Steve Rowley used to wonder why women would always ask for the used coffee grounds from his Melbourne, Australia, coffee shops. After doing a little digging, he discovered that the customers were turning the discarded waste into beauty scrubs.
Realizing he could transform the trash into a trendy product, Rowley partnered with Alex Boffa and content agency Willow & Blake founders Erika Geraerts, Bree Johnson, and Jess Hatzis in March 2013 to found Frank. The skin care line— which focuses on caffeinated products with natural ingredients—said it pulled in $4 million Australian dollars ($3 million) in revenue during its first year, and more than tripled that number to AU$14 million in year two. It's projected at AU$33 million this year.
And, they made it all possible without having a brick-and-mortar store. That's right: Frank only sells its products online. The company claims it sells a scrub every 40 seconds on its website.
"There's plenty of opportunities out there in the market now that let people be able to set up a global business online," Rowley said. "It's about looking at things a little bit differently for myself and the Frank team."
Part of Frank's success is due to using the upcycling waste story and emphasis on natural ingredients as a part of its marketing. It's one of a number of companies that are highlighting their environmentally friendly stances or sustainable practices in their campaigns to connect with younger consumers.
General Motors has 122 zero waste facilities where 97 percent of the trash is recycled or reused, which generates $1 billion a year according to Forbes. Wal-Mart is working toward its energy supply being 100 percent sustainable (it's currently at 32 percent). Brazilian Wal-Marts that have opted into this green program save about 11.5 percent on their energy bills.
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One-third of millennials consider themselves to be environmentalists, according to the Pew Research Center. A survey by online publication Elite Daily and consulting firm Millennial Branding showed 75 percent of the young people they talked to said it was "either fairly or very important that a company gives back to society instead of just making a profit."
"Customers are no longer as interested in the technical differentials in their product," Thread International CEO Ian Rosenberger said. "Back in the 1990s, it was about how waterproof an item is. Now, what they really want to know is where it comes from? What is the story of this good? If we can't communicate that to people, then they don't believe [the product is] trustworthy."
Pittsburgh-based Thread International created fabric out of trash as a response to the dirty practices of the textile industry. Instead of creating its own products, it supplies its cloth to other brands. Rosenberger said the company is producing for several multinational brands in the outdoor apparel and gear sector, as well as the lifestyle apparel and accessories fields for the upcoming 2016 and 2017 collections. During its last round of investment in June 2015, it raised $2.78 million, bringing its total to $3.75 million.