Episode #30

Isabel Aagaard from Last Object

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In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, Sam interviews Isabel Aagaard, co-founder and CEO of Last Object, a sustainable brand that creates reusable alternatives to single-use items. Isabel shares her journey with Last Object, the company's marketing strategies, and the future of sustainability.

Isabel shares that Last Object was born out of the need for a sustainable solution to single-use cotton swabs. The brand expanded its product line to include reusable cotton rounds, washable menstrual pads, and other eco-friendly personal care products. Isabel emphasizes the importance of creating products that are not only sustainable but also practical and beautiful.

Sam and Isabel discuss Last Object's marketing strategies, which include Facebook and Instagram ads, TikTok reels, Google ads, PR podcasts, and collaborations with other eco-friendly brands. Isabel shares that the company has shifted its focus to growing its email list and partnering with other B Corp-certified brands.

The conversation then shifts to sustainability and the future of the industry. Isabel believes that sustainability will become the new normal and that future generations will look back at single-use items with disgust. She emphasizes the importance of understanding the different aspects of sustainability, such as water consumption and microplastic waste, and making the right choice possible.

Finally, Isabel shares her vision for Last Object's future, which includes expanding its product line to include more advanced reusable alternatives to single-use items. She emphasizes the importance of creating a green company that is built on goodness and has a bigger mission beyond profit.

Overall, the episode provides valuable insights into Last Object's sustainable business model and marketing strategies, as well as the importance of understanding sustainability in all its aspects.

Show Notes

  • (00:00) Introduction
  • (00:45) About Last Object
  • (02:45) Creating the reusable swab
  • (05:00) The importance of sustainability
  • (07:55) The success of the reusable swab
  • (09:24) The value proposition of Last Object products
  • (10:07) Other Last Object products
  • (12:19) The shift in perspective after becoming a parent
  • (14:44) Acquiring new customers for Last Object
  • (16:52) Building community around Last Object
  • (18:56) Email marketing and language localization
  • (23:43) Customer lifecycle at Last Object
  • (25:07) Driving customer reviews
  • (26:10) What sets Last Object apart
  • (27:53) The future of sustainability
  • (29:21) Long-term goals for Last Object
  • (31:20) Conclusion and where to learn more

Read the transcript:

Sam (00:01): Isabelle, welcome to be on the inbox. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

Isabel (00:05): Thank you for having me.

Sam (00:07): Can you tell us about your background and how you got started with Last Object?

Isabel (00:13): Yes. Well, my background is in, I have a mixed education, so I'm from, I have a master's in it, digital media and design. And then I did a master's in collaborative designing at the Royal Academy of Design here in Copenhagen. So it's, it's kind of a digital but very designy background. And it started, I got involved in Last Object, or we created Last Object, well now it's four years ago and it was with one of my brother is one of the other co-founders and our other design friend, we're all designers actually. They're more product designers where I'm more collaborative design. But we were actually doing a lot of different things. We had the same work, we were working in the same office and I think at that point I was doing hospital equipment for different hospitals, so medical or in the medical industry. And they were doing some more classical Danish design furniture.

(01:27): And it kind of emerged in a, what do we actually want to use our life on? What is the meaning of everything and where we put our energy? And that's where last object evolved. And we started looking into where if we had to do something, if we had to design something, where could we make a huge difference? And that's where last SWAP was created from that thought. And we started listing all the single use items that we could replace because we saw that if we could replace thousands of something with one item, we could really make a difference for oceans and for trash in general.

Sam (02:11): Can you talk about the term collaborative design? Because as far as I understand it, it's quite a new term and it's quite fascinating how it involves other people. Can you speak on that?

Isabel (02:20): Yeah, yeah. Oh, I love it. It was the best two years of my life. It's a design, well, in general, you kind of, in the design industry, you tend to create kind of a loan because you're either making garments or making bigger things and you maybe talk to other designers on how to collaborate. But a lot of the things that we actually create are two very specific people. So, or collaborative design is a method where you are designing with people. So it's not about you as a designer, it's more about how you can facilitate design processes with a group of people. So I think a good example would be I worked a lot in the hospital industry and I would work with patients, with nurses, with doctors and understand what they were going through on a daily basis. Also how the disease that they had, how that affected them, how we can design something that would be comfortable for that, and actually getting them to design it and just giving them tools. Maybe they can't draw, but they can move around with different items and we can feel different fabrics and there's so many things, there's so ways to explain what you want in different situations. So yeah, that's

Sam (03:46): For listeners that might not be aware, can you describe what last swap is and how that idea came about specifically?

