S2E13 - Tara Button of Buy Me Once

Tara Button is the founder of BuyMeOnce, which is on a mission to change the way the world shop forever.

The BuyMeOnce team find the longest lasting and most sustainable products on the planet and do all the research so shoppers don’t have to. It started as a small passion project but soon went viral. It’s now had over 3 million visitors.

There are now also over 2000 products on the site. Some of the highlights include: Socks with lifetime guaranteePans with a multi-CENTUARY warrantyA football that never deflatesA pen that never runs out of inkAnd sustainable clothing brands committed to fixing their clothes for life.

Tara has now written a book, A life Less Throwaway, which explains the philosophy behind BuyMeOnce. About how buying once and buying well is the secret to a calm mind, clean planet and a permanently uncluttered home.

Transcript

Will: (00:08) Welcome back to the Green Element podcast where we feature business leaders and innovators transforming their operations to be more environmentally and socially sustainable. I’m your host Will Richardson and I can’t wait to meet our guest today and help you on your journey of sustainability

 [Intro Music] 

Will: (00:28) Hi Tara, welcome to the Green Element podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’m really excited to learn more about Buy Me Once. You are a company that’s promotes buying products once and they have to be long lasting. I’m looking forward to finding out how this works and how that fits in and whatsoever you have to go through in order to find out  whether, say a laptop, comes onto your list. You’ve got, you’ve got a full range of products from kitchen to electronics to a car. So lots of things.

Tara: (01:04) Well, to pans to teddy bears to t-shirts to [Inaudible 01:10], it’s all there and growing every week. So [Inaudible 01:15] become the one stop for durability and sustainability. That is our aim. 

Will: (01:22) Brilliant

Tara: (01:22) So, the idea of Buy Me Once is that people haven’t really made this connection yet but the best thing you can really do for the environment is to buy a product that lasts as long as possible. People in the past or are still doing now, they have been focusing a lot on recycling, which in a way is the kind of a second to last best thing you can do short of throwing something away, you can recycle it but actually, if you make your way up, the circular economy, to reuse and repair, you’re right at the very top of the circular economy is just having something carry on, doing what it’s doing for as long as possible because when a product can do that, obviously no more energy needs to go into it. No more products need to be made. No more products need to be transported or be put into shops or harvested. So it’s really the easiest thing we can do for the planet, is to buy stuff that is built to last. So, for example, if you get a tee shirt, an average t-shirt to last just nine months longer, you save 20 to 30% on your carbon emissions and that’s just a tee shirt lasting a bit longer. So, if you can imagine over all of our products, if we got all of our products to last longer, then what a huge impact that could have and that’s the opposite of how people are buying right now. People are buying the equivalent to a wheelie suitcase of clothes a year at the moment, [Inaudible 03:02] 67 items. 

Tara: (03:05) This is the [Inaudible 03:05], which is extraordinary. And within a year, half of our fashion is in landfill. So, we’ve really gone so far down the path of disposability. I’ve heard about people who would prefer to buy new clothing rather than to wash them because they’re so cheap. And this is the opposite of what we should be doing. And there is a waste movement, the minimalist movement is all beginning to converge, but what we really need is the longevity movement and to make things lasts as long as possible. And that is why Buy Me Once exists. 

Will: (03:44) How do you…what sort of, what do you go through in order to get onto your website, say, I don’t know, say your piece of clothing, a jumper, what makes that jumper stand out and will last longer than a, I’m not going to mention any past fashion names, that’s not there, you know, but it probably is there, but I’m not trying to call people out there. You know what makes the difference? 

Tara: (04:10) Absolutely. Well, I think I’ll actually go through our five question process, which is whenever we’re looking for new products on Buy Me Once, we look at the product category and then we start comparing the brands against each other and we look at first, we look at the materials and we go, well, if this product is going to be made out of any material, what’s the best material for both longevity and sustainability? So, if it’s made out of steel, is it the best deal. If it’s made out of leather? Is it made out of the best leather. If it’s made out of wood? Is it made out of a wood that’s particularly suited to the task that that product has to perform? Then we ask questions about the construction. Is it constructed in a way that will make it either longer lasting or more fixable? So if it’s a shoe, can it be re-heeled? 

