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Pimp my coffin: Personalise your departure with an eco-friendly casket

A South African company is shaking up the funeral business by offering custom, colourful caskets made from recycled board.

One of the colourful coffins offered by the South African company. Picture: Xanita

CAPE TOWN - The funeral industry may not strike you as one that needs shaking up. After all, the profession of coffin-making is almost as old as time itself and over the centuries the traditional casket has proven to be a useful and reliable choice to carry the mortal remains of the departed.

But a South African company is hoping to change all of this with a radical idea that embraces e-commerce, gives consideration to the environment and allows the customer to make their casket totally unique.

Cape Town company Xanita is producing coffins made from recycled post-consumer waste such as cardboard boxes, which have been re-pulped and forged into a surprisingly versatile board that is then printed with an array of colourful graphics. It is a concept, its founders believe, which is much more suited to modern times.

"The company started in 2007 developing a range of fibre-board lightweight materials and through that process of discovering and developing materials we started collaborating with LifeArt in Australia, which had initiated and developed their own version of a more trendy, online casket service, rather than your boring wood look or dark wood - something that was more appealing," says CEO James Beattie.

The advantages include the weight and the flat-pack design, which are a big benefit when it comes to transporting the coffins long distance.

Beattie says thanks to the lower emissions and higher burn rate, the casket also trumps traditional wood coffins in the crematorium - a consideration which is top of mind for nations which have to comply with regulations in this regard.

It is one of the reasons he believes the concept is proving so successful in Australia and its popularity is growing in Germany, Belgium and the UK.

"I think the common thread among all those countries [is that] they're all first world, so they're under the same pressures - environmental pressures. They're all looking for new trendy ideas. There's a strong youth population that's highly tuned in to what's happening in the world. So all of those together make up a compelling reason why the industry is moving in that direction," Beattie says.

While an array of colourful graphics is offered in addition to the opportunity to supply - at a higher cost - your very own photographs or designs, Xanita has noted with some surprise that there is a high demand for its plain white casket, which can have handwritten messages added. However, landscapes seem to have enduring popularity.

"Most of them are scenic, so it would be beautiful scenery from nature, waterfall scenes, birds, forest life - those are very popular images," Beattie says.

"It also depends on the country. In Germany they'd have a less creative perhaps, but more mechanical-type designs. We've had those that are fans of bikers or have a hobby and try and portray that hobby. I haven't seen all of them but certainly in Australia where they have the customised… it's really tear-jerking stuff that they're able to translate that person's life into a visual at the point of the funeral."

Beattie hopes to reach out to brands and sports franchises to offer fans a chance to have their favourite team's logo emblazoned on their coffins.

"As the industry becomes more progressive and the industry becomes more enlightened, then we'll see the sports franchises and perhaps other associations embracing images which they could catalogue or they could then have available online for their particular supporters. So we're a step or two away from activating it from a market point of view more because of the resistance to embracing something new," he says.

While business is booming for the company overseas and it is enjoying success in other sectors with its board, the uptake for the caskets locally remains sluggish.

"The reason there's been a slowness with South Africa is really old habits take a long time to die - excuse the pun - but the industry in South Africa is not as progressive as the industry elsewhere…" Beattie laments, adding that the country's emissions may in time also be under scrutiny.

However, he believes that the idea ticks enough of the right boxes to disrupt the industry.

"The traditional funeral homes could be threatened by this, so either they embrace it or they work against us," he says.

Timeline

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