Entrepreneur credits her son, 6, for eco-savvy idea

Biodegradable hangers made of recycled materials

A Roncesvalles-area resident has developed a business she can hang her hat on — make that every bit of clothing in her wardrobe, too.

Leigh Meadows developed an eco-conscious hanger after her six-year-old son Jacob asked her why she was chucking a bunch of metal hangers.

“He was really angry with me,” Meadows says of that day three years ago.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that her son’s question — why not just use paper hangers? —hit Meadows like a lightning bolt. She sat up in bed and thought, ‘Why not?’.

Enter the idea for the Smart Hanger, a recyclable and biodegradable paper-based hanger made of 100-percent recycled material.

A serial entrepreneur since buying an insurance brokerage in her native London, England when she was 21, Meadows is the queen of fixing up ailing businesses.

She’d been scouting around for a new business opportunity at the time Jacob caught her tossing the wire hangers, and says that leaving an environmental legacy was topping her checklist for what she was looking for in a new project.

After doing a ton of research and talking with people in various industries, Meadows launched the Smart Hanger in late 2009. It was vital that the hanger be recyclable, she says, so she consulted with the City of Toronto to ensure the hanger could be thrown in the blue bin instead of the trash.

“I wanted to make it a closed loop,” she says, “from cradle to grave.”

The hanger is made using 90-percent post-consumer content, meaning the paper has had a previous life as a consumer product.

That’s a pretty big deal in the world of green, Meadows says, as some of the green coffee cups you see out there are only 10-percent post-consumer content.

“I’m ecstatic about that.”

Brampton-based manufacturer PearceWellwood produces the hanger, another positive in Meadows’ book.

“It needed to be a Canadian piece,” she says. “I like looking after my own backyard.”

Green needn’t mean not business-savvy, either. Meadows’ concept was runner-up in a special “Greenvention” episode of the hit TV show Dragons’ Den, which aired this past June.

In order to make the project financially viable the smart hanger had to be more than a hanger, she says. So the two-square feet of space on the hanger can bear any sort of brand message a client wants.

So far Meadows has signed a contract with Adidas and is currently in talks with major retailers. A couple licensee deals that will see characters like Sponge Bob on the hangers is also in the works; the hangers be selling in major Canadian retailers around the end of August.

Right now Meadows’ main clients are dry cleaners and retailers, industries that have huge wastages in terms of hangers, she says.

Many hangers are made of imported plastic or wire and can’t be recycled, she says, and some are coated in chemicals. Most end up in the landfill.

Meadows says she won’t work with dry cleaners that are only paying lip service to the growing green shift in the industry.

Meanwhile her son Jacob completely owns the business, she says, as he’s always asking questions and giving ideas. (He’s the one who came up with the Sponge Bob idea).

“I listen to him a lot more intently now.”


About this article:

By: Kelly Gadzala
Posted: Jul 28 2010 3:27 pm
Filed in: Business
Edition: Toronto