If you’re looking for commercial cleaning products that are toxin free, plastic free and are made in Australia by a social enterprise, look no further than Resparkle.
Pearl Chan is on a mission to create a plastic free future for our families and she’s helping people get started in their homes. In this episode Pearl will share her journey from being a corporate banker to founding and growing an eco business that’s become a leader in toxin and plastic free home cleaning products.
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Welcome Pearl. Thanks so much for coming on Eco Chat. I’ve followed your journey for a few years now and have loved seeing your business Resparkle evolve into what it is today – a leader in the sustainable cleaning space.
Would you mind sharing what kicked this all off for you? What led you to take those first steps to disrupt the home cleaning industry?
Well, first up, I have to say it, I really hate cleaning. I didn’t start a cleaning business because I love cleaning! I had this burning desire to create a more purpose led business that could create a positive impact. I think desire originated from me being a little bit distracted in my corporate career as a banker. When 9/11 happened, it was like a massive wake up call for me. I was working in a high rise building with a fancy office, and I just imaged all the life that was lost in those buildings that looked exactly like mine. I was 29 years old at the time. I asked myself would I be happy with the life I lead if a plane through that window in the morning? And you know what? The answer was obviously a big no.
I began researching products that people use every day, when I discovered cleaning products were made of 90% water and only 10% active ingredients. I really questioned why we’re transporting litres of water and so much plastic across the country, when we are fortunate enough to have clean water from our taps. That didn’t make sense to me. I thought that, you know, this is something that I could possibly improve on. And that led to my invention creating a concentrate that people just add tap water too. And that was about 6 years ago.
How are traditional home cleaning products damaging our environment?
Those traditional cleaning products are not just damaging to our environment but our health as well. First of all, manufacturers don’t have to declare the ingredients in their cleaning products. So when I got into this industry, I was really shocked by what is in our cleaning products. Some ingredients are known to be cancer causing, known to cause asthma, known to irritate your skin and it’s no wonder that a lot of children have really bad skin issues or asthma. So the impact on our health is really bad.
What people don’t think about is how it impacts our environment as well such as the amount of single waste plastic created and also air pollution and water pollution. When you wash with chemicals the end up going down your drain, out into the rivers and comes back to us in the food chain. What goes out comes back somehow.
Cleaning is something that everybody needs to do, and everybody wants a clean and healthy home environment. But there’s not enough awareness about how it impacts our health.
I still remember cleaning the shower in my first pregnancy with a chlorine bleach and just almost passing out. And that was when every cleaning product in my house was natural. But I held on to this bleach for so long, because I thought, oh, this is the best thing for my shower, and I hadn’t found anything to replace it. And then I found out that bleach doesn’t even clean it, it just bleaches things! I doesn’t effectively kill the mould, it just covers it up!
How does Resparkle differ from other eco cleaning products?
We are very particular about the formulation. I’m not a chemist myself. But I’m very particular about all the ingredients that go in there. So right from inception, I was adamant that all the ingredients had to be non-toxic. I just really wanted to make our formulation as natural as possible.
Formulating natural ingredients can be very expensive. I used the savings I got from using less plastic and less transport.
The number two thing that I’m pretty proud of is our products really, really work. I grew up in Singapore and in Singapore people love to clean!
With our recent innovation we can now proudly say that they are no longer packed in plastic pouches or bottles. The sachets itself are made of corn and corn is a bit noble source compared to plastic which is made from fossil fuels, even paper is made from trees and trees take a long time to grow. So corn is something that’s really quick to grow and very renewable. And it can be home composted as well.
I love it. I’ve used some of your latest products with the refillable sachets, and they were very easy to use. You just get this small little sachet and you just add it with water at home, mix it up and voila, you’ve got your product!
How do your plastic free products work? Take us through the steps of setting up and using your award-winning foaming handwash, for example.
The hand wash comes in a really nice glass bottle with a silicon protective sleeve. So if you have kids and they drop it, it won’t break and even our pump is made out of stainless steal, not plastic. The whole bottle itself is designed to last.
If you buy the start kit, it comes with the glass bottle plus a full sachet which you dilute with about 400ml of warm water, leave it for 15-20 minutes and the solution will be ready to use on your hands. It’s a really simple process. You can literally stock a whole years worth of foaming handwash in your cabinet, it takes up hardly any space.
What have been your biggest challenges to date growing Reparkle and how have you overcome them?