Isabel (03:55): Yeah, so last swab is a reusable cotton swab. It has nothing to do with cotton, but it's the most known phrase. And we wanted to make reusable. We wanted to create an alternative version, usable alternative version to single use items. And so we needed the Q-tip to be washable, so it's a washable Q-tip. And by creating that in elements, so our swab has the same very thick stem, so it can take a lot of uses. And then the ends the one, we have different versions, but the ones for the ears that's most popular and most known, what you use Q-tips for, and that is kind of a surface, a closed surface of a kind of rubber. It's TP T P e, which is a thermoplastic, so it's kind of like silicone actually. But the other plastic binds better to the other components. So it's completely a closed surface, so you can wash it and reuse it and wash it and very durable, but it has a surface that is kind of bumpy, which makes it good to grab you. It works.

Sam (05:11): I was watching the Kickstarter video before this interview and I wanted to ask you, can you share the launch, how that was some of the learnings that you had from it?

Isabel (05:21): Yeah, yeah. We've done Kickstarters before and this was I think about two weeks up until the launch, we could see that we were converting quite crazy on just our pre-launch email signups. So that's where we thought, that's where we realized shit we're actually, maybe we hit something here. Maybe we actually made something that's going to survive for a long time or something where we, yeah, we hit something. There was something that actually people wanted. So that was quite crazy. And then when we went live, I think we got funded in 18 minutes or something like that, and it was crazy. That was the most crazy day. You were just updating the website and people were just pouring in and putting their money on our products. We didn't even have the products yet. It was Kickstarter all about getting your design out there and seeing if it aptitude resonates, and then if you sell this many items and you put a bar at the amount that you need to get into production. So that was pretty crazy. And then the campaign ran for three months and that was pretty crazy and it got to a really big size and we were very happy. We had 20,000 people that have put money into something we hadn't even created yet. So that was really fun. Then we used the next couple of months trying to figure out how we actually would solve it.

Sam (07:03): Why do you think the campaign was so popular? Do you think more people now are making a concentrated effort to think more sustainably or do you think there was another reason why, or do you think it was maybe a combination of several things?

Isabel (07:17): I think it was a combination of several things. I think one holistically, yes, the world is changing and people's mindsets are changing and they're putting money into eco-friendly alternative. People want to live a more zero waste life. And so that's one. Two, the swap was kind of the brilliant i yay factor. So half of the comments on Facebook would be like, Jesus, that is disgusting. Seriously, guys. And the other half would be like, oh my God, that's amazing. I need two. So we got a lot of bad and good traction, which made it quite viral. So a lot of people actually ended up seeing it and seeing the ads that we converted crazy on ads so we could really use very few money on getting people in and backing also afterwards when we got the product out. So there was that factor too. And it's kind of also gadgety. It's the perfect Kickstarter product. We've done other Kickstarter since that have been more female oriented, and that's a bit more hard because the people on Kickstarter are male dominated and they're very gadgety. So it was also kind of perfect for that. It was a unisex product that everybody could buy. And it was also kind of a funny thing you could give your roommate and the price point was something everybody could enter.

Sam (08:50): I think it's so fascinating because at least from my perspective, when I think about sustainability, sometimes I think I have to pay more or I have to go without something that makes what I usually pay for worth it. But with the swab, it's so stylish, but it also makes sense because you're no longer spending more on hundreds of swabs. You're buying one and you're reusing it. And I love on the website as well, how you even talk about the number of usages per unit. So I think that's a really nice way of conveying value on the product page as well.

Isabel (09:24): Yeah, definitely. Yeah, and some of our products, you don't have to use them that many times before you're even economically, because some of these products are expensive, actually, single use, if you just want something that's at least just ecological cotton or something like that. Yeah, definitely. And it's also a lot of our customers ended up loving the product so much. So we have so many people that have everything in our collection because if you need this and you want to be sustainable, you also need this. You also need this. You also, yeah, so people, it's a good community to get into. It's an amazing community.

Sam (10:07): I want to come back to community, but for our listeners that aren't familiar, can you talk about some of the other products within that collection?

