S01E05 The Purpose Podcast: Alex Stewart, Founder of OneNine5

S01E05 The Purpose Podcast: Alex Stewart, Founder of OneNine5

We've made it - the final episode of season 1! For this final episode, we're doing things a little different...

Episode 5 Guest

In previous episodes, Alex has been asking the questions, to get to know purpose-led Founders and businesses. This week, Alex is answering the questions, asked by journalist and author, Alec Fenn. Alec also happens to be a good friend of Alex and has seen the entire process of starting OneNine5, so who better to host this final episode of the podcast.

Alex talks about the ideas to launch OneNine5 and his personal experience recovering from major bowel surgery that encouraged him to take more risks. He discusses what 'Eco-Conscious' actually means to OneNine5 and the challenges of working in an industry with a bad reputation. Check out the final episode below along with the transcript. 

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Show Notes

Read The Transcript

Alex: Hello, and welcome to the final episode of season one of The Purpose Podcast. I'm Alex, the founder of OneNine5, a London based startup that designs eco conscious and unisex travel goods. We launched The Purpose Podcast so you can get to know the people, stories and challenges behind some of the most exciting brands that have a purpose at the heart of their business. If you've got aspirations or plans to launch your own business and make a positive impact, then you're in the right place for insights and advice. On this final episode we’ll be doing things a little different. Throughout the previous episodes, I've been the one asking the questions. Today I'll be the one answering the questions, to talk more about my experience launching and running OneNine5. I've invited Alec Finn to ask the questions. Alec’s an author, journalist and one of my closest mates. He's seen the ups and downs of OneNine5 since we launched in 2019 and he loves to talk. So there's no better person to step in for this. In this episode, I'll be sharing my personal experience that led the launch of OneNine5 and more about our commitment to environmental sustainability, when working in an industry with a bad reputation. So with that in mind, Alec, welcome as today's host of The Purpose Podcast.

Alec: Alex, thank you so much. That's a very generous introduction. I hope you're doing well today. To kick off this conversation, I really want to start with the wash bag, because you could have made brand new suitcases, you could have chosen a different launch product. So just to start things off just tell me why the wash bag?

Alex: You're right. It was quite a niche choice and seemed to have been tarnished as a wash bag salesman by you amongst other friends. But really it was kind of a combination of passion, circumstance and practicality. So on the passion side of things, I love to travel, love to visit a new country, experience a new culture, meet new people. So that passion has always been there to travel. And then I guess the other aspect of the passion really was Sunday night spent with my house mate, at the time Ravi watching Blue Planet 2. Probably like most people fairly ignorant, fairly unaware of the plastic problem up until the point of the great man David Attenborough enlightening us all. And really probably felt like after seeing that, what can I do? How can I take a small corner of this problem and try and make a positive impact.

And then on the, the circumstance side of things, I've had a passion to want to do my own thing for a long time, but I didn't really know what that was, what that would be. So my background is not within the world of product design or e-commerce. I'm from a commercial role in the tech industry before this. But I guess around late 2017 into early 2018, I had major bowel surgery. So I've been unwell for a long, long time. Probably wrongly looking back now, I think most British males just assume that it'll fix itself, it'll be okay. In hindsight, that was definitely the wrong decision. So ultimately by the end of 2018 I was made redundant at the time from my previous employer and was requiring this major bowel surgery. The surgery itself, whilst it went well, it was big surgery. And during it I was really, really fortunate to survive it. So I won't go into all the technical aspects of exactly what happened. But essentially during the surgery, my blood pressure dropped rapidly, heart rate was up at about 200 beats a minute, and I was potentially moments away from a major heart attack and never, ever surviving that surgery. Came round from that 24 hours later in intensive care, after being on a ventilator, spent a subsequent two weeks in hospital recovering. Remember you come in and see me and I wasn't in a good way at the time. And then an additional four months of recovery at home as well. And it's probably during that time that I sat back and reflected and thought ‘what next?’ I could have played it safe, gone back into the world of tech that would've been the obvious option. But I think when you go through that kind of experience, you probably have a little bit more open to taking a risk and probably gives you the kick up the ass you need to actually go and chase things that you want to do. I've mentioned this before, but I reflected post-surgery and in recovery saying that had I not survived, what would've been the three big regrets in life. One, I never saw England win the World Cup, which we came close to with the Euros this year. Number two, I'd never in love. And number three, I'd never set up and done my own thing. So two thirds of them have been achieved. One's still on there but I think you go through that experience and the positives I take from it is that, things don't phase you the same.

