Why I started a sustainable business creating eco-friendly bottles

Cheski (Francesca) Kennedy Wallbank, 25, lives in Surrey. She is the director of H2OSQD, a sustainable bottle brand.

Cheski Kennedy Wallbank on setting up sustainable business H2OSQD

I’m Cheski, an adventure-seeking, sustainable-loving, road cycling enthusiast from Surrey. I’m a bit of a thrill-seeker and enjoy daring activities. I’ve bungee jumped tied to my twin, solo skydived, sailed down the Suez Canal and paraglided off a Slovak mountain.

I love seeing new cultures and experiencing new adventures, and have been to 38 countries at the age of 25, including living in Poland, volunteering in Sri Lanka for a tsunami charity and sailing across the Atlantic with my family.

Why I started my sustainable business

I took a career break in October 2019 as I wanted to go travelling before I started the standard career ladder climb, I travelled to Australia and New Zealand and managed to get caught in the bushfires and flooding before the pandemic. For obvious reasons, my year of travelling couldn’t be pursued so I spent lockdown building H2OSQD.

Read more: Plastic-free beauty

I’m one of those people who will not leave the house without water and pretty much anywhere I am, I bet you’ll find a bottle of water next to me (I may or may not have been known to panic if I lose my water bottle). And so when I was going for long walks in the countryside during the pandemic and my water bottle wouldn’t fit into my bag or pocket, I found it very annoying! I like to wear small crossover bags and only wanted to carry my phone, earphones and water

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This was also a problem for emergency staff – my step-mum is a doctor for the NHS and my boyfriend is a police officer and both have been working throughout the pandemic and because they were so busy, needed a water bottle that could fit into their uniform pockets.

I was not a fan of the metallic taste from metal water bottles and liked drinking fresh water so preferred a smaller ml size. That’s what made me look for a flat water bottle but I couldn’t find any that I really liked that were colourful and had the ethos of a company I would usually buy from.

Also, coming from a large family with five sisters and one brother, we would always need our names on everything so then I thought about adding personalisation and that’s how the personalised, flat, vegan, carbon-neutral water bottle was born!

My sustainable bottle brand

H2OSQD is a sustainable brand offering personalised flat, reusable and BPA-free water bottles, designed to fit where others can’t. Whether it’s a cross-over bag for a day with the girls, a rucksack to slide next to children’s books for school or even a large pocket for those dog walks – our bottles fit.

Our bottles come with a leak-proof lid, vegan leather carry strap and a soft silicone sleeve that comes in black, white or pink. You can customise however you like from monogram, full name or logo personalisation.

As a business, H2OSQD is:

  • Carbon negative; we offset our emission with tree planting in South England Schools
  • Affiliated with the Prince’s Trust
  • Proudly British located in Surrey

The process

I worked in supply chain for over three years previously for brands such as Lynx, Vaseline and Dove so I luckily had quite a bit of experience in sourcing, manufacturing and logistics.

The first step was sending a request for quotation to multiple suppliers which is a formal document stating exactly what you require for your product.

I knew I wanted the bottle to be vegan, have various colour options and to be flat in shape. Once I found a supplier which already had the capability to produce what I wanted, I ordered samples – which are a lot more costly than you would think!

After some tweaking to make it perfect (I was not happy with the packaging they could supply so have a few suppliers for different parts of the bottle), I organised a courier to deliver the products to HQ.

Overcoming challenges

There were ongoing back and forth discussions, with the most challenging part being the time difference which prolonged the whole process.

The other part which took huge consideration was the volumes. All suppliers will have a minimum order quantity which I spent a long time negotiating, as 2,000 units per colour were far too many for my first order! In the end, we agreed on 2,000 bottles split between different colours (black, white and pink) which is still a hefty investment but one I knew I had to make.

Make sure there’s a need for your product

The most important part of selling products is demand and supply. If there’s no demand, there’s no need for supply and so you don’t have a business.

The first step is to test the market to see if your product is really in demand. You can set-up a free shop on Etsy or Amazon depending on your product and you can use software to mock-up your product to see if people want it or not. For example, with H2OSQD I used Etsy and took pre-orders only. This enabled me to see if the product was really in demand or not. Because I was getting sales every day from organic search only, I knew this could be a viable business.

I’d then make sure your idea is really unique and base your keywords around that. I also found it really helpful to have a mentor (or two) to hold you accountable to deadlines and to give you a different perspective.

My tips for budding business owners

Learn it

As a business owner, you’re going to need to know how to do everything, from delivering parcels to coding your website so you need to continuously learn and gain new skills daily.

Plan it

Without a plan things can get messy, I found having a marketing schedule really useful so I know what needs to be done every month.

Do it

Sometimes in life, you have to take a financial risk, and if it doesn’t work, have a back-up plan. But overall, a strong belief and determination go a long way. Focus on your own path, don’t get distracted by others as these can lead you the wrong way.

Smile

It’s all going to be alright. We all have the power with choices we make to change the world we live in and it really is that simple.

Why sustainable business is important

The choice between eating plant-based or not, the choice between cycling or driving your car for a particular journey, the choice to buy a sustainable product or not. These decisions we make every day can have positive or negative effects on the world.

I believe all businesses should be accountable for their environmental impact. That’s why with every purchase, H2OSQD work with Carbon Footprint to offset the carbon we emit with tree planting in schools in South East England. You can even plant our tags!

Working for large brands, I’ve realised they’re not going to change, so small businesses, like ourselves, are the ones that have to drive that change. That change needs to be more drastic, such as planting trees to offset your carbon footprint, in order to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere.

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