“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” said Gandhi, encouraging people to be action-oriented, self-reflective, and persevering in their efforts to improve the world. These are the exact character traits present in the young entrepreneur, and founder of Rooted Reuse, Kaley Cross.
The mission of Rooted Reuse is to keep household containers in use for as long as possible, to make living a less wasteful lifestyle more accessible to everyone, and to educate people about sustainable practices. At a pop-up shop, the company offers refills for personal care and household cleaning products.
Getting to the Root
While attending a sustainability conference in Baltimore, Maryland during her freshman year of college, Kaley was awe-struck by the amazing environmental initiatives universities around the country had been creating.
“I heard about schools that had started on-campus food pantries, gardens, composting initiatives, and social justice programs!” Cross said. “That was when I knew I was in the wrong space and decided to transfer to a university that offered more opportunities for sustainability initiatives to take off.”
“If you’re working in a corporate, non-profit, or university setting, sometimes it can feel like it takes a long time for new ideas to be implemented. I think that’s where a lot of entrepreneurs get frustrated because they want changes to be made now. It’s at this point that an entrepreneur says, `I can do this, and I’m going to do it.’”
The Creative Process
The Start of Something New
Kaley was encouraged to pursue entrepreneurship by her mentor who shared how starting a business could serve as an opportunity for her to make the sustainable changes she was passionate about seeing in the world. Cross decided to take a leap of faith and start Rooted Reuse as a pop-up “refillery” store. She selected locations, including setting up at the Raleigh farmers market. The upfront cost was low compared to a brick-and-mortar store. “The margins are pretty slim per bottle, so having stations allowed me to start my business with very little capital,” Cross said.
Kaley shared that being located at the farmers’ market allowed her to interact with people that wouldn’t necessarily come to a refill store on a day-to-day basis. Even the aesthetic of the refill bottles was an intentional decision as part of Kaley’s mission to make sustainability inclusive to people of all income levels.
“Usually the product [dish soap, hand sanitizer, etc.] isn’t expensive itself, the pricey part is the cost of the typical zero waste bottles, which are uniform and eco-chic,” Cross said. “Unfortunately, this approach turns different demographics away because of the high price points of the products.”
Kaley chose to keep the refill products “grungy” so that they would be affordable and therefore, more people could engage with the sustainable refillery.
“When I started Rooted Reuse, I mostly sourced my materials from a local scrap exchange. It allowed me to start my business without much upfront capital, which was huge for me as a recent college graduate who’s entering the refillery space, which is so new and doesn’t yet have many investment opportunities.”
A Reward JourneyLearning how to start and run a business is no easy feat. While being a student and working, Kaley taught herself about the ins and outs of starting a company by watching videos online. “As someone who wasn’t in the business world, it definitely was and still is daunting at times. You have to kind of learn on the fly.” Kaley has grown from the hardships and has found her experience starting a business to be very rewarding. During the weekend, you can often find Kaley doing her Rooted Reuse pop-up shops at the farmer’s market, educating visitors on living sustainably. “It’s so rewarding to see people have those light bulb moments while having a conversation. People realize they can use their old containers for storing their dish soap instead of buying a new bottle. When I talk to people, they leave feeling empowered and confident to live more sustainably. Those are really cool moments to witness.”
The Road Ahead
Kaley hopes to continue her work in educating others on the environmental, social, and economic components of sustainability for years to come and is grateful that her company has allowed her to pursue her goals. She is currently exploring different business models and trialing delivery services and neighborhood pop-ups in an effort to find best practices for reaching her customers. With her entrepreneurial spirit, passion for the environment, and courage to take risks, it is safe to say Kaley Cross is a stellar example of an environmental change we hope to continue seeing in the world.
You can stay up to date with Kaley’s Rooted Reuse adventures and pop-up locations by following her on Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/rootedreuse/
Sources: Kaley Cross, Rooted Reuse 2021.
NC State Stewards: https://sustainability.ncsu.edu/get-involved/nc-state-stewards/