The biggest setback that our business faced was last year when Covid happen. We were put in a very difficult situation when we couldn’t secure new packaging supplies. When Covid hit, our cleaning stock was just wiped out like in matter of weeks and I had no more products to sell.
When I tried to secure more packaging supplies, there were basically no bottles, no pumps, no caps available in Australia. We could have tried to go to China, but China supplies prioritise big brands and expect you to place large orders, like 100,000 bottle orders, which isn’t feasible for a small business like me.
So at the time, I had a choice, I could wait until the packaging supplies become available and go back to plastic in the interim. Or I could look at how I can do better, try to innovate, to reduce even more plastic.
When I was loading the dishwasher, I was looking at the tablet. And I thought hey, you know, why can’t all cleaning products be in a powder form? Because once you take water out of the equation, you take plastic out of the equation.
I went searching into whether or not we could formulate something that was in in a powder form. One thing led to another, and about 12 months later after working with chemists we are really happy with the final outcome. And I’m really surprised at how much better it actually works. Because I think when it comes to a powder concentrate, it’s literally the purest form of the ingredients that you can get.
It’s great. And it’s got that added benefit for the environment. You’ve got your compostable sachets that you’ve already explained, but so much greenhouse gas emissions are emitted by transporting all these plastic bottles full of liquid all around the country and around the world if our products aren’t manufactured locally, plus the emissions going into making the plastic in the first place. Resparkle has significantly reduced those emissions by transporting sachets compared to bottles. I really take my hat off to you.
I like how Covid has helped shaped your entire company and pivot in a much more sustainable direction. It really is a little Covid success story. And of course, you won a national award for your foaming hand wash!
I’m very thankful for the challenge that Covid presented our business. I mean, it was emotionally draining not having products to sell. I’ve been in a business for over 5 years and had never been put into a situation like that. I never wanted to put myself in that position again, relying on supplies for bottles, so I invested quite a lot of money into the machine to make the sachets.
How did you bring your existing customers on this journey with you, when you were forced to pivot and change your product offering ? How did they respond?
When I had no product to sell, honestly, a lot of them were really frustrated. It was at the time where they wanted to clean more than ever, yet I had nothing to sell. So I felt really, really bad. I think I spent a big part of last year apologising.
When we did our soft launch in October 2020, we sent the email out to our database, and we sold out in two weeks! We got a lot of customers saying, my god, this is so worth the wait, and you know, good on you. And since that launch date we have been get really good, consistent, five star reviews from our loyal customers and we haven’t done any big marketing push yet.
How important is it for you that your products are manufactured locally in Australia by people with disabilities?
Well, I have a minor hearing disability myself, but it’s nothing compared to what others have to go through. It’s very frustrating and challenging thing to have to live with a disability and not have your full sensors. It can really impact your career and can also be very isolating socially. So I’m personally very passionate about giving these people a fair go. If you’re willing to work, I’m willing to give you that chance to work. And I’ve found that they are super proud about being a useful member of society. Whenever I go down to the warehouse run by Brunswick Industries, all of them are just really happy.
I wish so many more people thought like you. I’m the mother of a son with disability. I don’t talk about it too often, because I spend my day to day advocating for him. He’s autistic, and it’s challenging a lot of times. My main worry is not knowing how he is going to go standing on his own too feet one day, and its just so important to know there are employers out there who are employing people with disabilities. People with disabilities have so much to contribute to society. As a mother, I just want to thank you for making an effort in that space because other businesses will follow. It has a ripple effect.
Where to next for Resparkle and Pearl Chan?
Well, this is gonna be really exciting for us. We are actually planning an equity crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to help take us to the next level. The reason why I want to do this crowdfunding campaign is because it’s my way of giving back to my loyal customers, my community, I want them to be part of our success, I want them to have a stake in the vision that I have for a cleaner future. So giving them a stake in my company is my way of doing that and at the same time it will raise funds and these funds will go towards creating more brand awareness and with a brand awareness more people will choose eco friendly versus your traditional cleaning products.
Where can our listeners go to learn more about Resparkle?
And if you’re growing an eco business and want support with the digital marketing AND sustainability aspects of your business, I encourage you to check out my Eco Business Collective. Eco Business Collective is where I combine my extensive environmental engineering and business experience to support you to make your eco businesses more sustainable and more profitable. Members receive personalized coaching support from me and a network of connections to help them grow a thriving and profitable eco business online. Join now and enjoy a FREE 30-day trial and the opportunity to lock in special foundation member pricing.
Over to you!
Have you made the switch to plastic and toxic free cleaning products? Share in the comments below!
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