Interview with the Student and Founder & CEO of Ecossentials, Moenia Ladhib
Today, we invited the inspiring and ambitious Moenia Ladhib who launched the e-shop Ecossentials. Zero-waste beauty, travel and kitchen products and all sorts of plastic-free kits are to be found on her e-shop. She carefully chooses her products, as she wants them to be good for the planet & for your health. Read more about Moenia and her project Ecossentials in the interview below.
1. WHERE DOES YOUR ENGAGEMENT FOR THE ECOLOGY COME FROM? HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED IN SUSTAINABILITY?
Two years ago, I visited the country of my father's origin, Tunisia, again. We had a gap of three years not going there, because of the political climate. So when I got back there, the streets and beaches that were always full of rubbish, were more conspicuous than ever. I can have quite a Tunisian temperament and I really had it with all that trash lying around in the streets I knew my entire life. The smell, the look, the lack of governmental care.. it frustrated me deeply. Since I didn’t have a lot to do there, I started doing a lot of research on ecology, but also on fast fashion, veganism, ... you name it. That vacation and research sparked the first ecological fire inside me.
2. WHAT WERE THE DIFFICULTIES YOU ENCOUNTERED AT THE START (OF LIVING A MORE SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE)? AND WHICH ONES DO YOU STILL FIND?
Quite a few, actually. I came from a big materialistic lifestyle, so changing that did cost me some effort, especially on the fast fashion front. I zeroed in on plastic-free living at first and didn’t pay to much attention on all the other environmental issues. Which is a good start though, since everyone should find the thing they can change easily. After some time, you’ll notice that one aspect of sustainability doesn’t cut it, so you’ll pay attention to the others too. It took me three years, but I finally ditched fast fashion completely and only buy second hand, support sustainable fashion brands or buy items that I know will stay in fashion for a long time.
Switching to plastic-free reusables were easy since I was already used to pack my bag the prior evening with all the things I needed. But sustainable swaps that took a little bit more effort, like reusable make-up pads, were more challenging! That’s because I can get very lazy (laughs) so I don’t always clean the pads out after use which results in them getting pretty messy. That took some practice! But the fun thing about trying to live more sustainable, to me, is that even when you don’t do it perfectly, you still know you’re doing something good. And that’s the best feeling!
I think the difficulty that I still have with living a more sustainable lifestyle, is grocery shopping. I try to shop in bulk stores, but my budget doesn’t allow that twice a week. I know that packaged food isn’t always that bad since you have to look at the impact of the contents of the product as well, but I still find it hard to cope with buying plastic wrapping and advocating for a sustainable lifestyle at the same time. That’s something I can feel insecure or judged about.
3. WHAT ARE YOUR DAILY ECO-FRIENDLY HABITS? WHAT DID YOU CHANGE TO YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE?
A lot! I only have and use plastic-free and vegan skincare, mouth care, make-up, personal care and so on! That’s a huge switch since I had the entire range of Clinique in my closet, cheap make-up and lots of disposable buds.
Of course, when outside, I always have my reusables with me (coffee cup, cutlery set, straws and bottle) and some personal care items (deo, make-up and pads). I would be lying if I’d say I never forget them, but that happens rarely. And if it does, I don’t beat myself up for buying a bottle of water in plastic. I’m still human, and humans need to drink water (laughs)!
I’ve made a lot of changes at home too, with the lovely support from my family. I make our cleaning products, we use compostable sponges, we use water filters, brush plastic free and so on. They are the perfect test buddies whenever I encounter new products, and they’re always honest about what they think of it.
And another big thing I changed, is deleting the Zalando and Zara app on my phone, so I can’t get tempted. If someone caught me using it (I’m only that strong), I’m obligated to cook or bake something for them. Win-win, right?
4. BESIDES BEING ZERO-WASTE, ARE THERE OTHER ASPECTS OF SUSTAINABILITY YOU’RE WORKING ON?
Sustainable fashion, spreading awareness and eating vegan/vegetarian. I started this entire journey preaching how important it is to stay true to yourself and to do whatever makes you feel good. If you’re a vegan who drinks out of plastic bottles, be proud. That goes for everything under the sustainable spectrum. There’s no point in judging or obligating people to change their entire lifestyle and/or belief system. It just doesn’t work that way. If you inspire people to make a tiny change and cheer them on, the chances are very big they’ll make more changes afterwards.
