Here we are about to start a new decade. It would be great to think about 2020 as the year to become a more conscious consumer. According to the research company, Zenit, in 2018, UK use of plastic water bottles increased by more than 7 per cent.
Choosing sustainable products is already a big start. So, let me introduce you to Ohelo – a start-up and family business founded by Alex and Katy with the aim to make reusable bottles the new normal.
We should all endorse this idea as well. After all, a reusable bottle would not only help you to cut down on plastic waste but also help save money wherever you go!
Midlands Traveller: Tell me a little bit about your background in business.
Alex and Katy: This is our first business together! We met whilst studying Physics at Oxford and followed a well-trodden path into the world of finance.
After a combined 15 years in the city, we decided we wanted to work together to create something of value. Almost every step of the journey has been something new for us.
We’ve learnt the process of designing and engineering a new product, we’ve got to grips with trademark and design registration law and we’ve travelled 1000 miles across China to find a manufacturer we were happy with. It has been eye-opening!
MT: How did you come up with your business idea?
Alex and Katy: Our light bulb moment came standing in remote British Columbia, Canada, when we realised, we wanted to do something different with our lives. We did some soul searching, a little travelling, and looked for our inspiration.
Travelling brought the idea of thermally insulated bottles to mind, and never really left us (seriously, we were dreaming about water bottles!).
Like anyone who saw the Blue Planet 2 series, we had been affected by the awful effect single-use plastic was having on the world around us. We love escaping to nature and want to keep it that way: Natural!
MT: Tell me about Ohelo’s mission.
Alex and Katy: Our mission is to make beautiful reusable the new normal. We do this by creating high-quality products that are uniquely designed by us that people will actually want to use.
Products that are durable, hard-working and prevent mountains of single-use plastic from coming to being.
MT: Why choose reusable bottles and tumblers?
Alex and Katy: The reality of growing up in the 1980s was the traditional thermos flasks with their plastic feel and cups sat atop.
Definitely practical, but not aesthetically pleasing. Not exactly the must-have accessory for modern-day urbanites. In our experience, they almost always contained a lukewarm hot chocolate and were never associated with keeping cold drinks cold.
Surely, we could do better than that. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel – just make one for the modern-day.
MT: What is unique about your business?
Alex and Katy: A lot of reusables you see look identical as they are just bought off the shelf from factories.
We make unique, British designed products. That way we’ve been able to incorporate unique features such as our removable carry straps, 360° Laser etched designs and our leak-proof tumbler sip lid.
It also allows us to source responsibly. Our packaging is plastic-free. It is amazing how many reusable bottles have a single-use plastic bag around the products!
We personally inspected multiple manufacturers until we found one that produced high-quality products with good, safe working conditions. We use high-end and safe materials throughout.
For example, we only use lead-free solder. This is how the vacuum is sealed between the two layers of the bottle. It is industry standard to use a solder that contains lead.
This is then covered to protect users by paint and/or a metal/silicone base cap. However, the staff in the factory still handle the lead-containing solder every day if used.
If the base cap dislodges over time the user could also be exposed. We are proud to use a more expensive, lead-free solder which is safe for everybody.
MT: What is your kind of clientele?
Alex and Katy: I suppose ‘image-conscious urbanites’, but really anyone who wants a high-quality reusable that looks good!
Most people need a reusable whether it’s for their morning coffee, for hydrating at the gym or for their daily commute. If they appreciate the look and feel of their things, then they will appreciate our products.
MT: What are the challenges of a business like yours?
Alex and Katy: Cheap, low-quality reusables that don’t last long.
There are lots of cheap reusable products out there and many people will opt for one of these rather than spending a little extra on a durable product that will actually last a long time and save you money in the long run.
Many of the people who buy our products have already tried and thrown away multiple reusables before realising it is better to buy a high-quality product.
We have also seen the working standards in some of the factories that produce low-price products sold in the UK and we would not have been happy having our products made there.
Sadly, the consumer doesn’t see this, they just see a low price.
Alex and Katy: The obvious way is by reducing the amount of single-use plastic as well as the reduced carbon footprint of drinking tap water over bottled water.
It’s also surprising how one small change leads you to another.You start to really notice the few occasions when you need to buy a bottle of water, then you start to opt for plastic free fruit and veg and so on.You gradually become more conscious of things you can change to be more sustainable.
MT: What advice would you give to someone thinking about having a business like yours?
Alex and Katy: Stay positive! People always say it is hard work running your own business and it’s true.
When the going gets tough, and it will at some point, it can be tempting to take shortcuts or not do things properly. Stay true to your ethics and be professional.
MT: How are social media important to the success of your business?
Alex and Katy: Very! It allows you to grow by ‘word of mouth’ but it is also extremely time-consuming.
You can engage with people and get feedback on your products to help you improve and learn. Advertising is also more affordable and within reach for a small business.
MT: What are the next steps for Ohelo?
Alex and Katy: The next steps are getting our brand name out there to a bigger audience.
We will be exhibiting at trade shows to get our bottles to retailers so people can see and feel our products with their own hands.
That way we can really get across the quality of our products which you can’t do as well online. We also have new sizes and lids already designed which we will be able to release as we grow.
Ohelo on Social Media
Photos | Ohelo’s instagram