What goes into designing the first 100% paper poppy? #BehindTheIdea

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The Royal British Legion's 2023 Poppy Appeal launched last week with an appearance on BBC Breakfast that introduced the new 100% paper, fully recyclable poppy designed by Matter, and created through a collaboration of British partnerships.

These partners include specialty paper manufacturer James Cropper (the poppy is made from 50% recycled fibres from the production of coffee cups, and 50% renewable wood fibre); UCL (where scientists assessed that the new plastic-free poppy produces 40% less carbon emissions over its lifetime); and Sewtec (who have designed and built three bespoke machines capable of transforming the iconic Remembrance Poppy to become plastic free).

We spoke to John Mcdonald, Design Director from Matter, about the idea that sparked the redesign, as well as the challenges that came with creating a sustainable solution for such an iconic symbol.

How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?

Initially, it was our own brief. We were already in contact with James Cropper, the specialist paper mill in the Lake District, and when we discovered they made the paper for the poppy petals and leaves, it prompted the opportunity. We set ourselves the challenge of creating an all-paper poppy and removing the plastic, pitched our initial ideas to James Cropper and agreed to go to The Royal British Legion in partnership with the 100% paper poppy concept.


The RBL were very engaged as they had already initiated a programme of work to reduce single use plastics in their products. With The RBL, the brief was evolved to ensure the iconic symbol of the poppy was respected and we were given information on production capabilities and cost targets to meet.

What was the process behind ideating the concept?

Despite the simplicity of the final solution, the ideation was broad. Exploring sheet and moulded paper, various configurations of components and assemblies, attachment methods for users and application print finishes including embossing. We sketched mainly in 3D, making, testing and evaluating ideas as we went.

The production assembly principle was prototyped and proved in our workshop using a pillar drill mechanism and acrylic jigs to mimic the mechanical process on the line. Durability was validated vs the previous poppy in a controlled and measured 'wear and tear' test in the studio. Concept phases were prototyped to mimic production quality and shared with The RBL and the other suppliers for collaborative alignment.

What was the production process like?

Having designed the structural solution at our studio in Bath, James Cropper took the paper poppy to the next level. The paper specialists in the Lake District created two tailor made papers for the Legion, unique in colour and using a FibreBlend of 50% renewably sourced fibres and 50% recycled fibres from coffee cup production.

The mill delivers over three miles (5km) of narrow red and green paper rolls to be made into millions of poppies each year. Hats off to the passion and craft of the team at James Cropper.


The new poppy is an assembly of two paper components, using a single linear action to create a mechanical snap-fit (without adhesives). Having proved the assembly principle in our workshop, we passed the responsibility over to Sewtec Automation.

What was the biggest challenge during production? How did you overcome it?

The engineers at Sewtec stepped up to a formidable challenge and translated the principle into a high speed assembly line capable of efficiently converting 170,000 poppies a day. It’s no mean feat to automate lightweight and delicate pieces of paper at speed! Kudos to the ambition and genius of the Sewtec team.

What kit/tools/software were used to create the project?

  • Pencils, scalpels, paper and card :)
  • Laser cutter, CNC (emboss tooling), Press (embossing)
  • Solidworks (3D tooling), Adobe Illustrator (cutter guides)

What is one funny or notable thing that happened during production?

Much of the concept exploration was done with simple sketch-models made in our homes during 'lock-down'.

What’s the main message of this project and why does it matter?

The poppy is a hugely symbolic icon of remembrance and we're incredibly proud and honoured to have helped sustain it. For Matter, we see this as a symbolic project showing the role that designers and design consultancies have in initiating progress and guiding our business partners in what they do.


We don't have to wait for briefs or oblige to specifications. We can provoke and challenge. And we have the unique ability to bring concepts to life and inspire positive change.

How long did it take from inception to delivery?

The initial pitch to the Legion was in early 2021, and new poppies were launched this October.

What do you hope it achieves for the brand?

The plastic free poppy is more environmentally sustainable, with a 40% reduction in carbon emissions as calculated by scientists at the UCL. Furthermore, the new poppy is socially sustainable. People are less and less tolerant of single use plastics and non-recyclable products, especially the younger generations, which had become a threat to the previous poppy.

We hope the new paper poppy serves to sustain the remembrance symbol, encourage more people to wear a poppy and show they care, and help to improve fundraising for the vital work that The Royal British Legion do.

Credit list for the work?

Matter - concept and design

James Cropper - bespoke poppy paper

Sewtec Automation - assembly line

UCL - life cycle assessment


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