The Circular Approach: Decreasing Plastic Waste with a Sustainable Business
Updated: Aug 18, 2021
— The Journey of Plaine Products
Over 300 million pounds of plastic waste are dumped into the ocean every year, most of which don’t get recycled. How we live every day makes an impact on our planet. We can't let profit be our only goal — we should all aim to create sustainable businesses for good. By making ethical choices, we can slowly reduce our carbon footprints and live environmentally friendly lives.
In this episode, Christina Sjahli introduces guests Lindsey and Alison Delaplaine. Alison and Lindsey are sisters and co-founders of Plaine Products whose goal is to reduce the plastic waste on our planet. They talk about the journey of starting a sustainable business using a circular approach and decreasing waste. Since then, their business has been growing steadily at a slow and sustainable pace.
Are you a mission-driven female entrepreneur who wants to scale a sustainable business for good? Do you want to make a career out of providing solutions for the world? If yes, then this episode is for you!
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
You will find out how much plastic waste has been damaging our planet and how we can make a difference.
Learn how to face the challenges of innovating and financing your product, from research to development.
Take inspiration from Lindsey and Alison's business journey — from scaling a sustainable business to providing solutions!
Visit Christine Sjahli’s website! Learn more about innovating and scaling your business through the Her CEO Journey podcast series.
Episode 101: Embracing Purpose Entrepreneurship and Becoming a B-Corp: The Journey of Carla Heim and Kasha Huk
Chat with Christina and set up a time here!
Identify the financial gaps that can stop you from building a profitable and sustainable business. Download this quiz!
Download this Action Guide to help you make clearer business decisions that balance your purpose and profits.
[5:57] The Beginning of Plaine Products
The idea of Plaine Products started when Lindsey was working in an environmental education nonprofit.
There may be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.
Their lightbulb moment began with thinking of a practical and sustainable business for reusing plastic bottles.
“Well, even if this isn't as successful as it would hopefully be, it'll be a great educational tool to teach people that this is a problem. And we just wanted to make people aware of what's going on.”
[9:31] The Issues Plaine Products Addresses
We’re conditioned to not think about our waste. We are convinced that disposability and convenience are the most important things.
Plaine Products is an awareness campaign.
[10:13] Lindsey’s Blind Side
The bottles must look good and aesthetically pleasing.
They had to go through five different manufacturers before finding a good one for their product.
Lindsey likes to go get started, while Alison acts as the brakes to slow down and ensure quality.
The balance between the two sisters’ personalities made a huge difference in launching a sustainable business.
[11:34] What Was Going on Before the Launch
The sisters spent their time learning, calling people, asking the wrong questions, and getting to know bloggers.
Neither of them had a personal care background, so everything they did was the first time anyone had ever done it.
They had to figure out how to educate consumers on what to do with the bottle and how to send it back.
It was a process of becoming a part of an amazing community of sustainable businesses.
[13:27] The Biggest Challenge During Research Phase
The material to use for the bottles was their biggest hurdle.
They initially thought to use stainless steel. However, steel rusts and higher-quality steel would be prohibitively expensive.
Plaine Products eventually settled on aluminum.
The design and cost of the bottle had to align with their company’s vision of sustainability.
[14:23] The Beginning of a Sustainable Business
They had to do a lot of research, decide on the packaging, and look for different manufacturers.
There's no point in creating environmental products and then dumping environmentally unfriendly chemicals into them.
There are many questionable products, so they narrowed down what manufacturer they would use by setting a high standard.
[15:41] Designing the First Plaine Products
Plaine Products launched with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
Most products on the market today are mostly water. Plaine Products primarily uses aloe.
Their product needed to be super concentrated to last longer, which also cuts down on shipping.
As they started researching more about ingredients, they decided that going vegan is the direction they want to head.
[18:39] Managing Finances During Research
Creating a new formula and asking somebody else to make it is an expensive process.
Ask yourself, “What already exists that we can afford?”
The sisters completely bootstrapped every bit of the way, both while working other jobs.
Being very frugal helped the two sisters manage their funds.
“We were just very frugal. We only spent money when we absolutely had to; we called in a lot of favors...And we did as much of it ourselves as we could.”
They got friends and family to help with other aspects of their business, such as marketing and logistics.
[21:17] Challenges in Terms of Innovation, Product, and Process
Alison was able to innovate their packaging design despite the circular approach to their business that hasn’t always given them a lot of room to innovate.
