It has now been more than a decade since Melbourne-based Who Gives a Crap came on the scene with recycled toilet paper and a business model that sends 50 per cent of profits to charity, particularly for groups delivering hygienic sanitation facilities to the developing world.
That company was square in the public's sights during the toilet paper shortages of 2020, and has since expanded into more product ranges such as body and hair care.
It was a template that paved the way for another Victorian entrepreneur with purpose during the pandemic, whose mental health-focused toilet paper business émotions is now looking to raise $1.5 million through an equity crowdfunding raise with OnMarket while it expands interstate and negotiations are ongoing with Australia's leading supermarkets.
The essence of the business has been to provide quality, sustainable products - first toilet paper, but now also baby wipes and tissues - with helpful graphics about mental health for the 'captive market' of people on the toilet, and donating half the profit to three mental health-oriented organisations: Beyond Blue, the Black Dog Institute, and Lifeline.
Founder Rochelle Rich tells Business News Australia émotions was born out of her own experience with postnatal depression and a family tragedy during Melbourne's lockdown, and her subsequent attempts to articulate what feelings mean to her then two-year-old son.
The first step was to enlist a graphic designer to explain emotions through a chart of cartoon characters, which helped Rich and her son work through the difference between 'sad' and 'disappointed', or 'happy' and 'excited', for example.
"It got a conversation rolling with not just me and within the family, but outside of the family, and it’s also a really powerful tool that psychologists use as far as being able to name it, and then tame it," Rich says.
"When he was little he used to sit on the toilet with a roll and point to them. Now he's four and he’s got the vocabulary to say what he's feeling, and it’s the direct result of having these characters.
"Now we'll have a conversation when something has happened at Kinder and he's not happy. I'll say that I know he's feeling angry about something, 'let's talk about it', and he’ll turn around and go, ‘no, I don’t feel angry Mummy, I feel embarrassed’."
She says this has changed the parenting style when it comes to communication, leading to different solutions and resolutions to what's going on that day.
"It's being able to show us the fluctuating nature of emotions. As an adult, within myself and within him, it’s easier to see that things can get better; it’s a constant reminder that moods fluctuate, and now in the packaging in all of the rolls, the kitchen towels, baby wipes, that sort of thing, there are resources available for someone who might be feeling vulnerable," Rich explains.
"It’s a nod towards being human, but then they notice they’re not feeling good so they can call Lifeline, or they can look up the Black Dog Institute and see all of the scientific, evidence-based research that’s been created."
Since it was officially founded in March 2021, émotions has notched more than $300,000 in sales with its website registering 63 per cent average monthly growth and more than 5,000 orders, also building a small but growing subscriber base.
" A strong business can make the most impact. émotions built its supply chain during the precarious COVID-19 years when we have seen major supermarket brands unable fulfil supply and manage price fluctuations.
"We are very proud that during this period we were able to fulfil all orders without gaps in our supply chain and weathered the storm. A strong focus on operations is giving us a strong foundation to scale up."
Whilst based in Melbourne, consumer demand has been driving expansion interstate into NSW, while the company has also headed west with independent retailers based in South Australia. Conversations have been underway with several major Australian supermarket brands with hopes for a national retail roll-out in 2023.
"I look at the business as seed startup with all the experience that it needs now to scale up," she says.
"One of the main points of focus that I've been pushing for this year is to bring manufacturing here to Melbourne, and that's what we've been able to do. We've got the individual rolls that are all recycled, and then the six packs are made from bamboo.
"We need more products Made in Australia. Emotions is proudly manufacturing in Melbourne and our range development plans are focused on more opportunities for domestic manufacturers and an inclusive workforce."
She describes sustainability as the base foundation for the business. Non-negotiable.
"Of course all our products are 100 per cent recycled or bamboo because we're not cutting down forests. There's no plastics. We’re not going to add to the problem, because if our world is falling apart around us, of course we’re going to be falling apart," she says.
The company is also certified by Social Traders, an Australian social enterprise procurement organisation that aims to make the nation more inclusive and equitable.
The entrepreneur wasn't going into this venture as a novice either. At the age of just 18 she founded a finance and lending business called Financier Pty Ltd.
"It really flourished around 2009 when I was studying a Bachelor of Commerce, and I got some really good advice at uni," Rich explains.
"I saw online lending and how it was being formulated because everyone was going on to the internet for the first time. My family friends built a website for me, I had a lawyer who got some contracts together, and then it carried me through my 20's really well and it grew.
"I managed it in a very similar way [to émotions], outsourcing most of it, but we had a team here on the ground for loan criteria and processing, and also a lot of integrations for automation, with credit bureaus and bank statements and all sorts of things and really rode that wave of IT and development and database-driven businesses."
Financier Pty Ltd was acquired and Rich exited the business in 2018, the same year her son was born.
"I took a couple of years off and I was always looking for what I would do next. That was a really great business that gave me a lot of opportunity, but émotions is more aligned émotions," she says.
"So I bring a lot of experience from that first business. And that's why we've been able to get it to this point in 18 months."
To date émotions has secured expressions of interest (EOI) to raise more than half the target amount, which itself would give it more than what Rich believes is needed for a 'Plan B' to invest heavily into inventory, marketing and logistics.
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