Tamecca Seril, CEO & Founder, FOLKUS; Credit: FOLKUS
Welcome to the Watch List, where we highlight new, emerging, and creative consumer goods manufacturers and retailers that are leveraging technology for innovative purposes and results. Know a company we should have on our radar? Drop us a line.
Founded by Tamecca Seril in 2020, FOLKUS, already recognized by the National Retail Federation, emerged as a way to reimagine paper consumption and manufacturing. The self-funded company was brought to life amid a pandemic and taps into the personal experiences of Seril, who answers questions about the company’s long-term sustainability goals and how FOLKUS looks to implement technology to achieve growth.
How do you explain FOLKUS to retailers that aren’t familiar with you?
Many eco-friendly products are smoke and mirrors — inferior quality, expensive, ugly, and barely move the needle toward sustainability. Consumers are clamoring to find the good stuff. But sadly, the soggy paper straw is the poster child and the all-too-common disappointing experience of using eco-friendly/sustainable products. Sustainable products need a hero. FOLKUS is that hero designing beautiful, multipurpose sustainable goods inspired by Black traditions and culture.
FOLKUS is a SCPG — sustainable consumer packaged goods company. FOLKUS packages the sustainable practices of Black folk with innovative material science and manufacturing. The result is multifunctional, climate-friendly cool products for the masses. Our first disruptive product was our award-winning multipurpose stone gift wrapping paper — a liquid/bacteria/grease/rip resistant paper that is manufactured without trees, water, or bleach. We now offer gifts: stone paper office products and convertible luxury bags; home goods and apparel are in development.
How does technology contribute to your overall growth strategy?
Our growth relies on reimagining how we make and use everyday items, which requires identifying and harassing innovative material science and manufacturing technology. Our first attempt was to reimagine paper: Think Rock> Paper> Sustainability. On the front end we replaced trees with upcycled rocks and leveraged a novel manufacturing process, which did not require the typical resources of water or bleach to “mill” a pulp and fiber. The use of rocks makes FOLKUS paper reusable and suitable for a wide range of applications from gift wrap to medical/food grade packaging. FOLKUS stone paper challenges our customers to reimagine how they can use and reuse paper.
What role do consumer insights play within your marketing and product development?
The demand for sustainable or specifically climate-friendly products exists; however, manufacturers across all product categories fail to create compelling sustainable products in the simplest ways, such as beautiful aesthetics and flavorful taste. FOLKUS excels in aesthetics and to some extent storytelling. We test and develop products based on how consumers respond to our surface designs/patterns.
For instance, our Yusuf design is a black and white pattern inspired by the traditional West African bogolanfini “mudcloth” textile. Our customers love the Yusuf pattern on any surface: gift wrap, office products, bags, fabric. Our Yusuf pattern has become the “little black” dress in our portfolio — it goes with everything and on everything.
For us, the success of a surface design pattern is the greatest predictor of future consumer patterns, including sell-through and reorder rate. Our humble and inspired pattern designs provide valuable predictive analytics. When a pattern does well with our customers, it removes some of the risk when we transfer the pattern to a new surface/product category. It also helps us build pattern recognition or a signature look and canonize the pattern across product categories/surfaces.
We also use the information to make product recommendations, to recover abandoned shopping carts, and to merchandise both online, in-person, and through wholesale channels.
What’s the biggest tech challenge for FOLKUS, and how do you plan to solve and scale it?
On the surface, we are a consumer-facing company; however, our aim is to advance the adoption of sustainable materials and manufacturing at an industrial scale. Our challenge is operationalizing the manufacturing infrastructure stateside and abroad.
Where do you see the most innovation in retail technology?
Tremendous innovation gains are being made in “sustainable tech,” specifically in material science and chemistry, from carbon capture and transformation (CCT) technology to carbon negative materials. The application of these technologies is far reaching from major improvements in food supply safety to climate-friendly packaging. However, the power to use digital storytelling/influencer marketing to connect to consumers has an immediate and powerful impact on consumer demand, revenue growth, and culture.
Culture plus tech equals amplification. 2D and QR barcodes have been waiting for their day in the spotlight to transform the retail experience, and now the bar coding technologies seem poised to amplify information dissemination, data collection, storytelling, and the actual commerce.
Spring 2023, FOLKUS is launching a new corporate consumer division called SWAG. SWAG will enable corporate consumers to leverage our private label manufacturing capabilities and license our intellectual property.