To celebrate this International Women's Day on 8th March, we interviewed fellow female business founder Frankie Layton from The Dirt Company - revolutionary, refillable laundry essentials, to find out how she started the business and how she balances work life with motherhood, and what advice she has to other aspiring female business founders out there.
Can you share the story of how your business started?
I decided to create a laundry detergent because I saw an opportunity to deliver a better product and experience, in a more sustainable way. It was an opportunity that I’d been seeking for a better part of a decade: to do good business, resulting in less environmental harm. I first developed an itch to create a business focussed on sustainability when I was 18.
I pondered and researched and learnt that when we were at sea, it was perfectly legal, and normal to dump whatever you wanted so long as you were 12 nautical miles offshore. (This law was amended in 2013, it’s now illegal to dump certain types of waste, including plastic). It got me thinking very hard about trash. Until then, in my mind trash had always just "gone away". I didn’t realise ‘away’ meant landfill and often, the ocean - it’s still with us.
Standing in the supermarket aisle one day I was stumped looking at what laundry detergent to buy. I started to notice other things about the category too. Heaps of excess packaging. Very well disguised cost per wash. Very well hidden ingredients. The list went on. It was like the concept of sustainability had not yet hit the laundry aisle. I could do better. I just knew it.
From development, to getting the first product to our customers, it took two years to create Dirt. To get it off the ground, I brought on three co-founders and enlisted the help of anyone who had hands (or paws).
What change do you want to make in the consumer products industry?
I would love to see companies be truly responsible for their own waste. Our system is one of complete circular ownership.
Describe your typical work day?
We get up, and make a smoothie for the kids, and grab a breakfast muffin out of the freezer for them.
I grab a coffee, do my emails, write my todo list and then crack on.
I generally start with ‘getting the picture jobs’, like reporting, followed by the meaty thing that I don’t want to do.
Then my afternoon is reserved for more fun things, like meetings, content and warehouse work. I wrap up around 4.30, and head home to start the dinner dash.
Your product range has expanded over the last two years. Which product is currently your favourite?
This is an easy one. The Powder Booster. It is an absolutely stain saver for the lazy-washer (me).
Most memorable challenge you have overcome while building the brand?
When we first launched we used Aluminium instead of Glass for our dispenser bottles. The problem with that, was that Aluminium would expand and contact with changes in temperature (something that is hard to avoid in the laundry). This would damage the barrier between the bottle and the detergent, and eventually corrode the bottle.
Not very good for a bottle that was supposed to last a lifetime.
We have replaced every case we know about, and fortunately waste from this predicament is limited by the fact that Aluminium is a very valuable recycling material in Australia, but the stress oh my gosh!
From trying to understand the issue, to trying to fix it, to finding a new solution - that was a time!
If I’m pretty new to laundry (and my partner does the washing), what’s the best way to start with The Dirt Company?
I would say start with the Staples Starter Pack.
You can choose which laundry detergent you like (Advanced Wash for those that like that fresh laundry smell, Original for those who prefer light to no lingering smells).
It then comes with a booster, which makes stain removal such a breeze.
And our carry on Stain Remover, so you can treat stains on the go.
It really is everything you need for keeping your clothes (and your conscience), clean and sparkling.
How do you balance mum life with work?
Oh gosh. Sometimes well, sometimes poorly. I generally prioritise my time to where it is most needed. When both are running well, and there’s no sickness in our household - this is completely manageable. When the business is straining, and the children are sick, it is just a grind until we all pull through.
I also outsource where I can. We have a cleaner every fortnight, and we’ve found a great local woman who makes home made meals in returnable, reusable packaging, so when I know I am going to be really busy I make sure I have an order in from her.
Best thing about running your own business?
There is so much to be grateful for - but I would say for me it would have to be the ability to work on problems I find interesting, everyday.
Advice to other women who want to launch a brand?
At the beginning The Dirt Company, actually somehow was more restricting in our life than having children. It meant we couldn’t take a holiday, it decided when I had to lean in and lean out of work, and when it spat the dummy, it was all consuming. I wish someone had told me that, so I was ready for it!
That being said, as we have grown the clouds have parted, because there are other people around to help us on the journey.
So it does pass, but at the beginning it’s tough.
My advice; make sure whatever you do, you find something you’re passionate about - so that when it asks you to sacrifice in ways it inevitably will, you do it gladly.