The world is having one heck of a year. And you can’t help but think it’s trying to tell us something big. It’s trying to force us to make change, to reflect on its beauty and fragility, and to change our habits to save the world. We’ve come to the end of Plastic-Free July, and what better time to remind ourselves that plastic-free is a year-round effort. And so Jonny sat down virtually with the wildly inspirational Julie, founder of Flora & Fauna, to tell us all about smarter eco choices and to shine a light on the brand’s game-changing ‘Take It Back’ initiative.
Thanks so much for joining us on the J Spot-light, Julie, we're so excited to have you! And huge congrats on recently becoming a mum (again)! As you know, Jonny's mantra is ‘be good to yourself, be good to others and be good to Mama Nature’, so naturally we’re big fans of Flora & Fauna and your incredibly innovative approaches to products and packaging.
You launched Flora & Fauna in 2014. What was your main motivation behind curating an online store of vegan, eco-minded products? And how long was your brand in the making before launch?
It was a merging of several things at once. I’ve always been passionate about our planet and animals, which stems from being a child and rescuing wildlife, through to working on an alternative technology site in Spain when I was 19 (it was an amazing off-the-grid community). That passion for animals and our planet never left me. And while working in retail, which I’ve done for close to 30 years now, I’ve seen how distanced retailers are from our planet and the impact they have. I wanted to change this. I thought I could either try and influence from the inside of businesses or I could create a better retailer; I decided the latter would make more impact.
The beauty industry is one that typically hasn’t been very transparent; I firmly believed we needed more transparency regarding how things are made and what they’re made of – and so I launched Flora & Fauna, which 100% vegan with no animal testing.
I came up with the idea in July 2014 and we launched in November 2014. It doesn’t take me too long to do something when I’m focused!
In the early days it was just Tom and I packing a few orders a day while still working full time. We got busier and busier and needed to go full time and hire a team. Eventually we had to leave our amazing shed for pastures new.
Ethical products often cost more than other products. Why is it important to think beyond the dollar sign and to choose ethical brands over similar non-ethical brands?
When you think ‘ethical’ you need to be thinking about multiple things such as ingredients, source, how it’s made, where it’s made etc. If you have a product made with organic ingredients in Australia by workers who are paid fairly, then the cost to produce is higher, yet other things aren’t compromised in the process, so potentially the product costs more. Treat Dreams, one of our local Sydney chocolatiers, explains why their chocolate costs more for a few reasons: they use fair-trade cacao, which means farmers work in fair conditions, receive fair prices for their products, and there is guaranteed no child labour. So comparing products isn’t comparing apples and apples.
What we try to do is offer great products that are affordable because we want everyone to choose ethical.
Flora & Fauna carries over 8000 products with over 300 brands. What are some of your bestsellers and personal favourites?
Stay-at-home orders seem to be having a naturally positive effect on the environment. What are some of your simplest at-home hacks people can do to help contribute to a positive impact on the earth during this time and beyond lockdown?
Composting! It’s already very easy to do, even more than being at home all the time. We have a pig who generally eats all of our food scraps, but if you don’t, composting is a simple way to reduce the waste you send to landfill and generate some rich soil for your garden, which leads me to my next point: if you’ve got the space, why not plant a veggie patch? We’ve lot of veggies and spending more time at home means you can give your garden that extra love.
There is a lot of overwhelming info out there on how to lower our impact on the environment in our daily lives. If you could tell people only one change to implement, what would it be?
Switch out your everyday disposable products for reusable ones and plastic products for non-plastic. Plastic-free July was a great time to make these changes and make them stick going forward. We use billions of plastic toothbrushes that end up in landfill and really don’t break down at all, so one switch I want everyone to make this year is to bamboo toothbrushes! They’re compostable (excluding the bristles) and you’re not sacrificing any performance, so it’s quite an easy swap to make.
We’re very excited here at Jonny HQ to read about Flora & Fauna’s newest initiative launched this month: ‘Take It Back’, which aims to eliminate plastic packaging used in shipping. Amazing news, congratulations! Jonny has used only recycled mailers since we launched and it’s so awesome to see big retailers like Flora & Fauna leading the way for change on a larger scale. Can you tell us a bit more about it and how long it’s been in the making?
We’re so passionate about the packaging we use and use only recycled boxes and plastic-free packaging. However, we get too much plastic into the warehouse from suppliers and it’s a problem. Not one thing we send out needs to arrive in plastic, so we decided enough was enough and started sending packaging back to suppliers.
Then we said ‘let’s make this bigger and let’s campaign for all businesses to change.’ We need all businesses to own their packaging choices and stop using plastic packaging.
We’ve seen an amazing response with lots of customers, retailers, brands and suppliers getting behind it, asking questions and making permanent changes to eliminate plastic packaging.
As we’ve learnt along the way with Jonny’s own eco-minded packaging, and going back to our earlier question about the cost of ethical products, the same goes for ethical shipping and practices. Do you think it’s a feasible option for all small businesses to stop using plastic and change to eco packaging in shipping? And do you have any advice to help other small businesses make the shift?
It’s feasible for any size business and most importantly it’s our responsibility. Every business needs to take responsibility for what they do and the impact they have. We’ve seen the cost of packaging come down over the years as demand increases.
When we made the switch to our ‘minimal packaging’ in 2016, we had a great response from customers, especially those who follow a zero-waste lifestyle, so there’s definitely an added value in offering sustainable packaging to your customers.
As a consumer, what are three things we can all do to play our part in helping to minimize waste when it comes to purchasing new products?
- Use what you already have before buying new products or reusing packaging and containers before recycling them. We use all of our old glass peanut butter jars to store other things in our pantry. Plastic-free and reusable products are exciting when they come on the market, but if you’ve already got something that does the job and will otherwise go to landfill, then use that first.
- Be conscious of what food you’re buying – ⅓ of all food is wasted, so buy only what you need.
- Vote with your dollar. Buy from companies that use responsible packaging and have cut out plastic packaging.
According to some of our heroes, Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough to name a couple, the future of Planet Earth looks grim. As a mum, how do you stay positive about what the future holds for your kids?
I’m a naturally positive person, which helps, but you can either be part of the problem or part of the solution, so be part of the solution. We will make change because we have to and that keeps me motivated and hopeful for our planet.
- If you could go back and give one piece of advice to your 10-year-old self, what would you say?
Be you always! Where I have succeeded most is when I am me, unashamedly me. If I’ve ever tried to compromise any part of me for what was acceptable at the time, in business or with friends, I haven’t been truly happy and therefore haven’t been my best.
- If you had to be shipwrecked on a desert island, but all your essential needs such as food and water were taken care of, what two items would you want to have with you?
Music! So an iPhone and airpods (if that’s one).
Family, if I can count them as an item – I know I’m pushing the envelope here :).
- If you could invite three people to dinner, dead or alive, who would they be?
Ricky Gervais, David Attenborough and Brian May.
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be?