Published Feb 13, 2024 ⦁ 19 min read
Creating Merch: Sustainable Practices

Creating Merch: Sustainable Practices

Brands looking to create merchandise face growing pressure to align production with corporate sustainability goals.

By exploring eco-friendly materials and manufacturing processes, brands can build merchandise that embodies their values while future-proofing operations.

This article will cover pillars of sustainable production like renewable textiles and recycled materials, innovative fulfillment models that reduce waste, and how to leverage certifications and partnerships to credibly communicate eco-conscious practices to consumers.

Aligning Merch Creation with Corporate Sustainability Goals

Sustainability has become a key priority for many corporations today. Customers increasingly expect brands to demonstrate environmental responsibility in all areas of their business, including merchandise production. By aligning merch creation strategies with sustainability goals, companies can meet consumer demand while reducing their environmental impact.

The print-on-demand business model offers an effective approach to sustainable merchandising. By producing items only when ordered, it eliminates waste from overproduction. Eco-friendly materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester can also be used to lower environmental footprints.

Some best practices for creating sustainable custom merchandise include:

  • Choosing certified environmentally friendly materials and inks
  • Working with manufacturers that use renewable energy and ethical labor practices
  • Offering customizable products to reduce waste from unwanted inventory
  • Using minimal, recyclable packaging and biodegradable mailers
  • Providing easy recycling programs for branded merchandise

The key is selecting production partners that prioritize sustainability without sacrificing quality or reasonable costs. With careful vendor selection and supply chain oversight, brands can align merch strategies with their corporate responsibility commitments. The result is impactful promotional products that reinforce sustainability messaging.

Can you design your own merch?

Yes, with the right online platform, anyone can create customized merchandise to promote their brand. Here are some tips for designing sustainable merch that aligns with your corporate responsibility goals:

Choose eco-friendly materials

When creating merch, opt for materials like:

  • Organic cotton t-shirts and bags
  • Recycled polyester hoodies and hats
  • Upcycled materials from waste streams

Select responsible production methods

Look for providers that offer:

  • Print-on-demand to reduce waste
  • Renewable energy in manufacturing
  • Ethical working conditions and fair wages

Minimize environmental impact

Consider merchandising strategies like:

  • Localized production to reduce carbon emissions
  • Biodegradable mailers and packaging
  • Bundled orders to optimize fulfillment

With easy-to-use online editing tools, you can design fully customized sustainable merch in minutes. This allows small businesses and nonprofits to promote their brand while supporting larger corporate sustainability initiatives.

How do you start a merch?

To start selling merchandise online, there are a few key steps:

Define Your Brand Identity

First, clearly define your brand identity and values. Consider your target audience, brand mission, and the types of products you want to offer that would appeal to your fans.

Brainstorm and Validate Product Ideas

Next, brainstorm merchandise ideas that align with your brand identity. You can survey your email list or social media followers to validate which product ideas resonate most. Top-selling merch often includes apparel like t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats.

Design and Mock Up Products

Then, work with a designer to create product visuals and mockups. These will allow fans to envision the products before ordering.

Choose a Print Provider

You'll need to determine production and fulfillment. Options include utilizing a print-on-demand platform that handles production and shipping for you or finding a custom manufacturer. Ensure your provider offers sustainable production methods.

Set Up Your Shop

Once you have mockups, add products to your online shop so fans can purchase. Popular platforms include Shopify, WooCommerce, Teespring, and others.

Market Your Products

Finally, promote your merch on your website, email lists, and social channels. Run contests for free gear or showcase fans wearing your designs.

Following these key steps will set you up for merchandising success and spreading brand awareness. Let me know if you have any other questions!

How do content creators make merch?

Making merchandise can be a great way for content creators to further engage with their audience and generate additional revenue streams. Here is an overview of key steps for creating merch:

Set up an online shop

The first step is to open an online shop to sell your merchandise. Many platforms like Teespring, Spreadshirt, and Merch by Amazon allow you to easily create product listings. These sites handle production and fulfillment.

With your own ecommerce site, you have more customization options but also take on more operational responsibilities. Shopify and WooCommerce are popular choices to build your store.

Design your products

Next, create designs featuring your brand, channel art, inside jokes with your community, etc. Simple text and graphic tees tend to sell well. Consider slogans, iconic imagery, or recognizable references your fans will appreciate.

