When brand new entrepreneur Vanessa Stubbs scoured the stores for attractive gift bags last Christmas, she took her search online – a search that yielded a questionable range of “…tie-dyed or organza drawstring bags, library-book style bags or good ol’ paper-based bags…” Disillusioned, she dragged out the sewing machine and made her own re-usable gift bags from a Christmas-themed table cloth from the supermarket. AWO chatted with Vanessa about how her treasure of an idea could cut your Christmas wrapping costs – and cost to the environment – in half.
What’s the idea behind reusable, fabric TreasureBags? I wanted to use material bags because of three reasons. The first, and most selfish reason, was because it took me three hours the year before to wrap my presents. I didn’t enjoy hunching over rolls of paper trying to get neat lines and pretty bows; I wanted a gift bag that I could just throw gifts into, tie a bow in it, and have it look great.
Secondly, I didn’t want to continue using rolls of paper each Christmas when I knew it was mostly made from native forest and would only end up in landfill or consuming further resources being recycled. I’m constantly after my husband for not using the recycling bin and something about deliberately wasting paper didn’t sit right with me.
Finally, I was travelling that Christmas on a plane and knew that if I’d wrapped my presents in paper they would have arrived creased and torn. And, there’ s no way I’d have had the time to rewrap all the gifts I’d packed given I was landing on Christmas Eve!
Why do you think it’s vital to support sustainable and reusable products? Some great data is coming out of organisations like the ‘Global Footprint Network’ and there’s abundant discussion about why we need to reduce our ecological footprint – at its simplest, we consume more natural resources in a year than the earth can replenish in that time. It’s stating the obvious, but this deficit isn’t sustainable.
Of course, there’s rising recognition that we need to start acting today, not tomorrow. Possibly more importantly though – technology’s at a point where it’s easy for anyone to get involved in the debate – my Twitter feed supplies me with an endless stream of news, data and discussion.
Considering we don’t have a neat and tidy solution to this looming problem, each of us needs to reduce our overuse of natural resources. One step is to reduce our energy demands by reusing what we can. ‘Reuse and reduce’ is simple to implement, especially in our homes, and despite what people often think, it doesn’t have to mean compromising.
What other career roles have you had? Before TreasureBags I managed large-scale IT projects for the State Government of Victoria as well as being involved heavily with the Department of Environment and Sustainability. Before that, I worked with a variety of other organisations in project management and business analysis.
How many employees do you have? Keeping my labour force as flexible as possible has been a big focus, especially given the breadth of skills I’ve needed to get access to in order to launch – rather than keep a fixed structure, I’ve been using a combination of contractors and global outsourcing to manage product development. It’s something that would have quite simply been impossible to do even as recently as five years ago.
What kind of attributes does one need to create this type of business? Mainly, I think good research skills, not only in terms of product development but also in researching and understanding how to develop new skills and do things you’ve never needed to do before. However, patience can’t be understated – it seems that everything takes longer than first anticipated!
Who have you relied on for help? My personal network has been an invaluable source of information and support – while I’ve never taken advantage of anyone’s generosity, over the years I’ve developed relationships with photographers, editors and general IT gurus. My immediate family and friends have also been extremely useful as a sounding board, helping me to clarify my ideas and crystallise my plans.
What facilities and resources have you utilised? I rely heavily on the internet for quick and basic information. When I was starting out almost a year ago, government resources such as www.business.gov.au were an excellent starting place to find information on getting through all the legal and taxation hurdles. For general ideas, I tend to look at other businesses, read about them, and in some instances have even asked them directly for advice.
For personal reassurance though, I discuss ideas with my mother, a successful CEO in a large organisation. She believes anything is possible and it’s with her support that I took the leap and started TreasureBags.
What kind of financial model do you operate under? A large part of my time has been spent on financial modelling – in addition to a business plan, a marketing plan, and pricewalk, I’ve also developed a cashflow forecasting model that simulates various scenarios that might impact my returns. Getting an idea of how sensitive my profitability is to currency fluctuations or unforseen costs has been a critical element of making sure I’m profitable. Using the data from this analysis to support my business decisions and plan for the future is, quite simply, fundamental to how I run my business.
How do you budget, plan and project, financially? Budgeting is always a challenge when you’re dealing with local and global suppliers – the amount of uncertainty the Australian economy has gone through over the last year is largely unprecedented. As dollar appreciation and depreciation has the potential to have a major impact on my returns, explicitly modelling currency sensitivity has been a critical part of my day-to-day planning. I create my budgets on a six-month rolling window to tie them into my product development cycle, tracking my profitability against plan.
Some things have been far easier – the experience I’ve had managing large-scale projects has greatly simplified my planning and execution. It’s also allowed me to understand what I can and can’t control and plan accordingly.
What obstacles have you encountered? My single biggest obstacle is time, or the lack thereof. I’ve had to become far more flexible in my expectations and more realistic about what can be achieved given the time I have; making sure my daughter is getting the time she needs is extremely important to me. It’s meant a lot of late nights, but it’s worth it!
What has been your biggest learning lesson? When I first thought of starting TreasureBags I was seriously daunted by the fact that I didn’t have much seed capital and needed to control costs wherever possible – I’ve managed projects before but it’s obviously very different when it’s your money on the line! Because of this, I’ve had to develop a variety of new skills, ranging from art design to site development. My biggest lesson to date has been learning that a little bit of knowledge can be quite exciting but also incredibly frustrating when you just can’t work out which line of code is making your site turn blue.
If you could do anything differently, what would it be? I think, given where I am now, I would have started sooner and not let my concerns delay me. Of course, it’s easy to say that once you’ve solved them all!
What has been your greatest reward? The best reward is knowing that each TreasureBag sold can be reused, thereby reducing consumer waste and lowering a household’s ecological footprint. I can’t save the planet, but I like that TreasureBags are an important step towards becoming more eco-friendly.
It’s been a challenging journey so far, but it’s always reassuring to know that as an entrepreneurial woman, there’s such a burgeoning online community I can drawn on for ideas, insight and opinions.
Where is TreasureBags now headed? My immediate focus is around looking at expanding my range to include more designs and sizes. We’ve also established a new line of business printing our TreasureBags with customised branding to be used as corporate gift wrap or an alternative to paper for gift shops that offer gift wrapping services.
I’d like to see TreasureBags under everyone’s Christmas tree and on everyone’s gift table at birthdays, weddings, christenings. In the long run, I’d like to live in a world where we no longer waste paper wrapping gifts.
TreasureBags are available online at www.treasurebags.com.au, and Vanessa is currently in discussions with retailers for selected outlets.
As a special offer to readers of Australian Women Online, Vanessa would like to offer 5% off all TreasureBag orders through to Christmas Eve. Help make your Christmas a little greener – head to www.treasurebags.com.au and just enter the code ‘EcoWomen’ when placing your order.
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