Guest post:: We’re celebrating Earth Month! Karen Orlich is the founder of k.o. ecolife, a healthy lifestyle company that designs, manufactures, and procures environmentally-friendly products for kids and adults. Each product offers a knock-out ‘punch’ to improve our world and reverse our carbon impact. Here, she writes about why she developed her product and the journey she experienced. Find her @koecolife on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
How THE POWCH began
In 2012, I discovered the enormously convenient, disposable baby food pouch for my 18-month-old – just grab-and-go, pureed fruit and veggie snacks. Loved these things but hated the price tag: $1.50 for 3.5 ounces of food?!
My son ate them in less than a minute and asked for more, more, more! It was not until I was about to throw out an emptied, discarded pouch from the back seat of my car that I thought, “I should check to see if these things are even recyclable.”
After calling several companies that manufacture food pouches, the best response I got was, “The pouches are not recyclable but the caps are.” Great! Those tiny caps are recyclable but the 5”x3” foil and plastic packaging is not?! I wanted to find a better solution.
Fun fact: 2.5 BILLION disposable food pouches go into landfills EVERY year in the USA alone! It was then that I began my quest, fueled by a gut-wrenching desire to fight for a greener planet. Enter THE POWCH!, an eco-friendly, less-expensive option for extremely pollutive disposables.
Like most things in life worth accomplishing, it did not come easy…
Going for it
I have NO experience in product development, am NOT an engineer, and have NEVER worked in the consumer product market. However, I focused on what I do know – finance, accounting, marketing, sales, and business planning specifically with start-ups. I figured I knew enough.
To the dismay of my husband who swore, “There must be something like this already out there,” I began researching online for comparable, reusable products. At that time, there was nothing. I wanted to use fabric for the bag with a wide opening and a plastic, built-in straw for easy, hands-free eating and cleaning. Then, I researched the Patent and Trademark Office for any existing “reusable food and drink pouch” patents. I did not find anything comparable but as a precautionary measure, I hired a patent research attorney to investigate further.
Fun fact (and also a warning): You can spend thousands of dollars and months researching patents so find a reputable attorney.
I also read about “provisional patents” and filed one myself for $250. This was an important first step as it protected my idea as “patent pending” for 12 months. My attorney did not find anything directly comparable either. This was the first of many big obstacles to overcome and I decided to move forward.
Now I just needed a prototype to test. Using my best MacGyver skills, I cut out the top portion of a plastic milk carton, cut a hole in the cap, and inserted the nozzle straw from a disposable pouch. I then attached some nylon fabric by stitching it together as I could not find “food-safe” glue. Once complete, I served an applesauce-filled pouch to my son. My mouth was dry with anticipation and butterflies filled my stomach as my husband video-taped this moment. My son took it without hesitation and sucked on the familiar straw like he had been eating with it forever! I knew I had something that other kids would like too.
Next step required that I find waterproof, food-safe fabric and figure out how to seal it to the plastic so it will provide a watertight seal—AND, remain food-safe, FDA compliant. Not as easy as one might think. Six months later (after extensive internet searches and conversations with fabric manufacturers), I found the fabric that met my specifications.
Did someone say manufacturing?
I had to celebrate that moment and then take a deep breath for the next: How the hell do I manufacture this? I needed design and mechanical engineers to draw up my prototype and help me with the manufacturing process. This is where the costs can get out of control! I made the mistake of going with a big firm that focused more on design than actual production. And, it turns out, most engineering firms do not have expertise in manufacturing. This created the biggest challenge by far: finding a reliable, quality driven, manufacturer based in the USA. (Note: Most do not want to be bothered with start-ups!)
Over the next three years, I worked with two engineering firms and countless manufacturing sales reps and production teams to develop a patented, manufacturing process that seals the bags and attaches them to the plastic without stitching or adhesive.
All along the way, I encountered many dismissive and insulting people (men, to be specific), saying I was “too involved” or that I “knew everything”:
- “You need to cut your losses and walk away.”
- “You seem like a nice lady but there’s no way you’re going to get this done.”
These are the experiences that make us stronger, smarter, more resilient. Positive thinking, prayer, and exercise (preferably outside!) were some of the only methods I could use to pull myself out of the dark hole of discouragement.
What I learned and my advice to you.
I am happy to say that we finalized a manufacturing agreement with our current partner in June 2017 and were accepted by the Inventors Corner to exhibit at the International Home + Housewares Show in March 2018.
My advice: 1) be your biggest fan, 2) believe in what you are doing, 3) accept challenges, and 4) adapt when necessary. This will make YOU unstoppable!
The learning curve has been Mount Everest with the stress level through the roof at times. Ultimately, I am doing what I love. k.o. ecolife has a mission to be a healthy-living resource and activist for the planet. That’s what we’re accomplishing every day with every sale (a portion goes to our partner charity, Purple Asparagus, who educates kids and communities on healthy eating that’s good for the body and planet).
Are you celebrating Earth Month?
If you’d like to participate in celebrating Earth Month, here’s an idea. You can help fight for a healthier, greener planet. Simply purchase products that are made responsibly in recyclable packaging. It’s amazing how many “organic” foods are not packaged in recycle containers so always look for the recycle symbol! If you don’t see one, call the manufacturer and ask about it. Companies log these calls and change comes when consumers join together to encourage and demand action.
Mother Earth will thank you!