Season 2 Episode 2 WYPE Edited Trascript
Conversations on Climate – Season 2 Episode 8: Alex Edmans – Edited transcript
Section 1: Introducing Wype
Chris: Giorgia Granata and Eli Khrapko, thank you so much for coming in and speak to us today.
Giorgia: thank you for having us, we’re really excited.
Chris: Could we start off with a quick background on the company that you are co-founders of: Wype. In particular, what is the environmental angle? What was the issue that you saw and what is the solution you came up with?
Giorgia: In short, Wype is an eco-friendly wet wipe alternative. It’s a natural organic gel that can be applied to regular toilet tissue, to turn it into a fully flushable and biodegradable wet wipe. And the reason why we got the idea and started working on creating such a crazy thing is because I’m Italian, and when I moved to London about six or seven years ago to study at business school, I was desperately missing my bidet!
So I started looking at solutions that were convenient and similar in the space, and that wouldn’t necessarily require plumbing or too much trouble; and there really wasn’t anything there other than wet wipes. So I have to make a confession myself that there was a period in time where I had a little pack of wet wipes in the bathroom next to the toilet.
Just as a warning: if we have to talk about our company, we’re going to talk about toilet topics! What I started seeing increasingly was news of wet wipe pollution. We’re talking 2019 or so, I started spotting a pattern and to this day 90% of wet wipes that are on the market contain plastic. They live for a really long time and then break down into microplastics. I was seeing this news of giant sewer blockages forming and wet wipe pollution on the coastlines and beaches at the time. The wet wipe island in the Thames didn’t exist yet, but I had an intuition.
Wet wipes have been on the market since the eighties. People have been using them on their babies all this time. What is this sudden spike in wet wipe pollution that is entering the waterways? And my intuition was that adults – I have to confess, for a short period of time, like myself – were transitioning to using wet wipes on themselves.
So I thought: is there a way that we can create an eco-friendly alternative that provides the sensation that people are seeking, but without the environmental damage? That’s when we came up with this natural gel that affords the same kind of moisture and cleansing power, but without the drawbacks that wet wipes are having on the environment.
Chris: That’s a very good intro, particularly on the climate side. There are a few other issues that this solves, from a health, medical, even feminist perspective. What are they?
Giorgia: We have been really fascinated by the world that has opened in front of us working on a product like Wype. Not only because it’s a really interesting taboo, but also trying to really understand how habits form in the household, and how our particular product – which is kind of category-creating because there are not a lot of similar products on the market – satisfies people when it comes to rectal hygiene and health.
One of the things that we’ve discovered – and this has really happened through our community – is that there is what I would define as an iceberg of conditions, needs and requirements that have been pushed out of the spotlight due to stigmas and taboos, that actually can be addressed by a product like ours. So in our case, what we discovered is haemorrhoids, which obviously affect 75% of the population throughout their lifetime; or the 50 million people who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome; all the forms of cancer that affect the lower part of the body; and not only cancers, but also the radiation can cause colorectal pain and soreness that products like ours have beneficial effects for.
Chris: Digging down a little deeper into the sustainability hygiene part of it. You weren’t the first people to see this. When you have fatbergs appearing in the sewers, and a lot of publicity, there was a reaction from retailers who were banning plastics; EDANA [a wet wipe industry body] approving ‘flushable’ wipes. But digging into it, it seems they may not have as good a set of credentials as they say…
Eli: I think the water industry globally recognized that this is a huge problem. Initially there wasn’t such a thing as [inverted commas] “flushable wipes.” People were just using plastic baby wipes on themselves and flushing them. And then the water industry said, this is a huge problem and we need to address this somehow.
Then ‘flushable’ wipes started to come out and they started to greenwash them with lots of terms: – biodegradability, flushability – that aren’t really justifiable. It’s different to toilet paper; it’s never going to break down the same way that toilet paper will, because otherwise it’s just not going to do the job as a wipe that you want it to do.
