Imagine the following monologue in the style of an overly enthusiastic late-night infomercial:
Are you tired of throwing your money away on products that disintegrate within weeks?
Do you hate that Jeff Bezos added $67.9 billion dollars to his net worth in a year when the rest of us common folk were barely getting by under the pressures of a global pandemic?
Do you want to know that the people who make the goods you purchase are well treated, well paid and well respected?
Are you sick of spending your hard-earned money on single-use items?
Do you want to save the planet by buying sustainable products that generate no garbage?
Then have we got the company for you!
Öko Creations! For all your ethical consumption needs!
Truly, Oko Creations is the greatest little company you need to hear about, and I want to tell you why.
1- They use a truly eco-friendly fibre
I have a really big problem with false advertising. One of the biggest problems I see in the ballooning zero-waste industry is that of misleading claims and greenwashing.
Greenwashing amounts to marketing a product as safe or low-impact for the environment, natural, chemical-free, etc., when it is, in fact, none of those things. It’s just like how a granola bar that’s got as much sugar as a traditional chocolate bar should not be touted as “healthy.”
Bamboo is everywhere right now, hyped as a “green” fibre used in a variety of textile body-care products as well as apparel and bedding. I’m not about to say that bamboo isn’t luxuriously soft, or that it’s not super stretchy, or that it’s not refreshingly breathable. What I AM going to say is that if you are buying bamboo textile products because you believe them to be good for the environment, then you have fallen prey to the aforementioned greenwashing.
Bamboo viscose (also known as bamboo rayon) is frequently labelled or advertised simply as “bamboo.” We all know what bamboo is and how much pandas love it, and buying something made from bamboo really does sound like the green thing to do. But how does the bamboo that the Ailuropoda melanoleuca* consumes by the kilo get to be the fabric on the reusable menstrual pads or makeup rounds we buy? (*Did you know that was the Latin name for “panda”? I sure didn’t.)
According to the Canadian Competition Bureau, “transforming bamboo fiber into soft fabrics for clothing, towels or bedding involves the use of a lot of chemicals that may be harmful to the environment. The end product of this major chemical transformation process is a fabric called rayon or viscose, which contains no trace of the bamboo plant or its antimicrobial properties.”
This description of the transformation process is anything but reassuring: “Bamboo [is] … soaked in carbon disulfide, and then the syrupy substance is pumped through a pipe and forced through a screen into a vat of sulfuric acid. The substance coagulates as it comes out and can be formed into thread.” (Source)
Long story short: the process of making bamboo into a usable textile (even if it’s 100% organic bamboo!) is far from environmentally safe.
While I would not argue that a bamboo-based product that replaces hundreds of disposable products (for example, cloth diaper inserts) is a terrible thing, what I will say is that claiming your bamboo-based product is made with a “natural” and “eco friendly” fibre is.
So if not bamboo, what does Öko use? Hemp.
And hemp is all the things that bamboo simply is not. It is a high-yield, fast-growing crop that requires little water, no pesticides or fertilizers and takes up far less land because it can be so densely planted.
And in direct contrast to bamboo, it requires no harsh chemical transformation to become a usable fabric. To get from the field to your bathroom counter, the process of creating hemp fibre dates back many centuries; we’ve just mechanized it more. Hemp fibres from the stalk of the plant go through a mechanical process called retting and are then spun together into a thread that is then woven into fabric.
Öko’s hemp fleece is 58% organic cotton and 42% hemp; cotton is not a perfect fibre as cotton requires a great amount of space and water to grow, however, cotton that is certified organic (as is Öko’s) is guaranteed to be free of dangerous and polluting chemicals and grown using lower impact soil and pest management techniques.
At the end of its very long life cycle (more on that in my ode to durability), hemp fleece can be returned to the earth by composting.
Öko’s hemp fabric is not dyed and is not chlorine bleached … it isn’t quite as natural as wiping your face with a freshly picked leaf, but it’s a whole lot closer to that than bamboo viscose!