I almost see things now and think, well, can't be as bad as waking up on a piece of rubber in intensive care and spending two weeks of my life, looking out the window recovering in hospital and the recovery itself was big recovery. So I had a temporary ileostomy or a temporary stoma at the time. At the time I was a 28 year old single guy, and it's not where you want to be in life. But I was determined to take what was undoubtedly the toughest part of my life, turn it into a positive and spin things around. So yeah, there's that aspect. And then specifically why the wash bag, firstly, before having that surgery, traveling through Heathrow Airport, I remember stood at the airport security waiting to queue, and this is post watching Blue Planet 2 where I think people were starting to make positive changes, so you start to think the coffee cup or the bag for life to the supermarket. But the one thing that caught my attention really was that as people were walking through airport security, everyone was still grabbing the single-use plastic bag for their cosmetics and toiletries or liquids. And I guess the penny just dropped [inaudible6:08]. Why don't we try and design a wash bag that incorporates a reusable bag to help people pass on the single use plastic bag at airport security. So started to do a lot of research into this, and as you'd expect, there's not a lot out there publicly because airports don't really want to share this information cause it doesn't really reflect positively on them. So went to do a bit of my own research down at Gatwick Airport that nearly got me arrested, but managed to sweet talk them around and actually ended up having a good conversation with the airport security staff who were able to share some, some insightful information. And then built this model and figured things out. But pre-pandemic over 150 million of these single use plastic bags were being distributed at airports alone in the UK, obviously being much lower now post pandemic at the time being. But that was it really. It was well I tell you what, I've got time on my hands. I've got a bit of money on my bank account post been made redundant. And I've got this idea and I've got a slightly different mentality towards life. So from that point in, let's redesign the wash bag and start OneNine5.

Alec: I mean, it's a great brand story. And he touched on there about you're more open to taking risks now. I cannot imagine over the last two years, such a risky time to launch a business, shortly before a pandemic and obviously working very hard to survive that. Just tell me about the last two years, what that has been like. It must have been quite scary times.

Alex: I think scary is probably the ideal word for it. So I did all the due diligence before launching OneNine5 and felt like it was the right place and the right time. So entrepreneurship is often glamorised or it seems like a sexy business, but there's a lot that goes on in the background that isn't particularly sexy. So as an example we looked into the data behind the travel industry and more people were continuing to travel on a yearly basis over the past eight or nine years, according to airport data. So you think this is an ever growing industry. People love to travel, share these travels in a world of social media. So it felt like the right place, but yet we could never have foreseen or expected that six months after launching the brand that a global pandemic would pretty much grind global travel to a halt. So I think if I look back now, I started to panic a bit. I started to feel uneasy as far back as January, February 2020. So we'd had a really, really good Christmas. Things were really positive. We'd been featured on ITV this morning. There was a great response to the wash bags during that busy period and gifting. And then January, February hit. And I think at the time, the first thing that really had me feeling uneasy and nervous, I remember it was the US grounding flights between the US and Europe. So this isn't really a good sign. And then by April time as lockdown had properly hit within the UK and no one was traveling, pretty much no one was leaving home by this point.

Our sales were plummeted by 95%. Even looking back to Christmas of last year, sales were down about 45 to 50% because we were still in the throes of a pandemic. It was nervy. And our response to that really has been to play it safe. We have really been in defence mode for the past, what feels like a year and a half, which isn't where you want to be when you're trying to start a business and grow it. But there's just not really been anything else we could do. It didn't feel right to be trying to push or promote travel goods or even travel when the world has been told to stay at home. The only thing that we have really done in that period of time is to really think about, well how do we… don't like to use the word but, pivot. Everyone's thrown that word around recently. But how do we move from being a strongly affiliated as a travel goods brand, or in my case, a wash back salesman to mates. How do we move from that to the every day? So how do we help people to pack smart when they're heading to the gym, heading back into the office now, that kind of thing. And I guess in the short term that is our immediate priority until we can see more positive signs of travel bouncing back.

