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Kindness Collective is March's Featured Business of the Month

Mon, 19 March 2018

Irina Fedorenko won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in March 2017 for her business, Kindness Collective.
Irina Fedorenko won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in March 2017 for her business, Kindness Collective.

Kindness Collective, formerly known as BubbleNut Wash, sustainably produces natural detergents made of soapnuts (Sapindaceae berries) that provide a cleaner alternative to chemical-intensive products, decreasing the number of chemicals released into the environment and enabling the reuse of "grey water". Grey water is the relatively clean water leftover from washing up, taking a shower or using the washing machine. Chemicals, such as phosphates and sulfates, used in many detergents mean that releasing this wastewater back into our waterways can cause eutrophication, where a freshwater ecosystem dies due to continual oxygen depletion. By using a totally natural alternative, Kindness Collective is keeping our environment cleaner.
Kindness Collective aims to be kind to people as well as the planet. The social enterprise offers a sustainable source of income to over 200 members of their all-female cooperative community in the Himalayas and the lack of phosphates and sulfates means the products are gentle on buyers’ sensitive skin as well.
Following a recent rebrand, we sat down with Irina to catch up with her and see what’s next for her award-winning business, Kindness Collective.
What was the inspiration behind Kindness Collective?
I am trying my best to lead a sustainable lifestyle, and I knew about soapnuts, but when I moved to England I didn't see them in any shops. So, when my college mate suggested he was thinking of creating a business using soapnuts from his home community in India, it resonated with me strongly. I started working on the business plan and managed to win several awards to develop this project. 

How did you get into entrepreneurship? Did you always want to go into business for yourself?
Like all great things in life, this has happened by accident. I never planned to become an entrepreneur and I spent most of my time working for NGOs or in academia, but then I started to look for impactful projects in other spheres and I liked doing business. I believe that social enterprise is a great model to bring sustainable changes, and my team and I saw the opportunity and the market for our product in the UK. So, no, I never planned it, but I am very happy now. 

What challenges did you face when setting up your business?
Wow, where should I start? There are so many challenges that we had to face, and probably even more in the future. I would say that the biggest challenge is always internal. While I was working on my PhD at Oxford, I had to juggle multiple projects and at times it was really hard - I wouldn't have managed without my friends and colleagues. As always when starting something, you need to decide for yourself that this is what you want to do and to commit to it. This is very hard to do when you meet harsh criticism or lack of belief from your surroundings. But I think if you persevere you will find the people who will understand the product and will see the potential and will be helping you along the way - at least this is what happened with us and we are so lucky to have such a supportive environment and a great team! 
What is your biggest (or proudest) achievement with the business?
Our goal is to improve the lives of people everywhere. We are very happy to receive great feedback on our products and learn when it helps someone to fight their eczema or allergy. With the help of our customers, we are also able to help our communities in the Himalayas. We have now created over 200 jobs in three women cooperatives: 2 in Odisha province and 1 next to Bangalore. This means that we have been doubling the income of 200 women and their families, and now we are aiming to scale-up. 
You won a Shell LiveWIRE Award in 2017, how have things changed for you since then?
Everything, including our name, has changed since winning the award! We used the money to do a rebranding exercise, to develop the liquid formula and scale-up our production in India. We are called Kindness Collective now, which allows for greater acceptance and flexibility and will also allow us to expand our range. Although this meant we had to postpone the launch, we are now confident that we are putting our best foot forward. 
What’s next for Kindness Collective?
We are currently selling online on our website. We are looking for partnerships and hoping to be on the shelves very soon. We are also currently raising our first round of investments. 
What role do you think entrepreneurs will play in the transition to a low-carbon society?
I hope we will play a central role. All the stakeholders should come together, and I believe that entrepreneurs and small businesses can innovate and bring new ideas to market. Also, by building responsible businesses, we allow every consumer to become a part of the story and participate in this transition even with low effort. 
What’s your approach to risk as an entrepreneur?
I know that some people love risk, but if it was my choice I would have no risks involved. So far, we have been calculating all the possible scenarios and preparing for all the different outcomes and that really helps to set your mind at peace before taking any major risks. 

What’s the most important personality trait to have as an entrepreneur and why?
I think optimism and perseverance are key. You need the first one to start something new and you need the second one to keep you on track. 

If you could return to this time last year would you do anything differently?
Actually, nothing. I am happy with how the team has been working and our journey has been amazing. If I could, I would be done with my PhD earlier though. 

What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
Just never give up. I know this sounds cheesy, but I believe that this is the only way to achieve something. Find a great team, make sure that you have a supportive environment around you and persevere. 
Got a Smart Idea for a Business? 
Do you have a smart business idea that will provide a solution to the world’s future transport, food, energy, or natural resource challenges, or make our urban environments cleaner and more sustainable places to work and live in? If so you can apply online now for funding!

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