How did you get started (financially speaking)? Are you profitable now?
I started with a $2,000 loan from my father and used most of that money to customize a store template I purchased on shopify.com, an online store platform. I have kept my operating expenses to an absolute bare minimum – just merchant fees, hosting fees, warehouse / inventory fees and paying an old college friend to do some social media work. That’s it.
No, our mission hasn’t changed. From the beginning, we consider ourselves to be more than just a store…we are also an agent for change, to change the way we shop and help people become eco-friendly shoppers. We do this by educating our consumers and selling eco products at prices that are affordable to most.
What is your business model? How do you bring your products to market?
Since we are a small company with limited resources, we drop ship most of the brands with which we work. A customer buys from me. I pass the order on to the brand, they fulfill and ship it and then charge me for the item and shipping.
What are the benefits of making green products from recycled materials rather than virgin materials?
It takes approximately 500 gallons of water to produce just one t-shirt of organic cotton. And the stuff has to be grown on acres and acres of fertile land, requiring enormous resources.
Step in apparel made from recycled materials. Whether the shirt is made from recycled plastic or recycled textiles, in these cases, no new raw materials need to be harvested. This, in turn, helps conserve our planet’s limited resources.
Making garments from recycled plastic also requires 70% less energy to produce and creates no hazardous by-products, reducing green house emissions by 79%. This helps reduce acid rain, global warming and air pollution. Put in another way, every t-shirt Dirtball makes from recycled plastic, keeps eight pounds of carbon emissions out of the air. No other fiber is produced with less impact.
And as a bonus, recycled polyester (fabric made from recycled plastic) is tougher than cotton and will last five times longer. That means buying fewer t-shirts, which means fewer resources consumed.
Using recycled materials to make products allow brands to engage in close loop production, a form of manufacturing that has the least impact on our planet since it uses waste products to make new products and generates no new waste in the process! Manufacturing with organic cotton, bamboo, or soy does not allow for closed loop production.
How are you able to reach eco-conscious consumers? What advertising and marketing methods have been most successful for you?
In the beginning, I dabbled with Google Adwords, which quickly proved to be a waste of time for someone on such a limited budget.
Instead, I chose to rely on my network of friends, both online and offline, to help me spread the word. We engage in social media marketing with our weekly blog and Facebook / Twitter pages. Social media marketing is very work intensive but is absolutely critical since it gives our company a “voice” over the internet.
Our blog is our megaphone where we can educate consumers on why purchasing recycled products is important.
We are not trying to build a customer base, but rather an audience. Why an audience? Because they are more likely to be loyal shoppers.
Do you have any statistics on how much waste your customers have collectively avoided by purchasing your products?
Since we sell such a large variety of products, I couldn’t come up with a number accurately. But, I can tell you this:
- Every t-shirt A Lot to Say sells saves 60 plastic bottles from the landfills.
- Every t-shirt Dirtball sells saves 8 pounds of carbon emissions.
- Alchemy Goods, which makes bags from upcycled bicycle inner tubes has reclaimed 150,000 inner tubes and counting.
- GreenSmart, which makes backpacks and laptop sleeves from recycled plastic, has saved over 750,000 bottles from the landfills.
- Buying a Looptworks shirt or jacket helps divert some of the 60,000 pounds of textile waste that goes into landfills each week.
Are your products more expensive than similar green products?
To accomplish our goal of helping people be eco-friendly shoppers, we have set our prices as low as possible with free shipping. It makes no sense to sell eco products that only a few people can afford since that does not help our planet.
What are the biggest challenges in educating consumers about the benefits of recycled over other green features?
The biggest hurdle, I believe, is convincing customers of the quality of the products we sell, especially since they are buying on the internet and cannot feel or see the actual products. To that end, we are in the beginning stages of planning a year-long, grass roots campaign of showcasing our brands’ products at various events across the USA. We will spend the year traveling in an RV, living as sustainable and simple as we can (solar panels, bio-diesel, etc) and offsetting our carbon footprint as go (by planting trees, etc).
What does it take to create your dream life? How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
A giant leap of faith. Before starting OutSmartWaste.com, we moved from Portland, Oregon to Guanacaste, Costa Rica to run our own surf school. And we wasted no time making the decision. We didn’t have all the details worked out on how to operate the surf school, or how we would make it work. We just leaped and figured it out as we went along.
It took me a while to learn that just because I didn’t finish a task or project during my allotted work hours, the world will not crash, nor will the business will go bankrupt. And there will be another day to finish the task.
Also, I promised my husband that my iPhone will never enter our bedroom!
What are the benefits of telecommuting?
We can work and live in Costa Rica!
I’ve been telecommuting for years – even before we moved to Costa Rica. And I find that with telecommuting, I am able to be more productive than if I had to report to an office everyday. If I know I have only four hours to get a task done, then I focus and get it done. Before telecommuting, when I worked in an office I was not as efficient because I knew I had to be the office all day. What I could normally accomplish in four hours at home, I would stretch out in eight hours.
How do you find and identify the best green manufacturers?
This was one of the reasons why I started OutSmartwaste.com. As a family, we made the decision to go as green as possible and this meant even down to the clothes we wore. I had a hard time finding brands that made clothes from recycled materials. They were out there, but completely lost in the giant abyss of the Internet. So, OutSmartWaste.com started as a place where people can find all those brands in one, easy to find and easy to shop, place.
So, how do I find them? I spend hours digging around on Google. But, now many are coming to me and asking to join the store. And of course, I research the quality of their products and customer service before deciding whether to take the brand on or not.
Are there any mistakes that you made on this entrepreneurial journey that you would like to share with other green entrepreneurs?
One mistake I made was I built my website first and then studied SEO. That’s backwards. How you set up the architecture of your site and how your URLs are set determines how well Google will find you. Know and understand the fundamentals of SEO, know the keywords that will be important to your business and then design the architecture of your site.
What advice would you have for other aspiring green and social entrepreneurs?
A few things:
Focus on the tasks that really matter – don’t be distracted by the stuff that doesn’t matter.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. You can’t. Delegate or outsource.
Don’t expect or even want to be an overnight sensation. Slow, measured growth is much more sustainable.