Isabel (10:14): Yes. So after the swab, we did the tissue, which is, well, you can kind of imagine it as a handkerchief, had a baby with a tissue pack. That's kind of the best way of seeing it. So it was, it's as big as a tissue pack so you can carry it around. And then you take the handkerchiefs from the bottom and it's hygienic because you have, there's a barrier where you put the dirty ones on top and the clean ones in the bottom, and that's actually the product that I use the most. It's absolutely amazing. We also did different versions, like a tissue box kind of version of it, and then we went into rounds. So that's reusable cotton rounds that you can wash in the washing machine, wash by hand, whatever, whatever you feel like. It took us a bit longer to develop because of the fabric.

(11:11): We want all of our products to be so close to the single use experience as possible so that it's a habit that's easy for you to build in your everyday life and as soft as cotton, it needs to have to be wet to get that texture. But it's absolutely amazing material. And we've done normal rounds you would get when you buy the normal cotton rounds, and then also a bigger version for full face makeup and a black version for nail polish or really tough makeup. And that was still rounds. Then we also gotten tipped into some care products, so menstrual pads, washable menstrual pads that are really, there's some in the market, but they're very home sew. So we wanted to make a really exclusive, nice sexy pad because that's the period of your month that you feel the less sexy. So we really wanted to make it really comfortable and we have different sizes, different colors.

(12:19): Yeah, I think we just launched actually laundry detergent sheets. So it's like you would have powder normally or you would have a water or liquid soap for your washing machine. And a lot of people came to us and were like, what should we buy? What laundry detergent should we buy? So we started researching and it's absolutely awful what they put in the laundry detergent we have in the market now. So we wanted to make an ultra clean, ultra compact so we don't ship around things that are unnecessary. So it's like an ultra compact little sheet that just washes all your clothes and comes in a little pack now, actually just got a new order home today and they're just getting better and better. But it's like alter curling has no sulfates. You've taken all the shit out of it.

Sam (13:17): I wanted to ask you how your thought process around sustainability has changed over time. I know you became a parent in the last couple of years, and I wanted to ask how that influenced your thought process around single use products.

Isabel (13:31): It's absolutely amazing how many single use items you actually consume as a parent. Beforehand it was more like my c la cup and things like that, and now it's full on diapers and wipes and straws and things that you actually didn't use beforehand. So there's a massive, it took a turn in actually what products, that's where I said that the tissue was actually the one that I use the most now and that my son is so happy about, he can even use my product and he puts it in the right place. And yeah, it's very cute. So there's a shift in the products that I wanted to make afterwards, and there's also a shift in what products I actually use the most myself now.

Sam (14:22): So I want to shift gears and talk a little bit about the marketing for the brand. My first question for you on this subject is how does Last Object acquire new customers and what strategies have been most effective for the company?

Isabel (14:44): I think it's changed through the years. In the beginning, we were really good on Facebook, we were really good on ads. And then when TikTok came on and we were popular on doing TikTok reels, but on Instagram or yeah, that's in reels. So that was a really nice way of being able to go viral a bit so that we could go out and reach some customers that didn't know about us. And then general Google, we've actually done almost everything now right now because the world is changing constantly and you have to keep moving your time and your energy and your content around so that you're getting the most value out of it. Right now, partnerships are making a big deal for us and partnering up with other eco brands so that, oh, you like this soap, then you actually maybe will like this. Or if you want a really nice bathing suit, then you should buy this one pointing to, because we have a really good understanding of what is greenwashing, what is not.

(15:56): So it's really cool to collaborate with brands that are in the same track as us trying to make a difference, and the customers tend to really like it. So we kind of cross into some new groups of content, some new groups of people that would be interested in somebody like us. We've also been very successful a year ago, one, two years ago on PR podcasts and getting on buzzfeed, getting in articles, top 25 products that you need for Zero Waste Lifestyle, getting into articles like that because I think a lot of people get their inspiration through lists. So yeah, a lot of different things.

Sam (16:52): I want to dig into that a little bit. Are you doing PR actively or are you acquiring links organically at this point? Based on the size of the brand,

Isabel (17:02): We did a big run on it. I do a collaboration with a little woman or they're actually only women. That was just a one man show at the beginning and now I think she's got three people on board. So it's like a really small PR company in the US that is our contact. So they reach out, but it's very little now. We're just hanging, taking the low hanging fruits, so nothing major.

Sam (17:40): And what about partners? How are you actively recruiting partners? Is it you or someone on the team DMing someone that you see on Instagram or is it something else?

