It all started two Christmases ago when people began giving each other stainless steel tubes wrapped in muslin with matching cleaners to boot. Back then, metal straws catered to the niche market of individuals who wanted to cut down on waste or lead a zero-waste lifestyle. They used reusables, from kitchen utensils to eco-bags, and lugged around their own containers wherever they went.
Sip catered to the needs of this market. The local retail brand was one of the first companies in the country to sell metal straws on Facebook, packaging them in reusable muslin bags and selling them for less than P100. The affordability of the product and what it stands for—that using a metal straw can help reduce waste in oceans—made Sip a hit.
Fast forward to 2019, the metal straw has reached ubiquity. It’s no longer unusual for people to bring them around in their bags or to ask for them in restaurants. They're also distributed as giveaways and freebies. Some fast-food chains no longer give away plastic straws in their aim to become more sustainable.
Pocholo “Poch” Espina, a 22-year-old Health Sciences graduate from Ateneo de Manila University, is the man behind the pioneering brand. The young entrepreneur admits his initial goal for selling metal straws was simply to earn extra money for an upcoming out-of-town trip.
“I started the business with P30,000. I just posted about the metal straws on Facebook and met up with customers personally back then in Ateneo,” he shared. “But even then, I would personally talk to each buyer and say the product is only valuable if you use it repeatedly. It’s not something you just use once.”
It took months before he realized the brand could be something bigger. Espina was still finishing a pre-Med course, as he was planning to become a licensed doctor. But once he started to dig deeper into the country’s waste problem (the Philippines is the world’s third largest ocean polluter) and research about the circular economy advocacy, his mind ran wild with ideas. A year later, retail shop Loop was born.
Loop, put simply, is a general merchandise store, with a selection of goods that helps people lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Some products are also made with sustainable or environmentally friendly ingredients and materials. There are shampoo bars with no packaging, bamboo straws, reusable cups and tumblers, and even biodegradable and non-toxic condoms. So far, there are over 150 items in the store, most of which are also shipped abroad.
Espina said having an international brand selection isn’t entirely a conscious decision, but more for “quality control.” He wants Loop to be more than just a brand for conscious consumers, but a store with effective and helpful products. “We want products that we can vouch for. We don’t want to put zero-waste or eco-friendly products just for the sake of it. I don’t want people to buy them and think: for sustainability, quality has to be compromised.”
Espina, together with his business partner, Angela del Rosario, would rather not call the store “zero-waste” because, they say, “that would be a lie.” Some products may still contain plastic or are shipped to the Philippines in a “not-so eco-friendly way.” Still, the store is for people who aspire to lead a cleaner lifestyle or are just dipping their toes into the movement.
“Let’s admit it can be kind of an inconvenience to do these things, but it shouldn’t be filled with guilt. Going zero-waste or leading a more sustainable lifestyle should be fun,” del Rosario shared.
It may probably be more appropriate to call it a store for solid-waste management solutions. The founder and his business partners believe in the idea of a circular economy, wherein products are designed not just for single-use, but for reuse or maintenance until their capacities are fully exhausted.
And when a product has reached its limit, it is returned to the manufacturer where its materials are repurposed for new products.
On this note, Espina said the store is in the process of installing a repair center for various appliances and tech gadgets, from domestic tools like an electric fan to something more personal like a smartphone.
A friendly face for the movement
The entrepreneurs admit the majority of the store’s clients are female. Still, the shop's 15 to 20 percent male customer base is encouraging, as it means the reach of its advocacy is casting a wider net.
Many men tag along with their girlfriends or are asked by their partners to pick up items in the store, which is located in a not-so reachable part of Quezon City. For del Rosario, this only means the sustainable lifestyle does need a friendly face to those who are just unaware of the cause.
“How do you transition a person who has not even thought about going eco-friendly or the cause if you always alienate them?" del Rosario asked. "It’s not about saying, do this or else you’re a shit person. It should be like encouraging a friend.”
This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.