Detroit has always been known for its manufacturing muscle, especially in the automotive world. But there’s more going on in Detroit’s manufacturing scene these days besides cars. The city is fast becoming a hub of innovation, sparking the creative minds of a new generation of entrepreneurs that are bringing sustainability and local craftsmanship to the table.
You’ll find one such entrepreneur at 1442 Brush St. and Bamboo, the headquarters of a company called “Original Stix”. Their CEO, Terry Johnson, founded the company with a few of his close friends in 2014. Their goal? To create a new kind of phone case, one that would both stand out from the crowd and introduce a new kind of recyclable material: hockey sticks.
Now, you might be wondering why hockey sticks would be considered a “new” recyclable material. After all, aren’t hockey sticks made from wood? For a long time, they were; up until the year 2000 when composite sticks, made with everything from fiberglass to carbon fiber, were introduced to the sport.
Since 2010, all NHL players have exclusively used composite hockey sticks, causing wooden sticks to fall largely out of favor with both college and youth leagues. Though composite sticks are both lighter and offer better performance than wooden ones, the materials they are made from can’t be recycled like old-fashioned wooden ones. Instead, they are sent to landfills where they stay for centuries, hardly decomposing at all.
According to Hockey Green, a green initiative started by major US retailer Total Hockey, there are 3.2 million composite sticks produced annually worldwide, and all of them inevitably end up in a landfill. That’s because they are largely considered expendable, even though a quality composite stick can cost hundreds of dollars. In the NHL, an individual player will go through 9-12 dozen sticks per season, either because they break or simply don’t perform as well as they used to.
Being an avid hockey fan, Johnson was well aware of the sheer volume of sticks going to waste, and saw an opportunity to give them a second life as phone cases. But as with any recycling initiative, it took a lot of effort to get people to participate. After several months of leg work and intensive back-and-forth emails, Johnson’s idea eventually gained traction with suppliers and equipment managers.
At first, getting teams on board with the idea was a challenge, since many viewed it as extra work with little gain. But they soon came around, especially as Original Stix began streamlining the recycling process. All a team has to do is load up a box with their broken sticks and slap on a shipping label. “Making the recycling process as easy as possible is key; we make it as simple as we can for them so they have the least amount of work to do,” Johnson said. That ease pays dividends for the company, as just a single shipment of 200 hockey sticks can yield roughly 1,000 brand new phone cases.
The way the phone cases are manufactured is just as intriguing as the material they are made from. Every hockey stick sent to Original Stix is cut into thin pieces and made to fit inside a new case, with the the stick’s brand prominently displayed through the back. An injection molded frame holds it all together, which are produced by a local company called “Kreft Injection Technology”. Virtually everything Original Stix uses to run its operation, from packaging materials to foam inserts, is provided by local businesses like Kreft. The company puts immense emphasis on creating an entirely Detroit-made product, providing a sharp contrast to other players in the phone case market that often rely on overseas manufacturing for their products.
Currently, the company offers cases for the iPhone 5/5s and the 6/6s, with even more cases in the works for tablets and other devices. Customers can choose from a range of stick designs that include NHL teams and the official USA Hockey emblem. What’s more, each case is made to be interchangeable so that fans can easily swap sticks with each other, like trading cards. Allowing fans to trade sticks with each other “gives [them] something they can carry around, rather than keeping their hockey stick in the basement or closet” Johnson said.
So far, it appears that hockey fans agree wholeheartedly. Original Stix has become a popular sight rink-side, with over 6,000 cases sold since 2014. Their success has been helped by an ever-expanding retail presence that now includes 30 locations in the US, Canada, and England, with some NHL teams selling Original Stix cases right alongside their jerseys and gear.
The success of Original Stix demonstrates a lot of things, namely what you can do with an ingenious recycling idea. But it also signals the resurgence of the Motor City as a center for innovation, providing a platform for entrepreneurs like Terry Johnson to bring some of their original ideas to market. So the next time you’re at the rink, be sure to stop by the shop and pickup an Original Stix case of your own.
For a limited time, you can also enter code “budgetdumpster” at checkout on originalstix.com for free shipping to the US! Offer valid through 2/25/16.
And if you ever get to cleaning out that basement full of hockey memorabilia, we’ve got a dumpster rental in Detroit for you!
Images courtesy of Original Stix