Alec: There'd be people listening to this podcasts who they've either just started their own business or they want to start their own business. And they might be thinking that there was a golden parachute for you. You got people helping you out, keeping you afloat, that wasn't the case, was it?

Alex: No, it wasn't. It was the case of play it safe, stop spending money, try and be sensible and almost like sit it out. Over the past year or so, we did receive a grant from Croydon Council. We did receive a small grant from Facebook. When you're an online business and you don't have a physical retail store, then there aren't the same government grants that were filtering down towards as somebody who's got that that bricks and mortar store.

Alec: Did you consider any point going back into full-time work, trying to make money another way to try and support the business? Was that something you considered?

Alex: It definitely has been. And I think there's probably two routes we could have gone down actually. We could have gone down the investment route and again, bad timing. So actually we should have been on Dragons Den in 2020 and it was almost agreed. So the week before lockdown hit, I'd just done the final audition in the BBC studios. And that was looking really positive. But obviously [inaudible 11:34] that the lockdowns hit then filming just stopped and given that most who work in the world of TV are freelanced, that team disbanded. So we could have been searching for additional investment, but then what we say we didn't want to seek or search for investment from a position of weakness almost where we're it doing out of desperation. We want investment into OneNine5, as in when it's the right time to grow. And we feel like things are on up again. It could have been a case that do I go back into full-time work and lead this running on the side? But I've put all my in there. I put all my money into this, all my passion, all my love into this since April 2018 now. So I feel like I've come too far to suddenly give up. And I'm looking ahead now with a lot more optimism as well.

Alec: Thankfully, yeah. As you said, global travel has started to pick up; people are flying to different countries again. I'm keen to know a little bit more about the product. So you describe them as ‘eco-conscious’. If anyone listens to this who doesn't know what that means. What does it mean, Alex?

Alex: It's a good question because it could mean different things to different people, but we've been quite conscious to use the word ‘eco-conscious’ really to try and explain that as a brand, we prioritise environmental sustainability, but we're not perfect. I think it's pretty important for us to actually acknowledge that we are a small team. We don't have a finite amount of investment and resources, but at the heart of what we do, we absolutely want to do good and prioritise environmental sustainability in the planet. And we chose the word ‘eco-conscious’ as a way of communicating that. I think there is always this risk now of like greenwashing and you hear words like banded around eco-friendly, sustainable. And it is really hard, especially when you're an online brand as well, because essentially we are a faceless business. We try to offer a window into who we are, what we care about, but it's not easy when you are an online business. I think ultimately we're trying to suggest that this is what we care about, this is where we want to go, and this is how we're trying to get there. And, and then we always try to advocate for the aspect of a small positive step. So we're not going to sit there and say we’re perfect, we're doing all this right. Because I guess anybody that produces a product, you probably can't really claim to be ultimately eco-friendly. The only real way to be eco-friendly is to do nothing I guess, or to produce nothing. So there's always a payoff in doing this, but I hope that our customers and anybody that's listening to this or people that maybe followed us, would see that we're trying to do good. And I think part of what we really care about as well is this need to improve and innovate. So how can we always get better at what we do? And I think we're never happy just to settle. So we do one thing, we think well how can we improve it? How can we get better? How can we find, or source or use materials that might be better than the materials we use now? How can we figure out packaging that might be easy for our customers to recycle at the end of…So whatever it is I think we feel really quite restless to want to continually improve.

Alec: I do have one of your wash bags. I had to pay full price. No discounts for me. But on that eco-conscious front, just tell me a little bit more about the wash bag, because you touched on the plastic element, but just tell us what makes it unique.

