Business

Deal Flow: 11 Sustainable Founders To Invest In Now

Get To Know The Women Founders Helping To Create A More Sustainable Future

By Hannah Karpel

28 June 2021
L

ast year, Google trends proved just how mainstream the issue of sustainability has become across the UK, with Bristol and Brighton leading the way with the strongest volume per capita growth of sustainability-related searches.

“We have observed a marked increase in sustainability-related searches in just the last 12 months alone, particularly for ‘zero waste’, which has grown six times faster than ‘sustainability’ searches’, wrote Justine McCullagh in the same report.

According to the UN, we have until 2030 to reduce carbon emissions by 50% to prevent runaway climate change.

Just this month, ahead of the G7 summit, climate change campaigners gathered in front of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall to demand action over rising sea levels with banners reading “G7 you have the power to turn the tide”.

In September 2021, we will see the first Sustainable Fashion Week, which aims to “inspire, empower and upskill” the fashion community with the aim of sparking new habits that don’t harm people or the planet. But, while established companies toy with new recycling schemes and introduce sustainably conscious areas – they risk tokenism. For new sustainable-focused founders, it is about aligning their brand values with this goal.

Whether it is reducing waste or extending the product lifestyle, building circularity into the business model has become their top priority. As consumers actively look to engage with these sustainable businesses, investment is needed to support the positive growth of the economy.

Founder: Biancha Samuel-Reid

Company: Hand of Gaia

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

Hand Of Gaia is an eco-conscious children's and home accessories brand founded in 2018. Named after my daughter, our brand means Mother Earth guides and nourishes us towards our destiny.

We only use sustainable and ethically sourced materials for our collections and seek to create mindful clothing and gifts that act as tools to help families connect deeper with nature and strengthen their wellbeing.

Our focus is being kind to Mama Earth, while honouring the rich traditions, heritage and culture of our African ancestors through each hand-drawn print.

Why is this project special?

As a young, conscious-led brand, we are incredibly honoured to be part of this amazing project founded by Sharmadean Reid [Founder of The Stack], who has made it her mission to support and uplift other creative women in business. Hand Of Gaia very much believes in this too and centres much of its work on connectedness and kinship.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

Hand Of Gaia is one of the new leading voices in contemporary, African-inspired children's wear and gifts. We create sustainable, mindful clothing, uniquely expressing storytelling through textiles, and it is proving very popular with our growing, diverse customer base.

Our ultimate goal is to work alongside skilful artisans across the African diaspora and produce high-quality collections that are made in Africa and that keep valuable, traditional crafts alive.

With a strong customer base and a rapidly growing stockists across the UK with responsible retailers, we are building a legacy business that focuses on fostering meaningful relationships between communities. We are looking for investors who share our passion to create positive change.

Biancha Samuel-Reid, Hand of Gaia

Founder: Safia Qureshi

Company: CLUBZERØ

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

CLUBZERØ has pioneered in delivering an award-winning, returnable packaging system for food and beverage brands globally. It partners with businesses to make food and beverage on the go more sustainable, working together towards the ultimate goal of zero waste.

Today, we serve customers across the EU and North America, including the world's largest food delivery company, Just Eat Takeaway, NextGen Consortium brands (Starbucks, McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Nestle, Wendy’s), as well as leading food service company BaxterStorey, Cushman & Wakefield and retailer John Lewis & Partners.

Why is this project special?

Our aim is to build the next robust, sustainable consumption model that sees our efforts roll out beyond food and beverage to other reusable product categories, such as home and body, through the scale of operations we have already built. We believe in a world without waste.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

We have already completed over half a million orders and saved more than one million single-use plastics items from landfill. We are in conversations with leading investors to close our seed round to scale globally within six months.

Safia Qureshi, CLUBZERØ

Founder: Munira Mahmud

Company: Kinamama

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

Kinamama: (the mothers) swahili word.

Kinamama is a catering business, a CIC [Community Catering Initiative], designed to support new mothers and babies throughout postpartum.

Why is this project special?

At kinamama, we cook holistic, nutritious, healthy, hearty fresh food – just like back home in Uganda.

The food helps mentally emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Kinamama started in early 2018 after the Duchess of Sussex paid us a visit at a local mosque in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Having carried out research, there are no food business brands that match up to Kinamama.

The Hubb Community Kitchen launched a cookbook called Together: Our Community Cookbook. The money from the book helped to pay the rent for the kitchen, where the food was prepared to serve the community, and it featured a few of my recipes too.

The idea for Kinamama started back in early 2012 when my son was born. I felt the food served in the hospital was not right for new mums.

The goal is to implement my African traditional way of looking after new mothers, which is very important for their wellbeing.

Kinamama looks after mothers in our community from all backgrounds, providing a safe environment. This includes women who have suffered from domestic violence.

As much of the cuisine is African, we do go above and beyond this and cater for all our customers’ choices of food.