For example, Kimberly Clark just got had a class-action lawsuit for $20 million in the US against flushable standards. The latest data that we saw was that flushable wipes are 88 times more likely to cause severe blockages than regular toilet paper. Arguably it’s better than flushing plastic wet wipes, but it’s still creating a whole bunch of issues.
Giorgia: Just to add to that: I have a fascination with the history of advertising, and when at the beginning they started advertising ‘light’ foods, the advertising regulation authorities had to go back and check that it didn’t mean that it had a lighter colour! What you can say about products that you sell is very murky and full of loopholes. So at the beginning, wet wipes and other any other brand that might be making a claim were saying ‘flushable.’ Yes, but you can flush a T-shirt! You can try to flush anything.
Anything that says ‘flushable’ only has not gone through any types of checks, so it doesn’t mean anything about degradability. There should be a timeline on that because the cliffs of Dover are biodegradable [over time!] There’s a lot of terminology that is not regulated, and what the water companies did initially, in collaborating with wet type manufacturers, is come up with the ‘fine to flush standard.’ That was supposed to solve the problem, and it was launched in 2019. We can see now four years later that it didn’t. The question is, why didn’t it solve it?
That’s a complicated question to answer. We obviously know that the corporations behind wet wipes are very big and very powerful, and I think potentially the standard was trying to be friendly both to the water companies and to the manufacturers; potentially it ended up being a little too friendly to the manufacturers. I don’t think there is a finger to point in any direction necessarily, but I think it’s just an interesting case.
We can ask ourselves, why are cigarettes still in circulation? Where there’s a lot of money, it’s really hard to get things off the shelves. Obviously wet wipes aren’t killing people, but if you go on the Water UK website today, it says ‘bin it, don’t block it.’ I think it’s also hard for the Water UK Standard to have to walk back on something that they worked on, and that they felt that was going to be a good option.
I think for us the key is to say, do you really need to use a wet wipe at all? It is a single use item. It is something that you’re putting into the world, that you use once and then you throw away. In general, these types of objects should be avoided.
We try to not only provide an alternative – and you don’t need to choose our product – but we’re also raising awareness about the issue. We’re offering an alternative and otherwise we’re informing you of some of the consequences of the actions that you take.
Section 2: Disposability culture
Chris: Moving up a level, back into some of the more cultural things you were talking about, particularly disposability; people have an approach to disposability and an approach to convenience and the cheapness of throwing things away. The wet wipe industry is a really good example of the exact opposite of the circular economy. This is the antithesis of what you want to do. What you’re your view of the roots of this disposability culture
Giorgia: I don’t know if I can think about the whole concept of disposability. But I know that the first wet wipes were created for KFC in America, for cleaning your fingers after eating the chicken.
Having objects that last a lifetime requires taking care of them, requires time and forethought in some way. The word convenience, if you define it, means easy, means fast, it can mean anything. Anything that’s convenient to you in that moment. But it’s something that has a very short lifespan, that sensation of convenience. It’s not something that you feel for a long duration.
I think when the world decided that it needs it needed more convenience, it just made sense to address that feeling of comfort; and a way of doing that is saying, what if you could have a fork that you use once and then you throw away? What if you could have a thing that you can clean the table with and then you throw it away? What if you had a plate that you can throw away? What if you had clothes that you can wear once and then you just throw away? That means we can make them cheaper because they don’t have to last as long. I think it’s really only happened in the last 50-60 years, and if you think about the life cycle of humanity, it’s arresting to realize what the culture of convenience and single use has done to a generation.
Eli: It’s something that’s happened quite recently, but convenience was born in a time when sustainability wasn’t really a concern, and people weren’t talking about it. Now people are starting to think a little bit more about the downside of convenience, which is obviously sustainability and what we’re doing to the planet. But that mindset has a lot of inertia and a lot of momentum. It’s now so ingrained in everyday life that it’s quite a difficult thing to unwind.
Chris: Do you think that that cost component will ever flip, to where sustainable products can be as cheap as convenience products?
