One company in particular is doing sustainability in a way that all of us can (and should) learn from, especially in today’s political, social and ecological climate. We spoke to Wunder Workshop’s CEO and co-founder Zoë Lind van’t Hof, who started the company with Tom Smale in 2014, and since then has seen her brand’s products fly off the shelves of notorious stores such as Planet Organic, Selfridges and more. Here’s what a sustainable business in 2021 needs to look like.
Fundamentally, sustainability means being able to continue implementing a balance without a depletion of resources (or behaviour). Achieving sustainability in 2021 most certainly has its compromises—living as close to nature as you can, which can mean physically surrounded by earth as soil, but also through the food you eat and have available is no easy task. But again, even simple small choices can have a ripple effect that lead to important and sometimes drastic changes over time. Sustainability tightropes over a negative and a positive result, according to a goal. How can not only businesses, but we ourselves tightrope walk positively with small steps, until we can balance sustainably?
Inspired by intuitive herbalism and Ayurveda, which is an alternative medicine system with ancient roots that has been used for centuries, Wunder Workshop’s products are aimed specifically towards optimising our mental and physical health. But what truly makes the company’s initiative so important to learn from is its promotion of a transparent relationship between the growers and the consumers, which arguably is something that isn’t talked about enough by other brands claiming to be sustainable.
Everything we consume carries a story, and Wunder Workshop believes that stories are the most valuable part of a company’s process. Here is its story, one that I hope will inspire budding entrepreneurs to value the fundamentals of what it really means for a brand to come ‘full-circle’, transparently.
My biggest inspiration to start Wunder Workshop was my late mother who had been deeply passionate about health and wellbeing since her early twenties. So, by the time I was born she had nearly 20 years of experience and knowledge to share. I was surrounded by interesting books about traditional medicine, the power of plants and how to create all kinds of natural remedies from an early age. I was fortunate to grow up eating organic and locally-sourced vegetarian food, we also grew many of our own vegetables and herbs, and we used to go to very down-to-earth Ayurvedic health retreats in Sri Lanka.
After dabbling in different career paths (from politics to interior design), I realised that my true purpose lay in what was around me all my life: health and plants. This coincided with a trip to Sri Lanka, so I made the decision to find an organic farm that uses sustainable and ethical farming techniques with whom I could work to bring some of their incredible plant knowledge, in the form of herbs and spices, back to London and started Wunder Workshop—focusing on turmeric and consumption with purpose.
Since I was little, I wanted to create things that I could share with people. As a child I would offer face painting to other kids at the playground, although I’m not sure how high customer satisfaction levels were. I would also sell my foraged walnuts and apples. Or organise cake sales with other kids to raise money. I think it mainly comes from seeing everyone in my family being self-employed, so when I got older I tried to think of ways to do that for myself. From designing lamps, rugs, to chia-puddings, I eventually settled for my favourite topic of all—creating potions and products with ethically sourced ingredients.
I was very lucky to be raised in a conscious and environmentally friendly way. My mother was vegetarian, practiced yoga, grew vegetables, refused to own a car and protected me from TV, sugar and plastic toys for as long as she could. The reality of going to school and making friends obviously let me be exposed to those things, but I never really rebelled against my upbringing. I enjoyed going foraging, learning about plants and mushrooms and going to Greenpeace children activities.
I am so grateful to have had this awareness instilled in me from a very young age, it came alongside the importance of being curious about everything. It is really this curiosity that inspired Wunder Workshop too, to create items for wellbeing with a full understanding and transparency on how they are grown, produced and packaged.
For me, being a conscious citizen means having compassion for all things and mother nature. Being fully aware of the impact that we have on this planet with every decision that we make, and thus to live life in the least harmful way possible.
I sometimes struggle with the term ‘sustainability’, as it’s become so diluted and has lost connection to its true essence. It has become a marketing tool, and since it’s unmeasurable, it can be hard as a consumer to fully understand what it means. I believe we are beyond sustainability, and need to actually regenerate, as the current world situation is not something we would want to sustain. We must repair, unlearn and regenerate.
Consume less, question everything, and unlearn our materialistic buying patterns. Listen to indigenous communities, ancient wisdom and Mother Nature. As a business, we have a responsibility to set an example for consumers, so we try to create products that promote biodiversity and soil health, and also to share the voice and passion of the farmers. Wunder Workshop products are packaged in infinitely reusable materials (paper/glass/metal), or give back to the soil through home-compostable packaging.
In the future, I hope to see more small businesses that are not striving to become massive, but instead are successful decentralised and self-efficient ecosystems.