Kinamama is always inventing delicious recipes including vegan, vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

We are looking for partners in all aspects of the business, including venues, running a restaurant, kitchens, food pop-ups, super-clubs, food delivery services, private chefs, catering events, food trucks, market food stalls and to help make the Kinamama brand grow globally.

Munira Mahmud, Kinamama

Founder: Catherine Conway

Company: Unpackaged

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

At Unpackaged, our mission is to get the world refilling as a solution to the problem of single-use packaging, which is choking our planet, and us. We set up the first modern zero-waste store and pioneered a business model that has become a global trend.

I started work on Unpackaged in 2005 because, as a shopper, I wanted to be able to refill my packaging. I used to go to a local health food shop and fill up Ecover products.

I remember coming home one day and looking at all of the other single-use food packaging I had generated and thinking why can't I go to a shop and refill everything? And that's how Unpackaged was born (also thanks to my mum who dreamt up the name, Unpackaged, one night when she couldn't sleep).

In 2006, I was given a small grant to set up a market stall to test the idea; which led to small, then larger shops, and then our concessions with Planet Organic. We helped Waitrose launch the UK’s largest refill trial in 2019, M&S after that and, in 2020, home delivery with Abel & Cole, which is something I've always wanted to tackle.

Now we are working on a variety of projects for businesses large and small, as well as working with government and NGOs on policy to support the shift to reusable packaging and a circular economy.

Over the past 15 years, the landscape around Unpackaged has changed so much that we’ve had to keep reviewing and updating our business model to fit in. We are a true social enterprise, trying to solve a social and environmental problem by running a commercial business to support our mission.

Why is this project special?

It was an honour to be invited by The Stack to do this photo shoot - we are massive fans of Sharmadean Reid, who is such an impressive business woman and advocate for women’s empowerment.

Apart from it being great fun to work with such a talented team of women on the day, it was another opportunity for us to get our message about re-use out into the world. If we can change just one person’s behaviour, then we are succeeding – so take your own packaging to the shops to refill.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

Social enterprises need investors with real long-term vision, who understand the complexity of system change and how the organisations driving that change need to be supported.

Unpackaged isn’t just responding to market conditions, we’re actively creating a new market – one that societies all over the world need if we’re going to solve the single-use packaging pollution crisis and preserve resources for future generations. But this means we have no blueprint, no proven business model and we need investors who can support us in our mission.

Catherine Conway, Unpackaged

Founder: Aissata Ibrahima

Company: Aissata Ibrahima (eponymously named)

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

I showed my first collection in late 2019 – my brand is focused on making dressing up look and feel effortless by creating modern, timeless pieces with an edge. I'm inspired by classical tailoring and research involving the complexity of love and relationships.

I play with contrasting design elements by endowing strength to femininity and delicacy to masculinity. I wanted a place where I can continue to elevate my own design language and create pieces where wearers can feel their best selves while also being on my own journey to become my best self.

Why is this project special?

I’ve always had a clear vision of the kind of brand I want to have, how I want people to feel when they wear my pieces, like they can do anything; confidently define their own world, and that anything is possible, If I could make anyone feel as good as I felt when I first fell in love with design, then I’m on my way there. These are clothes to make you feel good and designed to last.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

Working on a made to order and bespoke basis has not only allowed me to control waste reduction but has been a launchpad for my sustainable business model that I’m building, it explores a way of dressing where consumers have a hand in the creation of their own wardrobe and pieces that go beyond the seasons that they’ll love for life.

True luxury, I believe, is buying something that fits right into your wardrobe as if it was already part of your life (or it has you thinking, why didn’t I have it in the first place?). Dressing up should be easy and, with my clear product vision, that’s the kind of brand I’m building.

Aissata Ibrahima

Founder: Anna Brightman

Company: UpCircle

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

I launched UpCircle five years ago to make sustainable skincare products from ingredients which would otherwise be discarded. We repurpose more than 10 by-product ingredients from varied industries, including argan, tea, juice, date, olive and wood. Our range has saved hundreds of tonnes of valuable, skin-loving ingredients from landfill.

Why is this project special?

The world has finite resources, and we are depleting them at a scary rate. So, if you ask me, businesses that extend the lifecycle of things that are already in circulation are the future.

Trying to tackle issues of waste in the beauty industry is no easy task, but the popularity of UpCircle is a great example of the opportunities that a closed loop economy can afford us – if we are imaginative enough. If we can provide competitively priced, high-performing products from upcycled ingredients then we are demonstrating that the beauty industry can become a lot less wasteful – it is an innovative approach and a fresh perspective.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

The pioneering nature of what we do is illustrated by the extent of the opposition to our idea at the start. Mentors and investors alike told us that the industry was not ready, that tackling issues of waste in the “shallow” beauty industry would not work.

Our rapid growth has proven that not only is it possible, it is extremely popular. I’m proud to now have so many investors backing our circular skincare mission.

