Charlie has been an entrepreneur for quite a while. On her travels she was making money from showing tourists the hotspots of the area you wouldn’t find in any travel guide. She got close to the local wildlife and has been obsessed with the protection and conservation of our wildlife ever since. Out of her passion for our nature, she came up with the idea for a zero-waste travel kit, which she brought to life with help of a kickstarter campaign just last year. We wanted to know, how starting a business based on an idealistic vision has worked out for her so far.
uncutbread: When you first had the idea of your zero-waste kit, how big did you dream? Did you plan to pull off a startup right away or were you just going with the flow to see, what’s at the end of it?
Charlie: This idea went a lot like my other ones – feeding off this desire to create, initially paying little attention to the logistics; like “can I financially see this through?”. Let’s say I dream big enough to truly believe that my idea can ignite real, widespread change, that in some way, it can better the world. But, of course, I am not immune to self-doubt. And that is a big part of my go with the flow process.
It looks a little like this:
Stand too close that I forget the big picture
Self doubt (money, worthy idea etc)
Reminder of greater purpose
Turn to flow
I dreamt of the kit in the hands of everyone, I dreamt of the state of mind I hoped it would bring, of responsibility, empowerment and freedom.
‘Dream big’ or ‘let’s see’ – What would better describe your mindset and how would you say it has helped you with bringing Keep Gaia Wild to life?
I tend to gravitate between the two. Although the state I allow myself to rest in most often is the dreamers state of mind, that is the one that brings most action; and a dream will forever remain a dream without action. An action starts with self-belief and belief in the cause itself.
What brought KGW to life was this odd sense of duty. We’ve been told, with knowledge comes responsibility. Well, over the five years I spent in Costa Rica, I became more and more aware of the oceans illness. Once I became aware I couldn’t close my eyes to it. And thus a decision came in front of me: either be aware and do nothing, or do everything.
Your zero-waste kit was funded through crowdfunding. Did you ever worry your idea might get copied?
I hope it will get copied. This isn’t a business masquerading as a good cause. This is a good cause masquerading as a business. The more it is copied, the more awareness is spread and that is a net positive.
A zero-waste kit is, without a doubt, a brilliant idea. Had you still critical voices around you that challenged your idea? How did you deal with it?
The only difference between this idea and others that haven’t gotten off the ground is that I kept moving one step forward. Not because I had no self-doubt, but despite the self-doubt. A small action every day. Seeing the changes people were making, choosing a better future despite the inconvenience of breaking habits. That has continued to keep me going. I still have critical voices that challenge me, but more powerful is the quiet knowing that I am doing exactly what I am meant to.
In many cases, and I’m also speaking out of experience, suppliers require a minimum purchase quantity, which is often impossible to cope with for self-funded startups. Have you had to face similar challenges, and how did you overcome them?
Most definitely. My project required I source for over 10 different products. After a lot of research I found to have a specific design, pattern or sustainable material used, meant I needed to order quantities of 500 at the minimum. When came the time to transition dream to reality, looking at the dollar amount I needed to get this going, I lay the options out in front of me. I was able to raise an initial investment from close friends and family – enough, matched with my own savings, to satisfy the minimum orders, without sacrificing material quality or sustainable sourcing.
If you really believe in your dream, it comes down to doing what is necessary to find your way. For a cause this important, no minimum order was going to stop me.
As a company that wants to save the world, it probably goes without saying that your partners and suppliers have to meet certain criteria themselves, when it comes to sustainable management and ecologically friendly supply chains. In many cases that means a higher purchase price for you (or me), which might be challenging for a young startup. Did you have to make compromises at the very beginning or could you maintain your high-value requirements for your partners? How?
That’s a great question. At the beginning, it would often seem like a decision between compromise or failure. I kept asking myself, ‘should I try, do as much as I can to make it as sustainably and ecologically sourced as I can, knowing I will fall short in some categories. Or do I not try, wait until somehow, whether it’s having more money or more connections, no compromises need to be made’.
The compromise I ended up making, was on my profit margin. I took more time, did extensive research, and finally found the right companies and manufacturers to work with. I sourced from Canada and the United States where I could, paid a higher price for recycled materials and learned how to ensure very little packaging was being used in the production and shipments to us.
There is most definitely still room for improvement, and my requirements and expectations from my partners, and myself, are only getting higher as I learn on which areas the improvements need to be made.
I’m really enthusiastic about your kit (and would have supported it on kickstarter, would you ship to Germany) and the realness of your brand, and I would consider you somewhat fearless. Are you? Or do you have any concerns/fears, especially regarding your company?
I first realized I was afraid of everything when I moved to Costa Rica. It was the first time I was truly far enough from my comfort zone and completely alone to deal with it. I was terrified of the ocean, of snakes, of having to go home without anything to show for my experience. One after another, life kept putting things in front of me that I was afraid of. So – I learned to freedive, I learned how to catch snakes if they got into my house, how to open up coconuts with machetes and how to surf a wave. It is not whether you have fears, I believe we all do, it is about whether you lean into the fear, or do you let it immobilize you?
When it comes to Keep Gaia Wild, I have one real fear. Today, part of our problem is consumerism. We buy more than we need and throw out more than we realize. I don’t want to be contributing to that problem. I want our kits to be useful, to inspire a new mindset and to help people transition to a more sustainable lifestyle, not be part of the consumer problem.
What is the one thing you would do if you had no fear at all?
Move from thinking to doing. We think about dropping everything and buying a plane ticket to somewhere we’ve never been. We think about learning to play the guitar. We think about writing a book. We often live in the thinking space. Even though it’s not always fear that widens the gap between thinking and doing, often times it is, and because fear takes many forms, it’s easy to be unaware of it as fear. So if I had no fear at all? I’d do everything, whatever calls my desire most.
Is there a non-profit project or organization you find inspiring and would like to see supported?
I am continuously inspired by many non profits that are popping up around the globe. Take 3 For The Sea shows how little actions can make a difference. The NGO Greenpeace International does so much good work and puts in so much effort with their effective campaigns.
The nonprofit organization that has truly inspired me the most, so much so I wanted to join their efforts on a trip a few years ago when my journey as an environmentalist began, is Sea Shepherd. They deserve all the support for everything they have done. If we are talking about ACTION, these guys are true heroes in taking action and fighting for our planet and all that live on it.
Thank you for these questions! They took me on a fun journey of introspection and gratitude!