From Poop to Paper: Michael Flancman Gives Us the Scoop
Michael and Tun Flancman’s line of innovative paper products are just loaded with “natural” and “eco-friendly” fibers. The two started POOPOOPAPER, an environmentally friendly company that creates a variety of items — from sassy stationary to adorable animal print journals — using the dung of cows, elephants, pandas, horses, donkeys and moose.
In the early 2000s, the idea for their company was born in Tun’s native homeland of Thailand. While the couple was living there, Michael (who hails from Toronto) learned of a technique local villagers used to make paper from elephant dung. Intrigued by this unusual method, Flancman began working on a business plan that would allow him to use the technique to create paper products that could eventually be sold in North America.
After facing piles of obstacles, Flancman was able to get his business off the ground in 2005 when he started the Great Elephant Poo Poo Paper Co., which produced and sold products like journals, note boxes and stationary — all made from dung sourced from elephants in Chiang Mai. Having launched at a time when “eco-friendly” was becoming more and more appealing to retailers in North America, Flancman’s company plopped into a market that was craving paper products made from materials other than trees.
Today the company is known as POOPOOPAPER, and although its name has changed, the same simple and sustainable methods Flancman originally envisioned for his company are applied by the artisans who create the eco-friendly products at his factories in Chiang Mai.
We caught up with Flancman to find out more about POOPOOPAPER, and to ask the more pressing question of whether or not his products stink (seriously, we want to know if the stuff smells like poo). Here’s what he had to say…
Culture-ist: When did you come up with the vision for POOPOOPAPER? Flancman: In 2003, during the course of my sourcing of all kinds of unique and handmade crafts in Asia, I met one particular artisan that was experimenting with alternative fibers pulp for paper making. Specifically, that alternative fiber was the locally abundant dung, or poop, from elephants. While the concept product was crude and needed some work, I was struck by the idea and the potential underlying message of such a product. I worked to perfect the pulp mixture and the resulting papers, develop a line of finished products and expand the concept to include all sorts of of poop from other fiber eating / vegetarian animals such as cows, horses, donkeys, buffalo etc. plus other agricultural waste fibers from crops such as corn husk and banana trunk.
Culture-ist: Where else have you traveled? Have you come across any other “odd” traditional practices used for craftmaking? Flancman: I’ve been to many different developing countries (India, Vietnam, China, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Mexico) and seen lots of handicrafts being made from a multitude of materials using many processes; however I must admit that the POOPOOPAPER production process, while not “˜odd’ in an academic sense, is definitely an attention grabber and slightly peculiar to many people. Whether you like our products, or not, POOPOOPAPER is difficult to forget about.
Culture-ist: Top 5 things you want to put the word Poo in front of and sell. Flancman: We make paper so the trick really is to be continually creative in our designs so our target consumers buy and use our paper and are ultimately touched by the message that POOPOOPAPER conveys. More often than not this creativity results in a new collection or product line or theme. For example, our POO-LITICAL POOPOOPAPER (which starts with “poo”) is a collection of notepads timed to hit the market this election year. The notepads are made from either recycled donkey or elephant poop and have fantastic artwork that espouses eco-friendliness and at the same time jabs at both of the political parties by the very nature of what material we’ve used to make this collection. Of course, if you don’t know that the GOP uses an elephant as its logo, and the Dems have a donkey as its logo, the purpose and appeal may be lost.
Culture-ist: How often do people ask if the products smell? Flancman: All the time. This is probably the most popular question we’re asked by new people we meet followed closely by “have you washed your hands?” usually asked to our sales staff at a trade show when shaking hands!
Culture-ist: Do you attribute the poo shock value to your success? Flancman: Definitely, the shock value is a big part of it. That’s definitely a conversation starter and important backbone of the marketing behind POOPOOPAPER! This definitely triggers people to stop, find out more info and look (or smell) and prompts many to then learn about the other merits of our products”…such as:
POOPOOPAPER products are handmade and natural
POOPOOPAPER has an underlying message of sustainability that hopefully inspires
The eco-friendliness of the POOPOOPAPER production process compared with typical wood-based pulp papers
How we provide employment to local artisans and help to preserve the local cottage/village-based craft industry and other minorities in the northern part of Thailand where we operate.
Culture-ist: What has been the most important lesson you have learned during your first few years as an entrepreneur? Flancman: Always have a sense of urgency”…if you have an idea or a plan and you decide to go ahead with it “…don’t drag your feet”….jump on it “…get it executed so you can find out if it succeeds or fails so you can go on to the next step where you’ll no doubt be met with your next challenge and decision. Easier said than done of course.
Also, you need to remain positive and optimistic through the inevitable setbacks/hurdles and keep pushing forward (assuming of course that your basic idea is plausible). If you like analogies, I have one: Business is like a field full of turds that you need to walk through”….lots of obstacles, challenges and even doubts at times. Some big. Some small. Some you expect and some you don’t. So, when you step on one of those turds (and you surely will), you need to pick yourself up, wipe yourself off, learn from it and press on. Resilience to pick yourself up and adapt, fortitude to press on despite naysayers or perhaps even your own apprehensions, tenacity, a sense of humor and of enjoyment of the very process itself are all essential.
Culture-ist: What’s your personal favorite POOPOOPAPER product? Flancman: Tough call. Right now my favorite is the POO-LITICAL POOPOOPAPER. We have a small red, white and blue scratch pad that’s available in either Elephant POOPOOPAPER or Donkey POOPOOPAPER and the artwork says “I’m Behind Our Nation’s Freshest New Movement”! I think these products are pretty clever, hilarious, novel and serious all at the same time. Unfortunately, given the political partisanship prevailing right now these items are really timeless”…which is good for business I suppose 😉
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