2- Their products are made to last
Have you seen the animated short “The Story of Stuff?”
That black and white cartoon blew my mind.
Why does everything you buy break? Why does nothing last long enough to get handed down to the next generation? PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE people! I mean, it’s ingenious from a money-making perspective: make something that lasts just long enough that your customers will willingly buy a new one to replace it. Make it impossible to repair the items you sell. Make new, improved versions of your items at breakneck speed so even those to whom you’ve already sold will come back for more!
And when you think about single-use products, the design is equally ingenious: convince people that it’s easier, more sanitary, trendier, more “refined,” to throw away facial tissues and menstrual pads and makeup rounds and diapers and cotton swabs and tubes of toothpaste and bottles of shampoo and containers of floss than it is to reuse or refill.
Consumables make big bank for manufacturers: if your target demographic menstruates five days a month, year in and year out, you’ll sell them a whole lot of boxes of tampons and pads! (And make sure you make the boxes pink so they know who they’re for!)
With the products they sell, Öko is literally saying to its customers “buy less.” Their menstrual pads are designed to last six years, but honestly they last much longer. I did some calculations a few years ago on how many times I’d washed and worn my Öko panty liners (since I use them daily rather than just once or twice each month) and it worked out to far more than six years’ use for periods. And looking back at that post, the pads shown in my photos are still in my rotation now, four years later!
Öko’s hooded bath towels are my go-to baby shower gift, and I plan to use the ones we have (which in some cases have now served four children) on my grandkids—that’s how high quality the fabric is. (If you’ve ever bought a paper-thin baby towel at Walmart, you’ll know those are practically transparent after a few washes.)
No fibre can last forever; eventually the stresses of washing and wearing will break down even the toughest of fabrics, but Öko very deliberately chose hemp for its durability (and its eco-friendliness, as I discussed above).
Öko’s makeup removal pads are undeniably more effective than their disposable cotton counterparts, and they’re practically indestructible. Buy one 8-round package and unless you lose them, I cannot imagine them not lasting you at least a couple of decades. (If a sleeve of 100 disposable cotton rounds is $2, and you use 4 rounds per day (because those things rip apart so easily and absorb nothing), you’ll have recouped your 8-Öko-makeup-pads investment very early on!)
Öko used to make cloth diaper inserts, and they’re made of the same fabric as their menstrual and makeup and nursing pads. I have Öko inserts now that have served four babies, have always been washed in hot water, have always been machine dried and are still fully functional. The inserts that are showing their age and getting holes are still usable in our cloth diapers, but some are now my absolute favourite rags for cleaning the bathroom. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if twenty years from now I was still cleaning bathrooms with old Öko inserts. (And when they’re completely threadbare? COMPOST!)
3- They prioritize ethical production
In high school, my social studies teacher showed us a documentary about sweatshops. I had never heard of such a thing. I had never considered where my clothes came from. I was horrified. I boycotted The Gap and Nike. When my friends and I would go to the mall, I would wait outside those stores, wouldn’t even dignify them with my presence. But then Old Navy came to Canada. And I could afford their clothes. And I quietly put aside my convictions and just tried not to think about the who and the where of my $5 T-shirts.
As an adult and as a mother, I’m by no means immune to fast fashion, but I prioritize second-hand, and when I absolutely need something brand new, I try to look beyond price to see the who and the where of a product’s manufacture.
Just like the vague assurances of “free run” on cartons of eggs, the actual working conditions of the sewists that make the textile products we buy can be unclear. What I love about Öko Creations is the absolute transparency of their production.
Öko makes all of its textile products in their workshop in Boisbriand, Québec. Besides their menstrual and makeup pads, they make handkerchiefs and face cloths, nursing pads, hooded towels for babies and kids, wash mitts, reusable bags for coffee, tea, bulk goods and breads, reusable wraps for sandwiches and pouches for snacks.
Öko’s sewists are part of the team and treated with respect and care. They receive a fair wage and safe and healthy working conditions. In the before times, they had yoga sessions during the week.