Tara: (05:08) If it’s a frying pan, some of the weakest links in a frying pan are, the handle gets wobbly and the nonstick goes. Those are the two things that might reduce the longevity of the frying pan. So, we would look for a pan that’s made out of all one piece of metals, so there’s no rivets to come loose and it might have a nonstick surface that’s constantly replenishable. So we have one of those pans and the third thing is to look at the independent reviews to make sure that any claims that the company is making, bear out in the customer experience, um, and impending experience. Then we look at the aftercare, the aftercare, is a key component for us. We’re looking for companies who are willing to stand behind their products for the foreseeable future. So, when it comes to clothing, while we would look for ethical and sustainably manufactured clothes with, you know, that wonderful transparent supply lines and that kind of thing and that would kind of cover off the sustainability side for us, the longevity is about the construction of the garment itself. So, is it triple stitched or is it woven in a way that will mean it washes better than other garments? And then the next component is a fixing warranty. So, a lot of the clothing that we have on Buy Me Once has a fixing warranty or a repair warranty and often that’s exclusive to Buy Me Once. I think about 20% of our clothing has exclusive. 

Will: (06:51) How?

Tara: (06:52) We’ve managed to persuade the company to say, we will fix this for life and then it’s about changing the customer’s mindset. So, that when they’ve bought that clothing and it comes with that warranty, they will send it back rather than going, oh, there’s a hole in it, it’s broken. We want people thinking about longevity from the start when their purchasing, and that is our mission that sits at the top of everything we do. It’s to change consumer behavior from short term to long term buying. 

Will: (07:25) My experience is that the Americans are quite good at on that they, you know, you could name so many different American brands that are have got lifetime warranties. [Inaudible 07:37] comes to mind straight away. But… 

Tara: (07:40) I’m not sure they still have a warranty. I think we looked into [07:43] recently. I’m not sure they still have that.

Will: (07:46) Oh, do they not?

Tara: (07:47) [Inaudible 07:47] brands recently and I seem to remember that [07:50] might have had in the past. 

Will: (07:53) Yeah, they definitely had in the past because my, I think the lens…no the thing, he broke that around and I sat in the back and said, would you mind if you fixed it? Yeah, of course we will. And then the next time it happens I said, is there any chance he could change the lenses as well? And you know what? They came back and said was for an extra 40 quid we will. So basically 40 quid for a pair of sunglasses and I was blown away just thinking that is customer service. You really can’t get much better than that. 

Tara: (08:19) That is brilliant. So what’s great is through Buy Me Once, we can be both a consumer champion, they get really great product, which then gets taken care of over time. It means that they save money over time, but we can be an earth champion at the same time because by getting people to buy things that they then feel are worthy of taking care of and that they know that they want to keep into the future we’re saving carbon emissions with saving material [Inaudible 08:45] as well and obviously waste to landfill. 

Will: (08:48) Brilliant, brilliant. And so, how do you end up working on your, I can see why you crowdfunding now without wanting to put words in your mouth, but I can imagine it’s quite an arduous and long task to do all of this research and put everything together to make sure that, am I right in saying that it isn’t?

Tara: (09:08) Well it…the research is, yeah, it’s interesting. It’s a little bit like panning for goals. Whenever we look at a particular product category, and we start delving into which brands are active in this product categories and what they’re doing and what they’re you know, what they’re making their products out of and what that tends in conditions. Sometimes you get a couple of brands that bubbled to the top super quickly and other times it’s a real slug. You know, they’re just some product categories that are just rubbish, to name, you know, like electric kettles. Still really haven’t found an electric kettle brand that I’m happy with. You know, the longest warranty I think we’ve found is five years, which if what’s essentially quite a simple product I would expect better. You know, we’re talking about putting people on Mars, why can’t we get something that boils water for a considerable length of time without packing it in. I don’t think that that is very good, but what’s great is that as well as finding these products, we’re then putting pressure on brands to do better and try to create a market in the same light. And you’re completely right that, you know, one of the reasons why we chose crowd funding is because we want to change consumer behavior. We want to be looking to all of these people talking about what we’re trying to do and these investors, you know, whether they’ve putting 10 pounds or 10,000 pounds, then become brand advocates. They become people who talk about us to their friends might be engage in research because obviously, we’re doing research in house but we’re also doing research with academics in terms of trying to do big surveys and product testing so that we can get really clear data on how long a product should last as well as how long the average product lasts. 

