Six Top Ecopreneurs ’23

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The green economy is ever-growing, and Sublime introduces six ecopreneurs whose grit, passion and innovative ideas write the roadmap to a sustainable world.

Patrick Folkes

This serial entrepreneur has made healthy products his trademark. As the co-founder of the UK’s first fruit smoothie brand, PJ’s, set up in 1995, Folkes’ natural, pure purees were ultimately sold to Pepsico, and his most recent venture is seeking to change the way we paint.

With sustainable lifestyles growing in popularity, Graphenstone was launched in 2018, focused on becoming the world’s cleanest, beautifully pigmented, toxin-free range of paints, ensuring excellent indoor air quality in your home and office. ‘Some of these newer paint brands window-dress what is in effect just another petro-chemical based, plastic paint, in the hope of steering the attention away from the product itself and towards the company selling the goods. We focus first and foremost on our product, how safe, sustainable, and clean it is for both people and the planet. This is where the true impact lies for our increasingly fragile climate – the paints industry is highly polluting, after all. Now is the time to paint differently,’ Folkes says.

Graphenstone is now recognised as one of the leading sustainable and natural mineral-based paints, free of plastics, microbeads, and man-made chemicals. ‘And here’s the clever bit – our ranges are all reinforced with Nobel Prize-winning, graphene nano-technology, made from pure inert carbon. It’s the strongest material on earth and its inclusion literally revolutionises these highly ecological products with Class 1 strength and washability, like a plastic paint but with a vastly cleaner profile. So, there’s no compromise in performance either. It’s a combination of trusted materials like lime, chalk, and clay with the latest technology,’ Folkes explains.

To him, it’s essential to provide consumers with independent, holistic validations, to back up the sustainability claims made by the brand – and Graphenstone has been awarded just that, with certifications from organisations like the Cradle-to-Cradle Institute. With over 1000 colours to choose from, their proudest projects include painting all of Facebook’s office towers in London, being the Cornish Eden Project’s preferred paint supplier, and plans to launch a new range with Ashmolean, Oxford, the world’s oldest public museum.

Amanda and Brinton

This couple met while pursuing MFAs at the Rhode Island School of Design, but after long careers in their respective fields – Brinton in film, Amanda in fashion – their mindsets changed drastically when they had their first child. ‘The moment we became parents, we were stunned by the waste of children’s products. We started noticing the discarded strollers, walkers, and ride-on toys sitting by the side of the road,’ they comment.

Today, Amanda and Brinton own and operate Big Tree Co., a furniture and toy brand offering sustainable, multi-stage products that grow with your family – because ‘tiny footsteps should have tiny footprints’. They designed the first walker for their second child, dreaming of something both functional and beautiful. But when their toddler climbed on and rode it through the house like a scooter, there was the ‘ah-ha!’ moment. ‘We went back to the original drawing and sketched as many different incarnations of the stroller as we could’ – the result was the BOOMERANG Walker Kit, launched in January of 2022. The kit is a baby walker that converts into a scooter, then a toddler bike, and finally a balance bike, four stages combined extending its lifespan from a few months to up to three years, all the while minimising waste.

Big Tree Co. is committed to being the most environmentally sound business they can be by sourcing FSC-certified, sustainably harvested wood, and 0% VOC, plant-based finishes. All of their packaging is plastic free, recycled, and recyclable, and they donate 1% of all sales to promote healthy reforestation and forest stewardship. And with three more products set to launch in the next year, Big Tree Co. are quickly becoming pioneers in solving the single-use dilemma in children’s products.

Alex Elliot

In the summer of 2018, Alex Elliot took off for Hong Kong. She had three or four months of freedom ahead – time to rest, restore and rediscover herself – and though she’d booked a return flight, the in-between was as yet unwritten. As it turned out, it was a pivotal point in her career.

Elliot had been working for Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, designing knitwear. ‘At that time, I’d been designing for about 15 years, working for both high-end and high street brands. Burberry, Fred Perry, Wolsey, DKNY – I had had the opportunity to learn from some of the best, and travel the world as I did it,’ she says. But over the years, she had become disenchanted with some of the working practices, becoming increasingly environmentally conscious herself. Designing volume styles in the cheapest yarns, destined for landfill after a short and ignominious life, was the final straw.