Yes you are so right, there are many aspects in this industry that are counterintuitive and have opposing ideals. For me, this is especially true when it comes to creating health foods at a high price, and yet not using organic or biodiversity supporting ingredients. We can’t continue sourcing from mono-cultures and farms that use pesticides that harm our environment and the farmers.
Also, the focus on ‘trends’ is something I struggle with. Plants, herbal medicine, spices and cultures are not a trend. Yet, when we launched our turmeric products in 2014, people said we were ahead of the trend, and now they say we are behind the trend. Sadly, the fact that these herbs and spices have been celebrated in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and western herbalism for centuries was largely ignored by much of the press. I believe these herbal helpers are beautiful additions to our daily routines, a preventative and long term investment into our health. I totally understand it though, as a consumer we get bombarded with the next big thing. I wish we would be more mindful and just explore what sits right with us and feels good for our bodies and stick with that.
Not specifically disagree with, but more frustration at the deceptive nature of some of them. Such as “sugar-free,” I think it’s highly misleading and dangerous when you have products and recipes that are coined as such, yet are full of agave, date, rice or coconut syrups. They are all still sugars and have a similar effect on our bodies. So I think it makes things very difficult for consumers to understand this kind of marketing that creates the misconception of being able to replace that to make it ‘healthy’.
Our Turmeric CBD oil and Superior Chaga. I take those every single day, for overall wellbeing, lowering anxiety and immune support. Other than that, I would also take Chlorella, as it’s a perfect mineral rich supplement and helped me balance my body when I wasn’t able to eat balanced and healthily. Other than that I just hope wherever I travelled that there would be fresh vegetables.
When my late mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2014, she was taking cannabis oil that helped her tremendously for pain and gave her a much needed appetite. After she passed away in 2016, I was still so impressed with the benefits from the Cannabis plant that we decided to combine it with the effects of Turmeric, and so launched the first Turmeric CBD oil in 2016. I have been taking it since then for my menstrual pain, and it’s been such an incredible little helper.
I think little steps are important, rather than freaking out that everything we consume or do is bad, we must accept that we as consumers aren’t always at fault. As mentioned earlier, it’s up to businesses and governments to provide better solutions. However, I would definitely start with the following few things: use a renewable energy provider such as Octopus Energy, walk and cycle wherever you can. Get a food-waste/compost bin (I hassled my council long enough until they delivered one, which they now collect weekly).
Buy bulk food from zero-waste stores, where you can refill your shampoos, cleaning products and skincare products too. Visit weekly farmers markets, they are incredible and are mostly organic and biodynamic. Eat seasonal food, ordering in boxes such as Riverford’s vegetable box are a great way to do that. Buy second-hand or vintage clothing, and bring your old clothing to a charity shop. Take short showers, don’t take so many baths, buy less. There are so many things. I could probably go on forever, but just adapting to a few of this already will make a difference.
Farming with the environment at the forefront is hugely important for combating climate change, creating soil health, biodiversity and future food-security. Sanskrit scripts from 4,000 years ago already said that if our soil is dead, we will also not survive. Farming in the most environmentally possible way is essential to sequester carbon and create nutritious food for all living beings.
Going inwards and observing what needs attention, learning to create space for our emotions and be able to say no to things that don’t serve us well. This also means thinking of ourselves as part of a bigger community, and thus seeing how we can create a better place by first starting to be kind to ourselves.
I believe that if it really is your passion, and even your purpose, then you must go for it. Overthinking and overplanning are a detriment to starting a business. Observe whether you are doing it for the right reasons—to live your passion, to create a product/service that gives back to people and the planet, and is based on a holistic concept. Have a clear ethos, and don’t compromise on your values. It feels so rewarding if you are creating something that is good for the people and the planet.
What is the link between Fortnite, Drest and the NBA? All make revenue from zero-touch cultural products that rewrite the rules of how we store value through the use of non-fungible tokens (NFT). Let me explain what these are and why you should care about all this now:
Zero-touch cultural products are not new; Kayne West has been at it for years. People buy clothes for their Instagram pic and then return them. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movie Dune never came out but has a stan following. But what is culture these days if it isn’t content?
A zero-touch cultural product is intended never to be consumed in the traditional sense. They are meant to float around as pixels. But what can be the value in ‘owning’ a basketball moment or digital art? What if people start to collect emerging music, digital fashion, unseen parts of films or TV shows? People have always paid to own a moment; a piece of history and culture, a Babe Ruth baseball card, Prince’s guitar or vintage Dior. Many people invest in things they think will be valuable in the future. Just remember half of the world’s art is in vaults in Switzerland underground in the dark.
