When Tal Chitayat, CEO of Full Circle Brands, was running the New York City Marathon, he got to mile 17 – where hundreds of THOUSANDS of wet sponges are offered to runners looking to cool down. It was THIS carpet of plastic sponges littering the road that was his “aha moment.” In the US alone, roughly 400 million sponges are tossed away every year, the majority of which are plastic and end up in oceans and landfills. He saw it as the time to do something thus Start with a Sponge was formed. We had a chance to interview Chitayat and asked about his story, how he started his business and the future of Full Circle.
Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?
The countries I’ve lived in and have roots in – including the world’s largest product producer (China), the world’s largest consumer (the U.S.), and the world’s conservationist (New Zealand) – have really given me a global perspective of the supply and consumption challenges, but also the opportunities to help drive change. Current product development needs to take into account sustainability. Our future requires it, especially if we want to keep our everyday conveniences and also improve the state of our planet.
When I met my co-founder Heather Kauffman, I found someone who was equally as passionate about finding solutions for the waste present in consumer product design and manufacturing. We joined forces because we realized just how little consideration was given to what household products were made of and where they ended up. That’s why we launched Full Circle Home, a brand of home products that merged everything Heather and I think is crucial for the next generation of consumer products – beauty, function, affordability, AND sustainability.
How did you come up with your business name?
A product’s life cycle should be cyclical rather than linear, meaning that rather than eventually residing in a landfill, a product made from natural materials can have a long, functional life, and then return from where it came through the natural breakdown of materials. It all comes “full circle,” hence the name of the company.
Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?
We’re making it easier for people to choose more sustainable products because of how we design our products. We make better products, that happen to also be sustainable. Not much thought is usually given to household items like scrub brushes or sponges, semi-disposable products that are often hidden away under the sink.
At Full Circle, we like to treat every product we design as objects people will leave out on their counter because they are beautiful, functionally better, and also happen to be green. We apply this thinking to our products that range from kitchen cleaning tools to hydration solutions from Soma, a B-Corp that recently joined the Full Circle Brands family.
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
At our core, Full Circle inspires thoughtful change in people’s everyday choices that ultimately contribute to a larger cause: helping our planet. It’s about making better, more informed choices that when combined, ladder up to a larger impact. To swap out a plastic bottle for a glass one, to not reach for a single-use plastic bag but a reusable one instead, and to be on the lookout constantly for how to be better every day.
What this boils down to is choosing better materials. Some of the materials we use are walnut shells, cellulose, biodegradable plastic, vegetable dyes, recycled ocean plastic, organic cotton, recycled glass, recycled aluminum, coconut, bamboo and more—and we make these materials well-known in all of our communications so consumers can start proactively seeking out these materials elsewhere in their lives.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
We recently just expanded our offerings to hydration, filtration and coffee/tea with the addition of Soma, along with a new line of bathroom cleaning and composting products. In 2019 alone, we created more than 50 products and have no intention on slowing down as we stay committed to innovating everyday household essentials. We’re excited to see more and more products added as we aim to be the recognized family of brands people seek out when they want a better, sustainable, and responsibly-made household product.
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
Let improving your everyday routine inspire you. Sometimes changing the mundane can make the biggest difference to people’s lives and to the world. An example is a simple, household sponge. The sheer number of sponges that are thrown away each year (400 million in the U.S. alone – most of which are plastic) snapped into focus for me when I was running a marathon last year, where hundreds of thousands of cool down plastic sponges were littering the road. It was then that I decided that as an entrepreneur and business owner, I had the platform to bring the sponge problem to light – and our latest effort was born: Start with A Sponge.
We’re asking people to take the pledge to start small when it comes to making better choices every day, by swapping out plastic sponges for all-natural cellulose ones. It’s turned into a true movement as more than 4.1 million plastic sponges have been eliminated from the environment thanks to the 38K consumers taking the online pledge. And the number continues to grow. The campaign is a testament that small things – and small choices – can amount to something much larger.
What is your favorite business quote and why?
“There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed.”
— Ray Goforth
What have been some of your achievements that you are most proud of? Why?
I currently work as a mentor to young adults who are looking to start their very own businesses, which has been really rewarding. It’s been quite a journey since the start of Full Circle Home and I think sharing the process that we went through to get to where we are today can really add value to others.