Isabel (17:50): Yeah, we tried, actually, we just did a list of 200 brands like us, and then we just cold emailed them all, found their emails and emailed them to see if they wanted to do some kind of collaboration. We're doing something new email wise, and that was so-and-so successful. I would say now I've found a lot of platforms. We just got B Corp certified or a couple of months ago, and that's a little bit easier, then you kind can connect with other B Corp and together it's just easier to set something up. So it hasn't been very structured. We're still trying to figure out what is the best way to actually connect with people. It's also just like our local network here in the startup community in Denmark where you know somebody that knows somebody and then you can actually get the ball running pretty quickly.

Sam (18:50): Yeah, the Danish marketing community is very close knit, that's for sure.

Isabel (18:54): Yeah.

Sam (18:56): What about community? You mentioned that earlier and what does community mean to lost objects?

Isabel (19:01): I think community was what kind of sprouted everything for us because the sew waste community people that are really into trying to figure out what to take out of their everyday life, what habits, what products, what methods, what ideas they have. And they all have different platforms that they talk about or you follow the same kind of things on Instagram, it's a very, or you read the same articles. So I would say it's really, I'm part of that community too, always searching for what should I change? What now I need to buy this and this, what should I buy so that I can make the biggest difference or not buy? And I think that's absolutely amazing and to be part of that. And it's actually quite crazy how much demand they're actually asking, which is amazing. So in the community of steel waste, they're actually very skeptical about where is it produced, what material and how in what way.

(20:13): And that's amazing because we love to really get into the nitty gritty of why is this created in the way, why is this? Because sustainability is also such a big word that can be interpreted in so many different ways. Well, maybe it's good for the water, maybe it's good for the earth, maybe it's good for the wind, it's different, it's different things that actually affect the planet. So some really look at the animals, some really, you can do a lot of different things in a lot of different areas, but it's hard to be a hundred percent on all. So it's kind of also trying to explain that you can look at this in many ways. We can look at the water consumption, we can look at the outlet of microplastics, but it's all very, very important topics to actually understand. So I would say it's a community that really is very well educated in this field, in what is sustainable and what is not and what is greenwashing, what is not. And because everything is changing constantly and this plastic was so sustainable for a couple of months ago and now it's really not because now we know how we can not discard of it or discard of it. So it's really interesting.

Sam (21:30): I want to come back to sustainability towards the end of the interview, but I do want to ask you about something that you and I discussed in the pre-interview, which was email. What role does email marketing play in last object and how are you using email to grow the business today?

Isabel (21:45): I think emails now for us is just, we have much better conversion and people have time to really read follow us, and it often, one email is just worth a lot where a follow on Instagram, it's not necessarily worth that much. It's also hard to track, but still and in email really it's easier to track and it's very important for us. We've actually really shifted our focus in general, not growing our Instagram account that much, but actually growing our email list because it's just simply more valuable for us. And I think the newest thing for us is that we just did our website in Danish and saw how crazy that actually was conversion wise that we can, first of all, you as a Dane will go in and read everything in Danish, but we can also do Danish ads. We do Danish emails. So the language switch is pretty amazing. We have in Denmark, we use something called mobile pay for everything. It's a way to pay, funnily enough. And I think 80% of our sales is actually through mobile pay and it's not something that you would have if you didn't have a data shop. So I think emails is so great we can translate them to, so they can become part of this very interesting eco of how to talk with customers in their local languages.

Sam (23:23): What does the customer lifecycle look like? Does someone see an ad and then make a purchase and then they're on your email list and then they buy something else? Or is it more a case of there is a short lifecycle where they don't need a lot of nurturing and then they make a purchase because it's relatively affordable? What does that journey look like?

Isabel (23:43): I think people often go in and then they try something out, so they'll try a swab or something. But the people that buy our products are typically the people that buy for the whole household because Q-tips, cotton rounds, it's kind of in the same category as toilet paper. So it's kind of the head of the house that kind of buys that in for everybody in the family or in the household to use of. So it's kind of an interesting constellation where we have some really, really strong, it's not all, but we have some really strong buyers or customers that will go in and try something out and be like, oh my God. And then they get all their friends and family, they'll get the whole household and they'll stock everything up. And then you get some really good big sales. And then there are of course also just people that go in, try something out and then they come back. So it is kind of, because it's a new product, you don't just jump in with everything. You try something out and then you come back and then you're like, okay, I'll try, okay, the rounds work for me, I'm going to try the swab. And then the last thing is like, okay, let me get that pad. So it's a process.

