HLN Meets: Lauren Wedderburn of Something Good
The last time we caught up with Lauren, she had just opened the doors to her brand new business, where customers were encouraged to bring in their own containers to buy packaging-free goods. Now, just one year and a global pandemic later, we find out how the eco-friendly premise of Something Good is surviving (and thriving despite) COVID-19
Remind us what Something Good is all about.
We are a zero-waste, environmentally-friendly store on Jesmond Road in Newcastle. We offer shoppers all of their daily essentials – including cleaning products, toiletries and food – without the packaging. Customers usually (when we’re not in a pandemic!) bring in their empty jars, tubs and bags with exactly what they need – weigh it, pay for it and enjoy it!
Without packaging, how can people tell what they’re buying?
Ingredients for all of our unpackaged products are displayed at the point of sale: so either in the product description when ordering online for collection or delivery, or on the product container itself when shopping in store (which sadly we can’t do at the moment because of the pandemic).
When the loose items are weighed, our scales print out a handy label which lists any allergens, so nothing leaves the store without the allergens being clearly pointed out. We’re always there to chat to our customers about what’s in our products and answer any questions they might have, and we recommend anyone with allergies to have a chat with us for their own peace of mind before shopping with us. I suffer from food allergies myself, so I know how important this is.
What challenges have you faced since getting the business off the ground?
I created Something Good to disrupt the way in which we consume the things we use every day, so from the beginning, the challenge was always going to be getting people to buy into the idea. And our wonderful community definitely have! But, of course, the biggest challenge right now as a small business with a bricks-and-mortar store is surviving the pandemic. We haven’t been able to operate as we’d planned to when we opened our doors just five months before lockdown. We switched to a click-and-collect and delivery service at the beginning of April last year, as we simply can’t make the concept of bringing your own containers and refilling them yourself work at the same time as doing everything we possibly can to keep us and our customers safe. Adapting has been expensive and exhausting, and with no government support available to us other than the furlough scheme (as we sell food, we’re treated the same as Tesco or Sainsburys), it’s definitely been a case of just keeping going, one day at a time. But we have a wonderful community who have stuck with us, so we’re very hopeful for the future.
You were an architect before starting up Something Good – what was the incentive behind starting your own business in a totally different field to the one you trained in?
I was becoming more and more frustrated in my day-to-day life with waste. Waste is a design flaw, and it’s also a massive part of the problems we face on planet earth – plastic waste, food waste, throw-away culture, it’s in every part of our lives. My designer brain was questioning everything. I was wanting to buy a beautiful shampoo bottle and keep it forever and just refill it when it was empty, rather than throw it away. Thankfully, there are lots of places where you can do that now, but back when I was starting to develop the idea for Something Good back in 2018 there was nowhere that offered that way of shopping in our city. So I set about making it happen! I’d always wanted to run my own business and create something from scratch, too.
How and where do you source your products?
Our product collection has grown organically over time. I might see something online – Instagram is a fantastic tool for finding out about designers and makers doing great things! – or a customer might ask for something we don’t currently have, or another small business owner might come to us to tell us about their products. Then lots of research goes into finding out whether or not it’s right for us. I’ve built Something Good around the idea of championing other local independents too, so I’ll always start close to home if I’m looking for something in particular.
I want our community to know that if we sell a product then we’ve done everything we can to make sure that it works well, it will last, and it’s sourced as ethically as possible. We’ve done the leg-work so you don’t have to, and we bring it all together in one place.
Have you got new stock since we last caught up?
Lots! The product collection is always growing and changing based around what our community is asking for – so keep the requests coming folks! Soon after we last spoke, we added our refillable oils and vinegars collection, which has always been a hit; we launched a range of letterbox-friendly, ‘postable’ cleaning, laundry and personal care refills at the beginning of the pandemic for those who weren’t able to get to us as easily during lockdown; our locally-made collection has expanded to include vegan skincare, natural deodorant, and biscotti; we’ve expanded our food range to include things like sauces and cordials made from surplus British produce, and crisps in compostable bags; and we’re just about to launch the most eagerly anticipated product to date – barista-grade oat milk on tap!
Sounds amazing! What are some of your favourite Something Good products to use yourself?
I’m really proud of how we source the products we sell at Something Good. I do the research and then buy some as a customer first – if they’ll let me that is, often they’ll very kindly send me samples to try out! But it means I’m lucky enough to get to eat and use everything we sell. If I don’t love it, we don’t stock it (apart from nuts, as I’m allergic).
If I had to pick my three favourite products, this week it would have to be:
- Our pear and ginger cordial, which is made from surplus British fruit that would otherwise be wasted. It’s delicious and makes a simple, refreshing drink with cold water, or an amazing cocktail with a cheeky bit of amaretto – which I just discovered at the weekend!
- Nutritional yeast flakes. The most unglamorous name for something pretty amazing! They’re great for jazzing up vegan meals. I’m sprinkling them on everything at the moment, the flakes add a delicious cheesy, ‘umami’ flavour to any dish, (fun fact – ‘umami’ directly translates to ‘delicious savoury taste’!).
- This one always seems to make it onto my top three list: our natural, refillable deodorant balm made in the North East by our friends at Kiibok. It’s just. SO. GOOD.
This is still a pretty new concept for a lot of people, so let’s do some myth-busting!
With COVID having made us all more germ-conscious, how do you ensure food hygiene?
