It’s that time again, when our new year’s resolutions are hauled out, dusted off and given a little revamp for the year ahead. Do more exercise, eat healthier food, get more sleep and detox all our delicious festive season indulgence. But perhaps what that means for you is choosing a healthier and greener lifestyle for 2017, and if that’s the case you’ve come to the right place!
To kick off the new year we had the exciting opportunity to conduct a Q&A session with Robyn Smith, the founder of Faithful to Nature, our favourite earth friendly online store. Established in 2007, (www.faithful-to-nature.co.za) is South Africa’s most established online organic and natural store with a truly authentic eco-friendly inventory of over 11 000 ethical product options. Faithful to Nature is continuously expanding their catalogue in order to provide consumers with ethical alternatives for all their needs, helping them to choose “better, greener and more ethical products”.
Robyn answered a couple of our questions about how and why she started Faithful to Nature, some of the challenges she’s faced and gave us some of her favourite green life hacks.
Green at Heart: What made you decide to start your own ethical business and how did you decide that selling ethical and earth friendly products was what you wanted to centre your business around?
Robyn: After university, I found myself with my “bum in the butter” working in a sought after innovation consultancy in London. It truly was a dream job but still something was missing and I recognised within myself that my work had to have a positive impact on the world around me, for me to find true satisfaction in my daily output. So before Faithful to Nature had been conceptualised I knew that whatever I did, it would need to be something that uplifted people and the environment. Faithful to Nature, as an idea however, was only birthed when I returned to South Africa about 10 years ago. I was an avid consumer of natural and organic goods by then myself and when I struggled to find any clearly labelled or distributed products of this nature back home, I saw the opportunity to provide a much-needed ethical shopping platform.
Green at Heart: What were some of the challenges you faced with starting your own online company and how did you overcome those challenges?
Robyn: Back then both the e-commerce and the natural and organic industries were in their infancy and both concepts were pretty novel to most South African consumers. As a result, we had a fair amount of education to do to encourage people to buy ethical goods online. I threw myself into creating content rich newsletters as a way to start discussions with our small but growing customer base on what constituted a toxic-free product.
The courier industry was also very undeveloped and it was a struggle to be able to offer our customers the level of service we wished to when delivery was so much more expensive and inefficient than it is now. We solved this by working as positively as we could with the post office to offer a competitively priced delivery service to our customers as well as by seriously upping our game on all other levels of service delivery – such as personally written thank you notes, hassle free returns and free samples in every order.
Green at Heart: How does Faithful to Nature research and test all ingredients and do you have a specialised team in charge of this?
Robyn: Over the years we have developed a vast database of ingredient research and knowledge that we rely on. Our policy is that if there is contention around an ingredient that we would prefer to steer clear of it, especially if there are alternatives in the market. In the case of say permanent hair dye that in itself is a controversial category, we will find the safest products to offer our customers, but with clear warnings in the product descriptions. We believe that ingredient transparency is the right of every consumer.
We do also have a small team that are tasked with ensuring that we stay abreast of the constantly changing ingredient research out there. We do not do ingredient testing in a lab as such but we maintain our very strict ingredient policy by scrutinising ingredient lists to ensure that no potential nasties are lurking. Unfortunately many suppliers with the very best of intentions are not even aware that their products contain ingredients with potentially toxic preservatives, emollients or surfactants. We also ask our suppliers to prove any certification claims.
Green at Heart: Do you try to promote proudly South African products over imported products, as SA products are more sustainable and have a smaller carbon footprint, or do you leave it up to consumers to make that choice?
Robyn: Yes absolutely. We are very weary of stocking imported products where there are available options for that product on the South African market. The localisation of our economy is a key organic principle. In the case of say reusable coffee cups or organic tampons, where there are no local alternatives, we ensure that the products are very clearly listed on the website as being imported. In fact, to help promote local products, we even have a product filter on our left-hand navigation that will allow customers to only view locally made products.