Plaine Products went through multiple cardboard companies for their packaging but eventually found one that used 100% recycled cardboard.
It’s always a process of constantly making everything more streamlined and simpler to use. There’s something new every day that we could innovate and make better.
Plaine Products is continually learning and keeping an eye on what new technology is out there.
[24:24] Step-By-Step Processes in Scaling
Lindsey’s background in nonprofit management helps her keep a close handle on their finances.
They have been growing at a steady, organic, sustainable pace.
After paying their people, whatever they make goes right back into the business to buy more for their product.
[25:35] Keeping a Sustainable Pace
Plaine Products sometimes turned down marketing opportunities that would have taken them to the next level but would have required a huge amount of product.
They don't put a lot of money into marketing and advertising. Instead, they work with a lot of influencers.
As part of the research process, they got to know many people in the green beauty and zero waste space.
It helps to delegate so that you don’t burn out. Alison and Lindsey hire people to help them so that they can take a break.
“We've been growing but not at a crazy pace; not at a don't-sleep-constant-24-hour-a-day pace, which I think has been good and has allowed us to not outstrip our capital.”
[27:28] Why a Loan and Not Investors?
Plaine Products became profitable early on because of low overhead and sweat equity.
Investors may push you to grow faster than you can or want to grow, make huge marketing choices, or add products your company may not be comfortable handling.
Lindsey and Alison preferred to retain control over their company, so they chose to use debt financing.
“We made the choice not to take on investment. And we made the choice to do this debt financing so that we could continue to retain control.”
[28:50] The Structure of Debt Financing
They started with a small business loan and decided on a regular commercial loan because of their profitable business.
Plaine Products financed their renovations using cash flow from their business to prevent further debt.
While further debt could have paid for all renovations at once, they elected not to take that option. However, a little cash infusion makes things faster and less stressful.
[30:46] Vision for Plaine Products
They hope to keep growing more and starting more pilot projects.
Plaine Products wants to have another warehouse in the West to help reduce their carbon footprint and reduce shipping.
“My vision is to just see more and more products and more and more companies thinking about things in a circular way.”
[31:32] Metrics to Measure Progress
Plaine Products' primary impact metric is the number of plastic bottles they've eliminated or replaced — 300,000 bottles since they started.
From a company perspective, they use subscription renewals, churn, growth of new people, and gross on socials.
They also check if people are talking about them and if they’re a part of ongoing conversations.
[32:08] Going Global
Going global would need a separate operation.
You don’t want to be shipping bottles back and forth across an ocean.
[32:32] When Your Business Needs a Part-Time CFO
A CFO is vital to keeping an eye on critical aspects of your business, such as projections and cash flow.
A CFO can help you understand your company, especially if you don’t have a business background.
Lindsey meets with her CFO every quarter. Every business is a little bit different, but you always need to have a handle on your numbers.
Regular check-ins with a CFO help you see how your company is performing, especially concerning others in your industry.
There are lots of data-driven questions that a CFO can help you answer.
[34:45] Their Advice for Female Founders
It helps to have partnerships and relationships with other people.
Word of mouth is the best way to grow a sustainable business.
Ask questions and be curious. A lot of people are scared to let people know what they don’t know.
Curiosity is important. People have a fear of being judged, especially for female founders.
About the Guests
Lindsey and Alison Delaplaine are sisters and co-founders of Plaine Products, a sustainable and eco-friendly personal care business. Their goal is to reduce plastic waste in the world in the most sustainable way possible.
With Lindsey's background in nonprofit management, she has made a career out of providing sustainable choices for many. With Alison's degree in design, she has ensured the best quality control for all their products. Together, they've carefully curated and designed everything that goes into their product, making sure it's free of chemicals and nothing is wasted.
Plaine Products is a sustainable business and is certified vegan and cruelty-free by PETA. IN 2021, they received the Real Leaders Impact Award for solving business problems in socially constructive ways.
You can contact them here through their email: Orders@PlaineProducts.com or call them through 513-248-2017. You may also fill up this online form through their website.
“I was pretty clear about where my blind sides were getting into something like this. So I called my sister and asked her if she would do it with me because we are an incredible balance of skills together. Together we make the perfect person.”
“Our consumers are educated on what they are supposed to do with the bottle when they're done with it, how they can send it back. It's this whole language that we created.”
