For the series Good Folk on this blog I have sent interview questions to some really wonderful people who are either making things, running shops, or generally promoting sustainability. I think you will enjoy reading their answers as much as I have, and I hope they inspire us all with the knowledge that there are people doing good in the world!
This interview is with Kath from BeeBee & Leaf who make both beeswax and vegan wraps to use as a reusable alternative to plastic clingfilm. Here she talks about her journey to find a solution to her own family's use of single use plastics, and how that grew into a brand that is now stocked in hundreds of independent shops as well as some very well known ones. You might even recognise them from Dragons Den!
Tell me about yourself and the work that you do.
My name is Kath Austin and I am obsessed with the natural world and its protection. I am a mother to two wild and wonderful daughters, a partner to David and formerly a successful charity fundraiser with a lifelong passion for positive social and environmental impact. I also funded BeeBee & Leaf
My love of the outdoors stems from early years camping across the UK and being exposed to muddy paddles in rivers and early morning beach trips that finished late as we trudged back to the house wind swept, salty and sandy toed. I found my inner ecowarrior early on with the plight of endangered whales being slaughtered in the 90’s, it’s never stopped and I still hold my eco warrior responsibilities very seriously.
How or why did you get started?
BeeBee & Leaf started as a sideline project looking at ways to address the horrifying amount of single-use plastics our family was getting through. After 18 months of development the BeeBee beeswax food wrap went into production. We tested the wraps with everyone we knew and quickly realised it was a solution that resonated with anyone conscious of the plastic pollution crisis.
The business seemed to grow astonishingly quickly and we scaled to produce wraps for the likes of Lakeland, Booths and Abel & Cole as well as shipping them across Europe and beyond.
I never meant to start a business, I sometimes long for the quiet life. But sometimes life drops a job in your lap and that is how I see it. We all have a responsibility to take action and care for our world. This seems to be mine.
What is your favourite thing about the materials that you work with?
The materials we work with are natural and will return to the earth via the compost heap or in the fire. It feels very grounded to use nature’s products and not create more disaster in the world.
Beeswax is hard when cold and becomes pliable with warm hands so in a way it is intriguing for fingers to play around with, nature’s stress ball!
Where can we find you on the internet/buy your work?
BeeBee & Leaf is stocked by Abel & Cole, Milk & More, Aga Cookshop, Booths, ProCook plus a cohort of hundreds of independent stockists across the UK and Europe. Our cobrand programme features collaborations with Lakeland, Fillippo Berio and The Woodland Trust among others. And of course you can visit BeeBeeLeaf.com to get your own.
What are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of our cobrand with Lakeland, they were on my wishlist from day one. Surviving Dragons’ Den with my head held high was amazing. I am very proud of my composure and how I represented the brand. I still think it’s just amazing to hear from people all round the world who have been able to stop using plastic because of our wraps.
What are your plans for the future?
Covid has halted our growth a little, but we’re definitely not alone and by all accounts we’re lucky to still be here. Our expansion plans have changed however it isn’t a bad thing. Lockdown gave me a chance to reevaluate.
We know that the future of our business and indeed our market is about collaboration and working together towards the values to which we aspire - leaving a lighter footprint on the earth. We plan to release further plastic replacement products and work with established brands to raise the profile of our alternatives.
Can you recommend any other makers or businesses that work in an ethical or sustainable way?
In our area of the market we have many friends who do some great work. Truthbrush, Elephant Box, Cheeky Wipes and Green Tulip all offer wonderful alternatives to plastic. We also love to champion producers of food like Rubie in the Rubble who take waste food from London markets to make their condiments.
Have you got a particular cause or issue that you would like to raise awareness of?
I think everyone is aware of how damaging our presence on the planet is. What happens when we hear the message over and over is we become jaded, depressed, disempowered and we tune out. But there is so much we can do on a local, personal level. Every purchase decision is direct action, raising children to value the natural world is direct action, buying less is direct action, asking more from corporations is direct action. Being imperfect but still trying is direct action.
Do you have a motto or quote that defines your practice?
We make sustainable alternatives that are beautiful and make you happy. No one will ever deny themselves what they want, long term, because of an intangible cause. To create behavioural change, to effect change we have to think about how the person using it will feel. When we tap into their motivation we win. So we made our wraps beautiful, we lead with the designs and we try to appeal to our customers' sense of aesthetic.
Do you have any advice for people trying to shop more ethically?
Number one rule: Ask yourself if you really need it.
If you do then read about the people who make the products. Once you know their story you can gauge how genuinely they want to make the world right again. No one is perfect but the passion tells a good story.
Other guides can be accreditations like GOTS organic or Vegan Society.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is not enough time in a day to do everything so my days are very strictly timetabled on the whole. I am very lucky to have David who shares the raising of our kids, running of our household and growing of our business. We are absolutely equal, he is amazing.
Through running this business I’ve realised that self-care is number one. Put your own oxygen mask on first. So I actually start half my days at 6 am with a sweaty hour of Fitcamp. I know that just sounds so bloody perfect but as I’ve reached the age of 41 I’ve realised my body will fall apart if I don’t care for it. It took me 40 years to realise this.
After that I return home to joyful screams of “mummy!!”. With David, I get the kids fed, washed, brushed and dressed for school. Then cycle off to BBHQ. By now the amazing Team BeeBee has the wax melted and the cogs of our production line turning. They start around 8 am so I am the latecomer to this party.
I usually have a catch up with the workshop and then head to the office to see our Operations Manager and Business Development Manager. Since COVID I’ve spent more time working from home so these days are about meetings, talking about our next collaboration, our supply chain, or designing our product release.
Often I can be found recording videos for our website and social platforms, my face has become synonymous with BeeBee & Leaf. I think people relate to a person, in this case a stressed out mother who is trying to do better. So the message of our wraps always comes better from me.
I’ll finish the day with trying to conquer the mountain of emails and cycle home for some dinner with my family. I refuse to work in the evenings as often as I did, I can’t sleep so I spend time reading, cooking (I am obsessed!) or chatting to David about our day before an early night.
What’s your favourite thing to do with your free time and why?
My free time is all about my kids, my partner and my friends. I love going for a run/chat with girlfriends. I love climbing trees and picnicking with my family. I love switching off my phone and laptop and going outside to soak up the fresh air. I just love being outdoors.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Think bigger and think it sooner. Don’t waste time on worrying about tiny details.
What would be the top thing that you would change about the way we treat the planet if you could?
Consumption is out of control. Production of pointless, ridiculous, damaging plastic like cracker toys is shocking. Anything produced should go through life cycle analysis to assess how it will be disposed of without causing damage.
Photographs by @beebeewraps