Business management

Charlotte Bowyer and Holly Watson: The Zero Waste Company

As part of our campaign with Getty Images to change the image of female-led entrepreneurship, the founders of The Zero Waste Company tell their business story.

When The Zero Waste Company opened in 2019, it became the first completely plastic-free store and cafe in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Aiming to provide a zero-waste environment for customers, it offers refill stations for bulk food goods, household products and toiletries as well as ethical independent cosmetics, accessories, gifts and plantable cards.

Co-founder Charlotte Bowyer says she and her business partner, Holly Watson, are dedicated to giving their customers eco solutions, and even their wine, beer and children’s items are all plastic free, sustainable, ethically and often locally produced. “Our cafe is vegetarian and vegan,” she adds. “Our in-house chef uses fresh produce and food items that are wonky, tired or nearing the end of life in the cafe to combat food waste.”

In a challenging first year, the small business swiftly responded to the onset of the pandemic by launching a delivery service the day after lockdown was announced so it could continue supplying customers and keep the business alive. 

“We launched a new website two weeks into lockdown so people could order online and, thankfully, we managed to remain open throughout,” say the pair. “You never know what’s around the corner, so be ready to adapt your business quickly.”

We launched a new website two weeks into lockdown and thankfully we managed to remain open throughout. You never know what’s around the corner, so be ready to adapt your business quickly.

Charlotte Bowyer
Co-founder, The Zero Waste Company

In 2022, Charlotte and Holly are focusing on what they describe as a proper year of trading. The bank has given them access to a range of tools and courses tailored for business owners like them, which has enabled The Zero Waste Company to effectively plan ahead and implement changes.

“We have yet to experience a full year of trading outside a pandemic,” they explain. The aim is to prepare to open another zero-waste shop and cafe towards the end of 2022. 

They’re proud of surviving the pandemic, despite being a new business, and if they’ve got one piece of advice for women thinking of starting up an enterprise of their own it’s just to go for it. 

If you believe in what you are doing then you will find a way to make it a success. It will be hard work – harder than you ever imagine – but it will be worth it.

Charlotte Bowyer
Co-founder, The Zero Waste Company

“You can find all the excuses in the world to not do something,” says Charlotte. “If you believe in what you are doing then you will find a way to make it a success. It will be hard work; it will be even harder than you ever imagine. But it will be worth it.”

On a practical note, Holly adds: “Rewrite the business plan. Tear it apart; write it again. Find the flaws and rewrite it again.”

On winning the bank and Getty Images’ Female Focus #BeTheRoleModel initiative, Charlotte says: “It’s an amazing honour to be recognised. It feels like all our hard work, sleepless nights, financial sacrifices, tears and stresses have been recognised. Sometimes it is nice to just have an acknowledgement that what you are doing is pretty cool and worthy.” 

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