With plastic pollution becoming more and more apparent today, many people are finally trying to make the switch to plastic-free living. Just one plastic bottle can last up to 450 years in the marine environment and whilst they do break down into microscopic pieces, they never truly go away (SAS Org, 2019). However, when being presented with shelf after shelf of plastic packaging at your local supermarket, it’s not always easy.
Samantha Newton and twin sister, Michelle Arthur brought the choice to cut out plastic completely to those in Leeds back in 2018, opening a zero waste shop in Central Arcade at the heart of Leeds City Centre.
Since then, Samantha and Michelle have juggled starting up a business, dealing with customer demand, and being full-time mums, all at the same time. Making their huge achievement of being nominated for ‘New Starter Business of the Year’ and ‘Independent Business of the Year’ for The Yorkshire Choice Awards 2020, all the more impressive.
Here’s a Q&A with co-owner, Samantha Newton, on all things ecoTopia.
How did you turn the idea of opening up your own shop together into a reality?
I think the first steps were just figuring out if it was actually a realistic option. We’d never run a business before and we had no experience of doing anything like this, so it was a bit like jumping in at the deep end, without learning how to swim first. We figured we both have managerial experience, we’ve both done customer service, and basically we ticked all the boxes, apart from being easily available due to having kids. So, at this point we already knew we’d have to hire some help. The next step was figuring out finances, which thanks to the start-up loan scheme run by the government, this was one of the easy steps. Then the next step was looking for a place to have our shop. We knew Leeds would be expensive, but after some detailed hunting and advice, we found Central Arcade. And from the moment we looked inside we knew it was the one. Once the shop and finances were sorted we were on the straight and narrow to opening our own business.
What is it like to be full-time mums whilst owning and managing your business?
I guess, just as difficult as it sounds. Being flexible is difficult at the best of times when you’re a mum, but we’ve been really lucky to have some great helpers from the start. While sorting out the shop fixtures and fittings we actually had set up a little crèche area for my one year old to be able to play while we were building shelves, cutting and measuring. Then we had to time all this between naps, and picking up Michelle’s two kids from school. It definitely wasn’t easy, but I think we might have made it look that way.
When we first opened, we had Luke and Heather, having these guys made our lives so much easier when it came to being full time mums. And when they went back home after completing university, we got Luc. And Luc has been a godsend. I cannot stress enough how great staff can help your business function without a hitch.
What is it like to be in business with your sister?
I can’t say it’s been easy, but I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult either. Because we’re twins, we’re quite close, so we can say what we’re really thinking without worrying about upsetting anyone, but then at the same time we can be more upfront when we do get upset with each other… It’s a bit of a double edged sword.
How does it feel to be nominated for ‘New Starter Business of the Year’ and ‘Independent Business of the Year’ for The Yorkshire Choice Awards 2020?
It feels amazing. It’s like some kind of recognition that we did the right thing in taking on this challenge, and people have understood our mission and are now able to tell us we have done it well. We can only hope that this sends a message to bigger businesses that our kind of shop is the kind of shop people want. People are voting for more sustainable shopping! We’re literally in this just for our kids, but the bonus of helping others do the same for theirs, their families and the planet is a great feeling.
How rewarding has the journey been so far?
Well, we aren’t in this to get rich, just having enough to pay the bills is nice. But regarding being able to offer eco-friendly shopping to Leeds, it’s been really rewarding. We have saved a serious amount of plastic packaging by opening this shop. And because we also accept waste for three Terracycle streams, we have helped recycle a serious amount of plastic packaging, with the side effect of raising funds for a charity of our choice (Sea Shepherd UK), so all in all, it has been majorly rewarding. It’s shops like ours, and the public’s response to them, that give me real hope for the future and the next generation.