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What it takes to be grounded in business

By Winnie Makena | October 23rd 2019
By Winnie Makena | October 23rd 2019
Megan Root, Founder Grounded.

Megan Root is the founder of Grounded, a name she says originated from a yoga practice that means “grounded at the roots”.

She spoke to Hustle about her company’s line of non-toxic cleaning solutions, and the motivation behind her idea.

Why did you start Grounded?

I had just had my first child and was overwhelmed by the volume of chemicals in our life and their impact on our health. While you can’t stop your kids from getting sick, I knew I could keep them from absorbing dangerous chemicals linked to noncommunicable diseases.

At the same time, I noticed that our cleaners are exposed all day, every day to toxins in conventional cleaning products. This prolonged interaction has been shown to cause damage to the lungs.

At the time of my research, Nairobi didn’t have an economical non-toxic home cleaning option. I also noticed that there are a lot of amazing natural things in Kenya but few people are adding value into those things.

Armed with a background in manufacturing and quite nerdy about wellness, I started developing a line of non-toxic products, using locally sourced ingredients. The products addressed home toxin loads. That was in 2016.

What products are these you talk about so passionately?

These are products in the very unsexy space of cleaning. We make a variety of soap based products, vinegar based products and hydrogen peroxide based products; all designed to be effective but also reduce toxin loads to the users.

Not just that, the by-products of these cleaners do not add a burden to the environment.

So it is not just about humans?

No. I live along James Gichuru Road, and every time I go near the river, especially on weekends, that river is foaming. The foaming is worse when it rains.

That’s a very unnatural thing for a river to do. A lot of people are washing directly into the river and all those synthetic foaming agents and non-biodegradable chemicals are going straight into the water way, thus upsetting the natural balance of the ecosystem.

Even, in developed countries where 100 per cent of their water undergoes treating, there are still chemicals getting out and into the environment.

So thinking in that context here, where not much is treated, it is important to think about the exposure of toxins to us, our children and our environment.

The grounded products are ‘grey water safe’, meaning you can water your plants after using them.

Who are your products targeting?

The housekeepers of East Africa are our market. We pay them to do our cleaning and are exposed 12 hours a day to these pollutants.

There have been studies in the (United) States on exposure to the cleaning worker population showing that the lungs of these workers start to look like a person who smokes a pack a day. This ‘smoking’ is from all the breathing in of toxins, all day.

What are some of these toxins?

It is modern society that is producing chemicals that we cannot validate. Scientists will come up with a specific enzyme that will treat, say, a blood stain and that will go into a powdered detergent recipe.

But they can only test for how that chemical interacts with our bodies and the environment short term. The longevity of the impact is left untested.

Let’s say there are 250 common chemicals in household products. You’ll find only about 50 of them have been fully tested for impact.

Other than water and Magadi soda everything else in cleaning products is suspect.

The main culprits are parabens, chemical antibacterials like triclosan and foaming agents like SLS, or SLES.

Foaming agents create the feeling that you are working really hard and creating all those bubbles but actually it’s an illusion. Real soap requires a bit of work to get the lather.

Artificial fragrance like phthalates are also fatal. Known carcinogens and untested chemicals are easy to hide because the disclosure regulations for cleaning products are very low. We barely have to disclose anything that’s in there as compared to food. We at grounded are at full transparency.

Where can people access your products?

We just launched a website so anyone can order online directly. It’s an ecommerce site and it’s the first step towards a future of different products. We have had some very useful support from Favaherb, Greenspoon and other outlets.

We’ve also been experimenting with some schools, seeing as children are especially susceptible to toxins. We piloted in Terra Moyo School in Peponi Road and our gym, Jojo Gym in Karen and a camp down in Maasai Mara who are trying hard to incorporate ecofriendly products.

Most businesses name capital as their biggest challenge. How did you get around this?

My approach, given my experience in the region was to build the business slowly. Some people see grounded packaging and are like “how come you don’t have better labels.” 

We try to be as cost effective as possible, taking care of overheads while still producing quality products. kept it small until we knew the demand in the market was there, and are now expanding from the servants’ quarters to a new facility to be able to meet market demand.

How do you protect your idea from copy cats?

We have invested in research and development, so we create value for the customer, and it would take a while for anyone to play catch up.

For example while we were making a liquid dish soap, it turns out it is so hard to make it without using a foaming agent. If we use pure soap, people aren’t seeing lots of bubbles and they end up using so much of it. If you are paying for a premium product and it gets used up in a day, the client is not elated. So we ended up going back to a solid dish soap, something like Axion.

That’s just an example on how doing market research helps to create value in the business. As much as I disclose all my ingredients, there is still some things in there that are uniquely mine and cannot be easily replicated. Also, as wellness nerds we are coming at it with from a leadership perspective.

What are your plans for Grounded?

I am not even joking when I say we have about 100 products I know we can make without too much work and not just in cleaning but other areas of wellness as well.

I have a concept in oral care line that is natural toothpaste, mouthwash etc. Pet care as well as baby care.

You use plastic packaging for the soap. Does this not go against your business model?

We already appreciate the degree of reuse in the community. We ourselves are committed to recycling our products. So when people make their orders, we advise them to return the containers for refills.

We are still working on introducing a discount to provide a more wholistic recycling solution. We have designs for the year 2020 for cool paper and sacks that can be reused for other things. We really want to figure it out but as a small business, it is easier said than done.

What other challenges have you encountered so far?

First when people change from conventional cleaning products to nontoxic ones, they have several concerns. If the product doesn’t foam, people assume it does not work.

Secondly, our products have no fake fresh meadow smell. Fragrances have chemicals that impact our hormones and we avoid using such in our products. They are designed to live in our clothes forever.

People also confuse detergent and soap, assuming detergents describes anything we use for clothes. Detergents is designed to stick in our clothes while soap is designed to go in take dirt and wash away with the water.

What are Grounded’s plan for the future?

There is only one other nontoxic cleaning option in Kenya that’s from the UK and we are already half their price. So the plan for 2020 is to get the pricing right and get a mass market product that will reach the villages.

We want to capitalise on going back to the basics. The older generations are definitely enjoying seeing the youth appreciate living in the village again. Soap used to exist even in the 1940s and so now were grounding ourselves to our roots.  

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