- Will you "Consider This?"
Sustainability is a buzzword in today's world, a necessary buzzword that in Central Illinois we have a woman whose business it is to do her part and help us do ours to be much more eco-friendly.
Stay right here.
(bright upbeat music) In the movie, "The Graduate," we learned that plastics were the way of the future.
Well, the future has been here for some time now, and we see photos all too often of landfills with mountains of large plastic jugs, presenting an environmental problem for us and future generations.
Well, doing her part to make some eco-friendly changes and educate the rest of us is Diana Ingles with Rootlebox from Germantown Hills, of all places.
- That is correct.
And my office is here downtown in the Warehouse District.
Well, okay, first of all, let's talk about what is Rootlebox?
- Rootlebox is a woman-owned company that is focused on helping companies be more sustainable.
And how we do that is through packaging, through brand voice, and through how they communicate on their website of different things that their company does to create an offset to their carbon footprint.
- How did you come up with the name Rootlebox?
- We have some friends in Scotland.
Shout out to Andrew, he is a naming expert.
So we worked with him to come up with names that would bounce around in your ear.
We wanted people to remember it.
We wanted them to have fun.
So if you think about an otter, how they jump into the ocean and they might rootle about to find that perfect little morsel among the rocks, rootle is how we find people's gold when they want to create a brand that communicates the good that they do.
So you're rootling around to find that gold, and then you're gonna put it in a box.
And that box could be packaging, like a subscription, or it could be packaging on a shelf, or it could be a website, like an e-commerce website.
Well, it's got a cute, it's got a ring to it.
You can remember it.
And you went through the Gener8tor program and you were in the first class of entrepreneurs.
- [Diana] Right.
- And how did you get involved with that?
Or how did you learn about Gener8tor?
- That's an easy question.
So our office is located inside the Nest Coworking space, which is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to have office space at a reduced rate.
And the coworking space is occupied by Andrew Ngui, he's the innovation officer for the GPEDC, and Aaron Gigas is there most days, as is Nate Domenighini, sorry, Nate.
Nate brought gBETA to our attention and said, "Apply for this."
And we had no idea what it was.
And then Andrew Ngui said, "Yes, definitely apply for it."
So we applied for it without even knowing what it was.
And we applied for gBETA with our brand Wild Routed, which is a company of Rootlebox.
- [Christine] Well that came first?
- So Rootlebox, Wild Routed's been around for a while, but Rootlebox is my company, the woman-owned company.
And so Wild Routed, we recently had our lawyer switch it to be under Rootlebox so that we could keep it all as one entity and not lose our minds doing admin.
- [Christine] Okay.
- So Wild Routed is what we took through Gener8tor, and we didn't even have a pitch deck together when we applied with Nate Domenighini, and he's like, "You guys are in, and here we go."
And so we spent the next several weeks honing what our message was, what we wanted to get out of this, and learned how to do a pitch.
And I did the pitch in January in the Event Center in the Heights.
And so you got a lot of names you have to pronounce there too.
And Danielle Scarzello.
- I don't usually say her name because I haven't practiced it enough to get it right.
So sorry, Danielle.
- But there's nobody Smith or Black or anything, right?
Well, that's original too.
- All right, so this is Wild Routed.
This is an example of something that you've done.
And this is a natural, well, Natural Fiber Welding, basically, as you're working with natural fibers and what else?
- So Natural Fiber Welding is a company here in Peoria that's focused on using plants, not plastic.
And they're working with companies like Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
So when you think about Rootlebox and Wild Routed, we're kind of a small company using the product, but we have big plans to be in the National Park stores.
We were just recently in Portland at the Public Lands Alliance talking with the National Park buyers, and everybody was really excited about both MIRUM and Algae Ink.
- Okay, let's go into that.
- So this is MIRUM.
- [Christine] It feels kinda like leather.
It's meant to replace faux leather and real leather so there's no butchering of animals and then there's no residual plastics going into landfills because this is all plant-based.
- And this will...
Or it can be made back into more MIRUM.
And what does it consist of?
- So mostly rubber, essential oils, and then agricultural waste.
