Interview with Nature Miffy

In recent years, people are in a desperate pursuit of efficiency and convenience in production. The cost of plastic and its speed in manufacturing has allowed the material to become every factory’s favorite. However, it worsens pollution day by day. Under the sea, plastic is the criminal who killed hundreds of lives. Coral reef is no exception. Pieces of broken plastic waste are like rusty knives. If coral reef accidentally get entangled with a plastic bag, it could easily get sick and eventually doe. Cases in which coral reef is injured by plastic bad is not rare. According to Environmental Information Center, “Researchers estimated that the frequency of plastic pollution involved with coral reef around Asia-Pacific would increase by 40% if no actions taken.”

Compared to shops that ignores the importance of environment in the name of profit, Nature Miffy is unique in that they stress using natural raw material only. Their products include wooden spoon, cloth-made sanitary pad, etc. The word “plastic” doesn’t seem to belong to their vocabulary. These daily necessities made with purely natural materials also adds to the warmth and cordiality. The shop’s persistence in using raw materials with higher cost to replace plastic saves lives from being disturbed, injured, or even killed by plastic trash. In other words, they use that extra cost in exchange to of a healthier ecosystem. For those reasons, our team wants to interview the shop in hope of learning to use environmentally-friendly materials for daily necessities.

Alvin: After years of producing and selling traditional handicrafts, is there a particular favorite in your mind? Why?

The most popular items are usually kitchen utensils, such as chopsticks, cutting boards, and some cups. For example, our bamboo chopsticks are completely unpainted, which is the reason for their popularity. Although most companies will choose to use the nationally certified lacquer, no one knows whether you’re buying that kind of chopsticks or not. In other words, if we encounter that kind of businessman who uses cheap and not certified lacquer to paint the chopstick, we will swallow these unhealthy things into our stomachs eventually when the paint falls off. Therefore, we ask manufacturers not to paint some of their products. The reason they usually choose to paint is that if you don’t paint it will get moldy, which is terrible if you’re trying to store your products in the warehouse or something. In addition to the lacquer, the pure white chopsticks that we get at convenience stores are bad for the human body too because they are also painted with some kind of special thing that is unhealthy for our body.

Each handmade product is our favorite product. For example, those bamboo baskets are all made up by ourselves, so they are all things that you will love forever. In fact, we started making handicrafts and setting up this store is mainly because we want to “de-plasticize” our life. However, we can’t find other manufacturers in Taiwan that are specializing in this kind of thing. Therefore, we start our own store and sell products that we love and use the most.

Summer: Through traditional handicrafts and hand-made tools, what idea do you wish to inspire?

Through traditional handicrafts and hand-made utensils, modern people can comprehend a feeling for objects and make them cherish those objects more. The convenience nowadays somewhat resulted in our concept of not cherishing things. Since buying food and utensils is so convenient, people tend to buy new ones before even having the thought of fixing or recycling, this result in the trash and large amount of un-environmentally friendly objects lying randomly on the streets. But through hours and hours of hard work to make out own utensils and other handicrafts, we would create bond between it and therefore continuously cherishing it more. Making traditional handicrafts can also make everyone feel the joy brought by a sense of accomplishment. In modern society, every item or food is completed by division of labor, and few things completed from scratch by one single person therefore people doesn’t usually understand the joy diys brings. Through this joy that comes from making handicrafts, we can promote them into making it by themselves and reduce the purchase of items that are not environmentally friendly, and reduce the amount of trash to help the world.

Cindy: Nowadays, do you think the public is leaning towards the trend of reducing plastic products in their every-day life? How do you notice?

With the situation of climate change worsening every day, politicians have been trying to use a variety of policies to shape our lifestyle into environmental friendly ones. The most obvious example is perhaps charging people for plastic bags and straws. Even if we only increase the price for 5 (NTD), this policy still lower the possibility of customers overusing plastic products. Furthermore, the Taiwanese government have been promoting many videos regarding the pollution undersea. Whenever audiences witness blood coming out a tortoise’s nose after straw has struck it by its nose and was stuck there or a stomach full of plastic bags, we automatically have the motivation to do something to change this status quo.