Tara: (11:02) So the key, I think in the end, is going to really help us is to get on every product page a sense of, this product lasts this long and the average product lasts this long and therefore over time you’ll say this much money and this much carbon emissions. And I think that will be a massive [Inaudible 11:22] for us because we know that when consumers have the data, they make better purchasing decisions. You see that in, you know, when they started to put those energy efficiency labeling on appliances. So, when they did that there was the shift towards more efficient appliances. The un-efficient appliances just started to fade out and not to be made anymore because people could see the value over time of an more efficient appliance and so, what I want to bring in is longevity labeling essentially saying, this should last you this long and that for this cost you this much per year. And then you know, the true value of a product rather than just the upfront price and just having to guess. 

Will: (12:11) From what I know of now, the old environment Minister Michael [Inaudible 12:15], I think he was on very much that same bandwagon as well and wanting the same as what you’re wanting from knowing people who worked…were working with him on the new Environment Act. 

Tara: (12:27) Yes. 

Will: (12:28) Is that your experience?  

Tar: (12:30) I know that people in this world are keen for lifecycle labeling. I think people haven’t figured out yet how they going to do it and I think that that’s because they kind of think that they’re going to need huge labs where they’re testing everything to destruction and you know, testing everything that comes through Alibaba or, or you know, and which would be impossible, you know, to test every product that’s kind of coming into the country. However, my idea is that manufacturers should just have to say a number. It doesn’t matter what number that is, but they have a choice between looking bad on the shelves because their number isn’t as long as other people’s lifespans or putting a longer number but the key is that they have to take care of that product within that lifespan. So, if they say that it’s going to be 10 years, then they have to have all the replacement parts and they have to take care of that product for that next 10 years. And then hopefully as long as it’s clear and standardized and on the shelves, people then can make a value judgment over whether they’re willing to pay a little bit more up front to have a product that lasts longer for sure and whether they want to continue to buy, you know, cheap things that will potentially break year off to year. 

Will: (14:02) I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to go down the cheap thing that you buy once a year. It wouldn’t make sense. 

Tara: (14:09) Exactly. It wouldn’t make sense. Also it’s the hassle when something breaks as well. So, you know, it’s not just a waste of money because you end up spending more, but it’s the trip to the shops. It’s the time when you don’t have that product working in your house as well. That needs to be taken into consideration and the kind of slight stress that that brings into a life. Your products break all the time in their actually, when it comes to appliances, breaking at double the rate that they used to and people get angry about this, but unfortunately they were getting angry separately at separate times and they’re not channeling this anger in one kind of direction, one meaningful directions. So, I kind of see it as my job to kind of take on board all that I’m getting from anyone who’s ever had a washing machine break, you know, 18 months in or you know, a kettle or a toaster or a microwave oven break in a ridiculously short amount of time, to take on onboard that frustration and to try and make the industry better. 

Will: (15:12) Brilliant. And so, how did you get into this? What’s your background? Is it in product development? 

Tara: (15:17) Completely not. Completely by accident, to be honest. I was working in advertising, which is potentially the opposite of what I am doing now. Not completely, but I was essentially trying to persuade people to buy things again and again. One of my clients was DFS and I think we were trying to persuade people constantly to, you know, switch up for spring, turn your room around, chuck out the old sofa, buy a new sofa. So, I was kind of in this world, which wasn’t making me happy at all and I enjoyed being creative, but I didn’t enjoy the message that I was putting out there into the world and I just kept on being told, well, if you worry about, if you’re worried about that, then you’re in the wrong industry and I actually object to that and I’ll tell you why later but what happened was one of our brands was [Inaudible 16:11] and I don’t know if you’ve come across [Inaudible 16:14] pieces of cookware that your grandmother passes down to you and I was given a piece of [Inaudible 16:23] cookware for my birthday day and it was actually the experience of owning it that made me realize that almost everything I’d brought up into that point, was throw away crap. And why wasn’t, you know, everything I was buying more like this. In fact, I went in looking for shop that would find me, [Inaudible 16:43]of everything because I simply wanted to get shopping there and back then, so that’s 2012, 2015 it didn’t exist and that’s when the idea of Buy Me Once came because I was like, well, this should exist. This should just exist. The idea that this wouldn’t exist seemed impossible to me because it, it felt like such a no brainer. 

