A zero-waste innovation

What does beauty look like without single-use plastic?

Hi, I’m Wing Sze Tang and you’re reading The Knowhow, a weekly newsletter about ambitious women doing noteworthy things, and other stuff I find fascinating. If this issue was forwarded to you, add your email below to join the list.


When it comes to conscious consumerism, I have lots of conflicting (?) thoughts: We can’t shop our way out of this climate crisis; we still have to buy stuff. Individual choices matter less than systemic change; supporting brands that do better is a big deal. Sustainability is a marketing buzzword; sustainability is crucial.

I try to be more mindful, but often feel eco-guilt. So the message from beauty startup Everist—“Imperfect environmentalists welcome”—speaks to me. Maybe buying this instead of that won’t save the world, but rethinking the way we do things is a start.

MEET THE FOUNDERS ON A MISSION TO SOLVE BEAUTY’S PLASTICS PROBLEM

When Jessica Stevenson and Jayme Jenkins decided to join forces, they didn’t yet have a product in mind. Instead, the Everist co-founders had a question: “We started with, ‘How do we get single-use plastics out of beauty?’” says Stevenson. Despite having tons of industry experience, collectively spanning 20 years—Jenkins hails from P&G and The Body Shop, and Stevenson from Revlon Professional and Nude by Nature—they didn’t have an answer. And it would take two years of ideation to land on one.

The light-bulb moment happened when they spotted a trend in an entirely different category: home cleaning. The two noticed some cool startups built on the insight that conventional cleaning products are practically all water, topped up with a teensy bit of active ingredients. “So these brands were selling concentrates you mixed at home with water,” says Jenkins. “We thought, Hmm, that probably has an application in beauty.”

Taking the concept of concentrates into haircare made the most sense (although the actual formulating proved to be a serious challenge—more on that later). “Shampoos and conditioners are 70 to 80 percent water. They’re almost always in single-use plastic bottles. So you’re paying to ship these heavy plastic bottles of essentially water around the world,” explains Jenkins.

The duo secured investor support early on from the likes of Wonderment Ventures, Good & Well and the female founders of Knix and Smythe. Now, after 18 months of concept tweaking, Stevenson and Jenkins are ready to launch their zero-waste innovation, the Everist Waterless Shampoo Concentrate and Conditioner Concentrate.

Made with ingredients like vegetable glycerin, coconut-derived surfactants (cleansing agents) and aloe vera, the cream-pastes come in aluminum tubes and lather up when water-activated in your shower. Read on for my recent chat with Stevenson and Jenkins on their zero-waste plan, carbon-neutral commitment and R&D feat.

Interview has been edited for length, clarity and flow.

How do you define zero waste? I always thought it was straightforward, but I was talking to another beauty brand that said, “Oh, we have zero-waste goals,” and when I asked a bit further, it was clear they defined it in a looser way, shall we say.

Jenkins: You’re so right; there’s a lot of different language in this space. Some brands are using “green.” Some are using “sustainable.” Some prefer “low waste” to “zero waste.” For us, deciding to use the word “zero waste” was really purposeful—it forces us to be accountable for every element of our business and come up with a plan to get to that net-neutral place. If we were “low waste” or “sustainable” or “green,” I don’t think we would be going as far as some of the choices we’ve made, because they’re very expensive and have an impact on our business model.

So first and foremost, the product is much smaller in terms of size and weight, so we have the lower carbon footprint to start. The tubes themselves are 99.7% pure aluminum. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, unlike plastic, and it’s the most widely recycled material in the blue bin because it has such a high resale value. When you’re done with your tube, you just unroll it flat and put it in your recycling bin.

The caps were the only place we needed to use a little bit of plastic. Because we know only 9 percent of plastic is ever actually recycled, we devised a program called Cap Back: All our products come with this little cotton bag, where you collect your caps, and when it’s full, you go to our website and get a return shipping label we pay for.

All the external packaging is made with recycled kraft paper, so no new trees are being cut down. All the ingredients are biodegradable and plant-based. They’re not from petrochemicals, so no microplastics.

In terms of our wider business practices, we’re a partner of Climate Neutral, so we’ve committed to being completely carbon-neutral. And we’re a member of 1% for the Planet. We do acknowledge there’s no perfect “zero waste.” But we’ve tried to think about every element of our business.

Why do you think the beauty industry or Big Beauty hasn’t dealt with the issue of sustainable packaging until now? Because it’s kind of late in the game, right? If we’re being honest, we’ve all been thinking about the environment for a really long time. Why aren’t there more companies like yours, venturing into this space and taking an innovative approach?

Jenkins: I think it’s really hard for Big Beauty to do. Just because they have an established business model. They have margins they’re used to, and they have to show that growth. It’s hard for them to do a pivot that’s so extreme, without kind of alienating their existing customer base. And then in the startup space, where we are, it’s hard to have that expertise in the product development side to formulate this way.

Stevenson: Our patent pending is on the formulation. There actually isn’t anything like this on the market, which is kind of crazy. Obviously there are shampoo bars and powders, but these are all dry forms. And then there’s of course your liquids, which all have water.

So from an R&D perspective, getting into this sort of concentrated waterless paste was very challenging. We basically keep those powder-type surfactants kind of suspended in this organic solvent, which is the vegetable glycerin or aloe vera. And then the formulation gets activated by water in the shower, where it swells and we build up our lather. It was quite an R&D feat.

What can we expect to see next from Everist?

Jenkins: We plan to be cross-category for beauty. We’re launching a couple more SKUs in haircare, and then also into personal care. Our patent concept extends to body wash as well, and there’s also skincare in the pipeline. But we’re always really keeping in mind this kind of “minimalist hero” strategy in terms of what we’re launching, and keeping it really curated.

Stevenson: There was that whole, you know, “extending the routine” trend, but I think now it’s about simplifying. What are those hero products? Once we get going, we’ll be asking our zero-waste, sustainable community: What are you missing in your routine? How do we provide solutions that make it easier? It’ll be a conversation as we evolve.

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LAST BUT NOT LEAST

If you’re wondering who’s writing this:

My name is Wing Sze Tang, and I’m a freelance journalist. I’ve spent my career telling stories for some of Canada’s biggest magazines. (Find some of my articles here.)

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