A few years ago, many environmental NGOs including Nature Miffy discovered plentiful waste fishing net in the ocean. These type of waste is often the cause of organisms getting stuck. Due to the large amount and its destructive result underwater, it has been categorized as marine debris. These fishing net usually use high-quality-plastic to ensure tenacity while trying to hunt for fish. Miffy decided to make environmental-friendly bags out of these old fishing net. The improvement as a society as the government stress on this topic more and more can be seen in recent years. It is safe to say that the public has been changing one step at a time towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Natural Miffy Workshop believes that key to protecting the environment is to cherish the things we own and reuse them if possible. With one less person throwing away a used straw, one less organism can be saved from the torture of being injured by human waste.

All in all, we are improving as a society indeed largely because of our government’s visible efforts. However, we do have much space for improvement. In the end, if a little less convenience can be equivalent to saving more organisms and giving the clean environment they deserve, we see no morally correct reason to maintain the selfish lifestyle we live by nowadays.

Kate: From selling traditional handicrafts to basic commodities, what challenges do you face?

The main obstacle we face is that fewer and fewer people are making handmade items. Also, since most of the handicrafts are made by the older generation, no one can pass on the technique after these people die. Another obstacle is that making handicrafts has a relatively high cost. It is also difficult for the younger generation in Taiwan to engage in this work. Unless they are dedicated to making handicrafts or art, it is difficult for them to compete in the market. Some of our producers have passed away, and some handicrafts are “extinct”. One example is the goose feather ear pick, which was made by an Atayal grandpa, and is also an award-winning work. He passed away three years ago, so no one is making this craft anymore. To make that ear pick, you have to collect a pinch of hair under the goose’s buttocks. This step along is time-consuming, so not many goose breeders are willing to do it.

Catherine: We all know that plastic-free products costs more. How do you and your husband promote these goods even though costumers have to pay more to protect our planet?

Since plastic-free products have not been mass-produced, the cost of these goods would naturally be higher. Therefore, we are very grateful to those customers who have self-environmental awareness and are willing to pay more money to support us. When we set up a stall in a market, we would try our best to introduce our products to everyone, especially the point that the price is directly proportional to the degree of practicality. For example, a milk powder brush is only sold for 20NTD in a regular store, but the material and production is often rough, with the bristles made out of plastic. On the other hand, although the price of our hand-made milk powder brush is 90NTD, the materials used are all environmentally friendly, while bristles are slowly rolled by hand. Because the finished product is always more delicate than the machine, the bristles won’t fall off easily. Even if some people cannot accept this more expensive price, those who are willing to try our products would often come back in the future because of its practicality. Of course, the choice of whether or not to pay more is up to the guests, and we can only persuade them to give it a try. Many plastic products are thrown away immediately after used, causing a negative feedback loop for the environment. Although the price of our products is relatively higher, the goods are environmentally friendly and practical. After using them for a long time, the price would not appear to be that high.

Hiro: Now, technology has become more developed, products with plastic must have lower costs. Producing those products also takes less time with machinery. Despite facing these disadvantage, what motivates you to continue producing plastic-free products?

Nature Miffy Workshop mostly solves this problem by promoting the idea of cherishing what we have. Even though Nature Miffy advocates the use of environmentally friendly products, we cannot deny the fact that plastic makes our modern life significantly more convenient. For example, plastic is a major component of electrical devices such as phones, and people would not be able to use many technologies if plastic does not exist. The actual problem is that cheap disposable products are overly manufactured to stimulate excessive purchasing. When people buy things uncontrollably, many products turn out to be unnecessary and end up becoming trash that might contaminate the environment. If we leave this problem unsolved, this process will become a vicious cycle. On the other hand, if the general public understands the concept of using environmentally friendly products, we can produce more natural and long lasting goods, thereby reducing pollution. This is an important value; if everyone understands the importance of cherishing commodities, we can eventually bring great changes.

Jessica: Do you have any new ideas or plans that you would like to try in the future?

Nature Miffy will like to start promoting the use of natural and sustainable materials in the future. After operating this workshop for twelve years, the store managers realized that the decline of natural material production is one of the biggest hindrance to their business. As technology advances, the methods of acquiring traditional and natural materials are lost, bringing a halt to the later processes. For example, the raw materials used to make shell ginger or bamboo baskets all need to be processed before further manufacturing. Goose feather must also be collected in order to create earpicks. Without the providers of these materials, the supply chain would collapse immediately. Ultimately, these materials will be replaced by unnatural chemical substances that are unhealthy for the environment. Hence, in the future, the workshop will focus more on developing and promoting natural materials or communicating with suppliers that still use traditional methods.