Could Öko contract out their manufacturing overseas where wages are tiny and oversight negligeable? Sure they could. It would save them a whole lot of money. But there’s also a human cost to consider, and while humans are often no more than numbers on a page for many companies, humans are at the heart of what Öko does.
4- They’re trailblazers, not trend-followers
Öko Creations first started making two of their most popular products, their cloth menstrual pads and reusable makeup pads, in 2009.
Get in a time machine and tell me exactly how many other brands were doing this at the time. And while you’re in that time machine, find me and tell me to buy some Bitcoin then do a Bing search of the term “zero waste” to see if it was even a thing yet.
Öko took a huge risk launching products that, frankly, many folks would have turned their noses up at. (And some still do.) Period positivity is a pretty new concept, so bringing to market pads that folks have to wash and reuse? That was revolutionary!
Why does it matter who did things first?
As with anything, experience matters. Öko has more than a decade of experience creating effective eco-friendly products, they have more than a decade of feedback from their customers, of trial and error, of making improvements and of truly observing the complete life cycle of their products.
That they’ve been doing this since 2009 also shows me that Öko took a chance on consumers following their lead and wanting reusable alternatives to disposable products before there was a proven market for it. They didn’t wait until everyone and their dog was marching with Greta and suddenly waking up to the realities of our impact on the planet to cash in.
Öko created the products they knew we needed before we knew we needed them.
5- They’re truly Canadian
I mentioned before how much I dislike false or misleading advertising.
Even more so due to the *gestures broadly* current economic situation, we want to support our local businesses and our Canadian and North American businesses. But just how Canadian is that “Canadian” brand you’re shopping with?
To be clear, many, many wonderful companies are based in Canada but sell a product that is made elsewhere. That’s a legitimate business model, and I think as consumers we’ve come to assume most of the items we buy are not made in our backyards.
But in the zero-waste space, shopping local and shopping small is part of the appeal. Certainly, the shorter distance that a product must travel to reach you, the better. So not unlike how the term “green” or “natural” gets bandied about in this niche, so does the term “Canadian company.” Too many well-meaning consumers assume “Canadian company” means the same as “made in Canada.”
More and more brands selling zero-waste products are not doing much more than mass importing items from overseas and having their own cute logo attached. Many are even drop-shipping: they create a beautiful, very Canadian-looking website where you place your order, and all they do is forward that order to an overseas distributor who delivers the goods to you. The end result is a cheaper product, but what does it mean for our local economies?
For me, the primary problem with this business model is not that I have some great beef with overseas manufacturing. Frankly, many items we need are prohibitively expensive to manufacture in Canada. (And that’s an entirely separate economic issue that I don’t claim to have the solution to.)
My problem is the way that the place of manufacture is often gently omitted from advertising, with the fact that the company is Canadian owned being put front and centre (especially, I’ve noticed, in Facebook ads).
While there is no actual falsehood in not specifying immediately where products are made, there is most certainly a deliberate calculation that many consumers see “Canadian” and look no further than the low price or unbeatable “buy 1 get 5 free” offer before ordering, full of warm fuzzy feelings about supporting local and also getting a great bargain.
For brands like Öko that actually do manufacture their products in Canada (and do so ethically), it can be near impossible to compete with brands that sell products that appear similar to theirs (but as you hopefully now understand, are quite different in terms of eco-friendliness, ethics and durability) but who are advertising products at a quarter of Öko’s prices. If we continue, as consumers, to only ever buy the absolute cheapest option, Canadian manufacturing (whether it is textiles or any other consumer goods) will not survive, let alone grow (which is what I hope to see).
If you are paying $5 for a reusable menstrual pad, it is highly likely that someone (or many people) and something (read: the earth) is getting ripped off somewhere along the supply chain. If you make that purchase believing the product to have been made in Canada, then you, too, have been ripped off.
Products manufactured overseas are not inherently inferior; that is far from what I am trying to convey. They are, however, typically cheaper at the expense of someone along the supply chain and they have traveled a much greater distance, and these two truths are incompatible with a true zero-waste lifestyle.
