There are no questions about it — Woola makes a statement. Their wool-based packaging is attractive. It’s also exactly what the packaging industry is looking for: lightweight, elastic, water-repellent, and temperature regulating. That makes sense since a couple of its founders were running an e-commerce store and looking for sustainable packaging solutions with low environmental impact.
The packaging industry is the single largest consumer of plastics in the world. Because that plastic almost always gets put directly into the garbage, Woola’s founding team knew that they needed to develop a product that wouldn’t rely on fossil fuels and would be sustainable (read: actually reusable or recyclable).
“We knew that we needed to make packaging that’s so good that people will not want plastic anymore,” says CEO and co-founder Anna-Liisa Palatu.
Katrin Kabun, a textile designer, sheep wool expert, and now Woola’s co-founder & Product Manager, grabbed Palatu’s attention via an article in an Estonian newspaper. The piece touted the incredible durability, versatility, and supply of wool.
It was the miracle material Palatu and Jevgeni Širai, co-founder & Head of Sales, were looking for. It’s also in overabundant supply since currently 90%, or 200,000 tons, of it gets burned or buried in the EU every year. Meanwhile, Woola estimates that the currently underutilised sheep wool supply can cover 120% of the global bubble wrap demand.
Building a sustainable supply chain for sustainable packaging
While the Woola team knew that their miracle material was out there, there wasn’t a supply chain for what the sheep industry had been considering as waste for years — sheep wool that wasn’t specifically prepared for textile manufacturing. They got to work.
Here Estonia’s long-standing sheep farming culture and experience paid off. The team was able to connect with farmers all over the country to ensure that not only their product was sustainable but also the farms from which their raw materials come.
Currently, half of Woola’s material supply is from Estonia, with plans to make that 100% by the end of the year. Irrelevant to the source country, Woola partners with small farms, not factories, ensuring that the sheep have the proper care. They’re calling it the KYW process — Know Your Wool. While this doesn’t necessarily affect the wool quality, it does ensure that Woola is keeping in line with its sustainability goals.
To Woola that’s not just the supply and the product, it also means that they’re testing ways to keep the packaging in a circular loop — returned to safely deliver other packages — to understand the decomposition process of its products, and settling up operations that meet high environmental and social standards.
Made in Estonia, shipping everywhere
Woola is already using its Estonia-sourced wonder material in three products: envelopes, bottle sleeves, and wool bubble wrap. It’s currently expanding its customer base in Germany, France, the UK, and the Nordics thanks to its last funding round that prominently featured Estonian investors alongside VC backing.
While Woola has Estonia’s vibrant startup ecosystem and sheep ecosystem for support, Palatu points out that investing in physical products shouldn’t be a concern, especially “if you want to continue living on this planet.” With a planet-saving mission that takes advantage of the growth of e-commerce and a unicorn breeding ground for support, it’s no wonder Woola looks like a unicorn in the making.
“I would really like to see venture capital taking more risks and giving production startups more chances,” says Palatu.
Are you ready to give Estonia’s next unicorn a chance? Whether that’s to reshape shipping packaging with Woola or a mission with another Estonian startup, get in touch with us via e-Consulting. We’ll schedule you an appointment with one of our investment advisors, who are happy to help you on your journey to building a unicorn.