Alex: Good question. Probably a number of things really. So obviously primarily with the wash bag, it's about trying to tackle single use plastics at airport security, like I said, over 150 million. So if we can make a small dent into that then we see that as a big positive. But then ultimately in terms of the actual product themselves and the associated packaging, we give that so much consideration. I think one of the key things that we try to do with when designing products or considering a new product is the durability and a lifespan of our product. It's one of the biggest things. And I think we mention it online, we advocate ‘buy less and buy well’. How can we source and use the most premium, durable materials to ensure that they last? We don't class ourselves as being a fashion brand, but we do still work in the world of textile, so we are associated to that. Rightly so, right now the world of fast fashion's got a terrible reputation because it promotes and encourages over consumption. And it's something that we are very actively against. So we try to promote and encourage customers to actually use our products for years to come. We want them to be well loved, well used. They pick up a bump or scratch along the way, that's all part of the character of heading somewhere new and seeing somewhere different. So that's definitely one aspect in materials and trying to promote that. On the packaging side of things, packaging is entirely plastic free now. And all either home recyclable or home compostable. Again, it's one of these things that can often be forgotten about, but we’re probably in the semi premium world in what we do. So there's much more expensive products out there than us, but at the same time, much cheaper options. So even though we're in that sort of semi premium world, we don't want to fall into the trap of really elaborate packaging that's overly fancy. So it's really quite simple packaging and there's good reason behind doing that. And then I think the other unique aspect of what we’re trying to do is around end of life. So going back to my point that we are putting a product out there into the world and we have to acknowledge and admit that every product pretty much has got an end of life. We hope that's, way down the line. And like I said it's not a problem for years and years, but that point will come. And I think by that point, a lot of other brands don't really consider… ‘I've sold it, now it's somebody else's problem’. Whereas actually, what we're trying to do is be responsible all the way through, from manufacture to the end of life, which is why as a small business we feel passionate, we feel strongly about offering customers a return to recycle scheme. And that's a commitment that materials will be either reused or recycled. And ultimately won't add to the millions of tons of textiles that end up in landfill every year in the UK.

Alec: It's great. You try to look after the planet and make it a better place. But do you think there is a little bit of conflict? Obviously you're encouraging people to fly and we know that planes are a big polluter of our planet. Is that something that you've considered that there is this bit of conflict?

Alex: Yeah, you're right, there is. We've been asked that question before and I saw something that I'm actually probably almost quoting somebody else in saying this, but the best explanation which we would also subscribe to is that balance. So with travel, we see a whole load of huge socioeconomic benefits that come from travel. And if I look at the world in the past 18 months, post Brexit in the middle of pandemic, the UK feels like a small place right now. And I worry that the world [inaudible 18:27] getting a smaller place. Are we less tolerant of people now than we should be? And I look at political opinions that seem ever more polarising and this huge chasm and this split between people and I think travel is something that can ultimately bring people back together. It can build trust. It can build understanding, compassion, empathy between people. And I think that's such a massive benefit right now. So considering that that's something that we value and that we think is really important, what we try to do is then think well, how do we minimise the impact of travel? How can we promote slow travel, mindful travel? So we're not saying that hop on a plane between different islands to different places. We'll try to promote rail travel to go and see somewhere else. We'll try to promote more eco-friendly or travel that has a smaller carbon footprint. And likewise as well, even when traveling we'll try to promote ‘how can you maintain that routine that you've got at home in terms of using the reusables?’ How can you maintain that routine when traveling? So we'll always try to promote doing everything possible to be mindful of how you travel, if you travel.

Alec: OneNine5 is a brand; it's still very much a baby, only just over two years old. And there's been some big moments along the way so far. I mean, is there a proudest moment for you?

Alex: Probably two things stick out. One of which was not planned in the slightest. Going back to the point I was making, I spent about four or five months with a temporary stoma recovering from the surgery. For anyone that doesn't know what that is, having that, it is hugely mentally and physically challenging to adapt to that and I found that tough. And actually my approach, again probably wrongly and British male, going to get my head down, I'm just going to get myself feeling, better feeling well. And then I had second surgery to reverse this and then the temporary stoma was gone. That was something I found really hard to deal with. And probably only told probably you guys. There's only a couple of people that I only really told about this. It just wasn't my style to put it out there and ultimately seek support or help. It was it was on me to see this through. But then in our Instagram account, we had a DM one day from a girl called Sinead, who also had a stoma at the time and had said that she was using our wash bag to carry her daily stoma supplies. So if you don't know, everywhere you travel, if you've got a stoma you're pretty much going carry some kind of medical kit accompanying it with you. You can't really leave the house without it. Sinead basically told us that the wash bag would be ideal for her to carry all the stoma equipment. So we sent one to Sinead. And then by doing that, we almost found ourselves becoming closer to this community online of quite open supportive community of other people who have stomas or have inflammatory bowel disease and then we almost became a part of this community. And then we've been really welcomed into this. And a lot of people are now using our products for that purpose. So really wasn't intended, but that's something I'm really proud of in the sense that I've had the firsthand experience. And looking at this community of people now, how supportive they are, the fact that we can be a small part of normalising this. There is still a taboo around it. Nobody really wants to say I have got a stoma. It's a hard conversation to engage people on. And you see a lot of the hate that people get on social media for posting about this. So the fact that we can play a small part in normalising this and essentially promoting that this isn't a taboo, that's something I'm really proud of.