Green at Heart: How do you find/source new earth friendly and ethical products that you would like to include onto your website and does social media play a big part in this?
Robyn: We are constantly on the hunt for new ways for our customers to green their lives and so have a small team that scours both the markets and the web (including social media) for any new additions to the market. We also get positively bombarded daily with suppliers offering products to us to be listed as well, and this really helps us to stay abreast of our product procurement.
Green at Heart: How does Faithful to Nature as a company endeavour to lower their carbon footprint and water usage?
Robyn: We are very mindful of the way we package our goods and in fact have a novel policy (even globally) with regards to this. We re-use all incoming boxes that are undamaged to send out customers orders. These boxes may not look great but it is a great environmental saving, and also a platform to educate new customers, as we make a note of pointing out that the boxes have been reused (when they have.) We also do not buy in any plastic packaging like bubblewrap and will only re-use it when it has come into the warehouse with incoming stock.
We do not do any manufacturing so use very little water naturally for a company of our size, but do what we can to help water education and conservation by stocking non-toxic cleaning products for grey water systems and procuring water-saving gadgets such as the new water warrior which very easily allows our customers to install their own grey-water systems: Slightly Greenish Water Warrior.
Green at Heart: What are your top five green life hacks you would recommend to our readers?
Robyn: I believe that over and above the use of non-toxic products it is imperative as a society that we start becoming more conscious of single-use plastic and water conservation. The following hacks are ways in which my family do their bit:
1.Try and find a local fruit and veg box scheme or buy your groceries from markets as much as possible to reduce plastic waste coming into your way. Where it is unavoidable that we are bringing in plastic bags with say the toilet paper we buy, or pasta etc., we always open the bags carefully and then fold them away to be re-used when we take our dog for a walk and need to pick up her poo. This ensures that do not need to buy plastic bags for walks.
2.Make it a habit to always keep a few reusable shopping bags in your car to prevent having to ever buy bags. We take our fresh bags to the shops or markets with us to avoid even having to use brown paper bags too. Get into a good habit of saying no to bags when you buy odds and ends like clothes, flowers or other bits and pieces as these bags add up too.
3.Consider how you can become more independent to single-use waste when you are out and about. We have purchased glass straws and reusable coffee cups and keep these available in our cars and handbags. We seldom get take-aways but another hack is to take your own storage so you don’t have to get your food in single use plastic packaging there too.
4.Installing a grey-water system is so easy it is almost a crime not to have one. The water warrior makes it possible to do it yourself and then all else you need to do is to ensure that you are using biodegradable toxic free cleaning and cosmetic products in your home – which obviously has all sorts of other benefits too.
5.Be inspired by the difference you can make with educating and encouraging your kids to become eco-warriors. I am constantly amazed by my son’s response to litter, waste, re-use and care for the environment by talking to him about why we do the above hacks and by reading books like this one to him.
Green at Heart: Can you recommend your top three green gift ideas?
Robyn: Tough choice as we have so many on offer but these are three gifts that I do adore for their positive impact on the receiver:
These GroWild are 100% compostable handcrafted bags that make wonderful gifts whether you are gifting a fever tree or sunflower patch.
The SOW Delicious Gardening Gift Box is another awesome option. This gift set includes: two ‘compots’ – planter pots made from organic material that will function as compost when planted into the ground – and SOW Delicious Slabs of Seed (mixed tomatoes, mixed Italian herbs and mixed basil).
DIY starter kits for kefir, kombucha, yogurt, cheese or sprouting are fun, functional and very novel. We have a huge selection here.
Thanks for your useful advice and helpful tips Robyn! It’s really exciting to see how Faithful to Nature has grown over the last few years and to see more and more South African consumers making greener and more informed decisions about the products they choose to buy! We are looking forward to being able to hop on board that green train and collaborating with Faithful to Nature in the future.
For more on any of the products Robyn mentioned as well as many more, check out the online shop below.