“‘What already exists that we can afford?’ We worked with existing bottles. We found this manufacturer that had a formula that we could white label. We were going about it and we ordered the minimum of everything that we could order. That's how we went about it. We completely bootstrapped it every way."
“There's something every day, it seems, that we could innovate and make better.”
“Those metrics; how they're changing, what we need to be aware of, how we're performing compared to others in the industry, which is again, something I wouldn't have a clue about, not having a background in these things to be aware...Just lots of data-driven questions that I probably would never get around to. It's important to know.”
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To fueling the life you want to live,
Lindsey Plaine: My vision is to just see more and more products and more and more companies thinking about things in a circular way. And I hope that we're right in there mixing it up with everybody else that's doing it. We count how many classic bottles we've eliminated or replaced. So we're just about to hit 300,000 since we started. That's probably our main sort of impact metric.
Christina Sjahli: Most of us likely aware that the earth's surface is 71% water, and 96.5% of this water exists in oceans. And I remember learning this back in elementary school, but honestly, I was oblivious; oblivious to the fact how we live everyday had an impact on the oceans. The sad part is, I grew up in a third-world country. And there was this one big river going across the city where I live, but instead of a blue clean water, the river was filled with plastics and garbage, the water looked filthy. It didn't occur to me at the time, the damage done by plastics to our planet, including the oceans. 17.6 billion pounds of plastic end up in the marine environment every year. Toxic chemicals used in our day-to-day life end up in the ocean, one way or another. We are learning as we go. And at a personal level, I tried to make changes in how my family lives everyday to be more conscious of the impact we have on our planet.
But in our humble opinion, the best learning tool to create this change is actually by talking to female founders who create the future we want. That's why we are curating this podcast series featuring female founders who are building businesses to create the future we want and the future we need. They also consciously choose long term viability over short term profit; they bootstrap. And all of them are scaling and building meaningful profit. These female founders are also part of a global community of 4000 B-Corp certified businesses. If you are not familiar with B-Corp certification, in that case, I encourage you to listen to Episode 101 at christinasjahli.com/herceojourneypodcast where you can learn about B-Corp; why it matters and the certification process.
Throughout this podcast series, you will learn that having a social mission means the company's long term viability takes precedent over short-term profits. As a result, these founders and CEO do not take investors' money. Instead, they bootstrapped and found alternative financing to support their growth. Today's episode is part one of three of the Business For Good series. Lindsay and Alison Delaplaine are the co-founders of Plaine Products. They are on a mission to get all the plastic bottles out of the bathroom. They share the innovation Plaine Products continue to undertake; not only to remove plastic bottles out of the bathroom, but also to create non-toxic products and reduce plastic waste overall, how they create profitability within four years, the type of alternative financing they choose to support their business growth and the benefits of having a part-time CFO.
You're listening to Her CEO Journey, the business finance podcast for mission-driven women entrepreneurs. I'm your host, Christina Sjahli. If you are new here, a big warm welcome. If we are not connected on LinkedIn, please reach out and say hi because that's where I hang out and share my business finance steps. If you have been listening to this podcast for a while and you are a regular listener, I want you to know I appreciate you. My podcast won't be around without your support. This is a free weekly show where my guests and I want to inspires you to balance between mission and profit to create an impact in this world and to achieve financial equality through your business for good.
When you choose to build a long-term viable business over a short-term profit, knowing where the financial gaps are in your business becomes more important than ever. This is where the quiz I have created for you comes in handy. This quiz can help you identify the financial gaps that may stop you from building a long-term viable business that is profitable. You can find the link to the quiz in the show notes. And I encourage you to take this quiz, then take action to fill in the financial gaps. We are here to partner with you. We understand business finance can be confusing, but it doesn't have to be complicated. You want someone who is as passionate as you are, and takes your business to the next level. Once we show it to you, you will understand and trust your financial numbers. We make sure you are making business decision with your purpose, front, and center. Connect with us at christinasjahli.com/let-s-chat.
Now, let's find out Lindsey and Alison's CEO journey. Lindsay and Ali, welcome to Her CEO Journey. It's a pleasure to have you both here.
Lindsey Plaine: Thank you. We're thrilled to be here.
Alison Plaine: Thank you.
Christina Sjahli: I'm excited because two sisters, co-founders talking about sustainable products, plastic waste, and everything else. So before we get started and dive into more details, I'm going to let you share what is your journey like.