The second aspect is probably something this year. So we launched a partnership with the charity, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. They approached us and again great privilege that we could be partnering as a relatively small brand still. But we have the option and the ability to be able to partner with a global charity that is leading the fight to protect whales and dolphins. So going back to my Blue Planet 2 days definitely have an affinity towards whales, such magnificent creatures. So the fact that we're now able to produce a limited edition product that is that's donating 20% of each sale to that charity. That's something I'm really proud of as well.

Alec: I just want to go back to the stoma story and the message that you got on Instagram. It's such an amazing story. Has that changed the way that you will design products in the future? Because you would never have imagined that somebody would used it for that purpose. And I guess on top of that what is next in terms of the products that you see yourself bringing out in the future?

Alex: I would love to be able. This goes back [inaudible 22:59] actually. The actual design of our wash bag was partly inspired by bag or the kit that I received when I left hospital. So you have, essentially, a stoma nurse. And the stoma nurse gives you all this equipment to leave hospital with and you haven't got a clue what the hell is going on, it's quite daunting. But you get these quite sterile, ugly bags. They're given away by the hospital for you to carry your kit, so it's not about being stylish. I would love in time to produce or to create or design products that are even more specifically designed for the stoma community, because there's definitely a requirement there. And again, by us designing a product, I think it normalises us. You don't feel like you have to carry some rather dull or side looking pouch with all your kit in it. So it's definitely on the radar. Beyond that, I think we probably will consider and keep looking at the everyday or the lifestyle products for the time being. Whilst travel is still uncertain and we try to speak to friends in the travel industry and we’re hopeful things will be more positive as of next summer, but still no guarantee. But I think the thing that I'm probably most excited about at the moment is a move towards more natural fibres with our products. So we just launched a 13” laptop sleeve, after months of research and back and forth and speaking to potential different partners. 

We've switched out what is typically a virgin plastic padding or foam. And we've used coconut fibres, really unique. So typically coconut fibres are used for things like gardening. They are used it for mattresses, often layers in mattresses, but they've never been used for this purpose before. So that's something that really excites me. I’m looking forward, really keen to explore the world of bio-leathers. So how can we switch at the moment? What is the outer material is essentially a recyclable PU or vegan leather. But I'm really keen in time to think how do we make the switch from that into a bio-leather that is essentially predominantly derived from a natural source? So there's plenty of options out there at the moment. There’s a little bit of a mystery, I would say, in this world that so people will promote pineapple leather, for example. But ultimately pineapple leather still has a combination of pineapple fibres and plastic because otherwise it just doesn't have the durability to be able to last, it'll break down too soon. So prior to that, how can we find a bio letter with the minimal amount of plastic in it. That's kind of the part that excites me going into 2022.

Alec: Definitely exciting times. I hopefully I'll get my hands on of them laptops sleeves. Maybe a little free if you’re doing this podcast, Alex.  

Alex: We'll see.

Alec: We’ll see. And of course this is The Purpose Podcast, so I've got to ask you what is OneNine5’s long term purpose?