Connect shop to channel

Link to your merchandise shop on your YouTube channel so viewers can easily discover and buy your products. Share the URL in descriptions, end cards, etc.

Promote offerings

Let your audience know about your merch by announcing it in videos and on social media. Limited editions and new product drops also help drive interest and sales. Discount codes are another way to incentivize purchases.

With quality products and some promotion, merchandising can be a lucrative component of a content creator's business. It strengthens connections with your most dedicated supporters.

Do you have to pay to make merch?

With Printify's print-on-demand business model, you can create and sell customized merchandise without any upfront costs. This allows entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses to test products and expand their merchandise offerings while avoiding large initial investments.

Here are some key things to know about how Printify's free merch making works:

  • No setup fees or monthly subscriptions - You can sign up for a free Printify account and start designing products right away. There are no hidden fees.

  • Only pay when you make a sale - You place orders for merchandise through Printify as customers purchase from your store. Printify handles production and shipping. You only pay for items after they are sold.

  • Free product testing - Design as many product mockups as you want through Printify to see how your branding and designs will look. There's no obligation to order.

  • Wide selection of products - Printify offers dozens of merchandise options from t-shirts and hoodies to phone cases, hats, bags, and more. You can test different products for free.

  • Easy design customization - Use Printify's online design tools to easily customize products with your logos, images, and text. No special design skills required.

So in summary, Printify allows entrepreneurs to experiment with customized merchandise and scale up successful products without risky upfront investments. You can start selling merch today without needing to pay anything until you make your first sale. This print-on-demand model makes merchandising accessible for small businesses and creators.

The Foundation of Sustainable Practices in Merch Production

Understanding the core concepts of sustainability in e-commerce and merchandising, this section will delve into the principles and benefits of adopting green manufacturing processes.

Sustainability in E-Commerce: Beyond Buzzwords

Sustainability has become a buzzword in many industries, but what does it truly mean for e-commerce and merchandise production? At its core, sustainability refers to business practices that meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. This applies to sourcing materials, manufacturing processes, transportation, and fulfillment.

For merchants and online retailers, a sustainable approach involves considering the entire lifecycle of products - from design and materials to packaging, shipping, and end of life. The goal is to reduce environmental impact at every stage through strategies like:

  • Sourcing eco-friendly, renewable, or recycled materials
  • Adopting low-impact production methods
  • Using biodegradable packaging
  • Optimizing logistics for lower emissions
  • Providing repair/reuse programs

Implementing such practices allows brands to offer quality merchandise while upholding environmental values that attract conscious consumers.

The Pillars of Sustainable Fashion and Merchandise

Several key pillars constitute a sustainable approach to fashion and merchandise:

  • Ethical Sourcing: Ensuring fair labor conditions and prices for producers of raw materials and manufacturing. This provides transparency into vendors and promotes safe, equitable treatment of workers.

  • Renewable Resources: Utilizing materials that can be easily replenished without harming ecosystems, like organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, etc. This reduces dependence on finite resources.

  • Recycled Content: Repurposing used materials, textiles, plastics, etc. into new products. This diverts waste while lowering carbon footprint.

  • Eco-Friendly Production: Employing manufacturing processes like low-impact printing and dyeing that use fewer chemicals, emissions, water, and energy.

  • Biodegradable Packaging: Using plant-based packaging materials that naturally decompose to avoid plastic pollution.

By integrating these pillars into merchandise practices, brands can offer quality products while upholding sustainability.

Corporate Responsibility: Aligning Products with Values

For modern brands, sustainability goes hand-in-hand with corporate social responsibility and ethical values. Consumers increasingly make purchases based on a company's commitments and practices around social and environmental issues.

As such, brands have a responsibility to ensure their merchandise reflects corporate values around sustainability. This includes vetting vendors, minimizing footprint, using eco-materials, offsetting emissions from production and shipping, etc. It also means publicly sharing sustainability goals and efforts with consumers.

Aligning products with ethical values boosts consumer trust and loyalty while future-proofing businesses against climate risk. It also mitigates reputational damage from accusations of greenwashing.

Advantages of Sustainable Merchandise Creation

Committing to sustainable merchandise offers many benefits:

Consumer Appeal

Eco-conscious consumers are drawn to brands that match values around sustainability. This can greatly expand target audience.

