East Croydon Cool talks…Sustainability

East Croydon Cool talks…is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. This month we caught up with Alex Stewart, Croydon resident and Co-founder of OneNine5.

With a passion for travel and the warnings of Sir David Attenborough ringing their ears, the founders of OneNine5 are on a mission to design eco-conscious luggage with the style and functionality that matches the needs of the modern traveller.

What is OneNine5?
We’re a start-up luggage brand based in East-Croydon, we launched a couple of months back and we’ve given the wash bag (toiletry bag) a much-needed upgrade. The most common question we’re asked – “Why OneNine5?”. We’re named after the 195 countries of the world and want to encourage exploration and adventure. In light of the plastic crisis, we’ve also made it a priority to reduce our environmental impact in our practices.

Sustainability, Eco Conscious, Green, Environmentally Friendly…what’s with all the buzz words?
I hear a lot of people referring to sustainability right now. You can think of sustainability in three areas: economic, social and environmental. Of all the terms, we feel most comfortable referring to what we do as ‘Eco-conscious’. Our interpretation of this means we’re trying to do all we can to be aware of how our actions/decisions could impact the environment…but we’re not perfect and we can always explore ways to be better.  I think people are baffled by all these terms and there’s a feeling that this confusion is used for marketing gains by larger brands. It’s called, ‘Greenwashing’ and on social media, I commonly see this word aimed at fast-fashion brands. For example, if a brand is addressing one area of sustainability but at the detriment of another, it’s angering people.

What made you want to set up an eco-conscious brand?
Like most who are trying to do their bit right now, we felt compelled as consumers to try and reduce our consumption of single-use plastics after watching Sir David Attenborough’s, Blue Planet II. Interestingly, this call to action has been so impactful it’s now dubbed ‘The Attenborough Effect’. I’d have that sense of guilt as a shopper if I was using a single-use plastic bag at the supermarket or buying a bottle of water.  I then read a book by Lucy Siegle called, ‘Turning The Tide on Plastic’. Lucy suggests that to stem the plastic problem, people need to own a certain industry or area to drive that change. As a passionate traveller, I realised that the grocery industry, FMCGs and cosmetic brands were (rightly) under pressure to reduce their use of single-use plastics, but the travel/ luggage industry didn’t seem to face that same push.

What made you decide to focus on travel luggage?
In addition to this sense of responsibility I had to ‘do my bit’, I also had a bit of a light bulb moment when I was stood at airport security. I noticed the crazy proportion of air passengers that still grab single-use plastic liquid bags in the airport. The same people that would feel that guilt of using a 5p bag in a supermarket, didn’t feel that way at airports. In recent years we’ve seen cool luggage brands emerge that have upgraded the suitcase with things like built-in chargers, but I started to research and realised that the wash bags on offer felt outdated and they didn’t really represent the modern traveller. Most options on the market were very gender specific and we want to challenge that concept and build a well-loved unisex brand.

Do you have much experience in the e-commerce world?
I’m fortunate that my fellow Co-founder is from an e-commerce/branding background but personally, I spent 6/7 years working in commercial roles at a couple of big US tech companies. Given my experience, I’m forever looking at how to improve the way we work by implementing smart and innovative technology. Rather than write the traditional business plans we built the business in Dropbox Paper to enable remote working. We’re also currently using a cloud-based tool called Sellics to ensure we’re optimising our products on Amazon.

Why are Gen X, Xennials and Millennials more environmentally conscious?
The world’s become a smaller place and because of that, we feel a sense of responsibility beyond our own town/city. Historically, an issue faced by a small coastal town in the Philippines would go unreported and our grandparents would be blissfully unaware of this. With social media, a video of plastic polluting waterways can go viral in hours, we’re able to arm ourselves with the information and connect to like-minded individuals to do something about.

The growth and adoption of Instagram by this demographic has also been a big catalyst for a change in travel trends. I can hear Generation Xers tutting in dismay as I type this but an Instagram feed is no longer a collection of images, it’s a reflection of who you are and what you stand for. These demographics want to seek out a new adventure and be the first amongst friends to find that new killer location to Instagram. The social currency of ‘Instagram likes’ and this vanity helps drive this environmental awareness so Instagram’able places remain, Instagram’able.

Instagram heralded the death of the 18-30s type holidays that were stopped in October last year. It’s no longer cool to fly to a resort in southern Europe, drink an unhealthy amount of cheap alcohol and fly back to the UK more pale than when you arrived there. You’d get a load more likes on your Instagram feed if you’re at the top of a mountain with an amazing view or you’re diving with turtles.

How did you go about creating an eco-conscious product?
In our case, we asked for lots of help. We started with the idea – we wanted to reimagine the wash bag but had no idea how to actually make this happen. We spent several months contacting and speaking to UK based product designers. With criteria to assess each product design agency, it was immediately obvious that we wanted to work with the team at Morrama based in Shoreditch, East London. We felt confident their team could educate us on environmentally sustainable practices but still design contemporary and functional products that people want to use.

Aside from the product itself, is OneNine5 addressing other eco efforts?
We’ve given the packaging the same attention we’ve given the wash bag. Firstly, we’ve tried to keep the packaging to a minimum so we’re not creating excess waste. It’s well reported that local councils are already struggling to actually recycle all the materials they collect. All our packaging is made from either recycled or biodegradable material – and fully recyclable too.

We’ve also implemented a first of its kind recycling scheme in the luggage industry. Our wash bag is built to last and we want our customers to make sure it’s well used. Yet when the time comes for an upgrade, our UK customers can post their OneNine5 wash bag back to us free-of-charge, with our commitment to ensure the materials are reused or recycled. We’ve also partnered with reGAIN App as another option for our customers to ensure the materials from their old OneNine5 wash bag won’t end up in landfill or our oceans.

What’s the biggest misconception surrounding Sustainability?
I really think we’re at a tipping point now where being proactive to tackle the plastic crisis is a view shared by the majority rather than the minority. Thankfully, the perception has changed – historically, this was a concern reserved for people in beige linen and sandals. My big annoyance right now is this sense of ‘guilt marketing’ that some brands or influencers are adopting. Unless you eat a vegan diet, lead a plastic-free lifestyle and don’t do weekly beach cleans, you’re a bad person. People need to be encouraged to make small changes to their lifestyle that are actually achievable to maintain rather than some radical lifestyle change. Doing something is better than doing nothing

What brands are you inspired by?
I think Parley have done an incredible job of partnering with brands like Adidas and Corona to ensure the plastic crisis has become a mainstream problem we all care about now. The ‘Wave of Plastic’ they created last year on Old Street was super impactful.
From a product perspective, I admire what Australian brand, Bellroy have done. When they started out, they focused on an update to the wallet both in terms of style and the internal functionality. I think we can learn a lot from their approach and growth.

For more information on OneNine5 check out their website here. Or to win one of their wash bags, take a look at our Instagram competition.

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