L'acétate de cellulose

Cellulose acetate

What is cellulose acetate?

Cellulose acetate is the main material of our hair accessories, earring pendants, pocket mirrors, rulers & combs. It is a material we love working with for the many advantages it offers. So we thought we'd tell you a little more about the material that makes up your favorite accessories.

What exactly is cellulose acetate?

It's a member of the plastics family, but with one essential feature that makes it the ideal candidate for us: it's made from wood or cotton, not petroleum like its other cousins. It is therefore a plant-based material, obtained from the pulp of plants.

To make cellulose acetate, we first extract the cellulose from the wood or cotton: this involves a mechanical stage, with machines working the material, followed by chemical stages, using caustic soda in particular. Next, we keep our chemist's aprons on for the “acetylation” stage, where we add a new chemical (acetic anhydride, for the curious). Stir well and, tadaaa: there's our cellulose acetate!

Why is it better than conventional plastic?

We were looking for a material that would give us great creative freedom, while at the same time having the lowest possible impact. Despite its higher cost, cellulose acetate came out on top.

Firstly, because it's derived from plants and therefore contains no petroleum. This means less dependence on fossil fuels, and potentially a lighter carbon footprint than other plastics.

Our cellulose acetate is also FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council), a certification which guarantees that the wood cellulose used comes from sustainably managed forests. This guarantees that the wood has been legally harvested, and that its extraction does not contribute to deforestation or harm biodiversity.

Finally, cellulose acetate is extremely resistant to impact and breakage, far more so than some conventional plastics. It therefore surpasses them in terms of strength and durability.

Cellulose acetate: an eco-friendly material?

First of all, let's not forget that the most environmentally-friendly object is the one we don't produce.

While acetate offers many advantages over conventional plastics, it also has certain drawbacks. At the end of its life, cellulose acetate is not currently a material that can be sorted by conventional sorting centers.

It can decompose naturally when deposited in appropriate conditions, such as those found in industrial composting, where micro-organisms transform it into simpler compounds that are harmless to the environment. But it does not degrade as effectively in other environments, such as marine environments and landfills, where conditions for microbial activity are less favorable. The presence of certain additives or coatings (varnishes) also influences the biodegradation process.

Finally, our accessories contain small metal parts. To recycle cellulose acetate, we have to separate it from the other materials. In practical terms, this means we can't throw our products in the yellow garbage can, which complicates recycling.

That said, the end-of-life of acetate is far less questionable than that of conventional, petroleum-based plastics, which take much longer to degrade, breaking down into a multitude of plastic micro-particles that modify their environment.

And why not a 100% natural material?

Coucou Suzette is defined by its creative madness, and this creativity needs a medium to express itself. Cellulose acetate allows us to do things that natural materials, such as wood, don't allow.

Acetate is a material that can be infinitely dyed and shaded with pigments. It can also be made more or less opaque, for creations with as many shades as you like.

What's more, it has excellent molding properties and can be adapted to the craziest shapes. We also love its multiple effects (pearlescent, speckled, transparent...) and slight variations in shade, making each product unique.

Last but not least, it is a vegan alternative to mother-of-pearl, enabling us to create the pearlescent and iridescent effects we love so much, as seen, for example, on our emblematic Eye hair clip.

How does Coucou Suzette manufacture its cellulose acetate hair accessories?

All our cellulose acetate accessories have several production stages. Some of them are very technical and need to be entirely hand-made. Find out how we make them !

It all starts with an idea and a drawing that Juliette (Coucou Suzette’s creator) makes by hand in one of her numerous notebooks. Then, she works on the computer to improve the illustration and add a few details to get as close as possible to the wanted final result. The technical file is then sent to our manufacturer. Later, the factory sends us prototypes and a few back-and-forths are sometimes necessary to approve a creation and start the production. Here is an example of the different Forget-me-not hair claw prototypes:

Come with us in the factory making our accessories to find out about the production stages. We selected a cellulose acetate specialized factory located in East China (near Shanghai), for its know-how and its large choice of colors and effects which allow us to create our most original designs!