6- Their products will save you money
While Öko’s products cost more than imported semi-equivalents, the fact of the matter is their efficacy and their longevity will save you money in the long term. Therefore, shopping with Öko is both an investment in the future of the planet and the future of your bank balance.
Whether it is disposable makeup pads, nursing pads, facial tissues or menstrual pads, our continual spending of small (albeit not negligeable) amounts of money, month after month, year after year, on these single-use items really does add up.
As I described with my hemp cloth diaper inserts (which are now replacing paper towels, another single-use item I rarely buy) and menstrual pads, Öko’s products last a really, really long time. So if we estimate that we spend about $65/year on disposable menstrual products, and Öko’s pads can last you six to ten years, it’s clear you will be saving bank. There’s also the time savings of not having to make urgent trips to the drugstore when your flow arrives by surprise or when a global pandemic causes people to panic-buy paper towels and toilet paper. (Fun fact: we buy almost no toilet paper at our house, either.)
Do this same math with boxes of Kleenex, paper napkins, makeup remover pads and nursing pads and you’ll see that—even with the justifiably higher price of Öko’s more eco-friendly and more durable hemp products that are ethically made in Canada—the savings are obvious. Not to mention that more and more cities are reducing their residential trash collections and even charging for surplus trash, so that’s another big motivation to go reusable.
In Québec, the list of cities, villages and municipalities offering subsidies for reusable menstrual products is growing by the week. That’s right—many Québec residents can receive cash rebates for the zero-waste products they buy! If this makes you jalouse then start spearheading campaigns where you live. Products that reduce citizens’ trash output saves cities money, and they can and should pass that savings on to you!
7- Their products work
Every single thing I’ve listed above is really not going to be worth your consideration if I cannot also tell you that Öko’s ahead-of-their-time, ethically made, durable and Canadian products aren’t also really awesome.
If it hasn’t already been made clear, I’ve used Öko’s products for many years, so I can give you a very thorough and honest assessment. The only reason Öko’s products have saved me money is because their products do their jobs extremely well.
Öko’s reusable makeup pads are a mainstay in my bathroom. I do not purchase cotton balls or disposable makeup pads because my Öko pads do the job perfectly. From removing makeup to temporary tattoos to applying toners or cleansers or doing minor first aid, they do the job and they do it well.
Their hemp nursing pads kept giant wet circles from forming in my shirts, as I was a very heavy leaker with my first two babies. Smooth and thin, they were much more comfortable than disposable pads. They’re durable enough that I’ve now passed them on to my sister-in-law.
I use Öko’s reusable panty liners daily, and they are comfortable and thin, and thanks to their cotton backing, they stay put in my undies. I used their reusable menstrual pads post-partum and use them now for my period. I have a very heavy flow and prefer a menstrual cup on my heaviest days, but I have been saved many, many a time by using my Öko pads as back up!
Their reusable bulk food, coffee and bread bags are beautifully designed, high quality and help me reduce food packaging in my household.
Their adorable, thick baby towels are absorbent enough for an adult who’s forgotten to grab their own towel.
Their wipes are the perfect alternative to disposable wet wipes, and we use them for diaper changes and nose wiping. Their handkerchiefs are gentle on noses and preferred by all family members to paper tissue.
Their reusable snack bags are perfectly portable and plastic-free, and their sandwich wraps are a great alternative to plastic wrap for your favourite sandwich.
Öko has also recently partnered with another Québec-based brand, Peakbwa, to create a wonderful array of children’s grow-with-me clothing and accessories, which I have recently reviewed and highly recommend!
A final ode to Öko
Imagine a planet where every manufacturer operated the way Öko does. Imagine the economy if it wasn’t an exception to the rule that manufacturers treat their workers well and pay them fairly or that they consider the entire life cycle of their products and their impact on the environment.
Coupon code alert! Use code oko.love.lindsay at checkout to save 15%!