The setting : It was a busy Thursday at a well known chain coffee place.
I saw Lauren sanding in the queue and recognised her right away as all entrepreneurs have that glow of freedom and spark in their eyes… the one that says …
“Yes I can meet people midday and have a relaxed coffee, deal with it”
The first time I heard from FILL, it was through Facebook. Searching for specifically environmentally friendly businesses and packaging free shops. At first it was the search for organic products around High Wycombe that lead me to her page, but then it’s jealousy that kept that business in my mind.
I had personally dreamt of setting up that business model, I had that romantic idea of running my own shop, working for myself and bringing the gospel of plastic-free living to my culturally very mass-consumption oriented town.
But back to reality. Which isn’t grim either. It was a sunny day, Lauren showed up with her son and occasional assistant, Rory, who’s also a massive flirt. I swear he winked at me!
Already I felt, this woman got her …stuff…. together. A young kid, she smiles and looks healthy… the rest of our meeting made me wonder how she manages….
We introduced ourselves, I explained what we do at A Woman’s Network. We concurred on the difficulties of suburban (can we even say country?) living, how everything seems to be happening in London and how the logistics and cost of finding adult (no, not that kind) entertainment often simply whisper “stay in your onesie, mate” to your hears.
Then I heard some more mind-boggling stuff.
If you think about it, packaging-free or loose pick selling is not a new thing. In fact, it only seems business have lost the plot a bit by starting to package bananas because they thought, we customers preferred that.
Of the hen or the egg, who knows what came first? Was it pre-washed lettuce that was so convenient we started preferring when coconut are wrapped in plastic?
Anyways, Lauren started telling me about how she started to question our shopping habits when she saw friends abroad having more choice…
This is where FILL comes from, the right place. The one that sees something wrong and decides to do something about it.
And as you would expect, it has not, and seems like, will never be easy:
Lauren is trying to change a culture. That’s some though thing to do.
Lauren has a family. Two gorgeous sons, and although it sounds like it’s a modern one, even when the workload is evenly shared between mom and dad, it’s still a lot of work.
Lauren still has a part-time, shift job that sounded really stressful: she’s a flight planner, whaaaat?!
So you’ll understand, when she looked up places and groups such as Plastic-Free-Maidenhead, she saw a gap she could FILL… (see what I did there? 😉 )
It started with organic product, because why not, along with a format that respects the environment, also buy the content that fuels your health. And as it turns out, because let’s face it sometimes organic is just a label and “regular” products can also be healthy, her customers started asking for more variety in the range. So Lauren is engaging a whole new approach. Still responsible products, still plastic-free packaging, and on top of all that, more affordable.
It has been quite the learning curve. Lauren did not study business, she did not learn how to create a new supply chain from a school, or accounting, or marketing. Like most of us, she relied on what proved to be a very sensible instinct.
Trial and error, and learning, and adapting is what Lauren did. And adapting she knows. I mean she’s a mom, right?…
She downplayed her resourcefulness and attributed the goodwill from her suppliers and customers to the fact that she is a young entrepreneur and that her concept intrinsically fosters curiosity in people, and ultimately serves all of us as a community.
Coming back to the romantic business ownership dreams, she mentioned that her business model: selling and delivering from a cool, fully self-fitted van, lends itself quite easily to the exciting side of things: festivals, fairs, markets (queue mental pictures of sunny summer days, busy stalls and happy people)
You may have also seen Lauren at the Maindenhead Vegan Market.
Let’s not forget about the food waste aspect. It isn’t something you would think about right away, but with unpackaged buying comes the flexibility of buying just what you need, instead of the quantity a business defined for you. Which results in less waste.
With now a range of over 100 products ranging from pasta to beeswax wraps and hair conditioner, Lauren now offers this clever and sustainable solution to every room of the home.
I felt put to shame.
Even when we touched on the subject of gender bias, Lauren was adamant she felt she hadn’t been treated differently for being a woman. Maybe entrepreneurship allows women to define their own work-self. And because Lauren lives and breathes her business it sounded incredibly positive to know she hadn’t seen any glass ceiling in her endeavour.
We also talked about the support one’s family and friends offer to someone taking on such a challenge. Lauren confessed to often using her husband as a sounding board and how that gave her to chance to confront her ideas to someone else’s perspective.
It is also also about finding a network of synergies, such as she found with Plastic-Free-Maidenhead. Another group lobbying for a change in our shopping habits. It is reassuring to know your idea is sound and what you sell, you aren’t the only one to have an interest in. It helps in knowing you aren’t alone, you’re not crazy.
This trend for sustainable living we see growing lately is, we both hoped, will be a fundamental change to our perspectives and for us all to understand how we all need to adapt and correct a few mistakes we have grown accustomed to making, as consumers.
After all, The biggest challenge Lauren could think of wasn’t that she threw herself into unknown territory with this business, but rather to find the balance. Allowing yourself to dedicate time to family, social life, but also to give it her best shot. Putting all the chances on her side and making sure that whatever happens, she wouldn’t have to regret either loosing opportunities for quality time with her husband and boys at a crucial time in their education, or not having tried hard enough, having work the hours, having delivered to that one more customer.
It is not simple. Lauren excels now at time management and commitment to a schedule, like working out in the morning before the boys get up.
It is another point to not forget. You are still your own person and have to take care of yourself physically and mentally.
Chances are if you build your own business, pursuing that idea will be part of your mental health, but finding time to relax, or workout, or catching with friends is definitely something that one shouldn’t loose sight of.
Lauren’s note to others was in the end quite inspiring. After pushing this business baby of hers, she still believes hard in relying on a network, on knowing how to ask for help.
You might be able to do it all alone, but it would be gruelling, and sharing experiences with others is what helps you grow. And the relationships you built on this foundation will probably nurture your motivation and help you see support may come from unexpected places.
After all It is your baby, and you don’t want to let someone else take the credit, but don’t they say it takes a village?
Then Rory started chewing on his crayons so it was a sign he had had enough of this noisy coffee place.
So mom had to start packing up before it would turn into a tantrum, because “no, crayons are really tasty”.
So thank you, Lauren.
It was absolutely invigorating meeting you. And I believe I speak for the every member when I say Welcome, and hope to see you at our next events!