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How Rachel Comey Broke With Uline

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

If you are a business owner, small or large, Uline is essentially impossible to avoid. The enormous packaging- and shipping-supplies company is the go-to source for packing tape, Bubble Wrap, paper products, janitorial supplies, workbenches, barcode scanners, box cutters, and most of North America’s cardboard boxes. The company’s founders — Dick and Liz Uihlein — also happen to have donated billions of dollars to extreme-right super-PACs, anti-abortion groups, and conservative candidates who are pro–assault weapons and anti–trans rights.

For this reason, the designer Rachel Comey had been trying to break with Uline for years, starting before the pandemic. But it was a challenge, she quickly ascertained, to find another supplier whose extra-large double-walled cardboard boxes were as cheap as Uline’s. For companies that ship only small things, finding a cost-effective alternative is simpler; there are plenty of inexpensive, direct-to-consumer options, including EcoEnclose (which is popular among independent makers and Etsy sellers). But when it comes to big, heavy-duty cardboard boxes — the kind Comey uses to ship wholesale orders or an entire collection across the country — there just weren’t, until recently, any similarly priced options. To put it into perspective, Uline offers 36-by-36-inch heavy-duty boxes at $23 apiece, whereas one of its biggest competitors, Global Industrial, charges $69 apiece for the same size box.

Once the pandemic eased slightly, Comey began looking in earnest for an alternative source. Ultimately, her team found its new suppliers, the Boxery and Paper Mart, through Refuse Uline, a website that lists Uline alternatives in the U.S. and Canada. Comey chose her new suppliers based on three elements: their use of recycled materials, the proximity to her warehouses in New York and L.A., and prices that are comparable to what she was paying with Uline. (The Boxery sells 36-by-36-inch heavy-duty boxes for $21 apiece, and Paper Mart, one of the many options listed on Refuse Uline, sells a slightly larger size box for $23 apiece.) And because both are local to where she produces her clothes, she told us that using them reduces both shipping costs and her company’s environmental impact. Since Comey posted on Instagram about her decision to switch from Uline, she says she has heard from dozens of business owners, all interested in doing the same. “There are a lot of great options depending on exactly what you need,” she says (besides boxes, for instance, Bagbarn has every type of bag a person could ever need, including garment, newspaper, ice, and mattress). Once she switched, she says, she still had a few Uline boxes left over. Instead of throwing them out, “I got some Refuse Uline stickers and put them on the old Uline boxes.”

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How Rachel Comey Broke With Uline