Competitive Edge

Leading in sustainability earns recognition and boosts perception of innovation and leadership.


Proactive climate action reduces disruption risk from regulatory changes, resource scarcity, etc.

Cost Savings

Efficient production can decrease expenses over the long term despite upfront investment.

Positive Impact

Sustainable practices ultimately reduce environmental harm from production, shipping, and waste.

By taking a holistic approach across the product lifestyle, merchants enable quality branding and consumer connection while upholding sustainability.


Eco-Friendly Materials for Merchandise

Focusing on the selection of materials that minimize environmental impact, this section will cover renewable and recycled options for sustainable merchandise creation.

Organic and Renewable Textiles

Organic cotton and other renewable textiles like hemp, bamboo, and linen play a key role in reducing the carbon footprint of merch production. These materials are grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, using farming methods that help preserve soil health and conserve water. For example, organic cotton requires 91% less water to produce than conventional cotton. These sustainable textiles provide an eco-friendly alternative to traditional materials.

When sourcing organic and renewable textiles, it's important to ensure transparency around growing and harvesting methods through third-party certifications like GOTS. Traceability allows brands to validate the sustainability claims around their materials. Partnering with trusted suppliers also enables access to premium quality sustainable textiles.

Recycled Materials: A New Life for Old Resources

Recycled polyester made from discarded plastic bottles offers an innovative way to repurpose waste into sustainable merchandise. Recycled polyester uses less water, energy, and natural resources compared to virgin polyester. Other recycled materials like recycled cotton and nylon give new life to pre-consumer textile waste from manufacturing.

Upcycling used materials through recycling not only diverts waste from landfills but also reduces the need for extracting new raw materials. This helps minimize the carbon emissions and pollution created during resource extraction and processing. Brands should verify recycled content through chain-of-custody certification.

Ethical Sourcing of Raw Materials

Ethically sourced raw materials involve fair labor practices, safe working conditions, and environmentally responsible methods across the supply chain. Eco-conscious brands must trace components back to their origin to ensure sustainability claims are valid.

For example, ethically harvested wood and paper products will adhere to standards around conservation, water use, emissions, waste management, and more. Responsible mining initiatives also seek to improve transparency, reduce conflict, and develop local communities. Prioritizing ethical sourcing aligns with corporate values around social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Innovations in Biodegradable and Compostable Materials

Several promising materials offer biodegradable or compostable solutions for eco-friendly merchandising production. Bio-based plastics derived from plants like corn and sugarcane provide alternatives to traditional petroleum-based plastics. These innovative materials break down through natural processes and help reduce plastic waste pollution.

Compostable shipping materials like plant-based bubble wrap and corn starch packing peanuts offer plastic-free, certified compostable options. Continued research around materials science unlocks new possibilities for merchandise made from agricultural waste, algae, and other renewable resources. As technology progresses, sustainable alternatives will become more accessible and affordable.

Green Manufacturing Processes

This section explores how sustainable production methods can be integrated into the creation of merchandise, ensuring a lower environmental impact and adherence to ethical standards.

Low-Impact Printing Techniques

When creating merch, it's important to utilize low-impact printing techniques that reduce waste and conserve resources. Some eco-friendly options include:

  • Digital printing: This on-demand printing method reduces overproduction and allows for easy customization. It uses inkjet technology and eliminates the need for printing plates.

  • Waterless printing: Conventional printing uses a lot of water for cleaning plates and blankets. Waterless printing eliminates this water use.

  • Soy/vegetable-based inks: These inks are made from renewable, plant-based sources instead of petroleum. They emit fewer VOCs and are easier to break down.

  • Recycled paper: Opting for post-consumer recycled paper significantly reduces waste compared to virgin paper. It has less impact on forests and landfills.

Utilizing Renewable Energy in Production

Manufacturing facilities can integrate renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. This allows sustainable production of merch using cleaner energy instead of fossil fuels.

Some examples include:

  • Installing rooftop solar panels to power equipment and facilities. This can offset a significant portion of energy needs.
  • Purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) to support the production of solar/wind power.
  • Using on-site wind turbines in windy areas or small-scale hydropower from streams.

Switching even 20% of energy use to renewables creates a meaningful sustainability impact from merch production.

