They grew up remembering family parties that filled hearts with joy, not bins with garbage.
For special events, their mothers would bring out party supplies and decorations from previous years, such as birthday banners and hats. Like heirlooms, these items were cleaned, wrapped, and stored with care for future use.
Now moms themselves, Jenna Otto-Wray and her business partner, Lindsay Yuasa, want their kids to grow up treasuring parties that bring delight and leave no trash behind.
They also want to help other families to have options when planning for gatherings that generate little—if not zero—garbage.
With this in mind, Otto-Wray and Yuasa launched Make Merry Party Shop, a Vancouver online store that provides mostly reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable supplies and decorations.
“Lindsay and I want to raise our children in a home where traditions are important and having fun and having parties are important, but [we are] also cognizant that we want to take care of the environment at the same time,” Otto-Wray told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “We don’t just go down to the dollar store every time we have a group of people over because it’s the easier thing to do.”
The two met while working with a nonprofit. During lunches, they discovered a shared passion for crafts, and a common experience from their childhoods.
“The tradition of reusing and cherishing the pieces our moms used year in and year out was both ecofriendly and heartwarming,” Otto-Wray said.
Make Merry Party Shop started last year, and Otto-Wray said that the business has received positive response.
“We’ve found that families want to celebrate special events with products they believe in and can be treasured for years to come,” she said.
According to Otto-Wray, palm-leaf plates are a popular item. Made from fallen palm leaves and water, the plates are chemical-free, she said. They can be lightly washed and reused. “They’re not bleached like a lot of paper products,” Otto-Wray noted. “And they’re naturally biodegradable in your backyard compost.”
Make Merry Party Shop also carries birch-wood cutlery as an alternative to plastic spoons, forks, and knives that are commonly found in other stores. Birch cutlery items can be composted.
The store also supplies party cups that can be recycled and put in blue bins.
To make it easy for buyers, the store’s makemerryshop.com website notes in pink-coloured text whether or not the products are reusable, recyclable or biodegradable. As an example, clients will read that balloons made from latex are biodegradable.
“On every product, we want to be open with our customers as best as we know it,” Otto-Wray said. “So we ask our vendors about their products: where they’re coming from and whether they’re biodegradable or not.”
Make Merry Party Shop also values getting its products from local suppliers, an Earth-friendly practice that reduces carbon emissions associated with goods transport.
One supplier is Coral + Cloud, a Vancouver maker of handcrafted jewellery and decorations. It produces bead garlands made of wood and recycled cotton yarn, which can be used and reused for different special occasions as well as a home accent.
“We love to see people who bought something for their wedding or for a baby shower and then it ends up in their home, hanging in their home,” Otto-Wray said.
Make Merry Party Shop gets handmade felt garlands from Emerald and Ginger, a Vancouver company that also produces ecofriendly bags.
The shop sources piñatas from Kolorina Piñatas, which does not use wires and staples. Candles come from Izzywicks, a Cortes Island company that makes beeswax candles, which are biodegradable.
Make Merry Party Shop also offers concierge services, another way of helping clients make environmental choices.
“A lot of people use that for first birthdays, usually, and for weddings,” Otto-Wray said. “So people tell us what they are looking for—colour, theme, number of guests—and we put together a free proposal.”
According to Otto-Wray, the biggest challenge she and her business partner have is changing people’s mindset about buying quality products that last beyond a one-time use or at least are biodegradable.
“Understandably, families are looking for affordable products, and we can’t compete with other large party shops or dollar stores in the city, but we hope people will begin to recognize that less is more,” she said. “Creating special traditions and memories is as important to Lindsay and me as is caring for the environment. We hope to leave our kids with happy memories and a healthier Earth.”
Otto-Wray said that Make Merry Party Shop has three pop-ups forthcoming. The first is at Christmas at Hycroft from November 16 to 19 at Hycroft Manor (1489 McRae Avenue). The second is at the Strathcona Winter Craft Fair on November 25 at the Strathcona Community Centre (601 Keefer Street). The shop will also be at the Got Craft? Holiday Edition on December 9 and 10 at the Maritime Labour Centre (1880 Triumph Street).