We catch up with sustainable lifestyle blogger turned eco-entrepreneur Laura Williamson about her journey launching Plantdays, the local environmentally-friendly brands she loves and more…
When it comes to living sustainably in Hong Kong, it can sometimes be easier said than done. Our city’s track record with environmental practices hardly bodes well, and a general lack of awareness has traditionally left us with limited options, let alone stylish ones. But rest assured, covetable planet-friendly living is possible, especially with eco-entrepreneurs like Laura Williamson at the fore.
The Plantdays founder is on a mission to prove that sustainability can be stylish, and if the success of the brand’s recent PMQ pop-up is any indication, she’s smashing it. Anyone in doubt need only look at Plantdays’ curated online marketplace, brimming with local female-founded labels stocking beautiful and timeless slowly-made homewares, clothing and skincare essentials. Ahead of Earth Day, who better to catch up with about all things eco? Keep reading to find out more about Laura’s journey launching Plantdays, the local eco-conscious brands she loves and more…
Make sure to tune in to our Instagram Stories on Earth Day (Thursday, 22 April, 2021) for Laura’s takeover, where she’ll be sharing her top tips for sustainable living.
Read more: Local Sustainable Fashion Brands We Love
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you lived in Hong Kong?
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia (Southern girl born and raised!), but went to USC in Los Angeles for university. Whilst there, I did a study abroad program at CUHK and completely fell in love with Hong Kong – so much so that I knew I wanted to return someday. After my studies, I started my first full-time job in design and marketing in LA, before coming back to Hong Kong (husband in tow) to pursue my own career path. The rest, as they say, is history!
What prompted you to start thinking more seriously about sustainability?
For me, it all started with food. Around my last year of university, I found out I had a dairy intolerance. After discussing with a doctor, I decided to cut out dairy cold turkey, and almost immediately noticed a change. I was no longer sluggish, had much more energy throughout the day, a clearer head and, overall, just felt better. I was never a big meat eater, so it was a relatively easy transition for me to start living a plant-based lifestyle. Note: I was living in Los Angeles at the time, where vegan options could be found literally everywhere.
Looking back on it, that was just the tip of the iceberg. After that, I really started to discover and learn more about the environmental impact not just of what we eat, but also of what we wear, of what skincare and makeup we use, and more generally, how we choose to live our everyday lives. I started to form my core principle: it’s not about being perfect; it’s about making small, manageable changes every day to live a more low impact lifestyle that’s kind on the planet.
At the end of the day, we are living in symbiosis with the planet, not just on it. We have to start thinking of our lives as having an impact, not just on other people but on the environment as well. This is why it matters so much to me to try my hardest to be more mindful and more sustainable. Just like with everything, it’s a journey.
We’re huge fans of Plantdays and its mission to support small, local eco-conscious brands. What inspired you to start it?
Not many people know that Plantdays started back in 2019 as a series of gatherings. I had been working freelance for a while and, combined with the fact that I don’t drink or socialise much which is how most people in Hong Kong network, was finding it all very alienating. I really wanted to meet other like-minded people in Hong Kong who were interested in sustainability, so I started hosting my very own “Plantdays” gatherings to do just that.
It started with a plant-based brunch at a private kitchen in Wong Chuk Hang, before moving into events like brunch at Slowood (back when the Kennedy Town branch had its cafe), slow beauty gatherings complete with vegan doughnuts, slow beauty manicures and guided meditation, and a dinner at VEDA at the Ovolo hotel. Every gathering was intimate, with less than 15 people, so we really got to know each other. It was through these events that I got to meet so many amazing small business owners, entrepreneurs and sustainability advocates in Hong Kong.
I’ve always been a huge advocate for “shopping small” – I would rather support a small brand or maker creating a unique and special product with a story behind it than one that’s mass manufactured. I started to meet with these amazing women one-on-one to learn about the WHY (why they started their brand or why they do what they do), the WHAT (what makes their products sustainable/what are their ethical practices), and WHO (who does it involve and what impact does it have on people). I ended up meeting with so many amazing female small business owners with such passion behind what they do, but yet still found it difficult to shop small and sustainably in Hong Kong. Why were they not more accessible? How could I share these amazing products not just with Hong Kong people, but with the world?
This is really the crux of how and why Plantdays online was launched. My goal was to create a one-stop-shop for the mindful consumer. It’s a carefully curated, community-driven marketplace for goods that are kind on the planet, on people and on animals. I really wanted to use my platform as a way to prove that sustainability is stylish and to make it more accessible to everyone.
We continue to be driven by community, which is why in addition to our online store, we also host fun DIY workshops, intimate discussions, sustainability street parties, pop-up stores and more.
Read more: 50 Local Hong Kong Brands You Need To Know
There’s so much that comes with starting your own company. Can you share your most meaningful milestone so far?
We recently opened our first pop-up retail store in February, which was a huge milestone for Plantdays. I remember sitting down with Julian, the co-founder and CFO of Plantdays, and asking him if he thought it was a smart decision. He said, “You’ll never know if you don’t try. Don’t be afraid to fail.” And this is something I carry with me always. I don’t do business the traditional way, I’m more likely to jump into a fire and make it work.
It was a big risk as the retail market during COVID-19 isn’t the most reliable avenue. But we were amazed by such overwhelmingly positive feedback from our community of customers and brands. It was really amazing to get the opportunity to meet our Plantdays family face-to-face. Because that is what Plantdays is to us, and that’s what makes Plantdays different from other stores, from other retailers. We are more than just a store; we are a family.
