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This month we talk to Marie Callan, founder of URBAG®, an environmental initiative to reduce plastic waste.

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We launched this exciting initiative to end plastic waste in dry cleaning. We call it URBAG®.

It’s a 3-in-1 laundry, duffel and dry cleaning bag designed to make going to the dry cleaner easier, more convenient, and with zero waste.

Made of plastic bottles rescued from landfill and sewn by social enterprises who provide training and employment opportunities to women facing marginalisation, URBAG® is an initiative driven by a strong societal and environmental spirit.

“I previously ran a number of charities and start-ups with a focus on helping build a better future and eliminating plastic packaging.”

 
Plastic garment bags in dry cleaning is such a big waste and no one seemed to be addressing this issue. And so, while on maternity leave, and after many prototypes and conversations with industry leaders, URBAG® came to life.

Thankfully, my previous experience meant I was able to navigate the initial hurdles of setting up a business more easily, having experienced them before.

Cloud-based technology and tools also make it easier and quicker for start-ups to set-up the administration side of the business.

Marie Callan, founder of URBAG

As a small organisation with a shoestring budget, it was difficult to find suppliers and manufacturers to take me on board as a client.

We were very selective on the quality and ethical standard of our business partners. We managed to develop a good relationship with an ethical fabric supplier in Spain who accepted a minimum quantity order, and have partnered with social enterprises in London to manufacture our first bag collection.

Finding an industry partner to run the pilot project with us was the second biggest challenge. Luckily, we approached the most forward-looking dry cleaners and were lucky to meet the right partner early on.

Being pregnant with my second child at the time was a challenge, but it didn’t impact the development of the project in the end. I managed to get strategic partners on board during that time.

“I was lucky to meet forward looking businesses who believed in the project and didn’t see my pregnancy as a hindrance.”

 

Another challenge was the search for suppliers and manufacturers. They often see start-ups as a high-risk client. Equally, start-ups can’t afford the economies of scale that come with large quantity orders.

I convinced an ethical fabric manufacturer to supply me with some very high quality fabric, and I have partnered with small scale social enterprises to sew the bags.

Startup business accountancy services
When lockdown started, we were about to receive our first batch of bags and launch the pilot project to promote the bags in store and online.

Unfortunately lockdown stopped the production, and we had to postpone the launch all together. I took this as an opportunity to focus on the end of my pregnancy, and take some time off. It also allowed me to think through my strategy again.

Although dry cleaners have remained open during lockdown, a lot of them have suffered a significant loss.

“People working remotely and not being able to go out means less garments and suits to dry clean.”

 

Our strategic partner and dry cleaner DROPLET and I decided to go ahead with the launch when lockdown was lifted last year, bearing in mind the time it would take to change customer behaviour and business processes.

Customers have welcomed the initiative very well so far, appreciating the innovative design and quality of the bag.

Local high street shops have also started to support our initiative in the area in which we ran the pilot project – Balham, South West London. They’re spreading the word about plastic-free dry cleaning to their own clients.

URBAG reducing plastic waste in drycleaning

We also started with The Accountancy Partnership, who have a good and affordable service for start-ups. They advised me on setting up consignment agreements with key strategic partners, and how it will work from an accountancy standpoint.

In the future, we plan to to approach other dry cleaners in the South West area of London to partner with.

“The next step in growth is to look for funding and ethical manufacturers with a bigger production capacity.”

 

We are also setting up stage 2 of our development, with the launch of a mobile app connected with the bag.

Visit the URBAG® website to learn more. To find out about our online accounting services for startup businesses, talk to one of the team on 020 3355 4047, or by hitting the live chat button on screen.

About The Author

Elizabeth Hughes

A content writer specialising in business, finance, software, and beyond. I'm a wordsmith with a penchant for puns and making complex subjects accessible. Learn more about Elizabeth.

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