Banana paper maker sees way forward in NZ

Derek Dolence is greatly impressed with the high awareness about eco-friendliness and fair and sustainable trade practices among Kiwis.

 

Derek Dolence at his Green Banana Paper stand at the PTI Pasifika Business Market in Auckland.

Mr Dolence was representing his company Green Banana Paper, exhibiting its range of products at Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) NZ’s Pasifika Business Market during Auckland’s Pasifika Festival in March. He is the company’s B2B Sales Manager.

On show were wallets, purses, small bags and a range of stationery items fashioned out of paper and card made from banana fibre, which were a great hit with visitors to the company’s booth at the event at Western Springs.

“We were pleased to find that New Zealand’s market prioritises fair trade and investment that caters to new-to-market businesses from all around the Pacific. This has made the path to the New Zealand market much easier to forge,” Mr Dolence told Pacific Periscope.

He was appreciative of the value New Zealanders place on eco-friendly and sustainable products and processes. “Consumer consciousness on sustainability and social impact is high in New Zealand and products made from natural materials in a sustainable way such as our wallets and purses are clearly preferred over the same type of products made from leather,” he said.

FSM’s vegan friendly Green Banana Paper

The business being a social enterprise was also appreciated by Kiwis and visiting a country with this high awareness was a good test of the appeal of the product in such a market, he added. “We were very pleased to find most consumers at Pasifika to be globally and socially-conscious making our products, that incorporates eco-friendly and cruelty-free practices, heavily resonate with Kiwis.”

He said the New Zealand experience was thought-provoking and provided insight on how to make a more profound mark on the market. “We plan to foster our relationships within New Zealand and spread our distribution throughout the region,” he said.

Speaking of his experience meeting Kiwi customers face-to-face he said, “It was great to see repeat customers come back for more of Green Banana Paper products.”

He said one of highlights of the event was, “To see customers buy a new Green Banana wallet and move the contents of their old wallet into the new one right in front of my eyes.”

As well as seeing product sell briskly, Mr Dolence said the trip to New Zealand was educative in terms of collecting valuable customer feedback.

“It also was so important to hear the consumer feedback and their enthusiasm, so we can take that information back to the drawing board and implement it to ensure growth and longevity.”

The feedback will likely spark new ideas: “We had a lot to think about regarding product development after Pasifika and speaking with consumers. People view us as a supplier of an eco-friendly, socially-conscious lifestyle so they want us to provide a wider collection of leather-alternative products — wallets, phone cases, computer cases, belts, travel pouches, etc.”

Mr Dolence was also pleasantly surprised by the opportunities that opened up at the Pasifika Business Market. “It was invaluable to spend time alongside fellow Pacific Island businesses which allowed us to create a network of support and business relationships,” he said.

PTI NZ Trade Development Manager Ian Furlong said, “Green Banana Paper’s backstory of an eco-friendly, sustainable social enterprise making such cool products was one of the most compelling stories at Pasifika.”

Green Banana Paper is a graduate of the PTI NZ multi-step Path to Market programme, which is designed to help build capacity in Pacific companies to export to New Zealand. One of the important steps in the programme is the companies’ participation in a trade show in New Zealand such as the Pasifika Business Market.

Based on the remote island of Kosrae in Micronesia, Green Banana Paper is a waste-to-wealth company owned by Matt Simpson, who moved to Micronesia from the United States nine years ago.

Beginning as a volunteer with World Teach, a global organisation placing young adults in schools around the world to support education in developing countries, he learned that many of his students had to leave their island home to work basic jobs in the US, working in fast food chains or retail stores.

Matt fell in love with the Kosrae lifestyle and in 2015 started a business to help provide on-island opportunities for young people who wanted to stay back. His team developed an ethical and sustainable process involving traditional and modern techniques and tools to make paper from banana fibre. The company works with 75 local farmers and employs 18 staff.

Banana trees only fruit once in their life and then must be chopped down to make room for their self-replicating offshoots to grow. Usually these trees are left to rot in the jungle. Green Banana Paper created a way to recycle this resource.

The harvested banana trees are then naturally processed and made into handmade banana fibre papers, wallets, and woven products.

For more information email Ian Furlong, PTI NZ Trade Development Manager at ian.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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