We're thrilled to feature an interview with Canadian business owner extraordinaire, Heidi Reimer-Epp, the owner of Botanical Paperworks.
Photos and text by Diana Foxall
Heidi Reimer-Epp has taken Botanical Paperworks from its unassuming start twenty years ago in her parents’ basement into a business that sold seed paper products to 36 countries in 2016.
“I started Botanical Paperworks because of a love of paper. I have always loved paper – particularly specialty papers with different inclusions in it, like flower petals and leaves, or marbled paper with things painted on it, and crafting with paper,” said Reimer-Epp. “My mum was a schoolteacher at the time and she was looking for a way to incorporate some eco-friendly practices into her curriculum – specifically the language arts curriculum – and saw all the paper that her kids were throwing away. There was no recycling program at the time so her kids would take construction paper and draw a little scribble on it and throw it out in the garbage, and that pained her to see the waste.”
Reimer-Epp’s mother learned how to reuse paper and turn it into fresh paper, and spread the knowledge to her students, who would write stories on the recycled paper and bind them into a book.
“Fast forward to my wedding, and I asked her to do the wedding programs, and people loved them. They were so colourful and eco-friendly and beautiful, people started asking us ‘Where did you get the paper?’ That lead us to a discussion of can we turn this into a business? We did some test marketing and created a line of greeting cards using the handmade paper, and went to five stores and said that if three out of the five stores placed an order, that was going to be a good sign for the business. Well, all five ordered, so we thought ‘Okay, we’ve got a winner here’.”
Reimer-Epp quit her job at a pharmaceutical company to go all-in with Botanical Paperworks. She grew the business into the wedding industry, and discovered along the way that seeds could be incorporated into the pulp during the papermaking process without harming their ability to grow when planted.
“We get post-consumer and post-industrial material from businesses and schools here in Winnipeg. Many of these organizations didn’t have recycling programs before we connected with them, so we pick that up and bring it to our facility, where we turn that used paper into fresh, beautiful, fluffy pulp. And then through our proprietary process, we incorporate the seeds and form the pulp and the seeds into sheets. We make a lot of those sheets of paper and they’re carefully pressed and dried, and then it’s time to turn it into a greeting card.
“We ship those to, let’s say, a company that is wanting to send out an eco-friendly holiday card. That’s a great example of when you’d use a greeting card, so something that is going to communicate the holiday best wishes to a recipient but also communicate that organization’s eco values, sustainability values, and say ‘We’re sending you something that is compostable and recyclable’.“
It’s a scientific process to work out which seeds are suitable for papermaking, but Reimer-Epp now has quite a lengthy list of seeds that she uses in her products.
“The wildflower seed blend is really popular, because it’s so beautiful. And then when you plant it, you get a variety of plants and colours, and some bloom and then others bloom, so that one is really popular,” she said.
At the time Reimer-Epp started Botanical Paperworks in 1997, the promotional products industry was lacking its current emphasis on sustainability, and she was one of the pioneers bringing green options to buyers.
“The eco-friendly aspect was not there. It was interesting for us when we launched into that market with this product that the work that we did in the early days was really explaining why it was great to make good eco and ethical choices with your promotional products. We would find distributors that were on the same wavelength as us, and then that was great because they really understood where we were coming from. So that education component continues to be a big part of our marketing and our content that we put out there on the blog, but in those early days it was really quite a unique message,” she recalls.
Now in 2017, Botanical Paperworks employs “about twenty people” – a far cry from the days when it was just Reimer-Epp and her mother making paper. She’s seen great levels of growth in the North American and European markets, and is looking forward to continuing to provide quality seed paper products to buyers around the world, proving that going green is wonderful for the planet – and can also boost your garden.