As consumers we’ve been living through a period of economic uncertainty for a while now, with many of us afraid to commit to expenditure that in easier times we wouldn’t have thought twice about. As retailers, manufacturers and suppliers we need to think about the changes we are seeing, and adapt – whilst considering if this is a permanent shift in attitude to the marketplace. Retail Advisor Henri Davies explores how this may impact on our support of charities, good causes and the environment in the future.

Certain products have been sold in aid of charity for years. For some buying ‘charity cards’ is habitual; they buy the pack because of the charity link. Great British Card Company is a card publisher who produces charity Christmas cards and, since 2007, they have raised over £2.7m for charity from the sale of their cards alone. This staggering figure continues to grow and they expect to contribute another £259,000 from their 2018 retail sales. One of their new packs this year is the Almanac Gallery Christmas pack from the Jennifer Rose Gallery for the Woodland Trust (see cover image) which is likely to be a bestseller.

Licensed cards often use images from an archive which has a link to a charity and this is a good way to raise funds as well as spreading awareness of the treasures in their care, be they historic buildings, artefacts or wildlife. A great example of this is The Wildlife Trust’s Water Vole card. These images are an effective way to raise funds for charity whilst spreading their message.

Interestingly enough, there has been a change over recent times of how we donate to charity. The increasing trend in giving to a cause is by buying something, which is now the 2nd most popular way of donating money. Of course, cash donations are still at number one at 55% and buying a lottery ticket in 3rd at 40%. (Charities Aid Foundation UK Giving Report 2018)

Is this new donation trend born out in the card and gift market? Well, if the Stationery Show 2019 Launchpad winners are representative of the market, then the answer has to be yes! Two of the eight winners of this year’s Launchpad are businesses where a purchase from them triggers a donation to specific charities related to their product

A prime example is VENT for Change, whose design-led eco-friendly stationery supports existing children’s education projects worldwide. The projects, run by Plan International UK, help children affected by war, conflict, natural disasters and extreme poverty get back to school and receive the education they deserve.

Secondly Stib, which stands for Sparking Thinking in a Box, is a purposeful business aiming to inspire young hearts and minds, based on a belief in the potential of all children to do amazing things. Stib donates 10% of profits to, which supports education projects for vulnerable children in the UK and overseas.

But it doesn’t have to be a charitable contribution, products can also raise awareness of an issue through imagery, messaging or design. A really good example of this is a range from We Are In Good Company who are ‘on a mission to make space for sober’ with cards and gifts designed to support, encourage and celebrate not drinking – a really hot topic at the moment.

Design isn’t the only way a company can raise attention on an issue though – it can also be the way a product is made. There is definitely an increasing focus on us in the card industry to respond to society’s desire to reduce our impact on natural resources and the use of plastics.

During a recent conversation with Michelle Mills at Windles she mentioned that publishers are more conscious about their carbon footprint and, as a result, are sourcing boards that are more locally sourced to reduce the carbon emissions from transportation.

A board like Incada Silk, which is made in Cumbria in a mill which operates self-sufficiently fuelled by their own biomass plant, is now in huge demand. The material is FSC GC1 recyclable, making it ideal for Christmas cards and photographic images because it prints well with a good surface, shade, rigidity and smoothness. Previously this type of board would have come from India or Canada but can now be made in the UK!

Today design led greetings are often produced on lick coated, uncoated and textured boards because designers want tactile products and these materials are often sourced from boutique mills across Europe. The cold foil process which has become synonymous with the greetings industry works perfectly with lick coated materials.

Recently, there has been increased interest in boards with a unique recycled content like cotton, poo, grass and coffee cups but, because many of these are still handmade, they are still relatively expensive and are often not commercially viable for greetings cards.

Fenner Paper, an independent specialist paper merchants, is a market leader in the supply of papers and boards manufactured from recycled and alternative fibres including the Colorset, Crush, Remake and Shiro ranges.

The Colorset 100% Recycled range has become more popular over the last few years because of the increase in Letterpress printing for greetings cards and the versatility in its 36 colours in the range. Made from 100% post-industrial fibres, Colorset has had the ‘Blue Angel’ environmental certification for over 40 years (the European standard for sustainable and environmentally friendly products.

Crush and Remake are innovative ranges of board, which use recycled pulp and by-products from fruit, nut and leather processing to make beautiful tinted boards. Crush Grape uses the grape residues from wine makers, and Crush Olive residues from olive oil production, their distinctive feel and organic credentials are a popular choice for handmade greetings cards.

Shiro Echo 100% FSC recycled, is suitable for both litho and digitally printed greetings cards. It is the highest quality recycled board, produced from 100% post-consumer recycled fibres.

More cards are being bagged in biodegradable and compostable materials but it is really difficult for consumers and waste management companies to identify these materials from other films, which means at the moment most still end up in land fill. Many larger retailers are offering cards with no bags at all and publishers are developing various types of tab to keep the card and envelope together when on display.

The fantastic thing about all of these initiatives is that charity causes and the environment both benefit. In some cases, those in the supply chain will make a smaller margin on this type of product too as they part fund the donation, material or process. What it does do for businesses is create a positive halo of corporate responsibility for brands for offering these types of products. Completing the cycle is the consumers, who get pleasure from supporting good causes in addition to buying the products they want.

It really is a win, win, win, win situation for everyone!

Henri Davis has 35 years’ retail experience in new product development and buying roles, working with Habitat, Next, WH Smith and the National Trust. For the last 16 years she has worked as an Independent Retail Advisor, specifically in the cards, gifts, stationery and heritage industries. Visit to find out more.

Henri Davis
By Henri Davis
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