Giorgia: I don’t think they should be. I know that’s maybe controversial. I don’t think sustainable products should be as cheap – or can be as cheap – as single use non-sustainable products. To create something thoughtfully, that works better than something that has had a whole industry of mass production behind it, takes time and research and takes innovation and passionate teams. And I do think that the consumer, despite the desire for convenience, has a level of maturity to understand that. Of course, if we’re looking at every possible income bracket, that’s where the problems start. That’s not because the lower income brackets are the problem, it’s because they have to make choices that, at the end of the day, fit within their means. In that case, it’s more an issue of regulation as well. So I think governments have to step in, in some way or another, where little innovative companies who at the end of the day have to keep the lights on, cannot. It has to be the will of the consumers, the companies that are innovating, and the government together.
Section 3: Finding feminist solutions
Chris: Let’s move on. One story that I found really interesting reading was your piece on the history of the bidet, and how it ended up getting a really bad name in the UK. It stirred up a lot of thoughts, and it seemed to me that there was a link between environmentalism and feminism there. Would you care to can explain the story and your own experience of where environmentalism and feminism link, as a co-founder of an eco-startup?
Giorgia: Ehen you start looking into intimate hygiene and cleansing, there’s a really broad cultural difference that exists globally. Historically bidets are based in the European region, but also Muslims have as part of their credo to clean themselves intimately as well. In India, the most traditional item is a lota. Japan has obviously taken the more technological approach, and now the United States is doing a little bit of everything. Some countries, like the United Kingdom, tend to pick up trends from the United States; so we’re seeing similar trends happening here with wet wipes.
I was really curious about how this is a trend that has not been globalized, as one would have seen with other things. Historically, one of the reasons is because during the Second World War, the Americans were coming to Europe and finding bidets in certain type of establishments where they were spending time with the ladies. Obviously, they were very clean ladies; but at the same time, when they came home, intimate cleansing was then associated with prostitution and contraception. For that reason it was seen as something that was taboo. So that for me is potentially one of the reasons why this cultural thing never took off as much in one of the marketing and commercial superpowers, which is America, and as a consequence in other countries as well.
Chris: Viva La V is really interesting development. As an outsider looking in, I find it fascinating how you’re clearly very passionate about this, and you think that it’s a product that’s needed; but you’re also trying to be very delicate by not trying to stigmatize, or not trying to scare – it’s a difficult balance to strike. How do you explain to people what Viva La V is?
Giorgia: Yes, this is a topic that I’m quite passionate about. I feel like my opinion is a little bit controversial compared to some of the conversations that are being had with other feminine brands.
So normally I try to stay away! But our customers asked us for a product like Viva La Vie, which was a version of Wype (a natural organic gel that can be applied to toilet tissue) for intimate cleansing. But they wanted something specific for the feminine pH, because the skin inside of the vulva is different than that of the bottom. So we formulated it, and I was really hesitating about going forward because while in Italy where I’m from, every house has a bidet and it’s considered perfectly normal to wash the bits that you want to wash, whenever you want to wash them. Nobody associates a stigma with that. If I as a woman want to do something for my own personal feminine hygiene, I do it for myself because I like to feel clean, and for nobody else.
As part of a kind of ‘feminine revolution’ that is being led by consumer brands here in the UK, I feel like there’s been a lot of fearmongering around what we do with our vulvas, and a lot of associating doing certain things with our vulvas with feminism. One of the big slogans that you see is that, your vagina is self-cleaning – don’t let no man tell you what to do! First of all, a lot of women have struggled in naming the difference between their vagina and their vulva; the vulva is the external part and the vagina is the internal part, and your vagina is in fact self-cleaning while your vulva is not.
What I’ve seen with our customers, and with people who interact with the brand, is that there is suddenly a lot of fear and misunderstanding and confusion about what is right to do with your body parts, but also what the brands are telling you: that if you stand with feminism, you should be doing this or that with your body parts. I don’t necessarily see how this is empowering women when suddenly now women are afraid of their own bodies.
