We got the chance to sit down (virtually) with Seep founder, Laura Harnett, to learn more about how her business goes beyond for the planet with her plastic free cleaning accessories.
Why did you start Seep?
Laura: I’ve been working in the industry for 20 years as a buyer in places like Selfridges. One day, I was pushing my trolley around my local supermarket, and it had all these lovely brands that you guys’ stock like plastic free cleaning fluids, and all that sort of thing. And then I got to one bit of the aisle – and it’s often called household essentials – and it’s the most boring products in the supermarket. It’s the bin liners, it’s the cloths, it’s the sponges.
And I looked at them, and there was no challenge of brands in that space. They were all old-fashioned brands like Spontex. And they’re all made of polyurethane. It’s the reason why these plastic sponges go all bobbly on the top – it’s the microplastics that then go down into the water system.
So, I wanted something different; I wanted something that’s not there. So, I thought, right, I’m going to set Seep up and we’re going to have sustainable cleaning accessories that people can use alongside their eco-cleaning liquids.
So that’s why I set it up.
What problem are you trying to address with Seep?
Laura: So, the number one problem is plastic.
I think we all know that plastics are everywhere – they’re in our bodies, they’re in our ecosystem, they’re really harmful for life on our planet, and we just use a lot of it. It’s everywhere.
With Seep products like our eco sponge, they’re made from wood pulp instead of plastic. The top is made from loofah which is a vegetable, and completely biodegrades and composts once you’ve finished with it. So, it reduces waste in landfills and reduces the amount of microplastics it makes.
Tell us a bit more about your products. How are they different, and how are they solving the plastic problem?
Laura: Our eco sponge is our number one best seller – it doesn’t have microplastics, works just as well as a regular sponge, and has loads of good feedback. We’ve put it through its paces, it reduces the amount of plastics and looks a lot nicer than a crumpled-up sponge.
We’ve then got some cloths. I don’t know how many use those microfiber cloths, but those are made with polyester and acrylic, which releases microplastics. Our cloths are plant-based and can be composted.
We’ve also got some rubber gloves that are actually made from rubber. A lot of rubber gloves now are made from plastic, but ours are rubber and biodegrade as well. So, it’s this idea that everything can seep back into the earth.
Tell us about your B Corp journey.
Laura: As a customer, I always used to look for B Corp logos. For me, it’s the gold standard of sustainable certification. To be certified means someone has gone through a lot of effort to get that little B Corp logo – it’s the best thing out there.
So as soon as I set up Seep, I applied for it. Everyone on the team got involved with months and months of work, and it just helped loads of decision making. So after about a year and a half from being founded, we became a B Corp. And we’re something called ‘Best of the World’, which means we’re in the top 5% of B Corp with our score.
Why is it important to be a B Corp?
Laura: There’s a lot of greenwashing out there, and consumers are getting more and more used to spotting greenwashing and spotting the good ones from the bad ones. So, while B Corp isn’t the perfect answer to it, it gives a good indication of whether a business has done something about it. That’s why we really wanted to be a B Corp.
In consumer products, people look at it on the packaging now, and it’s helped us make a bunch of decisions, you know, doing the right thing. It’s a really good nudge to make sure you’re always doing the best you can.
What does being a B Corp mean to you?
Laura: It means that we’re the real deal. It means we’re not just sticking it on our packaging, we’re not just doing a bit of social media content about it, and writing something about, I don’t know, carbon offsetting. B Corp is in everything we do.
So, something like an internship – we get a lot of people coming to us asking, ‘Can we be an intern? We’ll work for free’. And as a B Corp, you just can’t do that – it’s not the right thing, right? You’ve got to pay people properly. B Corp just helps us make loads of really good decisions.
Like if we had a faulty batch of products, what do we do with that? Do we just repackage everything, or do we tell people what it is and try to reduce waste? It’s been a really good framework to do the right thing and then share it with our customers.
How do you come up with new products?
Laura: We ask our customers and we do quite a lot of surveys. We did one in the summer, where we had nearly 1,000 people responding. And we asked people what products are still missing in the cleaning accessories space, which gives us ideas for what we want to do.
We’re doing an exciting project that’s backed by a government research grant, to reimagine some products, like washing up brushes or mop heads.
So, we get inspiration from customers, and then once we’ve got some prototype, we put it in their hands. They’ve been pretty brutal over the years when it’s been a sh*t product, so it’s not always made it through.
So always ask customers. That’s the secret: always ask what they think, and what they want.
What’s been the most challenging part about creating your sustainable business?
Laura: It’s the fact that it’s more expensive. I would imagine Modern Milkman, you guys got the same problem, right?
It’s really being careful about the fact that your packaging is from sustainable sources, that you’re paying a fair wage, and that all of that just adds cost to your products. And we’re in a cost-of-living crisis, so people are really sensitive to the price. So, I think that’s the hardest thing. We’re trying to make all the right decisions, but our products are more expensive. So, then you have to explain why they’re more expensive and try your hardest to make them cost effective. So that’s the one thing we’ve struggled with the most.