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An Interview with the Founder of Green Banana Paper

An Interview with the Founder of Green Banana Paper

Creating a unique path into the sustainable eco-luxury fashion world.

Matt Simpson is a 31-year-old American expat who has lived in Micronesia for nine years. After graduating college from the University of Vermont, he came to the islands as a volunteer teacher with WorldTeach, an organization that places volunteers in developing countries. He ended up teaching for five years before turning his focus from education to business. Matt found that most of his students would leave the island to work minimum wage jobs abroad, and knew that many young people wanted to stay in the islands, but couldn’t find any work. So he started Green Banana Paper in hopes of creating as many new jobs as possible for his adopted community. We asked Matt a few questions about his journey and the products his team is making from recycled banana trees.

Why did you decide to start Green Banana Paper?

I had been living and teaching on Kosrae for three years and had learned the local culture, language, and gotten a feel for what life in the islands was all about. I was surfing a lot and really happy, but realized I wanted to help more than my 100 students I was teaching each year. Helping others has always been very fulfilling for me, and I knew that being an entrepreneur would allow me to do more for the island—as long as benefits to the community was the main focus, rather than profits.

How did you know banana trees could be used to make these products?

A friend told me about a documentary she saw of people in Thailand using banana trees to make paper. So I jumped on Google, and the info was fascinating. It’s very sustainable and rapidly renewable—and on our island, banana trees belong to the people rather than a single plantation. It’s one of the most eco-friendly and widespread resources we have. Most of our exports are from limited resources like fish, but banana trees must be chopped down anyway, as they only fruit once per life cycle. The harvested tree is removed to make room for the new shoots coming up from the bottom. The trees grow rapidly, from 5-10m in height over just 12 months, giving us a lot of fiber to work with.

What made you decide to make vegan wallets with your paper?

I decided to make the paper wallets after discovering the water- and tear-resistant properties of our papers. I spoke with customers who wanted fashionable wallets that are non-leather and earth-friendly. We made the first wallet prototype in May of 2015 and it worked really well. After testing and redesigning for strength, functionality and elegance, we are really confident in and proud of our wallets.

Usually, paper doesn’t react well with water. What makes your wallets water-resistant?

Thanks for asking that. It’s one of the first questions people ask when they pick up our wallets. Banana trees are actually 90% full of water their whole life, so the fibers are naturally water-resistant. Additionally, we apply a thin coat of natural wax and are experimenting with a Japanese method of turning paper into fabric using konjac root. We’ve thrown our wallets in the ocean and poured water on them thousands of times to show customers that even if the water soaks in, the wallets will be fine once dried.

Why should people support you and your company?

A leading sustainable fashion designer Joshua Katcher says, “In order for fashion to be truly good, the handsomeness of the object must be matched by the handsomeness of how it was made. There is poetic grace and heightened pleasure in fashions of conscientious construction.” I believe Green Banana Paper epitomizes social enterprise ideals and how research and development of new products for the Western market can promote solutions for global issues, including targeting positive economic development within countries like Micronesia. The production of our wallets has been highly creative and skilled, and offers opportunities for fulfilling and meaningful work. The benefits go beyond the fact that our open-air eco-factory has great working conditions, or that the workers are paid 50% higher than the average salary. Our products are benefiting over 100 families, farmers and friends.”

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