Growing up, I only knew two kinds of packaging when buying things. The plastic bag-wrapped article that went into an average looking shopping bag. And the butter paper-wrapped article that went into a box, which had the same matte sheen no matter what big brand you shopped at. Now as we’ve come into the e-commerce age, it is all bubble wrap, nondescript brown boxes and a whole lot of plastic.
We live in a funny time. Everything is about the experience, yet we live online, shop online and are deriving more and more through technological means. To my somewhat traditional mind, brand experience has to have at least some tangible component apart from the product itself. Which means that brands that are mostly online, have a precious channel in product packaging to communicate their philosophy and deliver an experience.
When it comes to the small-brand economy that I’m so passionate about, many local Indian indie brands are embracing this and using packaging as a means of showcasing what they stand for. A big perk of this is the buyer being instantly more excited about a product, when it comes out of something they connect with or feel good about. That’s what happened with me.
The indies love going the distance with little touches and details that align with their reason-to-be. So when products that claim to be eco-friendly turn up without plastic around them or zero-waste companies use leftovers to pack what you order, it’s a good feeling that helps you connect with the brand and the ethos of its creators.
Getting some very interestingly packed products gave me an added dimension of enjoyment with a few local indie brands I ordered from. Like I was buying into an idea that was bigger than the article itself. At the same time, it showed me those who were consistent with their language and walking the talk on their stated ideology. The personal notes, little cards about the brand, materials used all added up.
I think there is no doubt that Apple is a brand that has nailed the ‘special feeling’ when you catch hold of a new product from them. This can be attributed to two things — their slick packaging and how their devices are charged out of the box. They recognised how important and memorable that first experience with a new product is. This is true for pretty much every tangible article, really. What my 15 year old self felt when opening and firing up the new iPod was magic.
Then a few years later, my first encounter with thoughtful and innovative packaging in the consumer mainstream was with Puma. They introduced what they called the ‘Clever Little Bag’ in an attempt to reduce paper consumption in shoe boxes. It used 65% less cardboard than a standard shoe box by wrapping a heat woven bag around a sheet of cardboard to give it structure. It got me thinking about the possibilities that existed in a sphere that was pretty heavy on status quo.
These were just personal incidents that made me observe product packaging more closely every time I purchased something. Ever since, it has been an important consideration.
Product packaging ideas that brought a smile to my face
In the Made in India indie brand arena, there are many surprises in store. Brands are thinking deeply about how their product goes out and reaches the consumer. I had the good fortune of buying some of these products. From what I experienced, here are a few who did it right:
1. No Nasties (Goa)
Goa-based No Nasties, whose USP is organic cotton, use reusable organic cotton bags to pack their stuff. The motifs and colours on the bag seem quite in sync with their vibe. They throw in a quirky ‘Nutrition Facts’ note to show all their clothing is ethically produced. No Nasties is actually going to go completely plastic free, with even the delivery boxes being self-sealing! Talk about commitment.
2. Arture (Chennai)
Arture from Chennai, who have cork products as their stock-in-trade, send their creations in a cute, little handmade paper bag as they want to be eco-friendly and use only natural materials. I also received a personal note from the team, which a lot of people are doing now, but is always a nice touch that adds some human warmth.
3. Korra (Delhi)
Korra jeans was the big surprise. I placed an order in-store for stitching a custom pair, so I received them later at home. I’d heard a little bit about them practicing zero-waste, but getting jeans wrapped in unusable, leftover denim, rolled up with a sturdy cotton string, is just too much fun. The invoice and care instructions are printed on denim paper made out of unusable scraps from the factory floor. This is something they absolutely don’t need to do. But it is heartening to see things that mean something outside of profit margins in today’s times.
4. Bhaane (Delhi)
The carry bag I got after shopping at Bhaane’s Delhi store is easily one of the nicest reusable bags I have ever received. A tote bag on its own, which is really pleasantly unexpected, given the prices you’re paying for their clothes. It goes to show that there’s more at play in their minds about what they wanted Bhaane to stand for and mean to people. This connects really well with the honesty and reality around their designs.
5. March Tee (Pune)
March Tee doesn’t have an elaborate mission or eco-angle to what they do. They simply just want to make really good plain t-shirts. And that shows in their packaging. Neat, minimalist, happy, but with exceptional quality and attention to detail all around — just like their t-shirts. I’m not generally a plastic fan, but the bag in which they pack the tee is just really high quality. So is the paper card on which they pen an artsy note. Oh, and can’t forget the yellow pencil. Little touches.
It’s all about the experience, right? I truly felt it with all these purchases.
Does it really matter?
Packaging is a necessary evil. Most times it is discarded right away, leading to huge amounts of waste. There is also an argument to be made that it adds no value to the product itself. But it says so much, making it an important differentiator that is hard to ignore.
This is especially true in the current scenario where the number of consumer brands online is incalculable, making something seemingly insignificant take a front seat. I can speak for myself when I say that I may have felt less strongly about many Made in India products I recently acquired, if it weren’t for the extras that accompanied and surrounded them.
When I had an in-store experience, the packaging was validation of what I was buying into. And when I ordered online, it resulted in feeling better connected with a brand that was hitherto faceless. But it absolutely did not go unnoticed.
I hear a common complaint that smaller brands can be more expensive than their more popular mainstream counterparts. It is because they go the extra mile on many fronts, such as packaging and pay more attention to the little things. Cost is basically the sole reason for switching to cold, soulless packaging, isn’t it?
Whether how something is packaged matters to you or not is a personal decision, but I believe it separates the ones who really care from those who don’t. Labour of love vs. sound business idea, to put it more simply. Because what they lose out on in price, they make up in details and heart.
Did you also have any product experiences like these? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this story interesting or useful, please spread the indie brand goodness by sharing it!