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How @BambuuBrush is fighting plastic pollution with sustainable products
Rebecca and Tommie, the proud Founders of @BambuuBrush, used to travel the world recruiting big businesses and small local communities in the fight against single-use plastics. When global travel ground to a halt in February 2020, they pivoted towards another mission: to create sustainable alternatives to the top 10 ocean polluters, including straws, bags, cups and cutlery.
Thanks to their tireless creativity and clever adaptability, @BambuuBrush has been selected by QuickBooks UK as one of the Most Adaptive Small Businesses of 2020.
Hi Tommie and Rebecca! It’s such a pleasure to meet you both. Could you tell us a bit about @BambuuBrush and its mission?
Absolutely! We are @BambuuBrush, a purpose-driven company that aims to educate, inspire and empower through purposeful products that have a purposeful impact on people and the planet. At the core of our business is the fight against low-grade, single-use plastics that we’ve seen polluting beaches and oceans all over the world on our travels. We started in February 2019 with one single product with one single purpose: the bamboo toothbrush, that aimed to replace plastic toothbrushes with a highly reusable, sustainable alternative.
We aimed to hit #1millionby2020 - a prestigious target of replacing one million plastic toothbrushes with bamboo alternatives by the start of 2020. No one believed we could do it, but we smashed the goal within nine months of launching!
“The average plastic toothbrush weighs 20 grams, so we’ve stopped 30,000 kilos of plastic from getting into the environment.”
On top of the bamboo toothbrush, @BambuuBrush also hosts plastic pollution workshops for schools and workplaces, and organises community cleanups with businesses, schools and anyone who is interested.
To begin with, we had zero investment. In fact, Rebecca got her laptop stolen and we got some money back from the insurance company; that’s how we bought our first batch of toothbrushes. Now, we’ve sold 1.5 million bamboo toothbrushes; delivered workshops to over 1,500 children worldwide; organised 21 community cleanups; and have taken over 800 kilos of plastic out of the environment. For every online sale of a @BambuuBrush we donate $0.25 to our partner charity Humanitas, and for every bambino toothbrush sold online, we give one to a vulnerable child in need.
Tell us a bit about your journey into entrepreneurship.
Our journey into entrepreneurship is closely intertwined with our background together. Rebecca has lived around the world for the last ten years - at 20 years old she took a gap year which turned into a gap decade. Inspired by her first-hand experience of seeing plastic pollution on the rise in the countries she visited - especially those in Asia and Africa - she decided that something had to be done.
Me, I always wanted to be a teacher and go into education - a passion that I can indulge in our workshops today. After graduating university with honours, I started travelling a lot for six or seven years. Rebecca and I would visit many places together where she’d been before, but even in time spans of six months she noticed visible increases in plastic. We started to learn about the currents and the tides and how they influence plastic pollution, and decided we wanted to do something to save all these beautiful beaches from the damage that plastic was doing to them.
“Rebecca took me to many of the places where she had been previously. More often than not, we found them devastated by plastic.”
In those years, I guess you could say we were travel influencers. We were very aware that travel isn’t the best for the environment, so we started thinking of ways in which we could offset our activities. We began working with tourist boards, hotel chains, airlines and travel companies to raise awareness of plastic pollution and work with them to reduce plastic use. We’ve installed refillable water stations in hotels, organised beach cleans, and set up trips to local communities to help promote more sustainable travel.
Over the years, we’d built up a very loyal following on social media, and we wanted to use that ‘power of social’ in a positive way. This is when we came up with the idea of @BambuuBrush and the #1millionby2020 campaign. It really resonated with our audience, and people from all over the world started sending us selfies with their bamboo toothbrushes. The hashtag ended up generating close to 2,000 user-generated pictures!
That’s a social media marketer’s dream! What do you think it is about your proposition that resonates with people so much?
In the eco space, people tend to be very judgemental of others - whether on a personal or professional level, you’re easily stamped as ‘not sustainable enough’. To many companies, this can be very discouraging and actually have a reverse effect.
