This week we had the privilege of speaking with Shannon Fontius, winner of the Bright Red Sparks 2019 Business for Good category. We wanted to find out more about her business echo shoppe ltd, her journey as an entrepreneur, and about the person behind the business.
Like everyone in our BRT community, we’re excited to support to the development of echo shoppe ltd and Shannon’s journey as an entreprenuer. Don’t be shy, if you catch Shannon at the Merchiston incubator where she can be spotted a couple of times a week, be sure to introduce yourself and say hi.
Tell us a bit about yourself
“I’m clearly not from Scotland, I’m from California. The area I grew up in was a really small town with nothing much to do other than being out in nature. That has really influenced what I do in life – the mix of wake-boarding, paddling, and the lovely Californian beaches really taught me how to love the ocean and more importantly, how to take care of the environment around me.”
Tell us about echo shoppe ltd. What is it all about?
“Our goal is a low impact lifestyle shop. Most people would associate us more with a zero waste shop, however I don’t particularly love that term because I find it quite intimidating…
We offer products that are plastic free, and we also try to receive products with as little plastic as possible. We try to do everything low impact and circular. We also make sure we are living the values by reducing our own personal environmental impact as well.
Another big thing is that all our products are ethically sourced. We make sure we know where the product was made and who made it. It is very important for me to be sure that all we offer to our customers is cruelty free. That is why we go the extra mile and ask our suppliers for solid proof of their production cycle.
The last component is that we really are trying to focus on customer convenience and everything we do is practical. At the end of the day if our products are not easy to access we are not really living our mission. We wouldn’t be able to provide our customers with an easy way to live a low impact lifestyle.”
What made you start your business?
“It all started when my husband and I were trying to reduce our own plastic use and found it very difficult. There is a lot of confusing information out there and it was quite difficult to figure out which products to buy. Sometimes it felt like a full-time job to go through all the research published and track down the best products from trusted suppliers.
I was really dedicated to find those products but I recognised that not everyone would spend that much time researching. That’s when our goal started to form – make low impact living as accessible as possible.
You see zero waste shops and some people that are eco-warriors, and as much as that is inspiring it is quite intimidating. So our shop is a place where you can try and be more inspired to change the world. It’s a place where you can find out more information about how to reduce your impact on the environment and try some of our products.
On a personal level, I’ve always known that whatever I ended up doing, it would have to have a positive impact.”
Practically speaking, how did you go about setting up the business?
“This is not our first company. My husband and I sold solar lanterns in Columbia, and part of our core values was that for every ten lamps sold we would donate one to a community that didn’t have proper access to electricity. Going into our current business I had a lot more confidence, and importantly, I knew there would be things that I don’t know. I actually found that starting the company was the easiest thing to do. The biggest hurdle is, and continues to be, the visa, to have that stability.
As for advice, we began talking with BRT from the beginning. Even at the initial idea stage we went straight to BRT and it was the best decision ever made. Having continuous feedback that isn’t from your friends and family is very important. Being made to justify your decision with logic and facts was very useful in terms of taking the best action for the development of the business.”
What should we expect to see from echo shoppe ltd in the future?
“The first thing is more products. I want people to be able to find everything they need. The only thing they won’t find is food. We believe that other shops do that very well. We want to be thought of like the ethical and sustainable Boots.
A collection point in every neighbourhood in Edinburgh. It’s obviously a big goal, but what we want is that no matter where you live in the city, you can access our products just as easily as products containing plastic.
You will be seeing much more technology, innovation and integration with technology in the future. Echo, our name, is about taking a step back and remembering that plastic is a new thing, and realising that people beforehand coped without plastic.”
How did you feel about winning the Bright Red Sparks Business for Good category?
“Just wow, I still feel that I can’t put it into words. It was really incredible to be shortlisted, I felt like a winner just by that. We realised that in the Business for Good category we were running against our friends, so it was going to be a win-win anyway. This fact gave me a nice feeling going into it, really positive.
Winning was a really nice affirmation of our mission. That people like what we are doing, they want to reduce their plastic use, and that the way we are making it easier for customers to lead a low impact life is working.”
If you could give aspiring entrepreneurs one piece of advice, what would that be?
“Get comfortable with being really uncomfortable. I’m like that around 80% of the time. A lot of the time we are trying out things that we haven’t done before. You know that with the feeling you are growing and learning.”