Alex: It's probably a balance here. I think first and foremost, we’re still one to challenge this aspect of very gender specific products. So going back, way back to the boring tasks of getting a business off the ground, that aren't so sexy. One of the first things that I did when pondering the idea of designing a wash bag, at the time this was early 2018, I analysed every wash bag being sold by us at the time. It was at the top five department stores in the UK plus Asus. I looked at everything from like shape, materials, gender. They were aimed at price, size, everything. Really dull task, but it was worthwhile. But in doing that, what we realised is that like travel goods can be very gender specific. So I was really quite passionate going forward to ensure that we continue to challenge that. And prove that because you're a male, you don't have to carry travel goods that are made of leather, that's brown or black, and that females don't have to carry products that are maybe cotton and floral. So I'm really keen to keep challenging that notion. And I do still think that in this world or in the world that we work in, there is still a bit of a misconception that environmental… or to give a shit or to care about environmental sustainability means that you are some hippie in the field. I don't think we're far away from that tipping point in which it becomes readily accepted and things like COP26 and the climate crisis is ever more present in the media.

I think people are getting on board with this, which is a positive. I think there's still a challenge to be had to prove that we can design travel goods that equally prioritise environmental sustainability, alongside style and practicality. Part of that is a tough balance of Stripe, but really as a purpose, we wanted to prove that that is possible. Our travel goods would be an item that you would be proud to leave on the desk in the co-working space, to pop out in the airport security if you're passing through there. Whatever it might be that actually these are goods that you would be proud to show off and not something that almost feels a bit taboo and strange. I've got a weird eco mate. There's a battle on our hands still there, but we're getting closer.

Alec: I want to round off our conversation, Alex, by giving people a bit of advice who might have started a new business, or they're thinking of doing so in the next 12 months. You've had some great media coverage. Just tell us about that media coverage and how have you achieved it?

Alex: It has been a DIY PR really.  We did have a PR agency working for us at one point for a couple of months, but I've actually found that it feels far more authentic and far more genuine for us to reach out, to try and build relationships with journalists on a real practical level. There's probably two things that I still do almost on a daily basis that really help to try and identify where the media are talking about things that we might be able to align to. So the first one, I'm not on Twitter but I still check it daily. There's a hashtag called #journorequest. Lots of journalists are using that hashtag on a daily basis if they are writing a particular piece and they need input. So we've definitely picked up some good pieces from that. For example, last year I ended upon BBC News as a result of that, which is great, which was fantastic exposure. And then the other idea as well, is that part of a Facebook group called Lightbulb, I can include in any notes if anyone wants to have a look. But Lightbulb Facebook group is essentially a connection or a meeting point between typically businesses or startups and media or journalists. So again, rather than needing to arrange us via PR or an agency, journalists will post in this Facebook group asking for particular requests or particular input. So that's been a really nice source. And then ultimately people start to come towards, which is really nice as well. So mentioned before that we were on ITV this morning, and they approached us to include us in a gift guide for Christmas, which was unbelievable.

The more you put yourself out there, the more discoverable you are, the better chance you have of being found. Ultimately it's been proactive in seeking out these opportunities and then ultimately building a relationship. Because what we now find is that once we've spoken to these journalists and we've built a working relationship or a connection, it then becomes much easier to go back and say ‘oh, we've launched a laptops leave. Would you be interested in talking about this? Do you want a sample to take a look at it?’ Whatever it might be, but that's worked really well for us.

Alec: What impact has that had when Phillip Schofield was on this morning? He's talking about your product. Did you immediately see an uptick in sales? What impact did it have on the business?

Alex: ITV this morning specifically was crazy. So this was obviously six months into launch and then it just went wild at Christmas. It was amazing. The opposite side to that, I would carry out that in the sense that it doesn't all have that impact. Some do absolutely nothing in terms of driving sales. But I still think that if it's with a credible journalist or a credible media outlet, then there will still definitely be a positive to be out there. You never know how people will discover you.

Alec: Just to finish off, I know you have a factory out in China, you manufacture your products. There must be so many factories in various different countries who could offer the same thing. So how do you actually go about finding and a manufacturer of finding trustworthy factory? What’s that process like?