What I really wanted to do is evolve that. I was really hesitating to launch this product, and I haven’t put a lot of marketing behind it because honestly, I don’t want to get into this whole giant thing right now. Which is to say that you as a person who owns a vulva, are the only one who should decide if you want to wash it or not wash it. Use our product. Use your husband’s shampoo. It’s not going to give you thrush If it hasn’t given you thrush for ten years, it’s not going to start tomorrow. Don’t be afraid of this part of your body. You’re carrying it around every day. Do you want a product? Our product was designed for the female pH. If you feel that you need it, use it. If you feel like you don’t need it, don’t use it. But I’m so against some of the narrative that has been used to scare women, that if they use a certain pair of underwear, a certain soap, a certain thing, they are so confused that they don’t even listen to their body anymore – they’re listening to brands.
Section 4: Entrepreneurship lessons in unlikely places
Chris: Well, you guys have achieved huge amounts in a really short period of time. Two years, one million plus sales – fantastic stuff! But looking back on your CVs, you wouldn’t imagine this path! Could we just talk a little bit about your background?
Eli: Yes, of course. It’s a very unconventional road to intimate hygiene! I grew up in New Zealand and I studied engineering at university, and joined the New Zealand Air Force pretty much straight out of school. I spent ten years flying in Hercules, which is a big transport aircraft, flying all around the world, everywhere from Afghanistan to Antarctica.
A lot of what we did was humanitarian disaster relief work, which is what gave me the itch I’m now scratching in terms of social enterprise. And then moving on from the Air Force, I got to the point where I was really enjoying my flying, but my next roles in the Air Force were going to be much more managerial. I ended up deciding that if I’m not going to be flying, there’s going to be lots of interesting things to be doing out there.
I ended up coming across to London to study my MBA at London Business School. Still didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I started working at Amazon, and picked up a lot of kind of ecommerce understanding. It was quite a generalist role, but I quite quickly became exposed to running a retail business, understanding all the drivers in ecommerce, what works, what doesn’t, how you make products move, and so on. Then I ended up teaming up with Georgia on Wype.
Looking back on it, a lot of skills from the Air Force which didn’t immediately become apparent have really come in handy. For example, when you’re flying in a plane you have to make decisions based on what you’re seeing. The Hercules is designed to fly at 250 feet off the ground, at about 300 knots. You have to make decisions very, very quickly based on what you see. You become very good at gut reaction; you see a problem and you instantly come up with a solution and you’re able to carry that forward. I think sometimes I get a little bit carried away with it, but that’s really helped me in entrepreneurship.
I think one of the other big things that’s really helped me out is that you come out as an Air Force officer at 18 or 19 years old, and all of a sudden, you’re in charge of a group of 30 people. Some of them might be in their fifties, have spent their entire career in the Air Force. You have to very quickly figure out, how do I ensure that I’m in charge and I’m respected, but equally that I’m aware of where my shortcomings are, and how do I leverage what I have available to me and turn it into something that works for everybody and allows you to grow and develop? Entrepreneurship, especially starting in an industry which we don’t really know a lot about, means we’ve got a pretty good idea about what we want to do. We might not necessarily have those skills initially, but we surround ourselves with people that we work with that are able to plug in and provide those skills for us.
Chris: Giorgia, you come from a background in fashion – going to the world’s leading schools and getting a job, probably a dream job, in the industry at Versace.
Giorgia: Fashion was something that fascinated me. I think I was always fascinated by beauty, and with time, my definition of beauty changed. That’s probably the shortest way to explain why I moved on from fashion. But to go into a little bit more detail, I was doing well in fashion, and fashion is such a complicated industry. Especially when you do it at the luxury level, which is where I was, you get to work with incredible artisans that can do incredibly beautiful things and own a knowledge that that should be protected. This is not mass production; this is small businesses that have been doing things for hundreds of years.
So there is that side, and then there’s the external side of overconsumption; of designing things for obsolescence and short trends; the body image issues that fashion can cause; and as a whole, the fact that there’s murky labour things happening in the fashion industry. Maybe not necessarily at the luxury level, but these things started not feeling to right to me.
