Striving to be a sustainable enterprise is an admirable goal for any business but maintaining that status can be difficult, as Tess Lloyd and Maja Rose found out.
Lloyd and Rose are the founders of Polli, a sustainable jewellery, homewares and decorations label, which supplies 150 stores nationally as well as stores across America and Europe.
The pair met in 1999 while studying industrial design at the University of Technology, Sydney and went into business together in 2007.
“[We] met at university, studying industrial design, and we were fortunate enough to get fulltime industrial design jobs in competing consultancies when we graduated,” Lloyd told StartupSmart.
“We decided to start Polli as a hobby with the intention of staying in our fulltime jobs.”
Polli was born from the pair’s shared interest in sustainable design, craft culture and fashion. Lloyd and Rose started off selling polypropylene baskets at local markets.
While Polli quickly transformed into a fulltime venture, it initially hit a few roadblocks.
“We made these baskets and they didn’t sell that well,” Lloyd says.
“We saw a huge skip of plastic that was off-cuts from the shapes of the baskets. We loaded it all up and put all these plastic pieces into my grandmother’s laundry.
“We sorted them all into bags and then we set this task for reusing all of these pieces. We made them into earrings and they started to sell better than the baskets did.
“From there, we went into jewellery. That was the real starting point of re-appropriating the materials we use and recycling.”
To this day, Polli makes a point of reusing materials as much as possible.
“Even with stainless steel, we use every inch of the material we can, even if it means a complicated design layout,” Lloyd says.
“Part of it is just trying to reduce waste for a sustainable reason but also reducing waste to reduce excessive costs; to keep overheads low.
“It sounds simple but if you really can do that, especially as a small business, [it is an advantage].
“Being a small business and in a creative industry, it’s almost a challenge we set ourselves… If you’re clever about it, you can still make a product desirable.
“It’s an interesting design challenge but our customers definitely value sustainability. They’re typically educated women who appreciate the origins of the products.”
Like so many Australian businesses, Polli is also faced with the challenge of manufacturing locally.
“One big part of our sustainability is we make everything locally and there are limitations with Australian manufacturers and processes available,” Lloyd says.
“But being Australian-made does guarantee there are some standards upheld by manufacturers.
“It also reduces carbon emissions in freight, particularly because the bulk of our market is Australian.”
Nevertheless, Lloyd is hopeful the Australian manufacturing industry will receive a much-needed boost.
“Maybe more government support for people that do manufacture things locally – more incentives or educating people about it,” she says.
“I hope that someone seeing our top in-store for $100 is not the same person who wants that top in Topshop for $15.
“I hope there will be more value placed on things that are Australian-made.”