The EcoBling Story
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Who is EcoBling? How did they start?
It started as one of those ideas that sweeps through your mind and dissipates as quickly as it appeared. The kind of thought you might write it off as "cool but too hard". However for Katie Johnston, Founder and CEO of EcoBling, one seemingly fleeting idea stuck. It was revolutionary and it wasn't going anywhere.
She pitched her 'sticky' revolutionary brainwave to her boss, which should have been well received in a company where her position was to generate innovative campaigns and events. Like many of her other pitches, the idea was rejected and her frustration grew. Eventually frustration got the better of her and the red-headed-year-of-the-tiger-Leo said exactly what was on her mind. After an unsurprising yet abrupt ending to her role she gathered up her ideas and never looked back.
The week she was fired she applied and was accepted to a investor matchmaking event to pitch the concept to potential backers. After reaching her goal to raise enough money to buy the tools needed to get started Katie spent the next year developing the concept and product range. Originally EcoBling began as a project under the banner of a not for profit organisation she started two years prior. However as investor interest grew she decided to spin off the project to become a social enterprise. She wanted to catch the opportunities, and being a not for profit organisation turned a lot of investors and supporters off, therefore stifling the potential growth of something great.
The business's varied layers of environmental and social causes sees continual growth and diversification. Originally, EcoBling aimed to upcycle waste and divert it from landfill to create accessories. As production processes were scrutinized Katie also committed to producing the accessories with 100% recycled packaging and renewable and plant-based finishes and cords. To ensure EcoBling was giving more than it took she committed to plant one tree for each piece sold. To date EcoBling has planted over 10,000 trees in food forests in Africa with 20,000 more soon to be planted (trees are planted through Trees for the Future). However her background in community development and charity work kept niggling in her mind, telling her there was more work to do.
One day, after reading a newspaper article that was written about her the words she was quoted on "think global, act local" flicked a light bulb on in her head. In her eyes Indigenous Australians had been treated unfairly since colonization with huge discrepancies in health, education and opportunities not to mention the long battle with discrimination and stereotyping. Their rich culture and historic stories were dissolving day by day. So, in response to this Katie connected with Indigenous people in rural and remote Australia to share and celebrate their culture and stories with the broader public. This was done through the burning* of art onto the pre-made wooden jewellery (*burning is a traditional process).
With the help of investors Katie micro-financed individuals and communities the burners they needed to get started. They created pieces of art in exchange for value the burner, then once the value of the burner was paid back they became suppliers of the jewellery and made an income. That way more and more people could get involved in expressing themselves and keeping Indigenous Australian culture alive and strong. It continues to provide meaningful financial opportunities in an environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive way. This came to be called the IndigiBling range of EcoBling.
Then things were taken up a notch.
When the 2015 Nepal earthquake struck Katie, along with most other people, felt helpless. However as time went by she wondered how she could marry her experience in management, product development, and community development to help in situation like this. She connected with ICA Nepal to develop an in-country production chapter for EcoBling. After successfully obtaining seed funding she traveled to Nepal on the 18th of June 2016 with her trusty project team (including Benny Jewell Photography and Louise from Sinerji). There the communities effected by the Earthquake would hand make beads from the earthquake rubble. Sales are launching on 1st of November 2016 profits aim to fund the rebuild of community houses.
"I think I am one of the few people who would work this hard to raise money for the sole purpose of giving it away, but I love it and I am so lucky to have my life. I have more than enough in comparison to those I work with. I am humbled and it is an honor to share my success with others" she says.
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This model has kick started the momentum for the develop of other many products from shoes made in Kenya from car tyres (where one pair is gifted to a child in need to prevent parasite infestation) to bags and belts made by shunned ex-child-brides as part of a women's empowerment program in Bangladesh. EcoBling is also working on hand-woven pillow covers and rugs made in India from recycled saris! There are so many good things worthy of talking about in this social enterprise.
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A Summary. Who is EcoBling?
In short, EcoBling - Planet Friendly Accessories is a label making accessories from upcycled materials, where a tree is planted for every piece sold. EcoBling works with marginalised communities all over the world to respond to environmental concerns, social issues and natural disasters to produce environmentally friendly, carbon negative and socially responsible products which are available online and wholesale.
What do the others think?
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What does Katie think?
"When I started EcoBling I really didn't know where I was heading. All I wanted to do was use my creativity and business skills to make the world a better place."
"EcoBling has received so much support from other organisations and individuals. Our customers and retailers are a huge reason why we keep pushing. Each time we see a piece sell we know we are creating a positive environmental and social impact. Seeing this keeps us striving to become bigger and bigger."
"It was really hard to find work in the charity and not for profit sector. I got sick of looking and decided to create something where I can do good things and be financially self-sustainable."
Biography of the Founder & CEO aka Lady Boss.
- Born on 20th August 1986
- Born in Taralga, New South Wales, Australia (population just over 280) and grew up on a farm near Woodstock, New South Wales, Australia (population just over 800)
- Went to boarding school from 12 years old to 18 years old. Bullied beyond belief.
- Moved as far away as possible. Lived in England and traveled Europe before studying business administration (for 1.5 hrs) then philosophy, anthropology and sociology at Australian National University before graduating with Distinction from a Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology) at Queensland University of Technology.
- Worked in Conservation, Community Development, Event Management and Business Management.
- Traveled to Europe, Thailand, Nepal, India and Colombia and learnt that the world need more caring people doing more good things.
- Founded The One World Collective in 2012
- Founded EcoBling in 2014
- Currently living in Eumundi in the Noosa Hinterlands, Queensland, Australia on the Sunshine Coast
- Living with rescue dog/best friend named "Sir Harrison The Great" aka Harris
- Rock climber, adventurer and frequent rainforest explorer
- Favourite quote from Dad: "If someone can do it you can do it, you just have to learn how".
- Favourite quote from Mum: "No one gets anywhere by sitting on their hands."
- Favourite quote: "Just say yes, then deal with the fear later."