At the same time, I was looking for more intellectual stimulation and that’s what took me to pursue an MBA at London Business School. I felt like I was isolated, that there was so much happening in the world that I didn’t see, and I felt like I was in a track where my future seemed very clear to me and I was going to be talking about the same things, and doing the same things, surrounded by the same people, for the rest of my life. I felt like that, for me, was not good enough. That’s when I decided to pursue an MBA.
Chris: That’s leads on to something else you can give some advice on. It is the most natural thing in the world for entrepreneurs to be giving their heart and soul and working every hour that God gives them, sacrificing relationships, sacrificing food, sacrificing whatever. What advice would you give to two entrepreneurs who are going through that? Because that’s what you feel you need to do, but ultimately, we all know it is self-destructive. How do we deal with that?
Eli: There’s a whole lot there. A big part of it is, what are you doing that’s actually useful? What is actually efficient? It’s such a cliche, but we talk a lot about working smarter, not working harder. As an entrepreneur, you’re you’ve always got this Catholic guilt, that if you’re not sitting there at your computer at 10 p.m. every night, if you’re not doing this and doing that, then you’re just not giving everything. You’re not doing enough.
That’s certainly very present with me. But a lot of the time it’s not necessarily actually useful, that work. What we’ve learned is you’re better off working a little bit less, recharging yourself as much as you can in the moments when you can afford to do that, to be much more effective when you’re working. That’s been a really big thing for us, managing our workload, managing our stress. It’s all-consuming for us even more so because we’re a couple, as well as co-founders.
Giorgia: I would say to any entrepreneur: whatever you do, find 3 to 5 people that are one or two years ahead of you. You might have to speak to 50 before those five decide that they want to be there for you! But have those sounding boards; because you’re going to end up throwing lots of energy away and making lots of mistakes you could have avoided if you had those people. Find those people because they’re going to make your life infinitely easier.
Chris: Another related challenge: you bootstrapped Wype. You started in your front room! But you’ve said that you think that might have been a mistake in the end. There were some regrets you have about over-bootstrapping at the start. Bootstrapping gives you a halo effect in the startup world, so it’s something that people want to talk about. But there must be downsides as well.
Giorgia: It’s interesting you should say that. I think right now there’s a really interesting wave of attention around fundraising. So before a company even launches, they raised 3 million pre-launch for this idea! I think that is a bit of a dangerous narrative for startups, because the skill set you need to fundraise and the skill set you need to run a business are not necessarily the same skill set.
I think that might also give the wrong message to young entrepreneurs: that the only way that you have, to gain immediate validation, is fundraising. At the same time, it is kind of an instant test. But it’s a strange incentive system, let’s put it that way.
For us, bootstrapping was a natural choice because we needed to prove product-market fit for a very strange, taboo and slightly insane idea. So we felt that we could do it. It was a long and rough road, especially at the beginning, but we really felt that we needed to prove that there was something there.
Eli: It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. What bootstrapping teaches you is how far you can stretch a pound. What’s really important is what metrics you should really be focusing on. One of the things that we’ve been really lucky with is, because we were bootstrapped, we couldn’t afford to throw all of this money at performance marketing, for example. We had to figure out how to get the acquisition cost to come out of the first purchase, otherwise we just couldn’t afford it and couldn’t continue. So that’s great. On the flip side, especially in a consumer product market, if you can afford to go out and do testing, if you can afford billboards everywhere to drive awareness, then obviously that’s going to be beneficial.
I think the perfect combination is somewhere in between. You can be really lucky and you could raise a huge round and then just see success, and never have to worry about cash flow or worry about profitability, and keep raising, keep raising, keep raising. But having an understanding of how to effectively use money, together with actually having money, is probably the best combination.
Giorgia: Which is where we’re trying to be right now!
Section 5: Is humour a climate taboo?
Chris: Okay. You’ve identified a great product and market, and you’ve gone down the route of taboo-busting. How can you make these types of topics more mainstream? These are the type of things we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about.