Anna Brightman, UpCircle

Founder: Ffion Harman

Company: Fine Bone

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

I am the founder of Fine Bone porcelain pleasure tools – we make sustainable ceramic sex objects. I launched the business last year with our first product Prudence, just ahead of the pandemic through our online shop. This wasn’t such a bad thing what with the surge in sex toy sales. The project was a long time in the making but I crowdfunded for our first product through Kickstarter in 2018.

Why is this project special?

Porcelain is prized for its elegance but it’s also strong, super-sustainable and body safe, it just makes sense to use a material that is already so much a part of our lives in a sensual way. Our products are made from vegan porcelain and we work with Fairtrade suppliers who use traditional methods to craft them.

The company grew out of a personal project to create my own perfect sex toy that I loved so much I wanted everyone else to have one. To me, it is not just a business; it’s about making pleasure accessible. The brand is about sex positivity, body positivity and all-round, shame-free indulgence.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

Fine Bone is committed to making beautiful objects that enhance intimate moments. Nowadays, pleasure is a holistic part of wellness and people are taking a much more conscious approach in how they shop.

There is a return to consumers' interest in simple, tactile objects that are compatible with the body. Ethical sex toys aren’t just accessories: they give us agency over our desires and that’s what I’m trying to promote.

Ffion Harman, Fine Bone

Founder: Lucie Halley-Trotter

Company: EYO

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

I create ethically-made, sustainable activewear out of recycled fishing nets and landfill waste. After seven years designing in NYC, I decided to move back to the UK to pursue my dream of starting EYO, which launched in January 2021.

Why is this project special?

Two broken feet, dislocated toes, every ligament torn and a broken knee-cap is how I found myself after falling backwards down a fire exit in NYC. After spending years on my recovery, daily exercise and yoga have become crucial for my physical and mental health, and great-quality activewear is essential for this.

By sharing my story, I have created a community of like-minded women who are all showing up to their workouts for a reason, from an accident like mine to childbirth to a break-up, EYO shows women they are not alone and that they have it in them to keep going.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

The sustainable activewear industry was valued at $79.41 billion in 2019 and has been expanding annually by over 5% since then.

EYO not only uses ethical factories, premium sustainable Italian fabrics and compostable packaging, but we also have built a loyal, trusting community of strong. active women who want more from EYO already.

This brand has all the ingredients to make a real dent in the activewear industry and, with investment, we could make it happen a lot faster.

Lucie Halley-Trotter, EYO

Founder: Saasha Celestial-One

Company: OLIO

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

I'm the co-founder and COO of OLIO, a free app harnessing the power of mobile technology and the sharing economy to provide a revolutionary solution to the problem of food and household waste.

OLIO is growing quickly, empowered by 60,000-plus volunteers. Since 2016, four million OLIOers have successfully shared over 24 million portions and millions of household items in 59 countries.

Why is this project special?

It is so important to showcase founders with sustainable businesses, especially to inspire young and aspiring entrepreneurs, to show them it is possible to marry profit and purpose. I am honoured to be featured alongside so many gorgeous and gifted female entrepreneurs making a difference in the world.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

I passionately believe that there will be no better ROI, or legacy, for investors than owning the rails of the new, true, sharing economy, of which OLIO will be the market leader.

With 1 billion OLIOers by 2030, consumption will be redefined such that the resources we possess within our communities are shared to their fullest, with nothing of value going to waste.

Saasha Celestial-One, OLIO

Founder: Karen Olla

Company: Oré mi

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

Oré mi is a lifestyle store that stocks hand-poured candles and hand-dipped incense.

Why is this project special?

Founding Oré mi, back in June 2019, was an opportunity to be loud and proud of my Nigerian culture, while telling stories of a positive Black childhood. It also saved my mental health as it allowed me to be creative outside the constraints of 9 to 5.

Therefore I have also used our platform to spread mental health awareness especially within the Black community. As we are often told to have thicker skin by our community and other communities.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

We are here to show that African-inspired lifestyle products can be a staple item in all homes – especially when attached to stories of a positive Black childhood. Investment would enable us to keep sharing our stories with a wider audience and expand our offering while staying committed to being sustainable and spreading mental health awareness.

Karen Olla, Oré mi

Founder: Bonnisa Moore

Company: Afton by Palm

What is your business and how/when did you start it?

My brand focuses on hand-crafting clay jewellery and homeware pieces, with minimalism and femininity in mind.

Why is this project special?

I love this project because it’s so inspiring to see so many amazing women building their own legacy and creating businesses that are considering the effects on our planet.

You are speaking directly to investors, so what would you like to say to them?

It’s so important that we continue to support slow fashion and balance our love for shopping with more sustainable approaches. Independent businesses are doing this organically and with so much passion… who wouldn’t want to be a part of such a great movement?

Bonnisa Moore, Afton by Palm

The Short Stack

We all need to do more to protect our planet, which is why sustainability is at the heart of the start-ups these 11 inspirational women have founded.

By Hannah Karpel

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