Sometimes, people think I’m this super green girl who always lived like this. They should’ve seen me when I was 18 (laughs). But I’m already three years on this journey, so it definitely took some time and I’m still far from being perfect! And I don’t tend to be. There’s really a change that one day I’ll buy a piece of fast fashion again or eat a piece of meat, and to me that’s fine. The thing with starting a sustainable business and being present on social media is that you learn and discover a lot of other aspects of sustainability along the way. I always try out new things and see what impact it has on the quality of my life. They all turned out to make my life even better, so for now, I’m sticking with them. One step at a time, that’s my life motto!
5. YOUR FAVOURITE ORGANIC AND ZERO WASTE BEAUTY PRODUCTS?
Everything from Lani and UpCircle! Their products are SO good for my skin and they smell amazing. They’re all vegan, cruelty-free, organic and handmade in the UK. I love the products from Belgian brand Cîme too, but I’m waiting until their packaging is more plastic-free than now!
6. A DOCUMENTARY THAT MADE YOU WANT TO GO GREEN EVEN MORE?
Definitely The True Cost and Cowspiracy. Damn did I feel sick after watching those. You always know that a lot of things are going on in the world, but these documentaries hit close to home. A part of my family lives in Tunisia and some of them work in fabric factories like Rana Plaza. Me contributing to fast fashion, meant contributing to horrible working conditions of others, including those I love. That’s crazy. I don’t know why I needed to see this first before changing my lifestyle, but I’m happy that it did.
Cowspiracy is just such a well-made film, pointing out exactly what’s wrong with today’s society and (lack of) information. I already ate vegetarian food, but watching this made me rethink my eating habits, for my health and that of the planet. Now I’m a flexi-vegan, sometimes eating eggs or cheese (pizza is my weak spot).
7. WHEN DID YOU LAUNCH YOUR PROJECT AND WHAT WAS YOUR MAIN MOTIVATION?
After my vacation in Tunisia, I realised that I had to look at my own habits first. After the purchase of a first drinking bottle that had to replace countless plastic bottles of water, interest in all kinds of other ecological products followed. However, these products were not easy to obtain, and certainly not in a sustainable way. I didn't want a bamboo toothbrush to come from America by plane, because what use is it then? I wondered if there wasn't a Belgian site where I could find all the products together. And so Ecossentials came about: one webshop where anyone who wants to live more sustainably can choose between all kinds of products to their heart's content first tested and approved by me so they don’t have to worry Where it’s my mission to make a sustainable lifestyle more accessible and easy for consumers while stimulating and inspiring them to live more consciously, one step at a time.
I really just want to help people towards sustainability. That’s why at this moment, I don’t earn any money with Ecossentials. I chose to invest profit right back into the business, so I can grow faster and offer more for my customers. Giving back is my first and most important motivation.
The first draft version of the webshop was created while studying for the subject 'Corporate Social Responsibility' of my study SME Management. What I learned gave me ideas. Those ideas, combined with frustrations, led to the idea of offering packages with sustainable utensils. The idea was not brand new, but there was certainly still room on the Belgian market. I walked down the stairs late in the evening with my scrap paper to show it to mom. My mum is a real self-made woman and my greatest example. That she found my idea interesting was the only confirmation I needed. I signed up for the 'Startup@campus' competition about a 1,5 year ago. Since then, the idea and passion haven't stopped growing.
8. YOU STARTED WITH A CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN VIA ULULE, WHICH WAS A BIG SUCCESS. HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LAUNCHING A CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN? IN WHAT WAY DID IT HELP YOU?
I followed a crowdfunding studio at VOKA Antwerpen-Waasland, which taught me to draw up a press kit, do my own PR and write a powerful text for the landing page. Thanks to crowdfunding, a company not only gets the funding it's looking for, but immediately creates a community, or crowd. Crowdfunding, for me, was the way to realise that public participation. After all, you make people co-owners of the project.
It's also a powerful marketing tool. It got me a lot of media attention and made the world get to know Ecossentials. Even more important: whoever co-finances a project, tells that to at least ten others, so the exposure of the project is increased tenfold. With crowdfunding you don't just create a community, you create ambassadors. And I love that. Sustainability is about togetherness too,
Besides the publicity it got me, I also raised €6000, but of course I didn't get all that money out of it. This because it was a reward based crowdfunding, so if someone supported me, I had to send them a reward for that amount afterwards. In addition, I also had to give 8% of the amount raised to the crowdfunding platform, pay 21% VAT and pay all shipping costs.
