Maria Rodriguez is founder of London-based sustainable start-up, Kind Bag. Maria is on a mission to empower people to live a more sustainable life by creating stylish accessories that look good and do good. The company, which is owned and run by women, aims to inspire a new generation of conscious consumers who are committed to having a positive impact on the planet.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I was born and raised in Tenerife, Canary Islands. I studied law at Complutense University of Madrid and came to London afterwards in 2015 to develop my career and hone my English, working as an intern at a law firm. I met my partner James who had just started his own company called Love Cocoa and began helping him. It was then that I realised how rewarding it is to work in a start-up environment, especially an ethically-minded challenger brand.
I pooled all my savings together to launch Kind Bag in 2019. The brand is on a mission to turn plastic waste into stylish accessories. Consumers can find it daunting to make changes to be sustainable, especially with fashion, because of the high cost or limited options. We want to challenge these preconceptions. Every Kind Bag recycles at least four plastic bottles, and each bag is super stylish. They are 100% recycled as well as recyclable.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
I became more and more aware of environmental issues. I also travelled around Asia and saw so many beautiful sceneries, but they were often polluted – by plastic waste, particularly plastic bags. As someone who grew up surrounded by beautiful nature, it was extremely shocking to witness this. This was my wake-up call to try and do something positive to help the environment. I always struggled to carry my shopping in plastic bags – the handles always dig in and they’re not always strong enough – so I thought it’d be a great idea to come up with a sustainable and stylish shopper.
Every Kind Bag has been specially developed to reduce single-use plastic, recycling old plastic bottles destined for the landfill or the ocean to create each one of its design-led, eco-friendly bags. With sustainability continuing to be the single biggest focus in fashion as increasing numbers of consumers consider the environmental impact of their shopping choices, Kind Bag is part of a growing generation of designers that are putting an eco-conscious ethos at the heart of their collections.
Every Kind Bag is made from 100% RPET with a completely sustainable and ethical production process. The bags are made from one piece of fabric (meaning minimal waste) and printed using environmentally-friendly sublimation ink. Everything from the product itself and the ink used, through to the FSC-certified packaging has been carefully chosen with the planet in mind. We also support caring charities including Just One Ocean and WWF UK by donating 1% of all sales (not just profits).
How did you achieve awareness?
A mix of everything really; being a startup is hard in a lot of ways but especially in terms of awareness as we don’t have a huge marketing budget. This can make it difficult to compete with other largescale companies. We try to be as creative as possible within what we are able to do… we collaborate with other brands on social media, we engage with our followers and audience as much as we can through socials and our email newsletters. We have tried to expand our brand internationally using distributors and sales agents as well
We also run a lot of our own marketing campaigns. For example, we are currently hosting a special competition for International Women’s Day. As a female owned and run company it’s something close to our heart and we want to shine a light on the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women from all walks of life. As part of this, we have collaborated with the artist and illustrator Maggie Stephenson to create a beautiful collection of bags that celebrate the female form and the natural world – see here.
Getting involved in events and pop-ups also helps a lot with awareness. We are currently involved in a pop-up with Circla that includes 30 other amazing sustainable brands. Events like this provide a great opportunity to get our products in front of as many different people as possible so they can see how amazing they are!
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I used my own savings to start the business. For most of the first year, I did absolutely everything myself as I couldn’t afford to pay for an employee, so I was packing up the orders, queuing at the post office to get them sent out, etc. Fortunately, the business took off really quickly and now Kind Bag HQ has an all-female team of five, plus our office dog. The business has had three investment offers to date, but I’ve rejected them all – I’m looking for the right investor who can add real value to company and who shares our vision.
What are the key successes?
Having recycled over 3.5 million plastic bottles with Kind Bag so far! It really is a dream come true and I am so grateful to everyone who’s joined our mission. Using Kind Bag means a lot more than just saving plastic bottles from landfill, it helps prevent the deterioration of our eco systems further and protects wildlife from consuming plastic.
I was also thrilled to win Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year Award for London and the South-East at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in partnership with Starling Bank! To have the business recognised in this way was complete validation for all the hard work that the Kind Bag team has put in over the past few years.
It’s been amazing to see how rapidly the business is growing. In our first year we made almost £500,000 in sales. with 2021 predicted to make in £800,000 (our year ends at the end of February 2022). In our first year we had no employees for the first half, and only 3 for the second. We are now a team of 5, plus our lovely dog Wispa, with plans to expand. I can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store for the brand.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
To tell you the truth, I face some sort of challenge on a daily basis. I still struggle with imposter syndrome. It’s not a bad thing, because it’s an opportunity to grow both as a young company and also personally. I thrive on learning and challenging myself to be the best I can be.
I wasn’t born or raised here and although I speak fluent English it is still difficult in certain circumstances, mainly when I have to speak publicly or under stressful situations. This can sometimes make me feel self-conscious and at a slight disadvantage to other entrepreneurs. I try not to think about it too much and when I do I remind myself that my accent means I can speak several languages and that is a thing I should be proud of!
What are your plans now/for the future?
We have already conquered a lot of countries, but we want to make our distribution around the world stronger and conquer the countries we are yet to reach. We want Kind Bags to be available to all, wherever they might be! We also have big plans in the works to broaden our collection to include different types of products – still 100% made from recycled plastic of course! This year alone, we plan to add a range of laptop cases, pouches, yoga bags, cross body bags and a couple of new artist collaboration collections.
Every day, we receive great feedback from our lovely customers. This spurs us on to continue to reach more people, who wouldn’t otherwise have tried our products, in the hope that it stops them from reaching for the conveniently placed, but highly polluting single-use plastic bags.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Be flexible and ready to change your direct if necessary. So many things can happen unexpectedly – we all know that since COVID! But most importantly make sure you follow your instincts and don’t be afraid to take risks as they can really pay off.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Make sure you’re happy with what you’re doing
Trust yourself and your team
Understand the importance of delegating
Be ready to adapt to unexpected circumstances
Don’t forget to look after yourself
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
- My mum- She’s always in my corner and worked hard to give me the best life and education that she could.
- Malala Yousafzai – For her courageousness and passion. Her dedication to fight for female education and rights for girls is truly inspirational.
- Waris Dirie – Born a nomad in the Somali desert, Waris moved to London and became one of the first African supermodels to get a deal with Revlon. Since then, she’s been a Bond girl and became a goodwill ambassador. I love that she uses her platform for good, to fight against female genital mutilation.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – An American politician and activist, Alexandria knows that change takes courage and is unafraid to speak her mind. As the youngest woman to ever be elected to congress, she is constantly striving to make positive and necessary changes.
- Gloria Steinem- Gloria is an American feminist journalist and political activist. She was a leader and spokesperson during the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s. She taught women that they could do anything they wanted, if not better than a man. She really opened women’s minds to how they should be treated and strove to prove we are all equal!
What is your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
Kindness never goes out of style.
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
 Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate
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