Updated: Apr 27
It might seem ironic that the detergent that you use to “clean” your clothes may not be so clean itself. What most of us don’t know about detergents is that they contain harmful chemicals which can drastically affect living organisms. Taking the initiative to shift focus from hygienic clothes to a hygienic environment is Shaan Lalwani – the founder of Coco Custo, a start-up that manufactures organic and sustainable detergents. Shaan pursued engineering and worked in the real estate and construction sector for nearly 10 years, which she described as a ‘24/7 type of job’. She left the real estate sector for the noble cause of working for a cleaner environment through her work.
The event that led to the venture– A scuba diving trip
What inspired her to start a company that manufactured environment friendly detergents? Talking on The Climapreneur Show, Shaan tells us that her start-up was born as a result of her passion for scuba diving. She was in Mauritius for a scuba diving trip and had been informed about one of the instructors that the usual bey where the beginners were taken for the dive was not being used anymore for dives. This was because chemicals from cleaning products had led to the death of coral in the bey. Deeply saddened by the news she had received, Shaan decided that she was going to do something to ensure a better and cleaner environment for humans as well as for other living creatures. Thus, Coco Custo was born with the founder's view to come up with a safe and sustainable detergent for people to use. The event had an impact of such great magnitude that she decided to quit her job and work on her product and her start-up with undivided focus. The creative name of the start-up is inspired by the inventor of scuba diving-Jacques Cousteau, and an important ingredient in the company’s detergent- Coconut.
Embarking upon the journey and sailing steadily
The road has been a rather long and difficult one which has required patience and persistence. Coco Custo's founder tells us that she had been developing her product for 18 months before she launched it. Finding the right mix of ingredients required a lot of time and research, or rather, as the founder says, “reading journal articles by people who had performed experimentation with ingredients.” Trial and error have been an important part of the process for Shaan Lalwani. She says that she spent a lot of time reading journal articles by scientists after emailing them, asking them to send their articles to her. She then used to perform her own experiments on a "little table" in the house.
However, 18 months of efforts of trying to get the right product have not been enough, the detergent has been evolving since the past 3 years. With every turn came a new challenge that needed tackling. The founder gives an example of how in the early days the product led to clothes not feeling soft, or how it led to "clumping" if the water temperature was below 23°C. Then, the detergent failed to remove sweat stains. After receiving feedback from many different people, she has had to try and find plant-based ingredients to solve each problem. Experimentation and feedback are the two things that have been the most important for Shaan. “I like experimentation and it's my favourite part of the job” says Coco Custo's founder. She also opens about how negative feedback often made her feel awful, how she felt like it would be difficult to get back up and keep going. However, her passion to do something for the environment is what gave her the motivation to keep improving and working on her detergent. She was determined to segregate that part of the negative feedback that lowered her morale and confidence from the part that helped her to improve her product. She is extremely receptive to feedback and is committed to improving based on it. Today, Coco Custo makes plant and mineral based products and uses certified organic oils in its detergents. It uses safe, natural and abundant elements such as sodium carbonate in its ingredient mix. Shaan proudly says, "We do not use fruit extracts, we use actual fruits in powder form to remove certain stains." It is safe to say that after endless experimentation and long countless days of hard work, she has found the right ingredient mix for her detergent.
The importance of Climate action
Shaan speaks about the benefits of using sustainable and eco-friendly detergents. Of course, the environment is better off without the toxic chemicals that inorganic detergents use and it is the era of climate change hence we must do our part to ensure a cleaner environment. Additionally, using organic detergents is essential on a personal level as well. Coco Custo's founder gives an example of her own life to explain the negative effects of detergents. She had to take medicines for allergy every night because she used to feel itchy as result of hives. She and her family believed that it was because of the food she ate or the material of her clothes. However, after ages she realised that it was her ingredient that was giving her so much trouble. All thanks to the switch she made to her own company's detergent. The sulphate and SLS from inorganic detergents can have multiple negative repercussions for humans, and they have a bio accumulation factor due to which they tend to build up in your skin. Ergo, it is important to use natural detergents for your health as well as for the environment.
Lessons for entrepreneurial minds
Amid the pandemic, people have become conscious about their actions in relation to the environment and sustainability, Though Coco Custo has expanded its customer base, it is a known common fact that start-ups do not have a guarantee about the number of sales they may be able to make each day. Every day poses a different challenge for an entrepreneur. Mindset and attitude matter a lot. The attitude that Shaan Lalwani has towards her business is nothing short of inspirational. She believes that being an entrepreneur is like 'being on a rollercoaster ride'. One day, the company may not generate any sales at all and the next day they may get sold out. However, what matters is the dedication to keep going, to work on past mistakes and to ensure that you do everything in your power to deliver the right product to your customers. According to her, for an entrepreneur the priority must not be packaging and branding, it should be providing the right product. She teaches us that there are ups and downs to being an entrepreneur, and there are days that amazing and days that are awful. It is very important to remember the purpose of the start-up on the awful days, only then can the start-up succeed and have great days. Hence, besides inspiring us to be climate conscious for ourselves as well as for the environment, Shaan also inspires us to have a strong and steady mindset with laser-like focus on our objectives. Staying strong has definitely helped Coco Custo succeed. The founder says, “It feels good to be a regular brand, and not just something that was a tiny idea in my head.” Let us keep our fingers crossed as we hope for greater success of the company and for the fact that more people start using natural detergents so we may not only have cleaner clothes to wear but a cleaner lifestyle to flaunt.
Link to watch the complete episode : Everyday is Awful and Everyday is Amazing | Shaan Lalwani | Coco Custo