Lindsey Plaine: It's been quite a journey. Either one of us took a direct route here. My background is actually in nonprofit management. That's what I did for 20 years before we started this, and Allie has a design degree and did interior design. I was working for an environmental education nonprofit. So we were doing a lot of cleanups and you physically see all the plastic in the islands. There's not the same infrastructure there that there is here to make things disappear. So you'd see the plastic on the beaches and the waterways. And I heard this back, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. And that just hit me hard. So I started doing the things that we're all doing now carrying the reusable water bottles and the straws, escaping the straws, carrying the reusable bags. One place I couldn't find a solution was all of those little plastic bottles in my shower. And it really started to bug me honestly. So I think my lightbulb moment was in the shower. And this is gonna betray my age a little bit but I started thinking about Netflix. I don't know if you remember when they used to like send you the DVD, and then you'd watch it.
Christina Sjahli: Oh, yes. I remember that. I still remember Blockbuster, so...
Lindsey Plaine: There you go. We're in the same category. But I was like, "Why can't we just do that with bottles? Why can't I just use a bottle and send it back?" And I was like, "That's actually not a bad idea." And my husband's from the Bahamas. But as a family, we were talking about moving back to the US. And I wanted to take a break from nonprofits. And I was pretty clear about where my blind sides were getting into something like this. So I called my sister and asked her if she would do it with me because we are an incredible balance of skills together. Together we make the perfect person.
Alison Plaine: And I, of course, said yes because anything my sister does is successful because she's such a hard worker. So I was running a business with my husband, just a small business. We already had UPS coming to our house every day to pick up packages, I was like, "Sure, I can help. I'll just pick up. Well, if I ship a few boxes a day, it won't be a big deal. We can turn the garage into the warehouse, no big deal at all." But four and a half years later, we are way beyond that. And it is very successful.
Christina Sjahli: I know. It's exciting because–
Alison Plaine: I had no idea what I was agreeing to. But as I predicted, she would make a huge success of it.
Christina Sjahli: So okay, I'm curious, though, Ali, did you see the same issue? How did Lindsey even pitch to you to join this journey? I'm curious about that.
Alison Plaine: That is interesting. I was kind of like, "Well, I could see..." And I'm a much more practical hands-on person. So I was like, "Well, how are you going to design these bottles to last? And it's got to be aesthetically pleasing for someone to want it in their shower." And I grew up visiting the Bahamas as well and visiting her so I could... I knew this was an issue. And, I think, I took it from... Well, even if this isn't as successful as it would hopefully be, it'll be a great educational tool to teach people that this is a problem. And we just wanted to make people aware of what's going on. And here in America, "Yay! I just put my trash out today, got picked up. I'll never see it again." But that's not what's happening on these small islands and ocean communities. And who knows where my trash is actually ending up today?
Lindsey Plaine: I feel like we're really conditioned to not think about it. I mean, there's a whole industry that's trying to make sure that we don't think about it, that's convinced us that disposability and convenience are the most important things, and we shouldn't have to worry about it. And so I really feel like, especially, when we're getting started, we were swimming upstream a little bit and asking people to think about these things. But I do think once you do start to think about it, once you see it, you can't unsee it. And you start to realize all the things that are going on. So what Ali said is true, we really consider this as an awareness campaign. And maybe that's the nonprofit girl in me as much as the business.
Christina Sjahli: So what was your blindside, Lindsey, that you've realized that you had to ask Ali to join you?
Lindsey Plaine: Well, when she said it's important that the bottles look good and are aesthetically pleasing, that would be a blindside for me. I'm about problem-solving but I'm probably a little too pragmatic. And Ali, also, has this amazing sense of smell and this amazing sense of what's the right product and how well it works. So I would have probably gone with the first manufacturer we tried who it was terrible but I was just so excited to get started. "We'll figure that out. It'll be good." She's like, "No, this is terrible. Nobody wants to put this in their hair, we have to keep going." And she forced me to go through four or five different manufacturers before we found a good one. And it took time, and I was impatient. And I threw together a bottle, and she's like, "That looks like a five-year old drew it. Let's hire designer. And that's gonna take time to and you're gonna have to be okay with it." And so that balance made a huge difference. There's no way we would have been this successful with what I probably would have originally put on the market.
Alison Plaine: And if it was all me, it still wouldn't have launched yet because I'm definitely the brakes and it's got to be perfect. And we can't do this yet. And she's like, she says, "Go," and I say, "Stop." So we meet in the middle, and it's worked out.
