This North Kansas City company is working to save trees by making paper

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The average American family throws out nearly two trees worth of paper a year. That’s more than 13,000 sheets of paper; a tree can produce 8,333 sheets.

A North Kansas City company is trying to curb the use of trees. Just in time for Earth Day.

The Artist and Craftman Supply shop in the Crossroads is a Mecca for artists and craftsmen, obviously. Walk into the store, and you’ll find an entire wall devoted to paper.

Shelly Pinto stood in front of it Tuesday and touched a roll of brightly colored and patterned paper above her head.

”I like this because of the shine,” she said. Then she pointed to another. “This one's really fun.”

If you’ve ever liked paper or a pattern a bit too much, you might like Pinto.

“I'm the art department for Shizen Handmade papers,” the former Hallmark employee said.

She designed every one of the few dozen papers displayed at the store, and roughly 500 others. From the print, to the color, to the size.

“I love seeing all the color and the play of pattern,” she said.

All of her designs are stored in a North Kansas City warehouse, complete with a sleeping guard dog.

Shizen Designs has more than 600 styles of paper and 800 different paper products nestled on its shelves. Patterns range from paisley to polka dots, colors go from 70's inspired neon to neutral.

Neil Pinto, Shelly’s husband, is the business side of the three-person wholesale company.

“We sell to book stores, the art supply industry, paper stores,” he said, and he also sells to three educational distributors.

The deep teals, bright pinks, vibrant emeralds and rich sapphires may be what catch your eye. But it’s what the paper feels like that makes Shizen different.

“There is a lot of demand for environmentally friendly paper,” Neil said. “The papers are made out of cotton from t-shirt factories.”

Each sheet of paper was once a shirt scrap from a factory in India. (Shizen is Japanese for nature.)

Each paper is made from fabric pulp and cleaned with purified and reused water. Each color is screen printed by hand and then dried in the sun. One piece of paper may have three or four different colors on it, so that means a base color and then each color is added to make the final design.

However, there is a public health element to the fabric pulp paper.

Gujarat is one of India’s major textile-producing regions. It also has one of the highest rates of cancer and other chronic diseases, said Priti Lakhani, a public health professional.

“One of the great things about India is they create beautiful, unbelievable handiwork and textiles,” said Lakhani, who emigrated from India years ago and still has family in the Gujarat area.

“The downside of that is there is a public health cost to that, which is actually quite great. There is a higher rate of cancer ... as a result of producing textiles.”

“The rates of cancer are so high, and there are so many problems as a by-product of the increase in manufacturing of textiles," Lakhani continued.

“Are we really doing the best thing for that population in that community, in the long term for their health, to continue to purchase things that could be hurting them and the environment?” she rhetorically asked.

Which is why she co-founded an online store, Peace of Papers, to sell Shizen’s designs. Shizen is only a wholesaler; the Pintos only sell their papers to other companies.

However, Shizen does have its papers sold in stores, which brings us back to Shelly at the Crossroads.

She listed off the ways to use the patterned paper.

“You can use it for collaging, you can use it for album covers, book covers, wrapping paper, you can frame it.”

Pinto and her husband are proud of their work. The patterned papers made of fabric pulp don’t just protect the environment. The paper making process also protects the people making them.

Talk about a natural beauty.

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