Milwaukee native seeks to reduce waste and carbon footprint, one gift at a time

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — Many people may know the difficulty of picking up stacks and piles of wrapping paper after the holidays and putting them in garbage bags for disposal.

A Milwaukee woman is on a mission to change the gift-unwrapping experience and help Mother Earth in the process.

“I’ve always been someone who hates throwing things away. Always looking for ways, sometimes creative, sometimes a little quirky, to be more sustainable around the house,” Elizabeth Mueller said. “One Christmas, I decided, ‘You know what? I’m just going to cut out some sheets that we don’t use anymore and wrap them with ribbons and see how it goes.'”

An adoptive mother, Mueller says the idea turned into something of a tradition in their home, a tradition she decided to share with other family members and close friends. Eventually, Swathe Gifts was born.

“It really, I think, sparked people’s interest,” Mueller said. “I know there are a lot of people like me who often look around and feel really overwhelmed by everything that’s going on in our climate today.”

According to mindthewrap.org, approximately 4 million tons of vacation trash in the United States is made up of wrapping paper and shopping bags. This equates to approximately 30 million trees felled.

The Swathe Gifts concept seeks to change that with Mueller and her helpful mother, sewing fabric made from eco-friendly, reusable materials to use as an alternative to wrapping paper.

In just six months of operation, they have already sold around 500 items which can be found at the Local Collective in Hartford, locally inspired in Port Washington, and Vintage Glass Garden in Milwaukee. Around the holiday season, you can also find Mueller selling his product at the Milwaukee Makers Market.

“It’s all staying in the community. It lowers that carbon footprint because you’re not going to that big box store that’s shipping these products around the world,” said Ryan Laessig, owner of Milwaukee Makers Marketplace, talking about the benefits of local purchases. “You’re here in Milwaukee. It’s made in your neighborhood and you understand the whole story behind it to know that this is an eco-friendly product that’s made in my town.”

The classic Swathe collection is made from 100% TENCEL, a sustainably produced fabric. For Earth Day, Mueller launched the company’s new eco-HERO collection, made with upcycled and upcycled materials.

“I find the fabric is sourced from either thrift stores, vintage stores that would otherwise have been left out. He also sources his fabrics from fabric wholesalers. This is fabric that would have ended up in landfill,” said Mueller explained. “Then I use a ribbon made from recycled water bottles.”

As her business continues to grow, Mueller is grateful for the support of her family and friends who have helped make this possible. She is also proud of the difference she is making. Still, running a business and being a mother isn’t easy, and she admits she hopes to find help.

“As a parent, my life is often pulled in a lot of different directions. I definitely spend a lot of time working to support my family, and then it’s my second full-time job,” Mueller explained. “Next year I want to find a local Milwaukee maker to help me create them who shares my sustainability mission and is also a local producer and maker. I can’t sew a lot of things on my own -same.”

Until then, Mueller plans to continue what she started, sewing a difference with her Milwaukee home.

“My biggest hope for Swathe is that it just helps people stop and think, ‘Is there another way to do this? ‘” Mueller said. “I think Earth Day is a good time to think about, what are those little things that we can just stop and reuse, or just find a different way so they don’t end up in the landfill.”

For more information about Swathe and how the product is made, visit the website here.

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