Zero waste talk with Charlie from Zero and Nicola and Claire from Reyousable at Hart+Co
In case you’ve missed it – here’s a quick write-up of Wednesday’s fab zero waste talk with local eco pioneers Zero and Reyousable, who are both cornerstones of Warwickshire’s zero waste community. Hosted by local female networking group Cloud Femme at Hart+Co in Leamington, Charlie from Zero and Nicola and Claire from Reyousable were invited to tell their stories, introduce their businesses and share some zero waste and business advice.
Nicola and Claire (Reyousable): “Be flexible and follow your passion”
First up were Claire and Nicola, who run Reyousable – an online shop and pop-up stall whose mission is “to help you find the perfect reusable products to match your individual style & lifestyle.”
Both originally from Scotland, they’ve been friends since primary school, went to university together in Glasgow and eventually followed each other to the Midlands. While they had both been interested in and passionate about protecting the environment, it was a lucky combination of some eureka moments and simultaneous redundancies that helped them make the jump to found Reyousable.
Claire said: “When I read the fact somewhere that only 1 in 400 of the 2.5 billion coffee cups we consume in the UK per year gets recycled, that’s when it really clicked and I knew we had to do something about this problem.”
Their up-bringing in Scotland also served as an inspiration for the business: “We thought about our family homes back in the day – how big (or little?) was our kitchen bin? It was tiny compared to the monstrous bins you get today… but somehow it worked. So there has to be a way.”
In their mission to turn the tide on the plastic pollution, they noticed that it was really hard to find the right re-usable products in one place. You had to search the internet to find different options, and then you were faced with the problem that you had to rely on pictures and online reviews to make a decision; so the idea of Reyousable was born.
“We wanted to provide people with a place for beautiful products like coffee cups, sandwich wraps or straws that you can see, touch, try, have a chat about with us, what works, what doesn’t,” said Nicola.
“There isn’t ‘the perfect coffee cup’ – the key is that it fits you, your lifestyle, your car cup holder, whatever – if it becomes enjoyable, then you’ll end up using it over and over again. That’s the philosophy behind our business.”
To demonstrate what they mean by this, they had set up a beautiful display of their most sought-after products:
Nicola and Claire decided to launch at Leamington’s Food Festival last year and were positively overwhelmed by the response: “It was manic, but people were so receptive to our ideas and we had such great interest in our products, that we knew we had done the right thing.”
They have since attended numerous events and held their pop-ups, built their online shop, and continued to expand their product range. In addition, really exciting things have developed from the conversations with customers: They’ve been invited to give talks to companies in the area to educate their employees and give tips about zero waste.
And they’ve been approached by other local businesses, mainly cafes, to sell Reyousable’s products in their premises: “Cafes are noticing a change in what customers want – they are being asked what they’re doing to avoid waste. Yet they want to continue to sell coffee to go… so we help them by providing a range of lovely re-usable coffee cups to choose from.”
It’s hugely impressive that they’ve both managed to build this successful business while also being a full-time mum (Claire) and working full time (Nicola went back to working in retail after the redundancy). When asked what advice they’d give their 13-year-old selves, it was to be flexible and adapt to what life throws at you, and to follow your passion.
Charlie (Zero): Amazing what skills you learn when you do what you’re passionate about
Charlie set up Zero, a mobile shop and mini-concessions that sell dry foods and household products in bulk, with friend and teacher colleague Marisa, in summer 2018. Charlie’s and Marisa’s friendship developed over a shared interest in cloth nappies (as they were both mothers to babies and toddlers at the time) and all things eco and saving the environment.
When they both felt that there just wasn’t a way to avoid plastic when shopping in the area (both work in Coventry and live in Warwickshire), they decided to stop complaining and do something about it. Zero is about bringing zero waste shopping into the community. So they started researching potential suppliers, talking to local businesses, and eventually found their perfect warehouse to store all the goods in Rugby. The zero website launched in September 2018.
