We are all too familiar with the facts and figures of the staggering amount of waste we generate — in Malaysia alone, it is an estimated 30,000 tonnes per day. Studies have also found that 13% of it is plastic and in 2015, our country was ranked the eighth largest producer of mismanaged plastic waste. This is a scary notion as plastic waste will likely remain in landfills — or worse, in rivers and seas — for centuries.
One must acknowledge that over the years, there have been changes in the mindset and habits of consumers — more are carrying eco-bags when shopping and refusing plastic packaging whenever possible. Yet, there is still an urgent need to step up the pace if we want to make a greater impact. Much has been said about being mindful of our day-to-day decisions that affect the environment, and The Hive is one of the few businesses that facilitate consumers in walking the talk.
For its owner Claire Sancelot, who moved to Malaysia over three years ago, the packaging-free store that carries quality goods at affordable prices has always been her dream. Speaking with her, it is quickly apparent that she is a woman on a mission and determined to make a difference as far as unnecessary packaging is concerned.
Located in Bangsar, The Hive offers a variety of ingredients like organic seeds, nuts, grains, dried fruits and other condiments — all housed in large jars — and a range of sustainable household products. Consumers come prepared with their own containers while a paperless system means the receipt will be in one’s email inbox by the time one gets to the car.
A zero-waste way of living may sound daunting to some but Sancelot approaches the topic candidly, which is refreshing. Her ideas are bold yet practical, weaving The Hive’s sustainability philosophy into a business model as seamlessly as possible. “I was happy to see that I was not the only crazy person who wanted packaging-free, non-processed food.” She propounds consuming less and choosing better ingredients and products.
Although the store only stocked bulk foods when it first opened its doors, Sancelot quickly saw the need for a lifestyle section. Today, The Hive offers over 120 food items while the lifestyle products are extremely popular too. The latter includes reusable straws, bamboo toothbrushes, natural silk floss as well as natural shampoo, deodorant, body butter and soap.
The popularity of its women’s sanitary products have exceeded the store owner’s expectations. Besides the cloth pad, there is the freedom cup (which has a lifespan of 10 years) and for each one purchased, another will be donated to an underprivileged woman in Nepal. The Hive also partners United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to produce some of its sustainable products.
Every now and then, a local farmer places a basket of organic leafy greens at the shop. Sancelot feels strongly about buying locally as it creates a win-win situation for everyone, including the economy. On the higher prices of organic produce, she is fairly certain that an increase in demand and supply will help reduce prices. Though she takes great pride in building a relationship of trust with local artisans and entrepreneurs, not all items are available locally, resulting in her having to source from bigger suppliers. “I have no idea who runs the larger companies but who I do know is everybody else and I know each of them individually,” she says in all honesty while adding, “We do not operate on consignment. It is tough on suppliers, difficult to keep track of inventory and products can stay on the shelf, collecting dust for months.”
Sancelot is passionate about empowering women with families and children to have flexible working hours as well. She has no problem admitting that when choosing a vendor, priority is given to female entrepreneurs. “Women must help other women,” she says decidedly.
On the ultimate dream, she says it is “to have The Hive in every major city; a Malaysian brand that we can be proud of”. With a second store scheduled to open in the next six months, she appears to be on the right track.
When asked what keeps her going despite the challenges faced — including the shop being robbed within a few months of its opening — the young mother says without hesitation, “Having young kids. Mommy did not want to give them a rotten planet when I could have done something about it”, proving the saying that mothers do indeed know best.
This article first appeared on Apr 23, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.