Whether we use them for birthday parties or taking our coffee on-the-go, every mama uses paper products. The issue: even the brands that claim to be better for the environment aren’t taking the necessary steps to protect the environment. Heather K. Terry and Selina Fletcher started Paper Greats to take the guess, mess, and stress out of your life with a line of paper products that does right by the planet. We sat down with Heather and Selina to hear how they’re meeting consumers right where they are while driving progress.
How did the idea to start Paper Greats come to you? How did your respective backgrounds prepare you to turn it into reality together?
Selina: The idea came to me after some ugly paper plates saved my life. The idea turned into a dream to create a beautiful paper plate that might be able to help lots of women survive the complexity of being an adult human while not adding any extra guilt about using disposables. I wanted to create something that would be easy but not make you feel like you had given up on yourself. And something that would not keep you up at night worrying you were going to destroy the planet the next generations would inherit.
Prior to Paper Greats, I worked in finance as a C-suite executive/personal assistant.
I am highly organized, extremely detailed oriented and excel at figuring out how to get the job done. I believe in kindness, karma, respecting everyone as equals and showing up. This all served me well when I knocked on Heather’s door and asked her to have a paper baby with me. She shared the same values and my skill set perfectly complements her skill set. I am so grateful for her background because I get to learn from her experience every day.
Heather: When Selina came to me with the idea, I was really interested and after doing some market research I thought if we married the idea of disposables with beautiful design and sustainability, we’d have a slam dunk.
I’ve been in consumer packaged goods for over ten years in natural food and beauty, so one could say my entire career has led me to working alongside Selina in this company.
What were the first steps you took after you decided to move forward?
Heather: For me, market research is everything. So that was much of the first few months for us along with setting up company so that we had a solid foundation from which to work.
Selina: I come from a family of lawyers so we made it official with the necessary legal documents. We have been having fun and working hard ever since the ink dried.
What were your most surprising learnings early on?
Heather: With the product, it was how much sustainability and recycling are misunderstood. In our business partnership, it was that I had finally found the right business partner.
Selina: When two people share the same values, make communicating a priority, and believe showing up matters the most real magic can happen.
From a sustainability standpoint, what differentiates Paper Greats from other paper goods on the market?
Heather: Most companies are ‘greenwashing’. Greenwashing happens when companies allow consumers to believe they are doing the right thing because technically something is true. For example: some cups are compostable but most of them end up in landfills, so their compostability is obsolete. Compostability is dependent on very specific conditions involving heat and air—which are not present in a landfill. Also, there are very few industrial compost facilities in the US and no formal way of getting those compostable materials to them. At Paper Greats we are 100% transparent and speak honestly to the challenges we all face by using disposables. We know consumers aren’t ready to give disposables up completely, so we have created a more sustainable solution than what previously existed on the market.
Selina: And the products are nice to look at!
And from a design perspective, how does Paper Greats differ from other brands that make sustainability a priority?
Selina: Eco doesn’t have to mean unattractive. Being kind to the planet doesn’t have to be bland, boring, blah. Beauty and sustainability do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Who is your customer, and how do you meet her exactly where she is?
Selina: She is me, she is Heather, she is my mom. She is a person who is juggling a lot, she cares about things (her family, her job, the planet), and she is looking for something to be taken off her plate. So we meet her in front of the sink as she is standing alone. We show her a simple lever she can pull to get some free time back. And the bonus – it’s pretty and doesn’t hurt the planet.
Heather: I’ll add to Selina’s sentiment here with a fact that we’ve researched extensively: consumers want to do the right thing. In the US we don’t have very clear recycling guidelines and Paper Greats is here to help define some kind of clarity that our customers can feel confident in. It won’t always be perfect but it will start moving all of us in the direction that supports larger eco initiatives.
What has the customer response been like so far?
Heather: I think customers are really excited to participate in sustainability and take it into their own hands with us alongside them for support. Everyone—and especially every mom or caretaker—wants to do something to leave the planet better for their children.
Selina: Absolutely fabulous! We created products to spread joy and ease and it feels absolutely amazing when we receive feedback affirming a customer enjoyed using our products.
As customers become increasingly environmentally sensitive, how do you plan to meet their evolving needs with new offerings?
Heather: As we evolve as a business, we are ultimately looking to move consumers to a zero-waste lifestyle. We see single use disposables as one of the largest issues we face as a country, from an eco perspective. So we started there. As consumers evolve, we will evolve with them. As a business, our phase two will include products that you can use multiple times—think of a coffee cup that lasts for 3-6 months that you can then change out and items like that.
Selina: We operate from a place of no judgement. We like to meet our consumer where she is. We believe it is about proper education and then ease of implementation. If it is confusing or inconvenient we have missed an opportunity. As a brand, we try hard every day to do the right thing, make the best choices, and we are working to create new offerings that will allow our customers to do the same.
So your products lend perfectly to gatherings and are particularly appealing to moms. On a more personal note, we have to ask: as a mom (Heather) and an actively involved aunt (Selina), what is your take on the value of community? How does getting together with family, friends, and local communities help moms thrive?
Heather: Community is everything when you start a business. If you’re surrounded by people who don’t truly support you, it’s going to get uncomfortable fast. I have spent the last ten years really finding the people who are there for me and whom I can reciprocate that with. That also changed when I became a parent—my whole balance shifted. Life is funny that way. People come in for a reason, a season, but the really good ones are always there. You need to be able to have women in your inner circle who truly understand what you are going through. Don’t underestimate those relationship! Chances are, someone else has gone through or is going through the same things as you. As one of our coffee cups says: But First, Survival. Any mom or caretaker knows that cup of coffee might be the only thing getting you through today.
Selina: It truly take a village. We exist together. It’s the community that allows us to survive. And it’s the right community, it allows us to thrive. Some days it is a group text that gets me through. Other days it is looking forward to family dinner with my sister. Both are about deep connection, about something bigger than just myself.
The Great Plate was our first paper baby and it was conceived to give women more time with their community. More time doing anything else because Paper Greats took the pile of dirty dishes calling your name out of the equation. Time is precious and priceless. So is our planet. Hopefully Paper Greats can remind you of that and provide you with an easy solution.