Eli: It goes back to what was coming up before. I think deep down inside people want to be talked to about these things as though these taboos don’t really exist. It’s not something that people are ashamed about talking about. They’re looking for someone to talk to them as adults about these things.
Obviously, we have a certain tone of voice. We find that humour really helps with busting through the taboo, and I think people catch on and they really appreciate that; we’ve got a really engaged audience. we write blogs and newsletters and we constantly get two dozen people that reply to us saying, I really enjoyed the way that you talk about that. Even some of the ads that we used to run, some of the comments that you get, it starts to snowball because you get somebody telling someone: check this out, this is funny, this is interesting. As you said, the way that brands used to talk about this was with puppies, cartoon animals. Nobody was addressing the taboo in a way that was engaging, in a way that people were having a bit of a laugh, but then thinking about it triggered it. It was just a natural extension of our personalities, and also of what we were trying to do with the brand.
Chris: Why do you think humour is so effective at breaking taboos?
Giorgia: Laughter is something that brings people together, but also its often used as a way to break through tension. So, for example, our product could be called ‘colorectal gel.’ But how can we talk about this in a way that people would talk about with each other? Then you start to say, if people want to talk about it with each other, what would that conversation look like? You imagine a table at the pub and one of the guys comes back and he’s like, ‘mate, that fried chicken from yesterday…’
One way that we can make the subject matter more comfortable is instead of having a preachy tone – this is a completely normal thing and everybody should talk about it – it’s more like we are laughing with you. By putting yourself on a pedestal and saying, ‘that’s not a big deal,’ you’re almost creating an uncomfortable situation. We’re saying, listen, it’s relaxed, we’re all having a laugh, everybody has that day or that moment. We are here to take our product and our mission very seriously, but also to take the way that we communicate in a funny, light-hearted way. I think that’s a really good way to deal with things that people normally are not comfortable talking about.
Chris: Your product plays in a really interesting niche in the overall sustainability picture. Do you think that humour might have a place to play in other parts of the sustainability picture? it’s a delicate area because people may think, it’s too serious to be joking about it. But look at, say, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in the movie Don’t Look Up. It could create a lot of traction. Is there a role for humour in the greater climate debate?
Eli: I think so. as Giorgia is saying, humour is just something that very quickly brings walls down, brings barriers down. It makes things more relatable and more memorable. It’s just a way of engaging conversation. More than anything else, people like to have a bit of a laugh about everything, especially in the UK.
Giorgia: I don’t agree! [Laughter] I was actually just thinking about Don’t Look Up, and the way it was dealing with climate change as a whole. My opinions are shared with this documentary that I was watching which describes climate change as a ‘hyperobject’, which is an object that is so large in time and space that it is impossible to perceive. What are the challenges with communicating that? What was interesting about that is that it wasn’t posing the solution to climate change as what should we do, but how do you communicate an object that is impossible to perceive, so that a difference can be made? In the case of Don’t Look Up, which presents climate change as an asteroid coming towards the planet, that is essentially incorrect. It’s more like the frog in the in the [boiling] water, right?
So I don’t think humour is the way to go about it personally. But I do think that what can be done more is using storytelling and behavioural science to understand how to communicate and drive behavioural change, for something that is so difficult to perceive.
You could put giant clocks in every city with a countdown to 2025, and educate people more about the actual metrics of climate change and how we are doing every day. I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s funny.
Eli: Perhaps you’re right for climate change as a whole. But the changes that we need to make in terms of behaviours and products that we could be using; for those little steps, certainly I think humour has a part to play.
Giorgia: I disagree with you. Don’t hate me! [laughter]
Chris: Maybe you’re not actually disagreeing that much, because you’re talking about slightly different things. Giorgia, you’re talking about overall awareness of the issue, and Eli you’re talking about the path through it. If people have a joke about a meteor coming towards us, and we’re ignoring it – that’s kind of funny, but you’re saying that doesn’t help us, does it? But it does in one sense, in that it creates more awareness. And that leads to the next question: what do we do about it? So maybe you’re both right.
