How Climate Change and Plastic Pollution Inspired an Australian teen to create an Eco-Friendly Brand

My Name Is Lilly DeBelle. I was born and raised in Tweed Heads on the Gold Coast QLD Australia. I’m in year 8 and i'm 13 years old, i will be 14 in December.

I started Eco Shores in March this year. I had heard a lot about climate change and the war on plastic, the damage it’s doing to our planet and even how as humans, we now consume about 5 grams of micro plastics a week. That's about the size of a credit card. When I finish school, I hope to study medicine, so this caused me concern and I was worried about aging healthcare. I started looking at how I could reduce my own plastic use and that of my family.

My first thing was to switch our toothbrushes. I found lots of bamboo toothbrushes for sale online but the average cost was around $5 compared to plastic toothbrush around $2.

I stumbled across a wholesale bamboo toothbrush manufacture and found that toothbrushes were available from as low as 50 cents each (varies with order number, shipping, design etc), so it got me wondering how many “eco” stores were really just price gouging and making money from a serious issue. It also made me aware that these prices pushed items out of reach for lower income earners. That night I spoke with my Mum and stepdad(SD) and discussed why business over charge for items that should be accessible to everyone for a reasonable price. Indeed, if we want to make a real impact against plastic, then biodegradable products needed to be priced similar to their single use plastic counterparts. Mum and SD agreed to give me a $200 investment to place my first wholesale order of bamboo toothbrushes and as they say, the rest is history.

Question 1 : How can we promote an environmentally friendly lifestyle amongst our generation?

It really is about progress, not perfection. Pointing out another's weakness will never work, but we can be role models and lead by example. I make sure I keep a reusable straw in my bag and when Im out with friends I remember to always ask for no straws at restaurants. Most people think the reusable straw is awesome and ask where I got it. I try to carry some extras for this. Gifting is also a great way to get people to be more aware. A nice gift box with a cup, cutlery, or straw is a great way to get people onboard and then it goes organically from there.

Question 2: Tell us about the process used to come up with product ideas. If you work with a manufacturer, how were you able to decide the right one? If you are reselling products, how do you know if you have found a seller you can trust?

I started by looking at the little items that we use without noticing. Toothbrushes, cotton buds, dental floss etc. - they are my core items. There are already so many people doing drink bottles, coffee cups, and shopping bags that it was apparent that the marketplace didn’t need another. I offer these items as a bonus in my monthly subscription box, but not as regular lines.

I choose manufacturers based on their ethical alignment. Are their bamboo crops sustainable? Are staff paid correctly? What are working conditions/hours?

Once I settle on a manufacturer I order items in their most basic form. I don’t repackage or rebrand. That increases cost and is unnecessary. Eco Shores was founded on the premise of affordability for all and getting eco products into as many hands and homes as possible globally. Anything I can do to lower costs is important. Sometimes this can result in delays in stock as I often try to combine shipping for different items that I’ve ordered. This not only costs less but also has the added benefit of reducing my carbon footprint by doing one trip instead of multiple, if items are ready at different times.

Question 3 : Online stores are becoming increasingly popular and more accessible to the community. How do you market Eco Shores?

This is the hardest part of my business. I don’t have a marketing budget, as once again that would increase my costs and means I would need to raise prices. I rely on word of mouth and social media marketing. Local markets are also huge for me. Luckily, I’m not reliant on an income at this stage in my life and I can take the time to let word spread. Business is slowly increasing and I've been getting great feedback on my products. I hope to see significant growth over the next 12 months.

Question 4 : Packaging is usually the first thing that catches a consumer’s eye. What are your tips for designing packaging?

My packaging is all recycled. I have a cardboard shredder that allows me to turn old discarded boxes into packaging and box filler. My boxes are plain and undyed. I use compostable coloured tissue paper to brighten the the box and I finish every parcel with a hand signed thank you card written on recycled paper that's been embedded with seeds. I use a different seed each month but it's always a salad, veggie or herb seed, that's where the name “Lett-uce Box” came from. I can ship these to the US, UK, Australia and many other countries. There's a few that the bio laws prevent the seed card but I have a list at home and pack accordingly.

Question 5: What is your favorite part about running a business? What is the most difficult part about running a business?

I enjoy the creativity of working on new product lines. Designing the layout and look of boxes and I love the messages I get from customers after they receive their box. The hardest part is the time. Sometimes I just want to sleep in on Sundays, but I know I have customers relying on me to get the order shipped.

Question 6: Do you think that being a teenager gives you any advantages or unique insights when it comes to running a business?