This blog was written by our Spring 2022 Marketing & Communications Intern, Kaylee Blaylock.
The idea of opening a zero-waste store is becoming more and more popular around the U.S., but some local communities are still wishing for more eco-friendly opportunities to arrive in their city. Dallas, Texas is a good example of a city with few zero-waste businesses, except for a pop-up shop that sets up almost every weekend at the Dallas Farmers Market called usefull. Small businesses around the country are making waves and this entrepreneur is creating her own community of earth-loving heroes. Let’s dive into an interview with Adriana Kao and her journey with sustainability!
Usefull is the only refill store located in the DFW area. This local shop is a pop-up at the Dallas Farmers Market where you can bring your own containers and fill up on various goods e.g., shampoo, conditioner, lotion, liquid laundry detergent, body washes, Castille soap, which is the newest addition, and so much more! Refill products aren’t the only thing you’ll find at this shop, there are numerous zero-waste items that are plastic-free and locally sourced! Keep reading to learn more about the owner and founder, Adriana, and her story behind the usefull brand!
Meet Adriana Kao!
Adriana was born and raised in Ecuador, but her parents are originally from Taiwan. She came to the U.S. about 15 years ago for a degree in college. A few fun facts about Adriana is her first language is Spanish and her last name ‘Kao’ means tall in Chinese!
“I’ll tell you a story from when I was little that sticks out. My awakening of being environmentally conscious began when I was a little girl and when my family took a trip to the Galapagos Islands, which is off the coast of Ecuador (where Darwin developed his Theory of Evolution). It was a beautiful island and I remember the tour guide telling us not to take anything from the beach, not even the sand because the beach gets a lot of tourists and if every tourist took sand then there would be no beach left. Sometime later, I went to a friend’s house and I remember seeing a fish tank with really cool seashells and her parents said they had gotten them from the Galapagos Islands. I was angry that her parents had so little respect for the protection of nature. I’ve always been so passionate about the environment and the natural world.”
When did your Zero Waste journey start?
My journey started 5 years ago when I was moving around and throwing a lot of stuff away. I was appalled by how much trash I was creating. When I came to Dallas, I made it a point to reduce my waste. I started composting with Turn Compost (a local compost resource) and wanted to refill my toiletry products, but I couldn’t easily find any opportunities here in Dallas. Reducing plastics was a big thing for me. When I didn’t find a place to refill I thought I would roll up my sleeves and start it myself.
What inspired you to start your own refill store?
I actually thought about starting it for about a year before I actually went through with it. I was planning it in my head how it would be and all the details. In reality, the pandemic gave me the opportunity to focus and actually do it.
What is one of your favorite products that you supply?
The refillable shea butter lotion is my favorite because it is a high-quality product and there’s no lotion out there I can use after I used my own because they all fall short. I have several bottles around my house since I wash a lot of things, so the shea butter is an incredible product for dry skin. I have customers that come specifically for this product from Fort Worth (about 30-45 minutes from Dallas).
What are your goals for usefull during 2022?
The big goal is to open a retail store. The Dallas Farmers Market isn’t the most convenient place to set up shop and I can only operate on the weekends. It is a great venue, but it has limitations that come with running a business. I want to hold events, classes, and have composting opportunities when I open my own store and it would just give me a space to do a lot more.
What obstacles do you face running a refill store?
As a small business, there’s always the challenge of cash flow. Having enough money to circulate and invest back in the business. On the manufacturing side, they don’t operate on a circular economy, meaning they sell you the plastic and don’t take it back. I’m trying to close the loop for my customers, but when I buy from other people, very few close the loop. I still end up buying products in bigger containers, which is better than smaller plastic containers. I’m still figuring out how to dispose of the plastic containers in a responsible manner because the suppliers won’t take them back.
How does usefull do its part by giving back to the planet?
I reuse the plastic containers that my products come in to the extent that I can. For example, I reuse the gallon and sell wholesale to other businesses and customers. I clean and recycle them with Recycle Revolution (a local recycling business). Recycling isn’t always the best solution but given the system isn’t perfect, at least it isn’t sitting in a landfill or in the ocean. I try not to buy plastics, so I can help change the system. Eventually, I would like to become a member of 1% For the Planet as well as become B Corp certified.
How do you incorporate sustainability in your life?
There are a lot of ways. Truly to the extent I can. What I’ve learned is to pick your battles and stick with them. My battle is plastics. I reduce my plastic intake, for example, when I go out to eat I will take my own to-go containers for my leftovers. I bring my own bags when shopping, I buy package-free groceries as much as possible, I don’t buy water bottles, or use plastic straws. When I buy things in plastic, I try to get the #1 or #2 plastics because they’re easier to recycle than most plastics. We’re using our money to buy convenience at the expense of the planet.
What products are you hoping to bring into the Usefull shop in 2022?
I’ve been looking into deodorants that are zero waste as well as eco-friendly sunscreens. A great product that I’ve been recently testing out is a zero-waste facial serum that is like a moisturizer.
What is one zero waste switch you would encourage anyone to make?
There are so many I can think of, but I’ll say this, bring your own reusable produce bags! The ones at the store are completely useless with a short life span and they have low recycling value. We go through so much of them and it makes me so mad!