So, for instance, the one you see here that's black has rice hulls in it, and you'll see little flecks.
- Okay, let's see here.
Oh, I see it, yeah.
And again, it feels like leather, it's durable, and- - Yeah.
- [Christine] How did you come up with that whole scientific combination?
- So for us being in a position of being a sustainable or eco-conscious brand, we knew that we wanted to work with companies who were doing things like Natural Fiber Welding and Living Ink Technology.
And so when we're printing our shirts, we'll print them with algae ink, and then when we're making hard goods, like these straps that you see or this Apple AirTag, we knew that MIRUM was the product that we wanted to use.
And so Natural Fiber Welding has licensed us to be a converter for them.
Not everybody can just go order the material and make something out of it.
You have to be licensed, you have to use certain messaging so that when someone picks it up in a store, they'll have a sticker and it says that it's made with MIRUM, a plant-based material that's sustainable.
And we go as far as like when you do closeups on these key tags, you'll see that we actually write that on there because we want people to know.
So this is something, getting back to your roots, basically.
And you got Rootlebox, you got Wild Route, you have kind of a theme there.
- [Diana] Yeah.
- But this is what your life has been all about, really, growing up in Germantown Hills with name like Ingles, but you really kinda were "Little House on the Prairie" there.
- Yeah, yeah.
- Tell me about that.
- Yeah, so I grew up on a family homestead next door to my grandparents, which, at the time, I didn't realize was gonna be a huge gift to grow up that way.
And aunts and uncles and cousins.
So every day was just an adventure in nature.
So my mom would say, "Get out of the house, I'll see you at dinner."
- "Go play."
- "When it's dark, come back for a meal."
And we would say, "Okay," and we would just go explore.
And I kinda mentioned on the "Greg & Dan Show" that we were kind of feral children, and I mean that with great affection.
We were allowed to just go out and play and build worlds that you couldn't do if you didn't have that freedom.
So you'd play in the woods, play, just... What kinds of things did you play?
- So with my cousins, my cousin John and Steve and Ted and Jane and Beth, hopefully they all listen to this, 'cause they've been very supportive of the brand.
We would dig caves.
You know, you think you probably, you could have had accidents and things like that, but we didn't think about that.
We were just, we weren't worried about anything.
We would just play, we would build forts, we would have mud fights.
It was just very simple play, but it was nourishing.
- It was earthy.
You were in touch with the earth.
- And then, and you didn't have... You started recycling at an early age, basically, because you didn't have garbage pickup out there.
Is that right?
- Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I saw a heat map about a year ago that showed where the landfills are in our country.
And I remember back like when we, like we grew all of our own food.
We didn't butcher our own meat, but we grew all of our own food.
So my grandpa would plan that out and we would feed all four of our families.
And so I would remember we didn't have garbage pickup.
We had the compost pile, and then we had things that went back just into the garden and was tilled back into the garden.
So someone who I follow that is also an eco-friendly packaging designer, they mentioned that landfills are only 70 years old.
So it is very possible to reverse engineer those and not have those anymore.
So, and I think there's a lot of companies out there that are doing great things like Living Ink and Natural Fiber Welding that's making that easy for me to design packaging that has no waste.
- So your background is in design?
- [Diana] Mm-hm.
- Tell me where you got your start there that it could kind of morph into what you're doing now.
- Yeah, so before I started my own company, I've been a designer for 30 years, but before I started my own company, I worked at a company called (indistinct) where I kept my teeth and learned a lot from industry experts.
There's a lot you don't learn in school that you can learn from masters in the field.
- On the job, right.
- And then I moved on to PJS Publications where I worked for Craft Magazine and Sew News and their magazines, and learned another set of skills that I didn't know I would have.
And then when I was pregnant with my second child, Brennan, I decided that I just wanted to run my studio out of my home, and that's what I've been doing freelance ever since.
Working for companies like Unity Point Health and other big brands that you can't mention because you signed NDAs, but, you know, making a living while raising my children.
And then launched Rootlebox last October with a huge support from Central Illinois.