9. HOW IS IT BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR? DOES IT HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON YOUR (SOCIAL) LIFE?
Student-entrepreneurs often hear that their studies should remain the most important. In reality this is different. Especially this semester I'm having a hard time. I have a lot of classes, constant deadlines and after school I’m still working on Ecossentials for a long time. So I'll graduate a bit later than expected, it's just not going to be any different. I’m now dedicating myself to my ecological business, while I spread my studies. As a student-entrepreneur there are so many opportunities on your path and you have to seize them. Otherwise your business will remain just a 'little project'.
In addition to my studies, I’m also active in SINC, the student organization for enterprising young people in Antwerp. On top of that, I’m starting with sustainability consulting soon. It all sounds very busy, but I’m determined. If you're not passionate about what you do, it's not worth it. But it's a lot of fun. Being an entrepreneur was my dream since I was eight (or becoming a female president). It’s challenging, rewarding, creative and so much more, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
It does have an impact on my social life, since I have less time to meet up with friends. I do see and talk to them regularly, but I feel that sometimes all of my energy of the day is already gone, so it does take extra effort to be social then. Luckily I have the best boyfriend and friends in the world, who support me no matter what. They know I would do anything for them and that I love them unconditionally. I consider myself really lucky to have a group of friends like that!
10. WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE LIKED TO KNOW BEFORE LAUNCHING YOUR PROJECT?
I can’t really think of anything, ‘cause I’ve had the best ride already. The failures and setbacks are part of the journey, and I need them to stay focused and to do even better. Entrepreneuring is always taking risks and jumping in to the deep – that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much. I’m lucky that I have a freaking amazing and supporting community around Ecossentials, giving me the energy and drive to keep on going and not looking back.
11. I SEE YOU GO FURTHER THAN BUYING ZERO-WASTE AND ECO-FRIENDLY PRODUCTS, YOUR DELIVERIES ARE CO2 NEUTRAL. DID YOU ENCOUNTER ANY DIFFICULTIES ORGANISING THIS? AND WAS THIS THE PLAN FROM THE START?
What most people don’t know or forget, is that I spent a whole year doing research on how to be a sustainable business before I launched Ecossentials. I tested every product you find on the shop today, had countless calls & meetings with suppliers, figured out how to deliver CO2 Neutral and so on. For me, it’s not enough to only sell ecological products if your business isn’t sustainable as well. What’s the point then? Because it was very clear to me I wanted to be a unique shop in Belgium, I knew it was going to take some time preparing everything. And I would do it that way all over again. I still like to believe that I’m one of the few who operates like this, and I hope that al my customers and followers see that and keep on supporting it.
Of course, a webshop is often accompanied by a certain ecological impact. However, with the right attitude a lot can be done to minimize this impact. That is why, at Ecossentials, we opt for the shortest possible supply chain, with different shipping options so that CO2 emissions are reduced as much as possible. Since I know from experience that e-commerce comes with a certain impact, I wanted to prove consumers and bigger businesses that you don’t need to have a lot of resources to build a sustainable business. If I can do it, a solo student-entrepreneur with no capital, then anyone can. Find the right partners and work together, then anything is possible.
12. DO YOU PUT ANY EFFORTS IN THE PACKAGINGS OF YOUR ORDERS?
Yes! Orders are completely free of plastic packaging or filling. The packages themselves are 100% recyclable and 100% compostable. Instead of plastic tape, we seal our boxes with eco-friendly paper tape. It is 100% recyclable, compostable, and plastic-free. All boxes are reused or made from 100% recycled cardboard. I encourage all of our customers to reuse, compost, or recycle all packing materials. Since al that amount of cardboard has a certain impact too, I plant a tree for every order!
13. YOUR PROJECTS FOR 2020?
Lots of exciting things are coming! I’m launching an accelerator, a masterclass, a possible physical shop (depending on COVID) and more! Ecossentials was never meant to only be a webshop, but so much more than that. So, I’m working hard on realising this and grow even more, together with all of you!