Step 1 - Making the cellulose acetate plate

The first step is to manufacture the cellulose acetate sheet. During this stage, it takes on its shape and consistency, as well as its chosen color. It's here that we can imagine a variety of colors with original reflections, such as the gorgeous customized purple for our Eggplant claw clip. Once formed, the plate is polished to make it smooth for further fabrication.

Step 2 - Cutting

The next step is to cut the cellulose acetate sheet into the shape of the future accessories. The cutting is first prepared on computer by an operator to optimize the layout so that each sheet contains as many shapes as possible, thus limiting offcuts. This is a crucial stage, since the thickness of the blade must also be taken into account, and the cutting lines may need to be adjusted. The machine then follows the instructions in the file to laser-cut the cellulose acetate sheets and give shape to the future products. All the scraps are recycled into black acetate. 

Step 3 - Gluing the different parts

The majority of our cellulose acetate accessories are made of several colors coming from different plates. For example, our Lemon hair claw is made up of a main yellow part and a little green leaf. Some of our hair claws like the mini Strawberry one also have clear claws that come from a different cellulose acetate plate. Therefore these different parts have to be glued together at this step.

This tricky step is completely hand-made. It requires a lot of time and attention. If it’s not done properly, the product might break during the following production stages or when it is worn.

Depending on the products, this stage can be more or less complex and time-consuming because of the number of parts that have to be glued together. If you take the example of the Watermelon hair claw, you have to assemble three different parts: the main red one, the light green arc and the dark green arc.

After gluing the different parts together, it is necessary to clean the accessories with a special treatment to get rid of the excess glue and avoid spots on the cellulose acetate. 

Step 4 - Shaping the accessories

The accessory is starting to get its final look. It has all the right colors but it is still flat. For hair claws, we have to give them a curved shape so it can be handled properly once the spring is added. The piece is put in a hot mold and pressed by a machine for a few seconds to get the desired shape. Depending on the models, the molds are different and must adjust to the shape of each accessory. The gluing step (step 3) had to be done properly, to avoid any breaking at this complicated stage. For hair claws with built-in claws, like the Eggplant accessory, this stage will also give their final form to the claws.

Step 5 - Polishing

Now the shaping is made (cut, glued and molded), the piece goes through its last step before being assembled and becoming a hair claw, a hair clip, an earring or a mirror. Here, we polish the edges of the products so they are smooth and pretty.

Step 6 - Adding the claws

For hair claws that don’t have built-in claws (like the Cherry hair claw), we now have to glue them. Just like the gluing stage, this step is completely hand-made and requires a lot of precision.

Step 7 - Assembling the accessories

Finally, we assemble the accessories. For hair claws, we glue the little part dedicated to the metallic spring and then add the spring. For hair clips, we glue the clip. Mirrors and earrings are also assembled at this stage.

Step 8 - Adding the logo and the ink details

Coucou Suzette is all about details!

At this stage, the golden, silver or black ink details are added by hand with a syringe in the grooves made during the laser-cut (step 2). It requires being very meticulous and skilled to follow the line without making a mess.

The ink gives birth to our Coucou Suzette logo (inside the creations) and to any other details Juliette wanted to highlight.

Then, we have to wait for a day for the color to dry, before cleaning the excess ink with a tissue. 

Step 9 - Coating

The accessories are almost done. After the last touches, the cellulose acetate piece is cleaned again to make sure there is no dust or dirt left after the many stages. Finally, we apply a protective coating. It gives the products their shiny and glossy looks.

Step 10 - Quality check and packaging

The last production stage is the quality check of each product and the packaging before shipping. 

The accessories are then sent to our logistics partners and offered on our website, Coucou Suzette, where you can place orders from all over the world. Finally, they will arrive safely in your hair :)

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