Alison has one of the most powerful ‘founder stories’ I’ve ever encountered (and there are a lot of incredible ones out there!). As part of her undergraduate studies in Economics at the University of Edinburgh, she worked in Kenya with a charity and was involved in research about girls’ sexual health. She rapidly realised that the situation for many young women and girls was dire: in exchange for sanitary towels and other products that they couldn’t afford, the girls were being coerced into sex work by men in the community. The charity did not have the bandwidth to even begin to understand the reality of what was happening.
Alison knew she had to find a way to help.
She began thinking about developing a reusable sanitary towel at an affordable rate. She found she could do this, but didn’t think the business model – manufacturing and working only in Kenya – was sustainable, and moreover production wasn’t cheap enough to enable the most impoverished women and girls to have access to the pads.
So, with global mission in mind, she set about working with her friend and business partner Mhairi on delivering a reusable pad for the UK market, whilst developing a business model that could support low income women and girls to be entrepreneurial and have access to quality, reusable period products.
To meet the needs of the UK market, the reusable pads needed to be thin, practical, and made of sustainable material. It’s fair to say it has been a journey of discovery – manufacturing and product development can be costly and tricky.
The team have worked out a balance between look – feel – price – sustainability that they, and their customers, are happy with. They manufacture in Lithuania with a factory that has a great track record in environmental sustainability and fair working practices. Everything they do, at every stage, can be certified and verified. Floco have had to work hard and ask difficult questions from their potential supply chain to ensure they can trust who they’re working with, and develop a product they are confident delivers for their customers’ needs and their own environmental expectation.
The business model subsidises the cost of the pads for low income communities in southern and eastern Africa. A South African manufacturer produces reusable pads for these markets, again without compromising on quality or expectation. Local female entrepreneurs sell the pads at the subsidised price, ensuring that women and girls living in poverty can afford a pad that will last years, and providing an income for the local distributors.
Alison and her co-founder have had incredible success with awards and support for their endeavours: everything from Scottish Enterprise’s Unlocking Ambition award through to Innovate UK funding.
It’s not hard to see why they’ve gained such traction and support in such a short space of time. Floco is paving the way for purposeful entrepreneurs to have impact without compromising on their business savvy.
Floco have a social purpose at their heart. They want understand where their greatest environmental impact is and how to reduce their carbon footprint. They are going beyond the usual carbon metrics to include social and environmental impact. But doing the research by themselves to get to a net zero target can be difficult and overwhelming, so…
Floco is a small team and Alison and her co-founder, Mhairi, know when to ask for help and have learned how to ask the right people with the right skills. Their experience over the past five years in developing the brand, company, and product has brought them into contact with a wide array of people who have offered their help and services. Grateful as they are for these offers of assistance, they have learned that this may divert attention to their core goals or risk exposing the company to a direction of travel the two co-founders have not wanted to go down. Just because someone is more experienced than you doesn’t mean they’re right.
Floco’s customers use their products because they’re great products and because of the purposeful nature of the company. The company’s growth is based on this trust, on the story of the co-founders, and on the ethical nature of how they conduct their business. The storytelling isn’t hollow or greenwashing – they can demonstrate their meaning and impact at every angle.
Trusting in the very DNA of the company has also meant the team has not worked with people – whether potential investors or manufacturers – because it would go against everything they stand for.
Arriving at the Floco brand wasn’t as straightforward as deciding, ‘Ah! That’s the name!’. There were a few previous iterations of the brand and company name but none of them felt right. After some investment, the co-founders were able to work with a respected branding company who helped them work through how to convey the message of the company into a brand identity they felt matched their ethos, product, and ambition.
Alison is a big proponent of writing a plan and working out how to reach big targets. It helps her to vision where she wants to take the company but also helps to take notice of small, incremental changes in the business that may be all-too-easily brushed over if not written down.