Small Business Spotlight

Growing Paper makes stationery that sprouts into flowers ...

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Growing Paper makes stationery that sprouts into flowers and herbs

Run by an all-female team with 80% female workforce

In a single-use consumer world still learning to upcycle, a team of female-led entrepreneurs in Malmesbury are ahead of the curve. 

Growing Paper, 65km outside of Cape Town, in the Swartland region of the Western Cape, produces 100% recycled and biodegradable paper products that are then sold locally and internationally. 

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Roxanne (front left) with her team of female partners and 80% female staff. Image: Growing Paper.

These paper products, wedding invitations, business cards, coasters, calendars, are handmade by the team of 35 employees from the local Paardeberg community that make up Growing Paper. Once the card has served its initial purpose it gets planted, to then enjoy a second life as a vegetable (carrot or tomato), herb (Basil and WIld Rocket), or indigenous flower (African Daisy and Buckbay Vygie). 

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Design by Alexander Maritz,  from Growing Paper’s Nostalgie range of Artist cards. Image: Growing Paper.

FEMALE ENTREPRENEURSHIP TO THE FORE

Founder Roxanne Schumann started Growing Paper in 2010 on her father’s farm with the help of her school friend Nileta Knoetzen. They’d noticed the waste being generated from stationery paper and wondered what could be done with it to bring a little more beauty into the world. 

The seed was literally sown when they decided to embed hardy seeds such as wild rocket into recycled paper once it had been pulped. 

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Alyssum flowers germinating. Image: Growing Paper.

Then they got some second-hand printing equipment, and Roxanne and her colleagues set to work learning the art of making paper that would double as sheets of fertile seed. All one would need after enjoying their greeting card was add water.

And so a blooming business was born.

More than a decade later, the "Seed  Paper People" have a sustainable business model that is inspiring in its originality and treads softly in its ambitions. 

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Desmorien Prins pulling a new sheet of Growing Paper. Image: Growing Paper.

THE LIFE CYCLE OF GROWING PAPER

“Malmesbury is a modest farming town, with a large township that depends on it”, says Roxanne. “It never feels like it is in balance.” There are enough businesses and schools in the town’s centre to provide a steady supply of used paper though. 

Everything from used exam pads to the printed reams of office contracts gets collected in cardboard recycling bins that are stationed at the 35 schools and businesses that serve as Growing Paper’s paper source.

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Abdul Marthinus inspecting the paper quality. Image: Growing Paper.

 

OVER 150 TONNES OF PAPER RECYCLED MONTHLY

“The people of Malmesbury are considerate and environmentally conscious,” says Roxanne. “Every month we recycle 1 ton of used paper in order to create our post-consumer waste paper (PCWP).” 

Recycling involves painstakingly removing any staples, tearing and shredding the accumulated paper, and then feeding it into a pulping machine. 

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Newly made Growing Paper sheets being checked for quality. Image: Growing Paper.

The art of paper-making in Malmesbury remains as beautifully antiquated as when it was invented by the Chinese early in the 8th century. 

Basins are filled with the pulp. Molds with a thin porous mesh are dipped into the basins to collect the pulp which form the paper sheet. A frame (deckle) is placed over the screen giving the paper its straight edge. Making handmade paper is thus to “mold and deckle”. The secret ingredient of seeds is then added while the pulp is still wet. Roughly 15 seeds go into an A5 sheet of PCWP. 

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Diatile Telile hard at work forming paper. Image: Gerhard van Vuuren.

EXPORTING TO EUROPE AND AFRICA

The Swartland is so named for the Renosterbush that turns black in the dry summer. Experience has taught Roxanne and her team to include local seeds that are just as hardy as the indigenous “rhino bush” to avoid disappointment in creating cards that don’t seed. 

The alyssum flower, with a shelf life of 18 months, is one such seed. A seed’s resilience is an important consideration when your business involves international orders and exports to Europe and America.

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Motsetsana Alinah forming a new sheet of Growing Paper. Image: Gerhard van Vuuren.

The paper-making process is organic and no bleach is used as the paper is then pressed and die-cut into the required shape – be it greeting cards, promotional paper planes for a local airline, heart-shaped origami butterflies, bespoke bookmarks, colourful coasters, or inventive bottle neck-tags. 

Growing Paper employees carefully hand-feed the paper shape into printers before folding and packaging. Orders are filled and the cycle continues. 

But is Growing Paper – the business – still growing?

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Alfonso Goliath wet pressing the newly formed sheets of paper. Image: Gerhard van Vuuren.

GROWING PAINS OF A HAND-MAKING PAPER COMPANY

“Honestly, I thought we’d be further than we are as a business by now,” laments Roxanne. “Everything is handmade in-house, and we simply aren’t as competitive price-wise as China or India. 

“Our feedback from our overseas wholesalers is that the germination rate of our seeds is the highest there is. We take great pride in knowing that we employ lots of people to make something that will make people happy upon receipt, and then again when it sprouts or flowers.” 

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Rocket seeds germinating from Growing Paper confetti pieces. Image: Growing Paper.

Another challenge Roxanne and her team faces is selling to a local market that is price-sensitive. Globally too, people remain largely uneducated around the ideas of single-use products. Growing Paper relies on the distributors and shop owners to share their story. They also have custom-made merchandising stands made from repurposed wood.

They would use any financial investment “to increase sales and create more jobs by creating market awareness. That may sound dull, but empowering people in our community means a lot to us,” says Roxanne. 

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Design by Alexander Maritz,  from Growing Paper’s Nostalgie range of Artist cards. Image: Growing Paper.

The “Seed Paper People” are a beacon of light in the Swartland. May their numbers multiply as they show us the way to think beyond single-use, beautifully.

HOW TO ORDER GROWING PAPER STATIONERY

Growing Paper sells online. You can find everything from calendars, coasters, wedding stationery, confetti gift tags, bookmarks and more at shop.growingpaper.co.za.

Get to know them, their team and the fascinating art of making paper on their Instagram @growingpaperza and Facebook. Want to get in touch? Email info@growingpaper.co.za or visit their website: growingpaper.co.za

Article by Justin Nurse

A BUSINESS COULD WIN UP TO R100K LOAN* 

Growing paper is a featured business in the Small Business Spotlight, a CapeTownMagazine.com and Lulalend initiative to help boost small businesses.

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