Stories of Sustainability is a series where founders of sustainable brands ask each other some questions about their journey and their vision of the future. We spoke to co-founders of Sojao, Jan and Priscilla about their motivations and aspirations as sustainably-minded businesses.
1. What inspired you to start this business emphasizing sustainability?
Pris: It was quite organic really haha (pun intended). I was shopping for sheets for the first time in my life and I couldn't find a brand that I really liked or could relate to. All the nicer, quality sheets were also really expensive and the budget ones were really bad.
So I saw a gap in the market and started researching into what makes good sheets. Cotton was a winner for its natural softness, comfort and extreme durability.
However I soon discovered that conventionally-grown cotton is one of the dirtiest crops in the world, with heavy pesticides and insecticide use, which was bad for both the farmers and the environment in the long run.
Organic cotton on the other hand, grown without any synthetic pesticides or insecticides, and using primarily rainfall to sustain the crops, was a winner in my eyes. The rest is history!
Terry: Thanks for sharing Pris :) For me we approached sustainability from a different perspective. The direction in which we took our business was based on ensuring that everyone in the value chain benefits - from the farmers all the way to the consumer. Sustainability has become part of that equation as it was about ensuring that the environment was also a beneficiary of our process.
2. What are some common misconceptions you've come across about sustainable products?
Jan: That they’re expensive. We want to help break this notion down, and so we’ve priced our sheets as fairly as we can, so that more people can purchase and support sustainably-made items for their homes. I think it’s about changing people’s mindsets as well, and getting them to think about the makers and the amount of work that goes into the products they buy.
Yes, sustainably-made goods have a slightly higher price point, but that’s primarily because the people behind them are earning fairer wages, working in a safer environment, and the quality you get is higher as well.
So part of our ethos is to help people to realise that sustainably-made goods is a modern-day necessity, and not just a luxury.
Terry: Absolutely love that ethos Jan. We share the same experience as well. Singapore customers can be price-sensitive, so it’s important to help them understand the process and value of how our products are made.
3. What would the world look like if sustainable products were mainstream?
Jan: That’s the dream! I think we’d see a more equitable society, one where the income inequality gap isn’t as wide, and one that’s kinder all around too.
Gary: It would be an interesting scenario. I imagine costs of things to increase, and perhaps there will be a shift from the quantity of products and brands produced; to a focus on producing quality and innovative products. We might be able to afford ‘less’, but to me, this less is more when it is made better.
4. Can you recall an interesting moment in your journey when building this sustainable business?
Pris: There’s so many! We loved travelling to India and actually meeting the farmers behind our organic cotton. It was an eye-opening experience, meeting a few of these villages where our support for their organic cotton crops has helped to affect their lives for the better, such as building better school infrastructures for the village children and enabling the women to be able to work in the fields as well as take care of their families. It was a good reminder that there are far-reaching effects behind our purchases.
Terry: That’s amazing! We miss meeting the farmers behind our nuts and honey. Producing most of our natural food products in the Philippines is a nice circumstantial situation but we’ve been very fortunate to have met so many hospital Filippinos in our journey. I remember when we went to Bicol for the first time. Little did we know how many transfers and waiting was involved. We finally got to one of the pili nut farms. Boy were those trees massive. At it’s most mature age, it would take eight men to wrap their arms around its trunk.
5. Self-care is a key topic today. How does what you do support those who need better care for themselves?
Jan: Well, great quality sheets definitely help with a great night’s sleep! We spend a third of our lives asleep, so it’s important to invest in what helps you get better rest. With our expansion into organic towels and organic loungewear, I feel that we’re helping people to take better care of themselves in more ways, in their everyday lives. It’s not just about putting aside pockets of time for self-care, but incorporating that into your lifestyle that’s sustainable for your well-being and mental-health in the long run.
Gary: It took a global crisis for humanity to realize how important it is to self-care. Wellness as always been at the center of what we do, from the clean foods to the clean beauty we’ve brought to market. Mental strength is what we all need to weather this situation. What many are not aware is that both Terry and I are certified life coaches. We decided to use our skills and time to help our community, so we recently launched group-coaching sessions called Wellness Wednesdays to allow for them to explore their issues, challenges and goals.