In an excerpt from a new book ‘BUSINESS UNUSUAL: Enterprises paving the way to Zero Waste,’ Margaux Ortiz Fabreag tells the story about how an eco-minded couple in Hong Kong embraced a zero waste way of life and created the Slowood sustainable retail concept.
By Margaux Ortiz Fabreag
The seed was first planted in a rural village in New Zealand, where Slowood founders Dora Lam and Kai Chan had stayed during a trip there.
In that small village, they experienced firsthand how to live with nature harmoniously and to practice sustainable living—a concept which had initially astonished them.
“New Zealand’s supermarkets sell vast amounts of organic and package-free goods, which fascinated Dora and Kai,” said Peggy Liu of Slowood’s Marketing Team.
But it was in Hong Kong that the seed grew, eventually becoming a full-blown Zero Waste advocacy.
“When Dora was pregnant, she tried seeking environmentally friendly products for her family. But in Hong Kong, eco-shopping is never easy as you need to visit different places to gather what you need,” Peggy said.
Dora and Kai then decided to start their own Zero Waste store that aimed to provide a wide range of products in one place. Slowood offers bulk food, refills of household and personal care products, organic vegetables, and fruits sans packaging, organic beauty and skincare products, slow fashion, and sustainable lifestyle and homeware.
“Bulk food and household refills have shown good performance, while skincare and herbal supplements are also popular and receive good reviews,” Peggy said, adding that Slowood finds ways to keep its prices friendly for customers by putting a lot of effort in sourcing products around the world.
The Slowood team has also made sure to make their special place more “welcoming” to people who are new to the Zero Waste concept.
“We are not only focusing on eco-conscious people; we would like to invite people who are less eco-conscious to join this Zero Waste movement,” Peggy stressed, explaining that they want to provide a gentler option for people who are not aware of sustainability yet or are reluctant to change their behavior.
She explained that Slowood is learning with its customers and trying to forge their consumption habits by selling bulk and refills.
“They could start their sustainable journey with Slowood step by step,” Peggy said.
Slowood’s business quickly expanded in just two years of operation: from a small team of 10 in 2018 to 50 staff manning two stores offering delivery services. Slowood opened its third store days before Christmas 2020.
This, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected businesses—big and small—around the world.
Peggy said their prior focus on their online operations helped them face the challenges brought about by the unprecedented global health crisis.
“Digital transformation in the retail industry has never been this fast due to the lockdown. We have been developing our online outlet even before the pandemic so we are on track,” she said.
In addition, Slowood reviewed its operations and allocated more resources to online development to keep up with the pandemic-related developments.
Peggy said Slowood tried its best to reinforce the Zero Waste message during the lockdown, even providing out-of-the-box offers such as the “mealbox solution” which encourages their customers to bring their own meal boxes.
“The customers are happy to do it,” Peggy shared.
They also spread the Zero Waste word on their social media channels, frequently updating them with environmental facts, various product features, and other relevant news.
“The most challenging part (in this business) is to communicate the Zero Waste message not only to customers, but also your suppliers and business partners,” Peggy said.
While admitting that it takes time to educate the public and raise community engagement on Zero Waste practices, the Slowood team is hopeful that digital solutions would continue to help bridge the gap.
“Nowadays, people are more educated and the flow of information is moving faster. We could read the news and see unusual climate changes from the other side of the world,” Peggy said.
She added: “We believe that there will be more and more people being informed and willing to live in a planet-friendly way in Hong Kong.”
This above extract is part of the book, ‘BUSINESS UNUSUAL: Enterprises paving the way to Zero Waste,’ a collection of feature articles on select enterprises in Asia Pacific that practice and promote zero waste principles. Published by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). Download the book for free here. the publication may be downloaded for free at no-burn.org.
All images courtesy of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives & Slowood.