AN advertising executive was spurred to making a career change after seeing a video clip that inspired her to work towards a zero-waste lifestyle. Cheryl Anne Low is co-founder of NUDE, a zero-waste store that is built on idealism.
HOW DID YOU GO FROM BEING AN ADVERTISING AND MARKETING EXECUTIVE TO BEING A ZERO-WASTE RETAILER?
I started this journey by going plastic-free first. This was spurred by a video clip I saw where a plastic straw was being removed from a sea turtle’s nose. As a scuba diver, seeing those images impacted me so much. I went on a frenzy of fact-finding and reading up on how such a thing could happen. I found out that it’s not just plastic straws that are killing off marine life. There are larger things at play here like commercial fishing nets. But yes, a lot of plastic is flowing into the oceans and we need to stop that as much as possible. Finding products that are plastic-free was a challenge, especially three years ago when the movement wasn’t as strong as it is today. I found myself driving to various places in search of these products. The idea to open a zero-waste, one-stop shop came to me when my fiance suggested I open one to encourage more people to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE NAME “NUDE” FOR YOUR STORE?
It simply means that we only carry the contents of a product, not the packaging that usually comes with it. The packaging forms the clothes that carry the product after all. And by shedding the clothes, the products become just NUDE.
HOW DID YOU LEARN HOW TO START UP A “ZERO WASTE” STORE?
There were no lessons on setting up a Zero Waste Store. We didn’t have a guidebook to refer to. We looked at Zero Waste stores overseas for some ideas and we got some ideas from friends too. In our research, we looked at various aspects from the set-up, customer flow in the store, display units etc to get exactly what we wanted for our store. We also had great encouragement and support from movements like TaknakStraw and Zero Waste Malaysia – those folks offered advice, suggestions and tips. There were times when we thought we were in way over our heads but they kept encouraging us.
THERE IS A PERCEPTION THAT BEING ZERO-WASTE IS ACTUALLY COSTLY. IS THAT AN INACCURATE PERCEPTION?
It is. NUDE focuses on offering as much of your daily basic necessities at the most affordable price possible. This is important because going “zero waste” shouldn’t burn a hole in your pocket. Our reasonable prices help break the perception that this is an expensive lifestyle choice.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN THINGS YOU SELL AT YOUR STORE?
We have three main categories of items. Moods are the zero waste aids like bamboo cutlery sets, stainless steel straws, mesh and canvas bags, collapsible cups, tiffin carriers, skincare, beauty-care, dental hygiene, refillable lipsticks, refillable body lotions, refillable liquid shampoos that do not contain any nasty ingredients. We go as natural as possible to avoid pollution and harm. Foods include dry ingredients from various nuts, dried fruits, herbs and spices, different types of flours, noodles, powders, cereals like cornflakes and oats, Spanish Olive Oil on tap, package-free homemade soya sauces, etc. Goods include household cleaning products and locally-made refillable insect repellent. For household cleaning, we have basic essentials including dishwashing liquid, hand-soap, shower cream, laundry detergent and fabric softener. All products from this range are biodegradable.
WHAT ARE YOUR CRITERIA FOR SUPPLIERS?
They must be ethical and willing to go as zero-waste as possible. While planning the opening of NUDE, we went on a hunt for ethical suppliers. This entailed a lot of calls and e-mails, discussions and negotiations with potential suppliers who would listen and were willing to abide by our zero-waste philosophy. That means definitely no plastic packaging. We were very selective as we wanted to deal only with those who offered natural, high-quality, sustainable, ethical, cost-efficient products. You’ll find that 90 per cent of our stocked products are locally-sourced and locally manufactured. Going local also helps reduce carbon footprint.
ARE YOU PLANNING TO EXPAND YOUR RANGE OF PRODUCTS?
Absolutely! We are always on the lookout for good-quality bulk offerings that we can provide our customers. We aim to have a chiller in NUDE so we can offer fresh produce like vegetables and fruits to our customers. That would be the next big addition to NUDE.
DO YOU FEEL MALAYSIANS GENERALLY ARE QUITE AWARE OF SUSTAINABILITY?
We are seeing the awareness grow by leaps and bounds in recent years. More and more people are taking steps towards reducing waste. That more zero waste shops are coming up is a sign that there is increasing demand for these kinds of products. Even the government is taking steps towards promoting this cause, and we believe we are finally at a point in time when if we act together against waste, we can truly make a lasting difference.
AT HOME, HOW DO YOU PRACTISE SUSTAINABILITY?
I compost at home, so I collect all vegetable and fruits scraps in a bin, and when it is full, I drop it off at the community garden nearby to be used as a fertiliser. From nature, back to nature – composting I find helps a lot in reducing trash.
IS IT PRACTICAL FOR MOST PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY THOSE LIVING IN THE CITY, TO COMPOST THOUGH?
It’s a myth that those who live in condos cannot have a compost bin. People have a misconception that it smells, but I can safely say that it doesn’t smell and there are no pests either – there are many types of composting out there. A quick Google search will show you which one suits your lifestyle best.
HOW CAN PEOPLE EDUCATE THEMSELVES FURTHER ABOUT THE ZERO-WASTE LIFESTYLE?
Please watch The Blue Planet, volumes 1 and 2. They are so eye-opening and a research conducted in the UK has shown that 88 per cent of people who had watched that show have changed their behaviour as a result. It’s that impactful! That’s why I want everyone to watch it. There’s also a new series, Our Planet, on Netflix, which will remind everyone of the beauty of the natural world. Gather with family and friends and watch it together. It will open your eyes and mind and make you think about reducing waste.