I couldn't build a brand without the support that comes naturally here in the city.
- Are you amazed at the kind of support that you can get from this community?
I mean, it's very generous.
So running my studio out of Germantown for around 20 years, I wasn't in the hub of everything every day.
But now that my studio's downtown, you have those intersections, you have those collisions, you meet amazing people who want to offer you help, that there's not funds to advertise that that help's available, but there's so much help.
So if somebody wants to start a business here, reach out to me or anybody in the coworking space.
We can connect you with people.
- [Christine] Mm-hmm, and that's kinda fun.
- Well now you have some brands that you're working on that are local.
- [Diana] Mm-hmm.
- You have Beard Brothers.
- And so you do the packaging for them as well as the labels and everything?
- So I don't do the printing.
I do all of the design work.
- And getting the vessels picked out, making sure they're 99% plastic free, keeping them in line.
So when Danny or Patrick will say, "We wanna do this," I'll say, "Yes, that would align with your values of being 99% plastic free," or "No, we should find another option."
What other locals do you have here?
There's another Beard Brothers there.
- Yep, so Hilltop Honey.
We just redesigned their product packaging.
- And they're out of Fulton County?
- Mm-hmm, yep.
- So a locally owned apiary doing some amazing things to provide honey.
It's available at Hy-Vee and other local stores.
We redesigned their packaging in that we knew it still needed to be in plastic, but we chose a recycled juice bottle that was lighter in weight instead of the current one, and then we redesigned their packaging so that people could easily see what flavors or seasons they're purchasing.
And now that was interesting.
I saw that online.
There's honey from the spring and from the summer and the fall, and I had no idea.
- Yeah, it's like a fine wine.
You choose what you like.
- Yeah, exactly!
- So whatever flowers are in season, they'll go.
- [Diana] Yeah, yep, that's nature, right?
Did you know that before you started working with Hilltop?
- Not so much.
He's taught me a lot about bees.
There's a lot of times when you have a customer come to you that you're not in that space.
So I'm technically allergic to bees, honeybees, specifically, so I don't usually hang out with that world.
(Christine laughs) But when you're learning about the brand and trying to understand forward facing how you're gonna communicate that on the label, because you have a small amount of real estate, you're asking questions constantly, and your clients, most often than not, will share that information.
So it expands your world.
- How did you find out about... Well you said you've gone to Fred's Shoe Repair.
- And this is the MIRUM.
- How did you find out about them possibly being interested?
How did that?
You've got all these different connections going on.
- I think it comes down to we live in a community where growing up here we've always shared information.
And one of our T-shirts that I designed has a campfire, and it says, "Share stories with the people you love."
But it's not only stories, but it's information.
So if you can save somebody from having to go through a year of finding the perfect sewer for your product, share that information.
We found it ourselves by asking constantly from our network of people who can sew these things, and then we're like, wait, Fred's Shoe Repair, we've been going there to have them repair our shoes for years.
That's an obvious.
So we've been working with Ray and the rest of the team and he's been super helpful in designing these two prototypes and helping us pick out hardware, and just really communicating and keeping things local is really important to us.
- Well, and that was one thing that stood out to me too, as I was reading through some of your information, you are really concentrating on central Illinois.
- [Diana] Mm-hmm.
- And that's because of your love of Central Illinois and all the help you get or what else?
- So traveling has given me a great affection for the area.
Being born and raised here, I think I take a lot of things for granted that there's somebody that's always gonna be there to help you if you're in trouble.
So if you are out in, let's say off-grid in a national park, which there's no cell reception, you're on your own.
And that's kind of scary.
But if you think about here, I can advance my company and our brand a lot quicker with the help of and love from people in Central Illinois.
- How are people finding you?
So how did, did I ask this already?
How did Danny and Pat find you for Beard Brothers?
- I think it's a friend of a friend of a friend is usually the story.
- I can't remember exactly, but I love those guys, they're great to work with.
They didn't like try to hold my hands while I was designing everything.
And they were very open to being very sustainable.
They said yes right away.
I didn't have to convince them.