Christina Sjahli: Okay, so from May 2015 until you launch on Valentine's Day 2017, what was going on in between there?
Alison Plaine: There was never an agreement that we were going to launch on Valentine's Day 2017. We were supposed to launch in October. First of all, I will just say we spent most of the time just learning; asking questions, calling people, realizing we ask the wrong questions, calling back emailing people, got to know a lot of the bloggers in this space. Neither one of us had a personal care background. We were making up the reuse of bottles as we went along, just trying to figure it out. Everything we did was the first time anyone had ever done it. So we were inventing everything, how that how to teach this process because, really, our consumers are educated on what they are supposed to do with the bottle when they're done with it, how they can send it back. It's this whole language that we created, and the product. My hair went through terrible times of really bad product. My poor family, I feel like, "Now try this one." And they were like, "Ugh." It's been nuts. Maybe it was fun. We always can laugh about it but it was fun learning. Everything we have done is starting from scratch because no one's ever done anything like this so it all took way longer than we anticipated it would.
Christina Sjahli: And then that was only about six years ago. And nobody realized this. Nobody had done this.
Lindsey Plaine: It was just really coming on the scene. I would say plastic really only started to make international news just in the last few years. I think we were incredibly lucky in our timing. But nobody was really talking about this much when we were getting started. And then since then, happily, we've become a part of a really amazing community of sustainable businesses.
Christina Sjahli: What were the biggest challenge during this research phase? Is it figuring out the material to use for refillable bottle? Is it finding the right manufacturer to formulate the ingredients? Is it finding the right suppliers for bottles?
Alison Plaine: It was all of that. They were all a huge hurdle. And we're all going on simultaneously in that pre-stage of launching.
Lindsey Plaine: We actually originally thought we were going to use stainless steel. And we have these adorable mason jars made. And we got them and then they rested. So we had to pivot. And that is how we ended up at aluminum. It turns out not all stainless steel is created equal. So we couldn't afford an even higher quality of stainless steel and the prices would have been crazy for the products. So that's when we were going to launch in October. It was with stainless steel mason jars. And then we had to redesign everything. And so we ended up on Valentine's Day just because, literally, it all finally came together. We have the bottles, the website, then we have–
Alison Plaine: The website, yeah.
Christina Sjahli: If you can put it in steps. What did you do first at the beginning?
Lindsey Plaine: We originally started with the bottle because that was the original idea. Now, we wanted to have this different packaging. So we started researching that. And then at the same time, we were trying to figure out how we were going to get something made to be put in it. I think I had this crazy idea that we were like make it ourselves and add sense in that. And thankfully, that I quickly realized that that was a horrible idea. And so then we started looking for manufacturers, and those were going along at the same time. And at some point, we realized that, "Oh. There's no point in creating this environmental packaging system and then dumping a bunch of chemicals in it." I became very educated on what kind of crazy chemicals are in most mainstream products. I can spare myself a relatively educated person but I had no idea about the detergents and the endocrine disruptors and all sorts of questionable things that are in a lot of mainstream products. So we were like, "Well, let's not use any of that," which again, helped us narrow what manufacturer we were going to use. We had a pretty high bar.
Christina Sjahli: So what was the first product did you launch–is it just the shampoo and conditioner? Because I know you have a lot more now.
Alison Plaine: And body wash.
Christina Sjahli: Oh.
Alison Plaine: Didn't we do all three, Lindsey?
Lindsey Plaine Yeah, yeah. It was all three.
Alison Plaine: And the great thing about them, the reason we finally decided on this manufacturer also was because the main very first ingredient is aloe. And if you look at 99% of what's on the shelf at any grocery store, it's water. And so our product, we're thinking, well our carbon footprint is really important for environmental company, so we want a super concentrated product that will last a lot longer. So we are not paying to ship water back and forth. And that it was all vegan, which was really important. And that has become a really big part of our business; that wasn't ever planned initially. It was, I think, what Lindsey was saying, as we started researching ingredients, we realized, "Wow. This is the direction we want to head."
Christina Sjahli: We're there a lot of manufacturers that use aloe for their ingredients?
Lindsey Plaine: No.
Christina Sjahli: So I remember when I was little, again, back in Indonesia, my sister didn't have a lot of hair. So my mom would put all this aloe every other day, and then the smell is not amazing. How