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Tree Hangers give your closet a dash of green

The dump can be a scary place: one minute you’re dropping off a grungy bag of broken hangers and the next you’re being scorned like a balled up McDonald’s wrapper on Earth Day. “Do you know how long those take to biodegrade?” shouts a bearded man named Mountain scrounging for recyclables atop a trash heap. You can only shrug as you speed away in your SUV, but there’s still that voice in the back of your head saying, “That obnoxious man has a point.”

Chicago company Tree Hangers is making sure that you never injure yourself trying to reshape a broken wire hanger again with a biodegradable and environmentally sustainable alternative made entirely from recycled materials. The recycled hangers function and nearly look exactly the same as normal hangers, except that every garment you hang with a Tree Hanger gains you karmic points toward upgrades in the afterlife.

I sat down with Tree Hangers founder Adam Hyman, who assured me that as long as I use his product no bearded man named Mountain will ever shout at me from a trash heap.

What is the backstory behind Tree Hangers?

The idea came to me when I was working as a pharmaceutical sales rep years ago in New York. One day I looked at the entangled wire hangers stacked in my closet and decided it was time to dispose of them. I tried putting them in a trash bag and they poked holes through it. 

I wanted to recycle them but there was no recycling bin for metal in my building, so I ended up taking them back to the dry cleaners. The whole time I was thinking that this would be so much less burdensome if there was some sort of cardboard hanger that you could just place in the recycling bin.

I revived the idea when I was in graduate school earning an MBA. During one of my classes we were discussing innovation and everyone in the class seemed to think it had a lot of potential. I decided I wanted to try to bring it to market and I hired a local design firm to help me do that.

How much weight can these hangers support? How long do they last?

The retail version of our hangers can support seven and a half pounds, which is more than enough to hold your winter coat, unless you’re Shaquile O’Neal. The dry clean version is not as sturdy as the retail version; it’s really intended solely for shirts and sweaters but we’re still tweaking it. 

The retail version is designed to last as long as the consumer needs them and the dry clean version is intended to be disposed of shortly after the dry cleaning has been retrieved. They’re sturdy enough but they’re not really intended to be a permanent fixture of the closet like the retail version is.

 

 

Why would someone choose Tree Hangers over regular hangers?

Three and a half billion wire hangers end up in landfills every year and about eight and a half billion plastic hangers too. It takes them a couple of hundred years to fully biodegrade. Let’s just say they’re not doing any favors for the environment.

The concept of the retail version of Tree Hangers is to use post-consumer materials to create a product that is sustainable and, when the lifecycle is over, can be placed in the recycling bin and gets reincarnated as someone else’s hanger.

Do you have plans to sell them in major retail outlets?

We do. Currently they’re available online through Abe’s Market, which is an online retailer for green products. We’re interested in being carried by major retailers but, as with any new product, you get a lot of nos before you get a yes. We’ve had some retailers look at our product and say that they like the product but they don’t want to take a chance on it because it isn’t proven yet.

 

 

What has been your biggest challenge in bringing this product to market?

It’s a new concept in this particular niche and there’s always a challenge when introducing a new concept; people are reluctant to adopt until there’s a critical mass -- a certain level of exposure, visibility, and acceptance.

Creating the product was an iterative process and we had to try multiple version to get the design elements right. One of the challenges was to create a green hanger that doesn’t sacrifice visual appeal for functionality.

What advice would you give to any beginning entrepreneurs looking to start an eco-friendly business?

First of all I would suggest doing an extensive amount of research and talk to as many people as you can who are already in the business. Every year in Chicago there’s a green business expo where people can go and see what’s new in green products. I’d recommend check that out to see what’s out there.

What’s next for Tree Hangers?

We’re going to really focus on building the brand. I’m really devoting my time to that right now: spreading awareness, creating a robust social media presence, and getting in front of retailers to present the product. We also plan to extend the line in the future to children’s hangers.

 

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