Tara: (17:05) But it was one of those ideas where you just expect someone else to do it, not you because you work in advertising and you don’t know how to start a business, you don’t know how to build a website, and to be honest, you didn’t really know that much about products at that point in time. So, I just thought it was going to be one of those ideas where someone else would do it. And then I would feel very smug about it and say that I came up with the idea ages ago, but it was actually finding out those starts that I told you about earlier. The idea that when you have a product that lasts a really long time, that you save a huge amount of carbon emissions that really got the passion for the project kind of boiling in my belly. 

Tara: (17:48) I started to get that awful kind of unique kick in the stomach feeling whenever I read about the environment because I just couldn’t help but feel like I have a potential solution and nobody else is talking about it. Like literally no one is talking about product longevity when it comes to the environment or suddenly not talking about it to consumers. They might be talking about it in academic papers, but no one’s telling people, you know, buy things for life. You know, apart from maybe a shopping bag. So, I started in my spare time to build this site. I spent a long time on the kind of Squarespace helplines as I tried to figure out, okay, you’ve got slightly bored of me, but slowly but surely kind of pieced together a semblance of a site. I think I had about a hundred products, so I had eight categories. You know, toys and clothing and kitchen ware. But I had about five things in each when site went crazy viral back in 2016 and it was that moment that made me realize that the world was quite keen on this idea and that actually, it could be a viable project. And so I quit my job the next morning and started working on it full time. So yeah. 

Will: (19:09) Brilliant. Here you are today in 2019 having successfully crowdfunded. 

Tara: (19:14) Indeed. So, been crowd funded and also got the green angels and to invest in us as well. So, they’re a group, a syndicate group who were the first syndicate actually to focus exclusively on green tech funding. We’re very, very happy to have them on board because not only are they bringing in capital, they’re also putting someone on the board and they just have a wonderful network as well. So, that’s wonderful. And also what’s absolutely the most important thing for me is that they’re completely aligned with the vision that we have and that was part of the reason why we did go for crowd funding as well, because the only people who would pursue money are the people who believe in what we’re trying to do. Whereas I kind of feel with bench capitalists, there’s often a lot more of the, the thinking is just around the returns, the mission of that. So, I’m really proud that we’ll kind of 480 investors or however many that are, is around that and are really engaged with what we’re trying to do. So that’s brilliant. 

Will: (20:26) Brilliant. How do you engage your suppliers? I mean, how do you promote what it is that you’re doing and what it does? And what kind of core messages that you are talking about? 

Tara: (20:35) We do our research, we find the brands that we believe are the best in each product category and even if we don’t think a brand is perfect, we will try and find the best option so that people can at least know that you, someone’s done the research so they don’t have to, so they can feel like it has been looked into and they can buy something with a reasonably clear conscience because I think there’s a lot of guilt around eco buying in general. We are of the opinion that humans do need things to live and there’s no point denying that. However, only buy the things that you need and if you are going to buy something, buy something that is sustainable and long lasting as possible and we’re doing the research so that you don’t have to. So, when once we’ve found the brands that we want to engage, reach out to them. Either we’ll call them or email them. We’ll explain who we are and what our mission is, first of all, and then we’ll try our best to create a relationship with them. In the past, this was an affiliate relationship, where we simply linked through to their websites and now we have a more of a dropship or a wholesale relationship without brands, so the customer buys on our sites, but the brand itself sends the product directly to the customer and this is great for two reasons. It means that we don’t have to have a whole warehouse but have very expensive [Inaudible 22:07] pots and Mila washing machines. It would be very expensive very quickly, but it also means that you’re cutting out another journey in the product’s footprint. So, from an eco points of view, it works out and we welcome that. 

Will: (22:24) When it comes to running an [Inaudible 22:25] and sustainable business, what would you say your biggest struggle so far has been and can you tell us how you’ve overcome it? 

Tara: (22:32) I think our biggest struggle, if I’m honest, is pricing. It is really unfortunate that a lot of the time, high quality, ethical, eco-friendly products are more expensive than your average product. That’s just a given. It’s not always the case, but it is in the majority of cases and I think that makes me sad for a few reasons. It means that it’s not as accessible a lifestyle as I would like to make it. I want this type of buying mainstream. I think it has to become mainstream for the planet to benefit and so getting across that message that buying an ecofriendly sustainable and long lasting products are worth it to the consumer is probably our biggest challenge and I think that the way we’re going to be able to overcome that, and I don’t think we’ve overcome it properly yet. I think it’s beginning to hit home for a few people, but not enough, is that piece around if you buy this product, it’s going to last you this long, that means that over, you know, over 10 years, it’s literally sits 10 pounds a year rather than 15 pounds a year if you buy the shoddy product. If that makes sense. I think having that hit home but also just compelling more mainstream brands to think about designing for longevity. I’m pushing in proper aftercare and that is what we’re going to be aiming for as well because we don’t want that to be an exclusive, you know, club where, you know, only a few rich people can afford to buy long lasting products. I mean, we want it to be a mainstream thing and actually we’re going to be offering kind of credit solutions that people can spread out payments over time because often people might not have an extra 200 pounds a month to spend on quite a big product that they might be able to spend a spend that 300 pounds every six months and that means they then have a product that will last them a lifetime rather than a cheaper product that would fail at an earlier stage. 