So it's usually word of mouth, which is great for me because I'm not a salesperson.
I'm very much introverted.
- Oh, you think?
(both laughing) Your shy little voice like, "Okay."
I got that, I got that, that's accurate.
So I love leaning on friends and family and just other clients I've already worked with to connect me with future clients.
- Tell me about this algae ink.
It sounds bad.
It- - Does it?
- Well, just- - All right.
- Algae, you know?
- I mean, that's not something that is usually soft and cuddly.
- Okay, okay.
- But tell me about that.
- Yeah, so algae ink is made by Living Ink out of Colorado.
Scott Fulbright is the owner.
I've actually connected them with living, or with Natural Fibers, maybe do some collaborations.
So algae ink, I believe, I'm not a scientist, but I believe algae is the first plant in the world, and algae grows to produce certain functions.
But if you think about the black ink on your carbon copy right there, or your xerox, it's made with a fossil fuel based ink.
And Scott's on a mission to start with black, but then he is gonna move on to green and then orange.
But black is the most readily used ink.
And if he can affect that by using algae, which takes carbon out of the air, hopefully I'm saying that correctly, not a scientist, it's gonna help in a big way.
So is he working with big printers, is he working with Patagonia for their labeling, their tags?
We're working with it on our communication, like our physical point of purchase and our direct mail as well as our T-shirts and dog bandanas.
So we're trying to offset our carbon footprint.
- [Christine] As well?
- By doing that.
And if we're relying on less fossil fuel and just on green things that grow in a pond, mm, win.
- It's all right there!
- Free money.
- You just don't wanna swim in that algae.
- No, not so much.
(both laughing) - What has surprised you the most about all of these different connections, and, you know, we can talk things sprouting up in your world of being eco-friendly?
- I think what's exciting and surprising to me is how many people in Central Illinois are embracing it.
So if you think about Colorado or California, you automatically think they're not using plastic bags, they're using reusables.
They're confining what you can and can't use because it's ending up in the ocean.
We don't have an ocean, so that maybe we're not that aware of it, but I'm really excited that Peoria might be the next eco-friendly hub.
Can I say that?
- [Christine] And why so?
- I think because when I niched down to be a designer of sustainability or eco-conscious brands last fall, I've had more support come out of the woodwork than I would ever imagine here.
- It's exciting.
- And really, and so you grew up, I mean, you were a recycling generation.
My mom was, my mom got married during the Depression.
You know, we recycled aluminum foil and things like that.
- [Diana] Good.
- Because we did, long before there was even a word for it.
And you did that as well, you said.
- Mm-hmm, definitely.
So when you had scraps, let's say, well, most things didn't come in packaging back then.
- [Christine] Right, no it didn't.
- So I'm a kid of the '60s and '70s.
- Which I love.
(Christine laughs) You think about going up to my grandma's house for lunch just about every other day, and I don't remember throwing packaging away.
It was always like orange peels or paper that you got from the aperture where you bought your meat.
Or paper tape.
So it's not like we haven't done this before.
We just have to remember that.
- We have to get back to it.
- [Diana] Yeah.
- Get back to being able to feel the earth.
- Yeah, yeah.
- So you think about it, when you run around without your shoes on.
- There's minerals and beautiful things that come up through into your feet and help you.
- It's just you becoming nature, or, I mean, if you think about it, humans are nature.
- So you were always kind of a naturalist too, when you were playing with your cousins, all those that you named.
- And everything, and digging into the earth.
- Good for you.
And you're still doing it.
- What do you foresee in the near future for Rootlebox and Wild Routed?
R-O-U-T-E-D. - Yep.
So I think for Rootlebox, I would love to have people reach out to me who want to make some small changes in either how they ship things or how they package their products, or if they need some help using that messaging on their website.
For Wild Routed, we have strong interests from nine national park stores.
We're really working hard to get those things prepped and prepared for them in the catalog and making sure that we can do what we say we're gonna do.
So the goals for this year is to be in at least one national park store.
- But mostly you wanna stay local, or does it matter?
- I would like to have it all, if that's okay to say.
