Martita Mestey of Authority Magazine sat down with Sarah Spliethoff, Founder of Sunniemade, for a Q&A as part of their series
 about how companies are becoming more sustainable. See highlights from the interview below and read the full interview here.



Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After 10 years in the marketing agency world, I wanted to find a way to make a more positive impact on the world. I’m passionate about preserving the environment by reducing waste and eliminating plastic, and over the years, I’ve made many small (and big) changes to make my personal routine more sustainable. But there was one swap that I felt was often overlooked: moving from bar to bottles. Most liquid products are up to 90% water, and the addition of water creates unnecessary plastic packaging, increases shipping emissions, and requires the addition of preservatives (because water attracts bacteria). It seemed obvious that switching to a bar format was better for both people and planet, but I found that most conventional soaps were not telling a compelling sustainability story, and there was a huge awareness gap about shampoo and conditioner bars. That’s when I decided to build a brand that could educate and excite consumers about making the switch.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

I started Sunniemade to make the world a little bit brighter — one bar at a time. We inspire others to make sustainable swaps in their daily routines by offering products that are easy and fun to make a habit out of.

I believe that if we’re going to fight climate change successfully, the most responsible choice can — and should — also be the most desirable one. That’s why I set out to create plastic-free personal care that’s not just sustainable, but affordable and enjoyable too.

Our brand attracts customers to the category with empowerment and positive reinforcement, and our concentrated, effective products show that sustainable self-care can be both nourishing and indulgent.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Our singular goal as a company is to put more plants — and less plastic — on this planet. For us, this is more than a single initiative or a response to trends: this has been our core mission from day one and is embedded in everything we do, from products to packaging to philanthropy.

Here’s how we deliver on this goal:

Product — Our effective, plant-powered formulations are completely free from parabens, phthalates, SLS/SLES, synthetic fragrances and dyes, animal cruelty, and animal products. This ensures that we protect both people and the planet from ingredients that can harm the environment, animals and human health.

Packaging — Our bars come in boxes — not bottles — so our packaging is completely plastic-free. Each box is both recyclable and compostable and printed with soy-based inks on 100% recycled paper. Each hair care bar replaces up to three plastic bottles, and each bar of soap is equivalent to one bottle. Further, our solid, low-weight, long-lasting products significantly reduce emissions compared to liquid products.

Philanthropy — We are a 1% for the Planet partner and direct all of our donations to organizations that support reforestation efforts.This helps offset the paper packaging we require, and ensures that we’re truly delivering on our commitment to putting more plants — and less plastic — on this earth. 

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  • Be a student of your customer. Founders are often inspired to develop a product in response to a need they felt as a consumer. While personal insights are totally valid and often lead to great businesses, they don’t replace the research you need to do about the industry and customer. Whether its through informal conversations with customers in person or more formalized focus groups or surveys, having a really deep understanding of your target customers’ decision making process, pain points, and needs will ensure your product and brand really resonates with more people on a deeper level.

  • Always be optimizing. As a business owner (especially a bootstrapped business), the work is never done, and that’s okay. As soon as you’re done celebrating version 1.0, you should be thinking “how can I improve upon this?” Always look for opportunities to evolve and elevate your product, message, website, etc.

  • Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Starting a business means taking personal and professional risks. Rather than having a boss evaluate your work one-on-one, the general public will, and you should be prepared to embrace that. You’ll get all sorts of input (often unsolicited) and your big swings will now have an audience. Try to have a thick skin and give yourself credit for showing up and putting yourself out there every day.

  • Have a plan — and be prepared to change it. When you’re navigating uncharted waters, it’s hard to know where to start or what to expect. Despite your uncertainty (you’ve never done this before!) you still need to have a plan to work towards. Make some educated guesses, set some goals, and give yourself deadlines to stick to. Then, reevaluate them constantly as you learn and gather more information. Everything can — and should — change.

  • Learn from your mistakes. You will inevitably make mistakes, and that’s okay. As long as you’re learning from them, you’re still making progress. The road from point A to point B is never a straight shot. The twists and turns (and sometimes U-turns) are all part of the process. Just be sure you take what you learned to power more forward momentum.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Aside from my mission of inspiring folks to cut out plastic, I’d love to see a broader movement to return to old fashioned habits. I think if more people spent time making and building, and less time consuming, we’d have a better understanding and appreciation of the resources we consume. In a world where food and products are cheap and delivered instantly, its easy to lose sight of their value and impact on the world. Whether it’s making food from scratch, growing goodness from a garden, or crafting/upcycling things for your home or closet, simple hobbies like these remind us of the resources and effort that go into every item we produce. This mindset can help us overcome the societal addiction to instant gratification, single-use, convenience, and overconsumption that’s at the root of a lot of our current climate problems.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“Perfect is the enemy of done.” As a perfectionist myself, this quote really resonates with me, because in both starting a business and in making sustainable progress, there’s no such thing as perfect. As a business owner, I’m balancing tight budgets, limited resources, and an endless to-do list, and I have to prioritize action over perfection.

As an environmentalist, I have to recognize that there will always be environmental consequences to every choice I make, and it’s okay to take small steps towards a “better” option rather than endlessly seeking a “perfect” option that doesn’t exist.

By focusing on progress over perfection, we liberate ourselves from analysis paralysis and open ourselves up to innovation, optimization, and evolution.

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!