08 Feb A Conversation with Michelle | Why Sustainable Souvenirs?
West Coast Woodpickers (now West Coast Wood Works) is a sustainable woodworking and design studio based in Surrey, BC Canada. They recycle wood waste sourced from local recyclers and commercial businesses and turn the waste into new, timeless products.
Their collection of recycled products, including sustainable souvenirs for Vancouver tourists and geographical boundary keychains, are handcrafted with care.
The founders, Michelle Chen and James Wiltshire, credit their inspiration to start West Coast Wood Works to their experience working in the tourism industry.
“James and I worked in the tourism industry, and our families are directly connected with the industry. Tourism is a big part of our lives here in BC, Canada., and we feel that our work creating souvenirs should impart a sense of environmental responsibility.”
Dissatisfied with the quality of gifts people buy in touristy cities, the duo wanted to offer a truly sustainable memento that are sustainably made, sourced, and made to last.
“Sometimes souvenir supply chains are hard to trace, or there isn’t enough information given to tourists about where their products come from,” says Michelle. “And when you visit Canada, you’re probably looking for a Canada-made gift, a product that is handcrafted by a local artisan or made by a local business.”
Michelle credits her interest in launching West Coast Woodpickers from her summer job working at WESTCOAST Sightseeing, a Vancouver tour company, as well as her coursework at Simon Fraser University. A recent graduate, Michelle was motivated to research the circular economy and sustainable supply chains through the SFU ChangeLab program, an interdisciplinary course that combines fieldwork in sustainable innovation with business & environmental education.
“There are many opportunities to improve the souvenirs that people purchase on their travels here, and turn souvenirs into sustainable, impact-driven products,” Michelle says. “We’re excited to be tapping into the tourism industry and showing how our sustainable souvenirs can improve tourist experiences in a way that helps improve local economies and the environment.”
Since West Coast Woodpickers launched in June 2017 with the financial support of Radius SFU’s Student Social Innovation Seed Fund, co-founders Michelle and James have diverted over 3000 lbs of wood waste in the form of damaged pallets and mattress boards and secured three major contracts. Their first iteration of sustainable souvenirs – coasters, magnets, and keychains – can be found stocked at SFU Bookstores at their Vancouver and Burnaby locations, or purchased online. They recently fulfilled a custom coaster order for a family-run, Whistler vacation home rental company called Blackcomb Peaks Accommodation.
“There are many opportunities to improve the souvenirs that people purchase on their travels … and turn [them] sustainable, impact-driven products.”
The duo has also tabled at over 10 local fairs, spreading the word about ethical procurement and purchasing, and are working with local recyclers and businesses such as Canadian Mattress Recycling, Sea to Sky Removal, and JJ Transport LTD to reduce their commercial wood waste.
“One thing is for sure,” says Michelle, “there is more wood wasted than recycled or reused, and we want to change that.”
Asked about their future plans, Michelle states: “We’re hoping to invest in tools and equipment to improve our manufacturing, which will let us divert more waste from landfills.”
They are looking forward to collaborations with local businesses, interior designers, and residents.
They’re also excited to be launching their Summer 2018 Collection, which sees a return of several popular 2017 styles and introduction of new styles and designs to choose from.
To subscribe to future product releases, announcements, and news, West Coast Woodpickers has launched a monthly e-newsletter list.
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