Waste Reduction Strategies in Manufacturing

There are many effective techniques manufacturers can use to minimize waste when producing sustainable merch, including:

  • Material efficiency: Carefully calculating materials needed for production runs reduces overordering and waste. Following lean manufacturing principles also eliminates non-value-added steps.

  • Reusing scrap materials: Scraps from cutting/production can be repurposed for stuffing, packaging, or other uses instead of ending up in the landfill.

  • Recycled packaging: Using post-consumer recycled cardboard, paper, and biodegradable polymers for packaging keeps waste out of landfills.

  • Responsible disposal: Any non-reusable waste should be disposed of through safe, ethical channels instead of incineration or landfilling which can pollute communities.

Ensuring Ethical Labor Practices

Sustainable manufacturing must be paired with ethical labor practices including:

  • Fair wages, reasonable hours, and good working conditions for all workers. Audits help verify compliance.
  • No child labor or forced labor. Strict age-verification and labor regulations are essential.
  • Providing training and growth opportunities. Building an inclusive, equitable work culture improves retention.
  • Transparent reporting on labor policies. Companies should publish supplier standards publicly.

Following ethical practices enables the sustainable production of merch while supporting worker wellbeing.

Innovative Fulfillment: The Print-on-Demand Business Model

The print-on-demand business model offers an innovative approach to merchandise fulfillment focused on sustainability. By producing products only when ordered and enabling full customization, brands can significantly reduce waste and emissions.

Customizable Products and Reduced Inventory Waste

A major benefit of print-on-demand is the ability to offer customized products without the risk of overstock. Brands can design unlimited products, print only what's purchased, and adapt swiftly to changing customer preferences. This eliminates the financial, storage, and environmental costs of unsold inventory sitting idle. Studies show apparel overproduction contributes over 20 million tons of waste annually. Print-on-demand alleviates this issue through made-to-order production.

Localized Production for Lower Emissions

Print-on-demand enables localized manufacturing, with production facilities distributed globally. By fulfilling orders from local sources rather than relying on long-distance shipping, carbon emissions can be cut dramatically. Regional facilities also allow brands to support local economies and use renewable energy where available. Studies estimate apparel transportation accounts for upwards of 5% of global emissions - localized print-on-demand significantly reduces this impact.

Streamlining Logistics to Minimize Carbon Footprint

In addition to localized production, print-on-demand streamlines the supply chain by removing warehousing needs. Products ship directly from manufacturing facilities to customers, eliminating carbon-intensive storage and double shipping legs. Further efficiencies can be gained by bundling shipments, optimizing delivery routes, and prioritizing low-impact transportation methods. Careful logistics planning is key for brands minimizing their carbon footprint.

Case Studies: Success Stories in Print on Demand

Many brands have successfully implemented sustainable print-on-demand models, including custom t-shirt maker Rush Order Tees and poster creator Minted. By producing products only when ordered and locating facilities strategically, they've significantly reduced textile waste and transport emissions while still meeting customer demand. Their lean, flexible production has become a blueprint for startups and enterprises pursuing eco-conscious merchandise creation and fulfillment. As consumers increasingly demand ethical, low-impact goods, print-on-demand paves the way for brands to meet sustainability goals while remaining profitable and efficient.

Packaging with a Conscience: Biodegradable and Recycled Options

Sustainable packaging is a key consideration for eco-conscious brands looking to reduce their environmental impact. By choosing recycled and biodegradable materials over traditional plastics, companies can align their merchandising efforts with larger corporate sustainability goals.

Choosing Recycled and Recyclable Packaging Materials

Recycled materials help drive the circular economy by giving new life to waste. Brands should look for packaging made with post-consumer recycled content, which diverts waste from landfills. Some eco-friendly options include:

  • Corrugated Cardboard: Sturdy boxes made with recycled paper pulp are fully recyclable after use.
  • Recycled PET: Plastic bottles recycled into polyester for reusable mailers and envelopes.
  • Reclaimed Cotton: Using scraps from textile mills reduces waste in the fashion industry.

It's also important to select packaging that is recyclable in common curbside programs. Careful material choices allow custom merchandise to be recycled after unboxing.

Biodegradable Packaging Solutions

Biodegradable materials break down through natural processes, reducing plastic pollution. Common solutions include:

  • Bamboo: A fast-growing grass alternative to wood pulp for boxes and inserts.
  • Starch-Based Foam: Dissolves in water and composts well, used for protective packaging.
  • PLA Plastics: Made from plant starches like corn; commercially compostable.

