Gaux Girl - Sarah Paiji Yoo2020-02-07
Identifying a problem is easy, but actually doing something about it? Much harder. The drive and passion necessary is one of the many reasons we respect Gaux Girl Sarah Paiji Yoo. The issue she set out to correct—the staggering amount of single-use plastic consumed via our household products—isn’t a small one (and tackling it isn’t for the faint of heart).
The arrival of Sarah's son was the catalyst that set her on the path to building Blueland. Realizing how many microplastics were in seemingly "safe" things like tap and bottled water, she looked inward to how she might modify her own behaviors. After realizing how powerless she was to consume less plastic when it came to household essentials (think glass and multi-surface cleaners), she started working on Blueland. The company offers something totally new, with cleaning tablets you dissolve with water in a (sleekly designed) forever bottle, eliminating the need to toss the entire thing every time you run out.
Sarah's professional expertise helped with some of the oft-confusing moments of building a brand. Prior to starting Blueland, she'd worked at a startup studio coaching and advising others on growing their ideas into viable businesses. That know-how proved invaluable as she dove into the lengthy process of research and development, eventually landing on Blueland's why-did-no-one-think-of-this-before concept.
We spoke with Sarah about building her company, the best advice she has for starting a startup, and how to get less junk mail (seriously!).
Becoming a mother was the catalyst for starting Blueland. What was the specific moment when you realized there was a problem that needed solving?
As I was planning to shift from exclusively breastfeeding to formula-feeding my son, I was horrified to learn how many microplastics were in our drinking water—both tap and bottled! I decided to cut back on my own plastic consumption, but realized that I didn't have much choice on single-use plastic packaging for household products.
So many of our everyday products, like window cleaner, toothpaste, and laundry detergent, all come packaged just one way: in single-use plastic. I founded Blueland with the belief that you don't have to sacrifice a clean home for a clean planet. To make the biggest impact possible, we're dedicated to making it easy for people to make the right choice with products that are more effective, affordable, and convenient.
The problem of single-use plastic is a daunting one. How do you avoid feeling overwhelmed by an issue that feels so huge?
Setting out to change the way that we as consumers have been shopping for and thinking about our everyday necessities for such a long time is definitely a huge task to take on. However, I feel so fortunate to live in a time and have a set of experiences that give me a real shot at creating something meaningful. I've always loved the excitement of bringing something into this world that never existed previously. And with Blueland, I can do something with a deep purpose that has the potential to make the world a better place. I remind myself of that when things get tough.
Prior to starting Blueland, your work focused on finding and fostering startups. What’s the best advice you could offer someone looking to turn an idea into reality?
Be rigorous. Do your research and know your space inside out. If there’s any publicly available information on your space or target product, study it in detail.
Be resourceful. Leverage your network, and ask friends and friends of friends for intros. Scour the internet and Linkedin. Pick up the phone and cold call; if it’s a dead end, ask those people for other introductions.
Be tenacious. It’s going to be a long, iterative path, and there will be breakthroughs when you least expect it.
Your Instagram feed is a trove of eco-friendly recommendations! What are some of your best green tricks or habits?
Treat your reusable cup just like your keys, phone, or wallet—try to keep one on you at all times. It’s amazing how many coffee cups and water bottles you can save by doing this. After about two weeks it really does become a habit, and it’s hard to leave the house without one.
Don’t throw away your contact lens or blister packs. Bausch & Lomb offers free shipping labels to send them to Terracycle for responsible recycling.
Opt out of junk mail at catalogchoice.org. China is no longer accepting a wide range of our plastic and paper recycling, so catalogs are becoming more difficult to recycle.
What does being a girl on the gaux mean to you?
Working hard, being nice, and having fun!
Photos by Kirsten Francis