We’re very transparent in our own activities and are well aware that no one is perfect when it comes to their eco footprint. For us, it’s all about working with companies to make positive changes. Rather than dwell on the negatives, we want to get our business partners excited about the possibilities of making small changes that, when multiplied by millions, can change the world.
“We’re not environmental scientists. We’re not business experts. We’re just two people who care about plastics and we can help you.”
We believe that the product range that we launched at the start of this year provides the solution to plastic problems. They’re everyday products that, when used by millions, can make a big difference. We just want to relate to the everyday people - I think that’s how you change the world.
Tell us some more about how you came to launch your sustainable product range this year?
Last year, 80% of our business came from the travel industry: we were partnering with boutiques, retreats, hotel chains, you name it. In February 2020, everything changed as travel ground to a halt as a result of the pandemic. It was obvious that we had to adapt. For the first month, we were trying to push our e-commerce side with the bamboo brushes, but we didn’t know how to take things to the next level.
We took some time to stand still and reflect on what we were doing - fighting plastic pollution - and started to consider the impact that we could make with a full range of sustainable products. We came up with the idea of creating alternatives for each of the top 10 ocean polluters, like plastic bags, beverage bottles, food wrappers, straws…
“We looked into Kickstarter as a way to crowdfund our idea, and thanks to the following that we’d built up, we hit our target within 24 hours.”
I think that a big part of our success was the launch video - it allowed us to spread our message to the everyday person who wants to make small, sustainable changes. Now, we have a full range of products that people want to buy. We did it all from my bedroom and have spent £0 on advertising.
That’s amazing! Is @BambuuBrush thriving financially?
@BambooBrush was never intended to be a profitable business - we just wanted to make a positive change to the world. We are working hard to grow as a business and our next steps are seeking investment to take our company to the next level and continue to make an even more positive impact on the planet.
We are making sure that each product we sell has a tangible impact: for example, for each bottle we sell we donate £1 to Humanitas to set up a solar powered water well at one of their schools. Each lunch box we sell serves a meal to a vulnerable child. Overall, around 10% of our profits go straight to Humanitas. Purpose and Impact remain our key words.
As people, we’re so not business minded, so we’re learning the ropes as we go. We try to keep things very lean on the finance side of things and have an accountant who largely does our finances for us. We’re also about to transfer to QuickBooks, as we’ve heard such great reviews from people we know.
“QuickBooks keeps it simple for people like us.”
What encouraging or inspiring words would you like to say to your fellow small business owners?
Even a disastrous year like 2020 is manageable if you surround yourself with positive people; that’s what energises us every single day. What’s more, social media is powerful when used in a positive way. Even though we haven’t been able to go out and meet people much face to face, we did some great things online for World Earth Day - our video got 1,700 viewers in four hours - and for Plastic Free July, when we inspired people around the world to go on a 10-minute walk to collect plastics. We had a target of collecting 1,000,000 pieces of plastic throughout July and although we did not hit our target, we and our followers did manage to collect 202,000 pieces of plastic in 21 countries.
Our ethos is ‘think local, act global’. One simple change multiplied by millions can change the world.
To us, working on @BambuuBrush really doesn’t feel like a strain: this is genuinely our passion. There is so much opportunity for change out there, and your everyday person wants to make those changes! If we can be the ones to help people make one small change to start them on a sustainable journey, that’s already our dream come true.
That’s wonderful, thank you so much. How can we follow your movements in 2021?
We’re excited to share that @bambuuproject launched in October: it’s our formal partnership with Humanitas. They focus on humanitarian issues and we’re partnering with them on the environmental side of things.
The mission that we’ve embarked on together is to set up recycling facilities in the developing world, especially Asia and Africa, where plastic pollution tends to hit the hardest. We’re focusing on the regions with the highest amount of poverty, hunger, and homelessness, so that we and Humanitas can make a positive change, together.
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