Alex: I think this is probably one of the biggest barriers to launching a business if you're coming at this without any prior experience or background. So admittedly, that was me. So when we came to designing our first two products, the wash bag and then the essentials pouch, we partnered with an agency in East London called Morrama. And aside from being fantastic product designers, it was almost like babysitting me for the first six months. So they would not only be doing all the designs, but they would also be supporting me and helping me to reach out to manufacturers because I had no prior experience of this. And even after doing that, there's so much to know and learn in terms of how you communicate these designs? What do you need to communicate? What do they need? How do you build credibility, because that's a big aspect? Essentially we were an absolute unknown at the time when we launched and how do we get a credible manufacturer on our side who thinks we're genuine, who thinks it's worthwhile investing their time and resources? So there's a lot on that side that I can definitely go into. And then the other piece as well is really around finding a responsible manufacturer. Though we do make our products in China and there's definitely a perception that we're wrong for doing so. So for example, there's this notion that anything made in China is inherently a bad thing. And, we've had emails in the past from people that have told us this, and they've sent us this from maybe their iPhone or iPad, which ironically has also made in China. And I think to tar everybody with this one brush that everybody's inherently bad, I think is wrong. I think there's a lot of due diligence that has to be done to ensure you do find a responsible and trusted manufacturer. So to do that, there are a number of third party audits that have to take place. And that can be in terms of things like their working conditions of staff and things and making sure that is all present and correct. But likewise as well if there are claims around… So the lining of our products is made from 100% recycled plastic. There are again, external parties or organisations that will validate that claim to ensure that is the case, so there's a load of due diligence to do in that respect. And then ultimately you need to be out there to visit them. And obviously it's been difficult for the past 18 months, but there is a huge value in taking that trip to meet with manufacturers, to be on the ground, assess the working conditions and meet them in person. And I think that builds a much better relationship. On a real practical level, if somebody's listening to this now and pondering where the hell do I start? The best piece of advice I can really give for this is to maybe consider a more established brand or product in the market that you admire, or that you like and have a look to see if they export their products into the US.

 So in the UK, import data is not quite as public as it is in the US. But if you look at US import data, you can typically find online where the shipment came from. And then after that, it's the case of then reaching out to and trying to build credibility with that manufacturer. So there are two tools I've used in the past. One called Import Genius and one called Panjiva. Both of them there's free versions, really easy to start to do a bit of digging in that. And then ultimately once you've found a potential manufacturer that you want to work with and you start to engage with them, the first thing you really need to do is try to understand the minimum orders that they want you to manufacture with them. So typically when dealing with bigger manufacturers, they do want bigger runs. So it's often a kind of a commitment in terms of the amount of material that you might buy. If it's on an industrial thing, when you got to produce tooling, which can be expensive. And then ultimately beyond that, it's how do you build that credibility? And I think you do that by turning up at their door or virtually turning up at their door in an email with something called the Bill of Materials. So this would be the technical document that would instruct them on exactly how to make the product that you want to design. And then beyond that you need plenty of patients and time. Our experience is that you think you'll be able to achieve this in a couple of months, but inevitably it will take longer and you will hit delays. So I think the wash bag ended up taking us about the best part of about nine months. And then you've got to go through different prototypes to really perfect this. Ultimately from our side as well, other people will have approached this by developing a minimum viable product. So you do the bare minimum to bring our product to market, to test things. But from our side, it just isn't or wasn't viable to do that. We didn't want to put something out there that potentially wasn't viable and then suddenly was sitting on a load of products that wasn't fit for purpose and ends up being waste. That's the last thing we want to do. And even I found this from speaking to other founders across this series that there is a consistent theme in that when you do prioritise environmental sustainability, there's that huge commit to getting it right from the outset and you can't rush these things. 

Alec: Alex thanks so much for your time. Running a business sounds so stressful. I'm glad a journalist and not a business owner. Thanks for inviting me on. I'm sure maybe we'll do it again in the future. Good luck with the business moving forward.

Alex: I hope so. Thanks for joining us. Maybe I will give you one of those laptops leaves for this.

Alec: I'm looking forward to it. Cheers mate. Thanks.

Alex: Cheers mate. Bye.

If you're still with me, thanks for taking the time to listen to The Purpose Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting. If you did and you listened to this on Apple podcasts, massively appreciate if you could take a minute to leave was a positive review. And if there's a friend or family member that might enjoy or benefit from listening to this, please share a link with them on either Apple podcasts or Spotify. If you're curious to learn more about our eco conscious travel goods, give us a follow on Instagram, which is @oneninefive or head to oneninefive.com where you can also get 10% off your first purchase when you sign up to our newsletter. And for each weekly podcast, you'll also find a blog post with some highlights and learnings from the episode along with a full written transcript. Thanks again, we'll speak soon.