KELIGREEN: Missoula mom on mission to eliminate single-use plastics for laundry soap
Missoula-based KELIGREEN Laundry Soap is on a mission to eliminate single-use plastics for its locally sourced products, including laundry soap, hand soap and stain remover.
But it needs help raising startup funds.
Company founder Keli Lake said the just-launched campaign will help fund software that will track and deliver products to individual customers and retailers.
It will also help Lake purchase bulk kettles used for refill stations in local retailers and stores across the state.
All of this is part of her refill revolution campaign.
“Listen, cleaning with soap is not a new idea, but cleaning with harsh chemical detergents is a new idea, and it’s a very bad one,” Lake said. “Secondly, our current methods of distribution and how we collect and consume products is completely unnecessary and it’s unsustainable.”
During a fundraising campaign kick-off event at Missoula’s Roxy Theater, Lake emphasized her hectic life as a mom of three children.
In fact, her two youngest daughters took the stage during the presentation to dance and show off the KELIGREEN products. The company’s motto, “It Won’t Clean Up Your Life,” seemed fitting and realistic.
Lake said her children were the inspiration for the refill movement, as she increasingly realized the harm done by producing ever-more plastic that will ultimately end up in landfills and oceans.
The idea for the company started after the birth of her son, Tucker, in 2005. As her son experienced allergic reactions to different detergents, Lake started making her own soap in her garage using an old family recipe.
“Eventually when he started brushing his teeth, he got the same exact rash around his mouth and I realized what it was,” she said. “It was the sodium laureth sulfate because it’s in everything. It’s like the high fructose corn syrup of health and beauty.”
Sodium laureth sulfates are synthetic detergents, and many people, including her son, are allergic to it.
Lake’s original laundry soap is her most popular product and contains no synthetic detergents. It’s water soluble, biodegradable, free of petroleum and synthetic fragrances and is made with locally sourced oils and fats from around the state.
Other products listed include a wetsuit wash, a Tucker hat wash, an oxygen bleach agent and baby laundry soap.
For eight years, Lake perfected the ingredients and started selling to family and neighbors.
Major distributors like Amazon offered to sell her product, but she realized how much packaging went into delivering by mail. When distributing her products, each batch of soap went through three packaging stages.
“My whole goal is just to stop single use plastic,” she said. “We just don’t need it. In the beginning, it was all about the ingredients and once I felt comfortable with that, another calling came and it’s the whole packaging. It’s people and the Earth over profit.”
With a refill station set up at Le Petit Outre Bakery in Missoula, Lake has seen more people interested in refilling their containers rather than buying single-use detergents.
Refill locations are also in place at businesses in Whitefish and Eureka, and four businesses in Missoula are interested in selling products. About 15 individual customers in the city get their soap delivered or refilled, Lake said.
The new fundraising campaign is intended to raise about $35,000 by the middle of November to fund the equipment needed for stores to begin selling refillable soap.
Lake hopes to be a refill-only company by 2020 and wants to expand throughout the state and the Pacific Northwest.
“[Businesses] have to sort of wrap their mind around this new concept. They are going to get more repeat customers. I know because in the refill stations that I have, I sell three times the product that I do in single-use containers,” Lake said.
Susan Byrer, owner of Le Petit Outre Bakery, said she’s had a KELIGREEN laundry soap refill station for about a month, and has seen more and more customers interested in trying it.
Setting up stations in unconventional areas is what Lake hopes to do, whether that be in a market, coffee shop or bakery.
“She’s a regular. She comes in every day and I believe in what she’s doing. I think we need to lessen our impact on the environment and I think we need to reuse things and think outside the box of convenience a little bit,” Byrer said.
Along with making between 300 to 500 gallons of detergent each month, the burdens of restocking shelves became too cumbersome for Lake. Having a delivery service and refill stations can help with profits and keep the cost of soaps down.
“I just want to cut out distribution,” she said. “That’s where the problem lies for me and that’s what drives the price up. I’m paying somebody to distribute my product in the package and repackage.”
As the campaign begins, Lake believes that Missoula is a great starting point for the next stage of her company, with Kombucha and beer growler refill stations popping up in stores and breweries. She hopes that larger corporations can adopt refill stations of their own in the future.
“People are really over the plastic,” Lake said. “I know that there are a lot of people who aren’t, and they haven’t really been awakened by the epidemic yet but I envision Walmart getting forced to go this route eventually. It’ll probably be in 10 years, whereas the early adapters, the progressive stores, are going to have it now.”