Section 6: Should we stop marketing sustainability?
I’ve also really enjoyed looking at your rebranding over the last year or so, it’s been really funny stuff. As we touched on earlier, you’ve lent into health, you’ve lent very much in to taboo-busting and humour, but you’ve leant away from sustainability. I was interested to see that development in your marketing. Could you comment on how you came to the decision that that was the right thing to do?
Giorgia: There’s a few reasons for moving away from sustainability necessarily as a marketing tool, and one of the reasons is because everybody’s using it as a marketing tool these days. So it almost doesn’t mean anything anymore. At the same time, I think what we’ve seen with customers is that they expect companies to have sustainability credentials. So I’m actually very happy to see that these days that our target customers are not so much attracted by, ‘look, we are sustainable,’ because they expect that from the type of products that they put in their house anyways.
So then what we’re interested in is developing a story for the brand that lives on top of a foundation of sustainability rather than using sustainability as a crutch. That story is more the fun, the taboo busting, the eye catching and looking forward, trying to raise awareness and support people with colorectal health conditions. We will try to do that in a humorous and light-hearted way. But I think these days sustainability should be the foundation, and not the sprinkles on top of the cupcake. It should be the cupcake. That’s what we’re trying to do. The sprinkles are the brand, and the muffin is the sustainability!
Chris: I agree it should be, but it’s not. We haven’t moved to that that place yet. Do you think that there may be a responsibility upon business to be keeping sustainability in the in the public eye, or is it just enough to be selling a good product that does good, that displaces harm? Because you’re hitting the mark with people who might necessarily have sustainability front of mind, is there a responsibility to be educating them on sustainability as well?
Giorgia: I think we might have a bit of a controversial conversation here, because I think – especially when we’re talking about consumer products and consumer brands, and climate change – that some of the ways that sustainability is being used these days is a bit like opium for masses.
Where we do need is awareness is around bigger corporations, that’s something that needs to be spoken more about. To some extent, talking about how taking your tote [bag] to the supermarket is making a difference…it’s important to do your bit as an individual, it’s important to know that you care about the choice that you’re making. But I think the educational piece is a larger and more complex thing than what small companies can and should do.
Eli: I think there’s absolutely a responsibility on businesses to have sustainable practices and to be thinking about that through every part of their decision-making. But I don’t think that there’s a responsibility for them to be talking about what they’re doing in that regard. In a perfect world with everyone having the right intentions, that would work. But greenwashing is literally a word that’s been invented to talk about the problem with that type of behaviour. it’s so confusing these days to try to actually figure out what is sustainable and what’s not sustainable. I think at the end of the day, if businesses are doing the right things by the environment, by climate change, that is what’s going to get us to a better position overall; rather than just like trying to sell their products using sustainability as a marketing tool.
Chris: Sure. But marketing tools are more effective if they come from truth.
Eli: I think in a perfect world where it is genuinely well intended, that works. But I don’t think that’s the reality of the world we live in. I think sustainability as a marketing tool doesn’t always translate to sustainable as an output.
Chris: It doesn’t always. But the kind of the logical extension of what you’re saying is that anybody who talks about sustainability is automatically a bad guy…
Giorgia: No, no, no. What I’m trying to say here is that in some cases, you want people to know that getting a refillable shampoo, taking your bag shopping, reducing meat consumption, not using single use items, are all choices that you can make. But the educational piece that is important is that if you’re taking 20 flights a year it doesn’t really matter.
How can the manufacturer of the shampoo and wet wipes, the vegan meat alternatives, come in to explain that – what the bar charts look like?
Chris: It’s interesting; I disagree. In my own business, we’ve gone through all the Sustainable Development Goals. We match ourselves as closely as we can to those. We’re in the middle of a B-Corp certification, which is pretty tough – We’re building hundreds of pages of documentation. We do Try to walk what we talk; but we’re not shy about talking about this because we think that it’s good to be trying to show that we believe in these standards and we try to live up to them. I don’t see that as greenwashing.