With package-free shopping, it’s important to move away from the image of the ‘weigh-houses’, where people used to just put their hands into bags and produce would sit at the bottom of a sack for too long. I’ve invested a lot into modern equipment which is completely air-tight, keeps the food in rotation and makes sure that customers don’t come into contact with the food. We’ve got a 5* food hygiene rating (the highest available) from Newcastle City Council, so it must be working!
What about cost? Is it cheaper to shop this way?
That’s a good question and one that I get asked a lot. Lots of the food items in our plastic-free pantry – herbs, spices, beans, dried fruit, etc. – are cheaper because I can buy them in bulk and pass that saving on to my customers. Often you’re paying for the packaging!
Some things are more expensive. For example, you could buy washing up liquid for less in the supermarkets, but the products aren’t comparable. A product might be cheaper in terms of financial cost, but we also have to consider the environmental cost of damaging chemical ingredients (ours is completely biodegradable), and the plastic bottle (ours is plastic-free), and the social costs involved in how it’s made – how much the workers are paid, is it tested on animals, etc.
Some of the products we sell, like our reusable food wraps for example, are investments. It’s about changing your mindset. The wraps might cost £20, but they will last for years and years and you only need to buy them once. When you consider cost per use, it will be more cost-effective than all of the rolls of tin foil and clingfilm that you would have otherwise bought in that time.
And quality? Is there any compromise there?
Absolutely not, and I know my customers agree! I think a lot of people benchmark quality against how well-known the brand name is, which is something I’m working hard to challenge. So many of our products are made by other small businesses who care passionately about their products – they’re made by hand with a lot of love, which really shows in their quality. Our pantry staples are also amazing quality and lots of them are organic. I’ve been told by lots of our customers that our brazil nuts and porridge oats taste way better than Waitrose (just saying…!).
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love being part of the community my customers have created. People shop with us every week and so many of them have become my friends. I feel very, very lucky for that. We’re achieving a lot of good things together, from reducing plastic waste to planting trees. We didn’t really get much time before the pandemic to use our shop space for the gatherings and workshops we had planned, but I’m excited for that to happen soon. And obviously, I love all the creative parts of my job: sourcing new product collections and meeting new designers and makers, creating content for the website and social media, and designing the shop space. I’m always redesigning the shop space!
One of the main barriers stopping people from living more sustainably is the difficulty in finding eco-friendly products and shops. Are there any other businesses in the North East like Something Good that you’d recommend?
I think the North East is a really exciting place to be right now if you’re looking to live and shop sustainably. Not just with increasing access to zero-waste and plastic-free shopping with businesses like Something Good, but there seems to be lots of exciting conversations happening about how businesses are putting ethical production, sourcing and selling at the very heart of what they do. Some of my current favourites are Bellwoods Lifestyle Store (for a curated collection of beautiful indie homeware), Found and Curated (for the most stylish collection of vintage and pre-loved clothes you’ve ever seen!), and Pamoja (for clean and conscious vegan skincare).
What would you say the North East is like for sustainable shopping? Have you noticed more people taking an interest since you started out?
Absolutely! We welcome new shoppers and refillers every week, and have done even during the pandemic! More and more people are recognising the importance of challenging the status quo. Every new customer that comes through our door seems to have had their lightbulb moment, where they look around them and see the plastic waste that comes from shopping in the mainstream supermarkets, and they’re excited to have found a different way of doing things. Sustainable, ethical shopping is definitely gaining more and more momentum and we believe everyone should have a version of Something Good on their local high street. Where plastic-free grocery shopping can become the norm and contribute to the local economy, rather than to the wealth of the big corporations.
What advice would you give anyone looking to start living a more sustainable lifestyle?
I’ve built our whole brand around the idea that we can all do something – something good, see what I did there?! The whole zero-waste/plastic-free movement is amazing and it needs to happen, but it can be bloody overwhelming! The whole way we consume ‘stuff’ has to change, but it’s never going to change all at once. So the best piece of advice I can give is to just take it one step at a time and take it slow. When something you already own needs to be replaced, research into a more sustainable alternative. For example, when your bag of disposable make-up wipes runs out, why not invest a fiver in a set of reusable ones that will last you for years? It might not feel like much at the time, but each little change you make will slowly start to make your own lifestyle more sustainable and less wasteful. And imagine if everyone made the same little sustainable swap as you? It all adds up.
What are some of the easiest swaps shoppers can make to become more eco-friendly?
I’d say my top 3 tips are:
Shop plastic-free. Find your local refill store for plastic-free pantry staples, cleaning, hair and body care refills, etc. The supermarkets are full of plastic packaging, so why not try your local high street for loose fruit, veg and bread and pop them straight into your own reusable bags.
Shop plant-based. We don’t all have to be 100% vegan, but moving towards a more plant-based lifestyle is one of the most powerful things we can do to lighten our human footprint on our planet. And again, I’d recommend taking it one step at a time. Why not switch to plant milk on weekdays, for example. And it’s not all about food, either – why not do some research on the ingredients in your skincare and, when it runs out, look for a plant-based alternative?
Shop local (and in season). Often the products you find in small, independent shops are made or sourced from closer to home, meaning less miles travelled and less emissions. Buying seasonal produce helps too – if you’re buying strawberries in winter, they’ve probably had to travel a long way.
Something Good is open throughout lockdown, offering a click-and-collect and zero-emissions delivery service. Pantry items come wrapped in recycled paper so you can refill all of your jars at home, plastic-free. Liquid refills come in returnable glass bottles (just like the milkman!). Sustainable shopping made simple. To order, visit the website. Or to find out more, visit their Instagram. or Facebook p