A non-fungible token (NFT) is a type of cryptographic token which represents something unique. The ‘fungible’ in non-fungible token describes something identical to something else—a Hermes bag or a Tesla share. When you buy an NFT, you are purchasing a token and the ‘thing’ linked to it, the transaction is registered on the blockchain, and each token is unique, which provides a permanent record of that purchase and provides proof of ownership. NFTs can be anything—domain names, virtual gaming items, and even tweets—but the most popular NFT category is digital art like images, audio, and video clips—basically, zero-touch cultural products.
Artists experimenting with cryptocurrency isn’t new; decentralised collectable marketplaces have existed since CryptoKitties launched in 2017. But with a growing awareness of NFTs among artists and creators, we should note that blockchain-powered signatures ensure that the original creator can simply verify a piece of digital content. Making them a viable path for brands, makers, musicians, designers and artists to sell their work, build community, and redefine how we define scarcity and assign value. Though we predict the people who will make the most money from this are brands (making a profit without making anything) and celebrities (who sell their old things to super fans or collectors).
NFTs are selling for real big money. At the end of February 2021, someone paid $100,000 for an NBA Top Shot. Fortnite Skins generated the majority of the $2.4 billion Epic pulled in from the game last year (Skins have always been the bulk of Fortnite’s revenue: free game, with paid-for or earned outfits). The artist Beeple sold 20 of his digital artworks for $3.5 million through a series of sales on Nifty Gateway.
NBA Top Shot is a platform created to sell and trade videos of memorable moments in NBA history—simply put, it sells trading cards, except the trading cards here are digital videos. Vancouver-based Dapper Labs developed it, which is also the company behind the CryptoKitties mentioned above. The NBA has sold $11 million worth of ‘packs’, and the cards in those packs traded for $70 million more on the secondary marketplace. The Top Shot site is created on Flow BlockChain and offers the ability to see every Maxi card being offered, its serial number, price and more.
At first, it is hard to get your head around; yes, you can get the same video on the internet anywhere, any time and watch it. You can also get the same picture of a Picasso on the internet and print it out, and that doesn’t change the value of the painting.
New ‘moments’ (trading cards) sell out faster than sneaker drops. Even the $9 entry-level packs, which contain three ‘moments’ and are intended as a low-cost way to get new users in the door, aren’t regularly available, and allotments of 25,000 packs are gone instantly when they drop. The $999 “Holo Icon” packs were in such high demand that the site crashed when they were released early February.
Though you might not be a basketball fan, it is important to see what this could unlock for other spaces such as fashion, music, art, films, and more.
In December 2020, digital artist Mike Winkelman, better known as Beeple or @beeple_crap, broke crypto art records. This February 2021, Beeple became the first artist to auction a purely digital, NFT-backed artwork at a major auction house, Christie’s.
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Although these ‘things’ or artworks tend to be digital files, they can also be physical objects. Beeple’s first sale “open editions” was essentially physical; each would have the NFT present by way of a “signed, numbered titanium backplate with hidden authentication markers” along with an “authentic Beeple hair sample.”
What is essential to understand when it comes to the art world’s new relationship with NFTs is how ‘smart contracts’ can change the game for artists and disrupt the institution, becoming a significant force.
NFTs are backed by ‘smart contracts’, which are written into the token from the outset. The terms of these contracts will execute automatically from then on. Notably, artists can write themselves into these contracts for a secondary market, allowing them to earn whatever percentage they establish upon every subsequent sale in perpetuity. Thus, if the artist’s career skyrockets and work balloons in value, they’ll see benefit financially in perpetuity.
All of this feels like similar energy to $GME and is in the same conditions that originally fueled it—economic instability, rage against the system, and bored young people. It is fucking with the assignment of value.
Those over a certain age will understandably find this all mind-blowing. But Gen Internet knows that a digital good or a crypto asset is a better investment than old school see, touch or feel things in this world. No one has power over them; there is no central authority; their efforts can’t be easily fucked over by some government agency or institution. Gen Internet has finally found one of its powers—financial unity. For the most part, they aren’t looking to break laws; they are simply looking to break the system.
People are looking for alternative ways to play with their money. If you aren’t graced with a trust fund and want to invest some money, you could learn the stock market, but it’s gamed against you. Just look at the $GME drama and Robinhood’s legal battle. But if you are a stan or a fan and love the NBA or art, why not use your knowledge to make some money and connect with a community?
Sarah is the founder of The Akin, a global insight and strategy studio, and a contributor to Screen Shot Pro.