Tara: (24:56) So it’s unfortunate, but I think that actually a lot of people get trapped into a cycle of poverty because they can only afford the cheaper item upfront and then it fails on them. And this is especially true when it comes to white goods. So you actually get this kind of, get people in lower incomes trapped into a cycle of poverty because they can’t afford the [Inaudible 25:17] of these worlds that do have, you know, up to 10 years of warranties and so they are buying a new washing machine every two years, which again, means they are depleted every time. And so it’s a really important challenge for us and one that we’re trying to overcome but I didn’t think that like that yet.

Will: (25:37) And will you be speaking to politicians and will you be lobbying what it is you’re doing in the future or are you now?

Tara: (25:46) Absolutely. I mean, we’ve already started petitions, and, but I don’t think that we’re quite there yet without corporate proposition and I think what we need now is the real scientific data and that’s why we are putting together groups of data analysts and academics that can come together with us to really get the data to sit behind this proposition that long-lasting products will help and with the environment, there’s some data there, but I think we need more and I think, you know, policy is all about data. So, for so many politicians, if you could show them the numbers, then they’ll be moved and so that’s our next piece on that is to get the data together and then we can go to the politicians with some robust numbers to show them the benefits. 

Will: (26:43) Brilliant. If you want our listeners to do something more then, what would you like them to do on the back of listening to you talking about what it is you know doing at Buy Me Once? 

Tara: (26:51) Well, if you know of any brands that you think we should know about, then please contact us. If you are a brand and you think that you might meet our criteria, then please contact us as well. Apart from that, I would just say, you know, please by mindfully, think about what you need, and I wrote a whole book about this. So, I kind of can talk ad nauseum about it, but there are so many messages out there and unfortunately I was one of those people creating those messages for quite a long time, trying to persuade people to buy things that they didn’t need and manipulate them into ways of thinking to make them feel that their, their value as humans is somehow linked to the objects that they own. And I think that this is not any damaging to the planet and to our bank balances, but actually incredibly damages, damaging to our psyches and to our mental health as well. 

Tara: (27:46) So, that is why I ended up writing a book as well as creating the business. So, this is the kind of the philosophy of Buy Me Once, it’s called a life less throwaway and it’s about how we got to where we are in terms of our consumer behavior and how we as individuals can get out of the habits that have been formed by all the messages that we have around us and how that creates the kind of clearer de-cluttered homes and kind of wardrobes that we like looking at rather than feeling we have nothing to wear and being able to prioritize in by with purpose, I think, and to overcome impulse buying, which 50% of our purchases are impulse purchases. So, to be able to cut that out, you can imagine e save question a lot. 

Will: (28:36) Absolutely and how can we find out more about you and about your organization and where to buy the book as well?

Tara: (28:43) Absolutely. Well the book is called A Life Less Throwaway. You can find that on any bookshop sites, [Inaudible 28:50], Amazon and the usual ones and if you want to get in touch with Buy Me Once, then we are in the UK. We’re uk.buymeonce.com or just come to buymeonce.com and you’ll be redirected anyway and you can find us on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, all the usual social media outlets and if you have any stories about products that last a long time that we’d love to them. 

Will: (29:16) Brilliant. Thank you so much for tonight, Tara. 

[Music]

Will: (29:18) Thank you so much for listening to the end of this episode of the Green Element podcast. Do take a moment and share this with your friends and colleagues and rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. I’d love to know what has been your biggest takeaway from this conversation. What are you going to do differently? Please share your thoughts across social media and tag us so we can see them too @ge_podcast. The links in show notes for this episode. Visit our website, greenelement.co.uk/ podcast. Thank you again. I hope you’ll join me on the next episode and together we can help create a better world. 

[Music]

End [00:30:02]

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