As she strolls into her flagship store on Yongjia Lu, Shanghai for our interview, Jeni Sae-yang is every bit the bohemian insouciance you’d expect from someone dominating the eco product field in Shanghai – and instantly more relaxed once she kicks off her shoes for our photo shoot.
Shanghai-born but raised in Australia, Sae-yang began Eco&more after returning to Shanghai in 2010 because she felt she couldn’t find any cleaning products with natural ingredients like those in Australia.
“I had just had my first child in Bondi, Australia, where the organic movement was just starting to take off, and I was hooked,” she recalls. “In Shanghai, I couldn’t find anything that even came close. At first, my plan was to import products here, but it was quite costly and difficult to import, and I thought, ‘Mothers in Shanghai should have access to safe and natural products that are affordable like everyone else,’ so I started researching and developing the products and Eco&more was on its way,” she says.
Sae-yang believes while she developed her natural eco products because she saw a gap in the industry and had a personal need, she is also very passionate about the environment in Shanghai and educating people on ways to become greener.
“One of our greatest achievements is developing our refill stations. Most people are unaware that 80 tons of plastic waste goes into our oceans. Our refill stations mean people can send their drivers or Ayis or come in themselves and refill their bottles, so less plastic ends up in the oceans,” she explains. Sae-yang has more plans to develop mobile refill stations in China, as she believes this is the future of lessening the amount of waste produced in the country.
“We also try to educate the local Chinese community about how harmful chemicals can be when they’re washed down the drain,” she says. “Most everyday cleaning products will take 500 years to bio-degrade, and most of it gets ingested by sea life, which then we eat,” she claims.
Eco&more has flourished since its inception, with a multitude of awards under its belt, including the winner of The Green Resources Capital Business Excellence Award for Sustainable Development by Auscham, the Most Successful Design Award for their Reduce, Reuse, and Refill Program by The Successful Design Awards Shanghai and, most recently, being selected as one of the 18 finalists from 1,700 applicants globally for the prestigious Cartier Women’s Initiative Award. “Personally, I’m excited about this award because it’s judged on our business plan, the social impact and business growth and potential of our company, not just our products. It’s a real privilege to be even nominated,” she says.
Sae-yang is every bit the professional working mother, running a successful business in Shanghai while raising her two children, Charlee (6) and Tiantian (4). When asking Sae-yang what the eco-community is like in Shanghai and how she feels being a part of it, she responds that it’s very much a female-dominated community. “From a business point of view, there is a lot of eco-business here all run by women. I love being involved with this amazing group of sisters here who all help and network together to help spread the word about green initiatives.”
It’s no secret that many women here in Shanghai are trailing spouses who have a lot of time on their hands, and Sae-yang agrees this has been the best thing for Shanghai and the expat community because these intelligent women are highly creative and want a better life for their families while living here, which has led to new green business start-ups.
While Eco&more seems to be on the rise, Sae-yang says what she’s really proud of right now is developing a company and a team who are passionate about the brand. “I have an amazing team, and this makes all the difference to what we are trying to achieve. It’s a nice situation to be in.”
Photos by Ransom Wingo
Product shots via Eco&more
For more information visit: www.ecoandmore.com
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