Read more: How To Become Successfully Self-Employed
And on the flip side of that, what has been your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge has been keeping up with our customers. We’ve grown quite quickly over the past six months; we initially had around 15 brands in the Plantdays community and that number has now grown to over 40. Our biggest problem is just keeping on top of everything. When you run a small business, you wear many hats. We do all the marketing, web design, graphic design, analytics and reporting, brand onboarding, client relations, sales, order processing, logistics- literally everything ourselves.
You sometimes stop and think there are just not enough hours in the day to get all our work done! It’s a good problem to have, but we are figuring out how to juggle everything in a timely manner while still giving everyone the attention and care they deserve.
Where do you see Plantdays in five years time?
I hope that Plantdays grows to include even more sustainable, female-owned brands from countries all over Southeast Asia. You can see we have a “Shop By Brand” dropdown menu on our website, where you can shop brands by country. I hope to have as many countries as possible join Plantdays. Julian always jokes with me that I dream too big, but I’m an eternal optimist and a dreamer. I always reach for the stars.
I hope that we can also continue to grow our gatherings, like our original concept for the Plantdays Sustainability Street Party last November, which was a huge success. I wouldn’t say no to more pop-up stores either, possibly in different countries or cities. This again is contingent on the world’s continued response to COVID-19.
We’ve hired our first part-time employee this year, Vigin, who is a local student. I can’t stress enough how amazing she is and how seamlessly she fits into the Plantdays family. She helps manage client relations and marketing. I hope we can continue to grow our team as well.
What are three things you do to maintain work-life balance in your day-to-day?
- Express gratitude. Stop every day to say thank you to whatever or whoever I am grateful for (that usually includes my husband, my family, myself, Mother Earth, coffee). I also don’t believe you can ever say “I love you” too much.
- Be more present. I take 30 minutes every morning without my phone or any screen time. I make my morning coffee, walk our dog Poppy, and talk to my husband. I’ll sit out on our balcony and breathe in the fresh air. This little bit of “me time” in the morning keeps me sane.
- A daily walk. I have to be outside for at least one hour every day. I’ll either go on a walk or a jog, usually through the park. I have always loved nature, ever since I was a kid. I just love listening to the birds and the rustling of the leaves in the wind. I don’t even mind the city noise, as long as I can be outside.
Read more: Hiking Trails Under Two Hours In Hong Kong
What are some of your favourite local sustainable brands you think we should know about?
Get ready for the longest list ever! I am a huge fan of shopping vintage, so Drop Your Closet and HULA have been helping me get my secondhand shopping fix while we’re not able to travel. There’s also not a day that we don’t light about five candles all over our apartment, so I think it’s safe to say that we’re candle addicts. The BLOMSTRE creates amazing soy wax, hand-poured candles made locally in Hong Kong (the Pina Colada scent is my absolute favourite!). WOODCO is a mother-daughter duo that makes really great coconut wax candles.
I love the silk scrunchies from Anaphe, which are actually stitched locally in Hong Kong using cruelty-free silk. And its sleep eye mask helps put me to sleep when I’m having insomnia or anxiety. If you’ve not tried Blue Brew Tea yet, then you’re in for a real treat because Kim brews really tasty butterfly pea flower tea. Combine that with Lekker Stuff CBD chocolate and you’re in for a real treat.
For fashion, I really love the limited edition upcycled collections from Róu So. Sophie designs really gorgeous cuts and fits that are timeless. I also cannot get over my newest obsession with Love From Blue, the first knitwear collection was so good that Julian and I decided to get matching jumpers. I’m also a big fan of Basics for Basics, which makes ethically-produced core pieces great for wardrobe-essentials. I’m wearing the “Wild Thing” sweatshirt as we speak and we’re working on an exciting collaboration for Earth Month to be launched soon (stay tuned)!
When it comes to activewear and loungewear, I’m obsessed with Maha Yogi. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see I wear the tie-dye hoodie basically everyday. It’s so comfortable and I’m a proud outfit repeater. I also really love local brand Good Days, which creates conscious activewear with the cutest colour leggings and matching sports bras. And if you’re a fan of marine wildlife, you won’t want to miss Skin of Nature which creates gorgeous unique activewear centred around the ocean.
Zero Yet 100 is great for natural skincare, and their Glow Getter Body Scrub is the best for adding a subtle shimmer into your everyday life. I also like the Refresh natural deodorant. I told you it’d be hard to get me to only name a couple of brands!
Read more: Local Ethical Beauty Brands To Try Now
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to live a more sustainable life but doesn’t know where to start?
I can’t stress this enough: start with something that already interests you. Maybe you love vegetarian food, or maybe you’re really into thrift shopping. Perhaps you want to try low-waste living, or walk more instead of driving or taking public transportation. I always say this, but it’s crucial that you first try making small, manageable lifestyle changes that are realistic for you. Just like everybody is different, there is no “one size fits all” version of sustainability. What works for someone else may not work for you, and vice versa. You don’t need to uproot your whole life. Start with what you’re truly most interested in, and then learn as you go!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about sustainable living?
That it’s too expensive to live sustainably. This is just simply not true. Remember, the most sustainable option is the one you already own. If you’ve been shopping fast fashion brands, you don’t need to throw out everything you own and replace it with sustainable brands. The whole point is to increase the longevity of what you already have, to maintain a circular economy. This central philosophy is quite simple – and it doesn’t just apply to fashion. You don’t need to go buying a bunch of reusable tote bags, Tupperware, or reusable water bottles. You can keep your Ziploc plastic bags and wash and reuse them; you can use an old bag as a shopping bag; even a plastic bottle can be reused as a water bottle.
One of my driving motivations behind Plantdays is to dispel the myth that sustainable shopping is too expensive. That’s why we will never raise our prices above the recommended retail price. We want our sustainable products to remain as affordable and accessible as possible for our customers.