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In Conversation With
How to Save the Most Endangered Species on the Planet by Starting a Plastic-free Business
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The Beeswax Wrap Company Ltd started as a small homemade business two years ago and is now stocked in 1000 independent retailers in the UK. Frances Cusden is one of the founders (or should I say superwomen?) who co-founded the business on a personal quest to living a plastic-free life.

To produce the perfect sustainable, biodegradable alternative to cling film and aluminium foil (which are not biodegradable and end up in landfills polluting the Planet for thousands of years!) is already quite the achievement…but to help protect the bees is the cherry on the regenerative business cake!

The Beeswax Wraps Company Ltd is the epitome of a regenerative business: nearly everything in their supply chain is locally produced, so their carbon footprint really is minimal. They are also big on reinvesting in their local community and the environment: last year, their limited edition charity packs raised +£5000, which they donated to Surfers Against Sewage and The British Beekeepers Association.

Welcome to the Boiler House, Frances!

Thank you! 

How did The Beeswax Wrap company come into reality?
Well, Carly and I met at a clothes swap in Bristol back in 2016. Everyone was trying each other clothes on, swapping them, so we were already living by our sustainable ethos and…we both realised had many things in common, especially our passion for sustainability and our love for crafting. Carly didn’t have a work permit at the time as she’d just moved to the UK with her husband from Canada, so she volunteered at a charity shop. There, she would get hold of old music books and maps. In our free time, we started making eco-Xmas gift packaging. … it was called Wrapper’s Delight, the perfect repurposed Xmas wrapping! We were so chuffed at our first Xmas market… but… no one bought anything!

You essentially got on that market too early!
Yes, that’s right, we are trailblazers! So that first project failed, but we didn’t give up. We’d both been trying to live our lives plastic-free for a while. I’d been studying acupuncture, planning to transition from my career in advertising to a more holistic sphere. I became very concerned when I understood the effects that plastics have on food. I was determined to cut plastic out of my daily life.

Carly, on the other hand, had become very concerned by the information she’d been researching on how plastic damages the environment. We made an effort to de-plastify our lives and got rid of the plastic water bottles, plastic tubs….. but one thing we found we couldn’t replace was… clingfilm! Carly had mentioned she seen beeswax wrapping in Australia, where she’s from, but we couldn’t find anything from the Uk so we thought “why not give it a go and produce it ourselves?”
In April 2017 we held our first market stall which sold out and we thought,  “this is a goer!”. I then wrote to Lizzy Love Healthy, a blogger, who wrote about us… shortly after “Blue Planet” hit the national TV and suddenly, everyone was on it! 

How did you make the product back then?
Well, we started in Carly’s place, who was pregnant at the time, so it was pretty funny… you’d find us in her kitchen, standing over the oven- to melt the wax – heinously burning our fingers, and using her spare room as storage. She then had Florence, so we then moved to a workshop on the side of my house… we have moved twice since then and have just moved into our new workshop, which is huge!

In January last year, our sales were double what we had done over December… In March last year, we employed our 1st employee. We moved from my house to a bigger workshop in order to fit more equipment, and we now have a team of 18, only 2 and a half years later! It’s been mental, we’ve been very lucky with the timing. We are proudly B Corp certified and are Living Wage Employers. We want our customers to know that, when they buy products from us, they are choosing a company which is 100% in. And consumers, people, are demanding that companies stop exploiting their own employees and the Planet. This is the only future of business.

Consumers, people, are demanding that companies stop exploiting their own employees and the Planet. This is the only future of business.” 

Frances Cusden

What were the biggest challenges you faced in building a sustainable business?
I guess our challenges weren’t that hard, as we built our business from the ground up on a sustainable framework. I think that the supply chain has been the hardest part. You know, beeswax is one of the most adulterated substances on the planet. So we’ve taken the time to build a proper relationship with all our beekeepers, and we have full confidence in them because we know how they look after their bees. All of the beeswax is UK-sourced, 90% of it is sourced within a 20/30mile radius of our workshop. We’re really invested in supporting British Beekeeping, as beekeeping globally has seen a dramatic decline. The bee population has dropped drastically, yet our consumption has increased dramatically. Most supermarkets sell “honey” that is, in fact, just syrup! That alone shows just how mindless consumerism is what our world is built on… pretty sad!

Yes, true, however, look at how you’ve taken such a sad story and created the exact opposite! That’s what I find fascinating and inspiring about sustainability in business.
Yes, very true! After all, if us, the people, don’t do it… we’re buggered. And anyway, who wants to run a business who makes everyone miserable??
We’ve been taught to chase the money, but our satisfaction comes from having a real impact on people’s lives. And the reason why we’ve been taught to chase the money is that the business world is still run by outdated sexist ideals and values. The advertising world is where I come from and I can assure you that advertising is still rife with sexism. In one company I worked for, the creative director had a real issue with woman, so anything I did, I had feedback to another man, I couldn’t tell him directly. 

That’s ridiculous.
 Yes, absolutely. Just think of the fact that in one Advertising agency is was working, we had a  skinny cupboard. The rule was that, if you didn’t fit in, you weren’t allowed to work in the company

That sounds surreal!
But unfortunately, it isn’t. If you’re the only woman there, no one listens to what you are saying. 

I’m interested in knowing what your thoughts are on the following quote: “Everything, including ourselves, is made of the same 90-odd chemical elements, so distinctions between “natural” and “chemical” products can be very misleading”.  I found on the UK Cleaning Products Industry Association’s Website, and personally, I was taken aback when I read this, and am interested in knowing your opinion as the owner of a 100% natural product business. 
That’s very interesting. I don’t know what the context is, but…everything was created from the planet, the problem is that the production process of certain products is so far removed from what is natural and sustainable. When your whole supply chain is set up on non-recyclable and non-reusable you need to think of alternative ways of making business. 

I have the impression some people might be so scared of change that they are holding on to whatever they can find to justify the fact that they are not making the transition
Yes, that might be it. Not being assertive enough. For instance, I was recently invited to a governmental Think Tank on how to solve the plastic issue. The people running the meeting were saying that they’d met with Coca Cola the day before. Coca Cola said there are no plants in the UK that supply businesses with recycled plastic. 

Coca-cola, you need to build the plant! You make billions of pounds in profit – you have the means to make a change a lot quicker than any small business owner.

What was their reply to that?
That We’re all in this together, so we all need to work on this together”. Which is true, but it is frustrating because the big businesses who have the means to make the biggest impact, who created the problem in the first place. They are the ones who should be challenged. But I fear it might not be possible…

We run a fully-female owned, female-run business. We’re emotionally in touch with every single person in their business. We start our day with the question “How are you feeling?”, so we know what’s going on in everyone’s life, and we take that into account at work as well.

Thanks for the insights, Frances. My last question to you today is, what are your favourite sustainable kitchen and bathroom products?
Definitely Klean Kanteen, insulated for coffee. They don’t cool down though, so you have to be careful not to burn your tongue! As for personal care products, I really like the Faith in Nature refills. We also Coconut scrubbers for the kitchen, which are biodegradable. And we make our own deodorant!  

You can find Beeswax wraps at The Beeswax Wrap Company Ltd

This was “An Honest Conversation” with Sylvia Helen Goodrick from the Boiler House, London.

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22 / 09 / 2019 // Written by Sylvia Helen Goodrick
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