While they wanted to offer as many every day grocery items as possible, they soon realised that it’s hard to find suppliers who think the same way or get the zero waste idea. Buying items in bigger bulk, say from Costco, and then selling it on loose, wasn’t an option: “We don’t want to be in-transparent and hide the plastic in our supply chain,” said Charlie. “That’s why, for example, we don’t stock the leading brand for refillable shampoo and conditioner, because they only come in 5l plastic bottles which they don’t take back to reuse. So we promote shampoo and conditioner bars instead.”
“We love nothing more than finding new local suppliers who support our case, like our most recent find, a fab herbs & spice company from Stratford.”
While pop-up shops and local deliveries were the initial focus of the business, the mini zero concessions turned out to be in high demand: “Like-minded people from local businesses started approaching us. They wanted to offer their customers plastic-free alternatives in their shops but didn’t have the expertise or suppliers to do so. So we were able to help them out by stocking our most popular products and training them how to sell zero waste.” – a win-win situation for the community. They now run mini-zeros in six locations across Warwickshire.
Like Reyousable, the initial set-up phase of the business was manic, with Charlie and Marisa sprinting back and forth between suppliers, warehouse, re-stocking their concessions, running local deliveries and organising the pop-up stores.
But when they won “Best Newcomer for Warwickshire” at the Muddy Stiletto awards in May 2019 against tough competition, they knew they had really achieved something to be proud of. “I was skipping down the school corridor to tell Marisa,” laughed Charlie.
It was around the same time when exciting news meant they had to reassess their business: Marisa had been presented with the opportunity to relocate to Sweden with her family in the summer of 2019. While she would still be closely involved in the business, such as supporting the mini zero concessions, it would have to be done remotely. They both sat down to take stock and decide on a way forward: “It was a real turning point and we had to re-prioritise.
We had learned that we can’t do everything, and that the things you most enjoy don’t necessarily earn you the most money.
“The first thing we did was scrap the local deliveries, because it just wasn’t working out. Too much time, too much hassle, for something that eventually earned us £2.50 an hour,” admitted Charlie.
Luckily, the business is resilient and Charlie is clearly super energetic and courageous to carry on with it in Warwickshire, while Marisa is hoping to set something up in Sweden with a local initiative she’s found. And not only that – Charlie has been able to expand the business even further locally: She’s added a new mini-zero location in Hornton near Banbury; she’s involved in an exciting project to set-up a social supermarket in Coventry (read more on her blog); and there’s even rumour that she’s about to open her first permanent zero location with a new shop in Leamington Spa soon – fingers crossed!
“I couldn’t have started Zero without Marisa, and I’ve learned so many skills along the way that I’m proud of and that I didn’t have before, like customer service, social media, how to build a website, I’ve always been quite good at Excel, etc.. So I’m really excited about the future.”
Like the courageous women of Reyousable, Charlie said it was her childhood upbringing and her experience from studying and teaching drama in various set-ups which formed her values and have given her the bravery to give it a go.
Top 3 zero waste swaps and top 3 zero waste fads
After the talks, it was time for the audience so grill these hugely inspiring women with some burning questions. A highlight for me were their views on their top 3 zero waste products:
- Beeswax wraps
- Cotton nappies
- Tupperware (to be carried around in handbag at all times :-))
…and their top 3 zero waste pet peeves:
- Re-fillable shampoo and conditioner – because they currently come in 5l plastic containers
- Compostables – because while the idea in itself is genius, they cause a lot of issues in waste management and recycling
- Plastic free self-tan 🙂 🙂 🙂 (who knew this even existed or was indeed needed!?!)
Fighting fast-fashion with vintage clothing
Last but not least, I wanted to give a shout-out to Cheryl from Menagical Vintage who introduced her business which reduces clothing waste by breathing new life into vintage clothing and re-using every bit of material like buttons and zips for creating jewellery and accessories. While this blog focuses on zero waste shopping and thus Zero and Reyousable, it’s well worth checking out this lovely lady and her business, and educating yourself about the impact of fast fashion. But that’s a post for another day…
Thank you very much to Hannah from Cloud Femme for inviting me to the event, and a big applause for Hart+co for providing a great venue for the evening. It was great to meet other like-minded women and help educate our community about how to live a zero waste lifestyle.
Were you at the event? Have I missed anything? Want to join the conversation? As always, please leave a comment below. Cheers, Bettina