Brands should ensure packaging claims are certified (e.g. BPI, Compost Manufacturing Alliance) as requirements vary by facility.

Innovations in Plastic-Free Packaging

Beyond biodegradable plastics, brands are pioneering natural structural materials:

  • Mycelium: The root structure of mushrooms bonded into durable, biodegradable foam.
  • Latex: Sourced from rubber trees using sustainable tapping methods into reusable padding.
  • Siliconized Paper: Provides a waterproof barrier when sandwiched between sheets of paper.

Plastic-free alternatives keep custom merchandise protected without persistent waste.

Case Studies: Brands Leading in Eco-Friendly Packaging

Outdoor apparel brand Patagonia utilizes extensive recycled and recyclable materials in their mail order packaging. They also partner with suppliers using renewable energy and carbon offsets for deliveries.

Startup apparel company For Days allows customers to return used garments for recycling in 100% recycled polymailers. The company upcycles materials into new products, embracing circular production methods.

As consumers demand ethical business practices, custom merchandise creators have an opportunity to make sustainable packaging part of their brand storytelling. By supporting innovations in recycled and compostable materials, the merchandising industry can shift towards eco-friendly production models.

Building a Sustainable Brand Identity Through Merchandise

Brands today face increasing pressure from consumers to adopt sustainable practices. As interest grows around issues like climate change and fair labor policies, brands have a unique opportunity to use merchandise and their overall brand identity to communicate their values around sustainability.

Messaging Sustainability Through Product Design

The products a brand creates offer a powerful platform to demonstrate commitments to social and environmental responsibility. Considerations like materials, manufacturing processes, customization options, and packaging can show consumers what priorities drive decision making. For example:

  • Selecting organic, recycled, or upcycled materials shows care for environmental impact
  • Prioritizing energy-efficient production and print-on-demand models reduces waste
  • Offering customizable sizing and gender-inclusive cuts shows social consciousness
  • Using biodegradable mailers and minimal packaging demonstrates end-to-end sustainability

Transparency in Marketing: Educating Consumers

Simply creating sustainable merchandise is not enough - brands must also educate consumers on those efforts through transparency in their marketing. This allows customers to make informed decisions aligned with their values. Effective strategies include:

  • Detailing materials and sources on product pages
  • Explaining environmentally-friendly production methods
  • Highlighting certifications like Fair Trade or Bluesign
  • Sharing stories from ethical factories and farms
  • Promoting sustainability initiatives on social media

Leveraging Certifications and Eco-Labels

Credible third-party certifications and eco-labels also signal a thoughtful approach to sustainability. For example:

  • Bluesign certification ensures safe and ethical working conditions
  • Fair Trade certification indicates fair wages and prices were paid
  • GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) guarantees organic status
  • OEKO-TEX certification marks textiles free of harmful chemicals

Prominently displaying such certifications and labels helps attract consumers seeking ethical, eco-friendly merchandise.

Collaborations and Partnerships for Greater Impact

Finally, collaborations and partnerships allow brands to make an even bigger impact. Co-creating sustainable product lines or cross-promoting like-minded organizations can expand reach and credibility. Such collaborative efforts also demonstrate that sustainability takes precedence over competition - a compelling message for consumers.

Conclusion: Embracing Sustainability for Future-Proof Merchandising

Creating sustainable merch that aligns with corporate responsibility goals requires considering the entire production lifecycle - from materials to manufacturing methods. By opting for eco-friendly products and ethical practices, brands can reduce their environmental impact and future-proof their merchandising.

Here are the key takeaways on integrating green principles into merch creation:

  • Source Responsibly: Choose renewable, recycled, or upcycled materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester, reclaimed wood, etc. Ensure suppliers follow ethical labor practices.

  • Print Sustainably: Use water-based inks with low-VOC content. Prioritize print-on-demand to reduce waste from overproduction.

  • Ship Green: Pack orders in biodegradable mailers and boxes. Offset carbon emissions from delivery.

  • Disclose Transparently: Communicate sustainability efforts clearly to customers through certifications, audits reports, etc.

By tackling merchandising sustainability today, brands can reap dividends in long-term savings, positive PR, and reduced environmental impact. The eco-conscious customer base will only grow, and early adopters will gain a competitive edge.

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