- That's fine.
- I would.
- You've gotta set goals.
- I would like Peoria to be, or Central Illinois, I should say, because we're bigger than just Peoria in the city.
I would like this area to become known as a hub for sustainability and being eco-friendly.
And I already think we're on that path, but I would also like to reach our brand out to the rest of the country.
There's so many cool people out there that I would like to meet and bring their stories back to home so that we can learn from them and maybe implement some of those things that we don't know here.
- And will that be outreach on your part?
And how will you accomplish that, you think?
- So we go to a lot of shows.
We have plans to, we're usually at the Peoria Farmer's Market, but this year we're gonna take a break and reach out to markets in other areas in the country.
Probably lean more towards people in the outdoor adventure space.
We're also in Bushwhacker already and Urban Artifacts, but we wanna reach out to markets that we haven't tested yet.
Because if it plays in Peoria, it'll play anywhere.
- That's right, yeah!
- That's what I've been told.
- And it's you and your husband that are doing this?
- And my son Brennan.
- So it's just the three of you for right now.
- [Diana] Yep.
- And your son is how old and what kind of ideas does he have that you haven't thought of 'cause you're a child of the '60s and '70s?
- Right, right.
So we call Brennan the analog man because Brennan is an old soul.
Every time I see him, I think of my grandpa that I grew up next door to.
And fun fact, when you see an owl in any of our designs, that's a symbol of my grandpa.
- All right.
- And his wisdom.
But Brennan is 25 and he is finishing up at ICC as an art student, and working on his next phase of what he wants to do with his life.
But he designs, illustrates, and helps us go to market with Wild Routed and works at Nick-N-Willy's Pizza in Peoria, So shout out to Nick-N-Willy's 'cause they've been here for a long time.
- And then your husband, what did he do before he partnered with you in Rootlebox?
- Yeah, great question.
John worked at Multi Ed for 31 years, and a couple years, his job was outsourced to another country and he joined me in the studio.
So I tell him what to do every day.
Well that's good.
It saves the marriage.
(Diana laughs) Oh, right.
What's your favorite of all of the things that you've managed to create so far, specifically for Wild Routed and Rootlebox?
What's your favorite?
Or do you have one?
Is it like kids?
It's hard to pick one.
- I think my favorite thing with MIRUM would be the Apple AirTag, because I think that's gonna serve a large market.
So tell me about that.
- And that's just a prototype.
So it has an Apple AirTag in it and it's made with the cobalt blue MIRUM.
And then Fred cut and made the prototype for us.
I'm really proud of that because I think that'll serve a really big market.
And then as far as algae ink, I'm really impressed with the illustrations John just did, my husband, for all the national parks.
And those are all printed with algae ink.
So I'm really excited to see where that goes.
- So algae ink is sustainable when you put it in the laundry too?
I mean, it's not gonna fade, wash out?
- So algae ink doesn't sit on the surface like plastisols.
If you think about when you're sleeping in a T-shirt and you feel a little bit of plastic, that will be the plastisol from the inks.
And we do have some shirts printed with plastisol, we do one pass instead of two, so it's somewhat eco-friendly, but the algae ink actually stains the fabric.
And so when it stains the fabric, you can actually use it as a dye.
And I know there's a lot of companies out there that are dyeing fabric with it right now.
And it's a beautiful kind of charcoal color.
- [Christine] Mm-hmm.
- So when you're sleeping in it and you roll over, you have just that sense of- - [Christine] It's soft.
- Softness, and it just feels lovely.
And we print all of our shirts on BELLA+CANVAS, which is very transparent in how they dye things, and they're just really open to how they treat their employees, and just a really great company.
And we do 100% cotton.
- Well- - We're trying to do it the right way.
- You are!
You are fascinating.
- It's hard.
- Yeah, and you've learned.
You really have.
You have roots, and you've grown straight up from those roots.
Well, thanks so much for sharing all this information.
- Thanks for having me.
- And we hope to see some more of your products around town.
- Okay, thank you.
- All right.
Thanks for joining us as well, and stay safe and healthy, and be happy.
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