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  • Jim Bessman

NY NOW has reusable straws, Wendy Barnes designs has the appropriate carrying case


Wendy Barnes Design's Reusable Straw Case, featuring a drill animal pattern


Reusable straws have been big the last year or so at the biannual NY NOW home/lifestyle/handmade/gift market trade shows, which until last year was held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York (it’s set to return there for this summer’s in-person show, Aug. 8-11).


With the second pandemic-driven digital NY NOW show now underway (the first was last October), there are some new offerings in the reusable straws category at the Winter 2021 Digital Market Week, which began yesterday and runs through Feb. 3.


S’well Bottle weighs in with a five-piece Straw Set (four stainless steel straws with flexible necks along with one cleaning brush), and a nifty Flip Straw Cap that flips open for drinking, closed for carrying, and contains a detachable stainless steel straw. Meanwhile, Le Bonheur Industrial Corp. offers as a picnic accessory a Telescopic Iron Straw encased in a small metal cylinder (with a smaller attachable carabiner clip) that telescopes to normal straw-length when removed and stretched out.


But Wendy Barnes Design has taken the reusable straw concept a step further in creating the Reusable Straw Case line. The 11-inch long and two and a-half inch wide machine-washable cotton bags are handmade in Barnes’ Melbourne, Florida home base, and are perfect for nine-inch or shorter straws, as well as a cleaning brush and reusable eating utensils.


All of the straw cases feature Barnes’ original pen-and-ink animal pattern artwork drawn using eco-friendly inks.


Animals that are pictured in the 58-piece line range from the endangered drill (an African primate related to mandrills and baboons) to the tufted puffin bird. Barnes donates a portion of sales to more than 20 partnered conservation organizations: Ten percent of the proceeds from sales of the drill’s Reusable Straw Case, for example, support the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance’s primate conservation efforts.


“I design all of my fabrics from my pen-and-ink drawings,” say Barnes. “Each animal--and a few plants--gives back to a wildlife conservation organization. I believe if I am going to sell something with an endangered chimpanzee depicted, it is my duty and purpose to give back to a conservationist working to protect that species. We can all do a little, and together we do a whole lot!”


Her brand’s mission, then, “is to connect support for wildlife conservation through design.”


“Sustainable products for eco-living,” adds Barnes, “go hand-in-hand with the overall vision: Carrying a reusable straw and/or utensils is a great way to help do your part for our planet.”


She echoes reusable straw suppliers in noting that one of the Top 10 beach clean-up items is plastic straws.


“We all know this now,” she continues, suggesting that “keeping your straw and utensils in a washable case with you should be as normal as carrying mints.”


Barnes, a first time NY NOW attendee on behalf of her own brand, designed the item in 2017.


“I was carrying around my own reusable straw and it was always wrapped up in a paper towel in my bag. I needed a better solution, as I was moving one step forward with a reusable straw, and two steps back with a paper towel. When I first launched it, almost everyone said they had never heard of a reusable straw and tried in earnest to convince me this was ‘not a thing.’”


Wendy Barnes Designs’ other product likewise employs her animal-inspired prints.


“The animals I choose are sometimes based on the partnering organization,” she says. “Obviously, the Snow Leopard Trust leads me to a snow leopard pattern. Other times I suggest animals for the partner, like with a local partner, Hundred Acre Hollow, which passionately protects a piece of land here that is home to gopher tortoises and many pollinators--so the bee, gopher tortoise, and, during Halloween, bat and spider, makes sense for them.”


Then, “there are some animals I just choose to draw and either connect with a partner later or give back equally to my existing partners. An example of this is my whale shark, which is not currently partnered.”


A recent addition to Barnes’ catalog is her Napkin “Singles”—cloth napkins sold in singles and sets of four.


“During the pandemic, with an increase in take-out, it is a great time to pass on disposable cutlery and bring your own if eating on the go,” notes Barnes. “The new Napkin ‘Singles’ are great for wrapping up utensils, and storing the Straw Cases as well.”


And with the pandemic in full effect, Barnes last April joined the ranks of face mask manufacturers.


“The masks were a major pivot,” she says. “Many of my customers were desperately requesting them, knowing I sew--and not knowing where to find them in the very beginning. Also, I was worried about my partners when all of their standard donations and plans for fundraising events came to a halt. So staying in business felt essential beyond my personal needs.”


Barnes ended up sewing thousands of masks, and in November was able to triple her 2020 donations on Giving Tuesday for most partners.

CENTERLINE