Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kayli Kunkel, founder of Earth & Me, located in Queens, NY, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I started Earth & Me because sustainability, quality, and affordability shouldn't be mutually exclusive.
All products are carefully selected for their ethical and sustainable commitment through the supply chain. The packaging on all items is zero-waste or readily reusable. I feature makers who are thoughtful and personally invested in sustainability. Products that empower people, not faceless corporations, win out. Nearly all of our product partners are women-owned. Many are founded and staffed by Black, Latinx, other founders of color, LGBTQIA+, and veteran entrepreneurs.
We reuse, compost, or recycle almost every single packing material that finds its way into the shop and often take on repurposing projects from supplies of other stores or friends. Packaging prioritizes low-impact materials like post-consumer-waste paper, corn starch packing peanuts, newsprint, or reused non-recyclable packaging material. From gift wrap to pick-up orders, gift wrap, or shipments across the US, every package looks a little different, but that's part of the zero-waste experience!
We believe in education and support for sustainability and social justice organizations. Intersectional environmentalism is important, and Black lives matter. We proactively select products from diverse vendors and to build mutually nourishing relationships. We prioritize makers who are actively invested in social justice initiatives. We host a variety of community events in our backyard garden. Our team hosts and participates in fundraisers for a variety of social justice initiatives.
Tell us about yourself
It's hard work to find essentials like toilet paper, toothbrushes, and self-care products that don't involve a bunch of extra packaging, single-use plastic, or unpronounceable ingredients in them. The ones that tick these boxes can be expensive and are often sold as luxury items with high markups.
Affordable goods are out there but hard to track down across many small websites, markets, and shops. Amidst a pandemic, many of us also want to support small and local businesses in a tough economy. In June, after being laid off from my full-time desk job, I saw an opportunity to buy from small-batch makers in bulk quantities, reducing prices, packaging, and overhead. By curating the very best sustainable products made with integrity and love, I hope to educate people on a zero-waste lifestyle because I believe this is what it takes to make a change in environmental norms and policy — sustained grassroots pressure.
Our brick-and-mortar store offers a full selection of zero-waste home and self-care products. We also sell bulk essentials in a bring-your-own-container system. We also host events to educate and gather us in sustainability and social justice initiatives. My longer-term goal is to make my brand unnecessary because every company, large and small, follows these norms.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Opening our larger store in September 2020, complete with a community garden out back, a cafe space, and many awesome new products!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Balance and burnout! Running a business during a myriad of world issues (we formed amid the pandemic in 2020) can lead to burnout. It's also hard to find a balance between all the tasks that come with being a business owner. You have to become an expert in lots of things: leading and managing people, event planning, inventory management, pricing, marketing, digital, advertising, social, taxes, etc.! I've learned to take time for myself because I am an asset to my business and need to be in good shape personally to have a successful business, too.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Find a niche and do something differently/new. Test and run your idea against an audience before you go all in — iterate often. Get your hands on as much learning material (online courses, mentorships, YouTube videos, books, and more) as you can.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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