‘I needed to do something I could feel good about again, and October 2019 saw the launch of elliot. organics, a range of organic cotton underwear designed with comfort and simplicity in mind,’ Elliot says. The brand’s first range included just five styles, three of which are still bestsellers today. They’ve since expanded to include nightwear and loungewear, but its founder’s goal is still the same: to create beautiful, timeless pieces that are made to last, that are kind to your skin and to the planet.

All elliot. organics fabrics are sourced from GOTS-certified manufacturers in Europe, and they only work with small, accredited garment factories in Spain and the UK, ensuring fair pay and good working conditions. At the core of it all is Elliot’s deep love and respect for the natural world and her goal to promote environmental awareness.

Chris Griffin 

This entrepreneur is on a mission to bring the undiscovered secrets of the Andes to European kitchens. While trying to reduce his sugar intake, he discovered the remarkable yacon plant during a visit to his family in Peru. Known as the ‘Peruvian ground apple’, it yields a deliciously sweet syrup that doesn’t spike blood sugar levels.

Yacon’s remarkable benefits come its FOS fibres that taste sweet on the tongue, yet pass through the body undigested. The result is a natural alternative to sugar, honey or maple syrup that is great for stabilising energy levels and nourishing the gut microbiome. It makes for a great swap for anybody following a vegan, low sugar or keto diet, or anybody looking for a healthy addition to their kitchen cupboard.

Spotting a gap in the market for this underappreciated gift of nature, Chris launched YaconViva! to bring Peruvian produce like yacon to ethically-minded European consumers. Starting the company while maintaining a day job in tech, he made it his goal to maintain close links with the farmers and processors in Peru, ensuring they are adequately supported and fairly compensated. He maintains regular contact and last visited the plantations in 2022 to witness the breaking of the ground for a new harvest in the Andean Huanuco province.

Now committed full-time to his venture, Chris’s focus is on achieving organic standards throughout the YaconViva! supply chain. The next goal will be to reduce – and eventually eliminate – plastic in packaging and shipping. Despite the challenges around cost of living, sustainability continues to be a priority for the discerning modern consumer and YaconViva! is responding to this with the seriousness it deserves.

Monica Chandak

In her 13 years of developing cosmetics, the founder of genderless beauty brand INCLUSEV has created over 600 cosmetic formulations and most of them contained water. Monica was determined to design a product that would contain less or even no water – it took over three years of experimenting and over 150 trials to finally come up with the revolutionary, balanced formula which incorporates the finest, most effective ingredients in a unique powder form that is safe, sustainable and made for everyone, eliminating barriers and building inclusivity.

All INCLUSEV products are formulated, produced and packed in the UK, and each component has its own story to tell. Transparency is at the heart of all operations, products powered by only what you need and nothing more – INCLUSEV is always free from water, fillers, sulphates and phthalates, synthetic colours and fragrances, parabens and animal-derived or tested ingredients.

Ayesha Mustafa

Ayesha Mustafa is a social entrepreneur, mentor and advocate for women’s empowerment. Prior to launching London-based womenwear brand Everyday Phenomenal, Mustafa ran Fashion ComPassion, a socially responsible retailer – fashion and social development have always been her biggest passions, and she her work expands to NGOS and organisations like Grameen Bank, striving towards improving literacy, community empowerment and development.

Mustafa’s work with Fashion ComPassion has been highly commended in a plethora of international publications – within a few years of launching the company, she is now considered to be a thought leader on ethical fashion, named among BBC’s #100Women for 2014 and regularly working as a consultant to ethical brands.

Her latest venture, Everyday Phenomenal, is on a mission to make women feel phenomenal inside and out. They’re the first eco-friendly clothing brand that’s shifting the focus from how you look, to how you feel, with each essential product linking back to their online mindfulness platform, The Circle of Feeling Good. Stylish and comfortable, the collection is created in the UK by talented seamstresses and – as expected from Ayesha Mustafa – champions women’s empowerment.

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