Giorgia: We work within, and are constantly exposed to, our industry. In consumer products, the level of greenwashing is really, really bad; and our answers right now are influenced by our exposure to that. Sometimes I’ll go into the aisles and look at the claims on products. We know because we research claims, that it doesn’t mean anything. Plastic packaging saying that’s 100% recyclable – What does that mean? we know that plastic doesn’t get 100% recycled anyway; and it’s recyclable. This is exactly what I’m saying about claims; it just makes you a little bit sad, because the customer sees it as 100% recyclable – Oh, that’s good! That’s why I’m saying it’s like opium for the masses, because you’re making them think they’re doing something good. It’s really prevalent and exhausting sometimes.
Section 7: Creating community as a green brand
Chris: One of the most interesting parts of your marketing is the building of this community. Now intimate wipes are not necessarily the most natural foundation for a community! How have you gone about building this, and what are the core components of that community?
Giorgia: I think that’s really the sentiment of a population that is so starved for a conversation about rectal health. A more open conversation. And plus, our customer base happens to be obviously very committed sustainability, so they often become advocates. Once they start using the product, they often go to all the other people they know who use wipes. They’re passionate at a whole different level.
So from an environmental perspective, and also advocating for particular issue, there’s a lot of community and a lot of story sharing, tips and tricks. On top of that, having somebody discuss having different needs gives them the opportunity to have an open conversation where nobody’s judging them.
Chris: That community that you’re talking about seems to be – and maybe it’s just to my ear – but it would be the community who are more looking at it from the health point of view as opposed to from the environmental point of view. On average the health community, I would imagine, would be slightly older on average than the more environmental community, which tends to be more of more of a youth movement? And a digital community, again, would tend to lean toward the younger age groups?
Eli: I think the sustainability angle is a really big one. And from our community people have a choice to make: they can either do something that’s sustainable and not use wet wipes, or forgo this part of my personal hygiene which I’m not comfortable with, and I feel guilty about it.
When something comes along and speaks to them in the right tone of voice – it’s not preachy, it’s humorous and it’s making a tangible difference sustainability-wise – they rally behind it and they feel a sense of relief. They enjoy advocating for it. I think what we do quite well is having two-way engagements with our customers. we always take on board what they say. We always make sure we reply. we’ve got a really great sense of community, that I think we’ve nurtured around solving a sustainability problem for these people; and then also, the health aspect has grown out of that.
Giorgia: I know you were speaking of age range, and actually I have to say that our older customers are incredibly dedicated to sustainability. Actually I feel like the younger people are the ones who are finding it more challenging, which is quite concerning in a way. The generation of convenience is the younger one, really. I know that there’s a lot of widespread concern, but our older customers are extremely conscious of their impact, extremely concerned and I have often had customers telling me, I have given this to my daughter, to my kids. So I definitely wouldn’t underestimate the older generation and their commitment to making better choices.
Section 8: Advice to your younger self
Chris: Great, really interesting stuff. To wrap up, you both had very fascinating journeys to this point. But looking at where you were three or four years ago, you wouldn’t have necessary understood that this is where we’re going to be. And looking back ten years ago, probably you wouldn’t have had a clue that this is where you’re going to be. So what advice would you give to younger sales?
Eli: Don’t get stuck in one thing. don’t be afraid to follow your nose, follow your head, follow your heart into things that might actually be incredibly fulfilling, incredibly exciting and bring you a huge amount of happiness. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be afraid to give it a go.
Giorgia: I don’t know. Get therapy? I like where I ended up. I’m very happy, and I wouldn’t change a lot. Maybe believe in yourself a little bit more, have a bit less insecurity, a bit more self-confidence. Back yourself a little bit more.
Chris: don’t forget that’s to be an entrepreneur, you almost need to be obsessively self-confident! And you are showing all of signs of being really wonderful entrepreneurs.
Thanks so much for your time.
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