It’s back! After a little hiatus on my interview series, I’ve got a brilliant one to start us back up. Today I’m excited to be talking to Hanna Pumfrey, founder of Acala, the natural health and beauty boutique that goes further than most to provide responsible, zero-waste options. You also probably know Hanna as the conscious wordsmith behind Flor + Cesta, the popular ethical lifestyle blog that provides tips to be a greener city-dweller.
I’ve followed Hanna’s blog for some time now, and was inspired to hear how alongside her writing, she’s began her journey to launch an ethical shop too. It’s a goal of mine to do the same someday, and have a pretty little store full of items that look good and do good!
With Acala, Hanna has gone above and beyond to make sure products are responsibly packaged, without any plastic in sight. Her aim is to make buying consciously as easy and as accessible as popping into a high-street store.
1. What started your interest in living more sustainably, and the creation of your blog, Flor + Cesta?
Growing up with a mother who ran her own gardening business and always being surrounded by germinating plants (literally, every surface was covered with them near springtime!) I have a always taken an interest in ‘growing your own’, eating local and being self-sustaining in the sense of food. We were also always taught to use reusable water bottles and to pick the non-plastic option wherever possible, so I think minimal waste and plastic free living is something that was ingrained in me from an early age.
It wasn’t until much more recently though that I really started to become aware of environmental issues on a wider scale. I will admit that when I was fresh out of uni and on a low income in London, price was always the priority for me when it came to clothes shopping! I was completely unaware of the concept of fast fashion until documentaries like The True Cost came onto the scene.
Since becoming aware of these issues, I made a promise to myself never to shop on the high street again. I now shop much less in general and usually buy second-hand. A few times a year I will splash out on an ethical fashion piece that I love and know will be worn across seasons and for many years to come. When speaking to colleagues and friends though it was clear to me that, although many wanted to make a change in the way they shopped, they didn’t know how.
The turning point for me came though after a few years working in the city; I would watch the rubbish bins in my office fill up every day with paper cups and lunch bag wrappers as we all rushed blindly from meeting to meeting, completely unconscious to the amount of waste we were contributing to landfill daily. I thought “there must be a better way to do this!”
It was then that I decided to start Flor + Cesta. For me it is a public commitment to living a sustainable lifestyle and a way to engage others in important topics whilst showing that living sustainably is fun! The goal of the site is to arm readers with all the know how to make easy and informed changes every day that fit within their lifestyles.
2. It’s inspiring to see you go from ethical blogger to ethical entrepreneur. What can we expect from Acala?
I had a huge “a-ha” moment a little while ago whilst, of all the glamorous activities, I was taking out the rubbish. As I tipped it into the chute I realised that 90% of the waste was from bathroom items. I started thinking, “If that’s just one week, how much rubbish am I creating in a year?!”
I quickly realised that the environmental and health benefits of these natural and organic products can often be outweighed by the amount of plastic packaging committed to landfill. While it may seem like a simple thought, it was a big wake-up call that led me to expand my definition of sustainability and what it really means to consume in a way that is beneficial for your body and the planet.
In the beauty industry, fancy packaging is a sign of product success. A colossal 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry. The cardboard that envelops perfumes, serums and moisturisers contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. If this level of consumption continues, by 2050 there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic in landfills, the equivalent to 35,000 Empire State Buildings.
In my experience, though, finding alternatives is hard; with our busy work and personal lives, few of us have the time to hunt around for eco-options. So I decided to make it simple for people. Acala is an online store offering an extensive range of natural, organic and vegan health and beauty products from leading brands. Think eco-friendly Boots and you’re on the right lines.
The store will stock everything from skincare, suncare, dental and personal hygiene products to refillable cosmetics and travel items. All Acala products are responsibly packaged, and I will be offering customers refills and plastic free packaging options on the majority of products. Where plastic is necessary it will always be biodegradable or 100% recyclable.
3. Was it important to you to ensure all your products are responsibly packaged?
After Blue Planet 2 aired, plastic has gone seriously out of fashion. Many of us are now consciously taking steps to ‘de-plastic’ our lives. One glance in our bathroom cabinets though, and I think we can all see that plastic clearly hasn’t changed in the health and beauty department. For all the current media hype and talk about limiting plastic use from bottles, food packaging and carrier bags, it feels like no one is mentioning beauty products. The focus, in the beauty industry, continues to be on organic and natural.
Acala is about wellness for both people and planet. This means responsible packaging is incredibly important. It doesn’t matter how beautiful a product is, if it has unsustainable packaging, it won’t be on Acala.
What makes Acala different from other clean beauty stores is that a customer can come to our site safe in the knowledge that any product they buy is in packaging that can either be refilled or will biodegrade, making it impact neutral.
Plus for brands that don’t yet achieve this, Acala will actively work with them to improve their supply chain and packaging.
4. What is your vision for Acala, do you have any long-term goals?
Alongside the store, people can look forward to events and workshops to learn how to choose sustainable alternatives to the things they love in life.
My goal is to achieve a circular business model, based on the principles of a circular economy. A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible. The maximum value is extracted from them whilst in use, and products and materials are then recovered and regenerated at the end of each service life.
A circular economy and business model is important to me because it reduces waste, as well as helping reduce the environmental impacts of all our production and consumption. We are already operating under these principles in many areas at Acala, and I am working on Phase 2, which will bring us much closer to achieving the goals of a circular business model. More information coming on this very soon! As a sort of sneak preview, think about a milkman service for your toiletries and you’re on the right lines!
5. Finally, what’s one tip you’d give anyone looking to start their own business?
I think the best advice I can give to anyone is to know your own strengths (and weaknesses) and to surround yourself with people who complement yours. Don’t be afraid to delegate! If it’s not your strength, it’s always better to find someone who can you in that area to free up more time to do what you do best.