everything. The excitement of opening a shoebox-sized parcel only to find one face serum and a mascara was frightening, but that was the accepted necessary evil of retail therapy. What else was going to bring us joy in such unprecedented times?
Rebecca experienced this dilemma at a much larger scale back in 2013. She had come on board as the COO of StarshipIT – a tech company that connects ecommerce merchants with courier companies to facilitate online orders. It was there she witnessed the rapid growth in ecommerce, which was doubling every two years at the time. With that came her growing frustration with the amount of plastic waste involved in the industry.
Consumers were able to make a sustainable choice by saying “no thanks” to a carry bag while shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, but with ecommerce, every single item that goes out in the courier system has an additional layer of packaging. Mountains of bubble wrap, polystyrene and courier satchels, predominantly made from virgin plastic, were ending up straight in the landfill.
Seeing this firsthand triggered something in Rebecca. “It made me feel quite sick thinking about it, and it still does.” Sharing her concerns was her future business partner, Kate, a friend who had joined StarshipIT as a branding and design consultant.
After stepping away from her role as COO, Rebecca knew she wanted to do something in the sustainability space. “I wrote a list of five things that I wanted to do to make change; four of them were in the packaging space and the first one was to make a more sustainable courier satchel.
“Everyone was very focused on end of life [packaging and products], but we thought, it doesn't make any sense if it's got a great end of life, but it's causing masses of pollution upstream.”
Asking Kate to come on board and help make it happen was a no brainer. “It’s one of those partnerships where you bring out the best in each other. We have a very similar set of values but with complementary skills.”
After 18 months of research, they landed on a biodegradable material produced in China out of microplastic-free cornstarch, PLA and PBAT, engineered to break down in a home compost or worm farm within 180 days.
All of their products are evaluated according to the Ellen MacArthur circular economy – a thorough systems framework that tackles waste and global warming. Becoming B Corp certified was an important milestone for them. They knew they needed to set the bar to the highest standard, in order to lead by example for others in the industry.
A big part of this was making sure their marketing claims were completely legitimate and sustainable, too. Choosing to “claim less and deliver more” helped build their integrity and gain trust with their customers – even if it meant losing out on big deals to greenwashing competitors on occasion.
“I think it's important to understand what your competitors are doing and have visibility, but more importantly to stay true to your values and follow your own path. Otherwise, you spend too much time looking to the side and getting distracted. You've got to be true to who you are, what your brand does and what that brand stands for.”
In 2018, Better Packaging Co. launched their (ambitiously large) first run of matte black courier satchels, printed with “I’m a real dirtbag” and “Before long, worms will be eating me for breakfast.” They sold out within two weeks, then doubled their order, which again sold out in two weeks.
“We inadvertently created this viral marketing campaign. If a brand bought 300 bags on our website, those 300 units were going out via that merchant into the hands of people all around the world.” End consumers weren’t just excited to share what they were unboxing, they were sharing the bag it came in on social media, too. “We joked we’d created the first Insta-worthy courier satchel”
A turning point for the brand was getting into the hands of a large Australian brand in Byron Bay that belonged to a hub of eco fashion businesses. Word spread, and since launch, more than 80 million dirtbags have been sold to the likes of L’Oreal, PE Nation, Stylerunner, Farmers, Toms shoes and Glassons, as well as New Zealand labels Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester, Trelise Cooper and many more. Australia is currently their biggest market, with 92% of the businesses sitting outside of New Zealand.
Kate and Rebecca had self-funded the business to begin with, and once they had proven the success of their concept, they didn’t hesitate to find strategic partners to help them grow. They secured an interest free loan from Coralus (formerly SheEO), leaned into their networks at NZTE to help connect them with investors, and moved to a bank that could provide better support for their growing business.
“We have two people within BNZ who look after us and they do the most incredible job. There was an education piece for us, as we're sourcing products internationally and importing them, we might buy a product and it takes us four months before we sell it, and that's quite tough on your cash flow.
“BNZ were incredible at coming to the party and saying, ‘we can help you with that via trade financing. These are the options that are available to you’ and talking us through all of those different options. They're also very focused on what additional value adds they can provide as your business scales.”
Within 18 months, they hired a team of six to work at their Auckland headquarters, which has doubled in size each year since. The business has grown to now have six warehouses across New Zealand, Australia, the UK, USA, China and the Netherlands, with staff on the ground in China, Australia and Argentina, and 25,000 customers.
After a couple of years selling their compostable bags with success, the pair went back to the drawing board. “Reducing the environmental impacts of packaging wasn't going to move the dial far enough. It almost felt like we were part of the problem because we were encouraging more consumerism. We got focused on this idea, can we actually use our packaging to make a whole lot of positive impact?”
Striving for innovation, they developed a “three pronged attack” and in 2021 launched their new range of POLLAST!C courier bags, ziplocks, poly garment bags and film, made entirely out of ocean bound plastic pollution from the beaches of South East Asia.
Working with third party companies, they were able to offer a fair wage to communities on the front line of global warming to help clean up pollution and prevent plastic ending up on the shores. By preventing plastic from entering into our waterways oceans can operate properly and absorb carbon dioxide, communities have access to consistent work, and plastic pollution is turned into courier bags, which (after being reused) can ultimately be recycled into things like fence posts, right here in New Zealand.
As the brand name suggests, Rebecca is always looking for ways to evolve and do better. “I want a world where virgin plastics are no longer used – it’s time to harvest the mess that we’ve already made and get it back into the loop.”
Their recent expansion into supermarkets, providing ziplock bags at the Pick n Mix section is just one of the endless possibilities of POLLAST!C. “Anywhere you see flexible film is an opportunity for better packaging”, she says passionately.
It’s an exciting time for the pair to push on with their mission of using packaging as a vehicle for change. With a series A funding round currently underway, Kate and Rebecca are ready to take their brand to the next level and expand business in the growing markets of Australia and the US.
“This idea of using packaging which was always seen as a necessary evil, to do a whole lot of good and actually turn it into the hero is something we're incredibly proud of.”
In challenging times like these, it’s good to know there’s help available when your business needs it. So, whether you need a hand refinancing existing assets to free up cash flow, sorting out working capital solutions, accessing our digital channels, or connecting your business with others, visit bnz.co.nz/businessbanking to see how BNZ may be able to help your business.
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