Sam (25:01): What are you doing to drive customer reviews? Do you have a workflow in place or something like that?

Isabel (25:07): We do. Every time somebody buys on our website, they'll be prompted afterwards a week or so after the purchase to see does it work for you? Is it good, is it bad? And we use that data a lot actually to improve our products. We've categorically made an Excel sheet and got everything transferred. Every time somebody has a comment and does a rating, then it'll get into our sheet and we then we're following the numbers of the different ratings of the different products. And then it's like this month we need to figure out how we can product wise, get these three products up and running or better. Sometimes it's explaining more about the use case. Sometimes it's changing the actual products up.

Sam (25:55): Well soon comes to the end of the interview and I wanted to ask you regarding sustainability, a few questions. One of which comes to mind is what is it that you think sets Lu Objects apart from other companies in the sustainability industry?

Isabel (26:10): I think we're, first of all, we're a company that is born out of sustainability. We didn't make a cream and then make it sustainable. We made something that didn't exist, a reusable cotton swap, and then we evolved from there. And I think that's pretty strong. We do LCAs and lifecycle analysis, third party lifecycle analysis on all of our products. We were so focused on making the most right choice right now we can and just evolving as a sustainable brand. So I think that is pretty strong for us. And then the other thing is that we're three designers, so we're not going to do anything cookie cutter. And we know a lot about production, we know a lot about people and how they use our stuff and how we want to make this a beautiful thing. Kind of like what you said in the beginning of the interview, the swab is like, it's a practical and stuff, but it's also beautiful. And I think that's so important for us that it's so easy for you to use, but it's also something that you want in your bathroom and that's really strong for us. So yeah, that would be the two things that I feel like that's where we set, aside from other brands that are in this field and then we're the only one, whoever made reusable alternatives as a brand, that's the only thing we sell for single use.

Sam (27:49): What is the future of sustainability look like to you?

Isabel (27:53): I think it's looking good. I think it will be the new normal. I was actually thinking about it. My son, he's never used a traditional tissue, for example, he doesn't know what a single use cotton round is. We don't have these items. It's not anything that's ever been introduced in his life. And I think that this would be more and more normal. I think maybe not our kids, but then our grandkids will look back and be like, what? You used a pad, like a menstrual pad and then you threw it out and then that's disgusting. I think it will kind of switch. Where right now it's like you wash your pad. That's also disgusting. So I think that it will shift what we think is hygienic and what is not and what is good and what is not. I'm born in a single use industry for sure. So I think that change now is going to make some very interesting generations that are going to think in a whole different way and accept in a whole different way. Right now we're looking at toilet paper like that. We can never change. And actually maybe we can at some point we'll get there. And that's quite exciting to think about.

Sam (29:14): What's next for lost objects and what are your long-term goals for the company?

Isabel (29:21): I think my goals, my goal is to reach as many people as possible and to change as many habits for the better as possible. Creating a very healthy and green company that really is built on goodness and in all fields that everything around what we do and who we are and how we design, how we produce, how we ship, that everything is thought through and is well thought through in a green sense. And I think last object will become quite huge. And there's so much potential in this area and we have so much wind. It's amazing. So I think it's a great way, and even the people we that work with us is, they're so excited about this. It's a company that you want to be a part of, it's a movement that you want to be a part of. And everybody else that, like other companies, they're not competitors, other eco companies, they're just like, yay, we're on the same path.

(30:33): We're growing the right direction. And I think that's kind of beautiful that there's a bigger mission as such for a company. And I think that the future is that we will go to bigger and we'll get into some more difficult and single use reusable alternatives to single use that I'm very excited about. But they also need a little bit more research and product development that we haven't had resources to until now. So that's pretty exciting to open up some, not new categories, but just new products that are a bit more advanced. So I like that. Yeah,

Sam (31:20): I appreciate everything the brand is doing to normalize multi-use objects, Isabelle, and I think that's a great place for us to start wrapping up. Where can our listeners go to learn more about lost objects and connect with you and the team?

Isabel (31:34): You can go to our website last object.com and see everything. And then you can always text hello@lastobject.com. Camilla, who's our customer support, she's absolutely amazing and she can answer questions better than I do. And then of course our Instagram is a place that you can connect with us, but also follow us and see new launches, new products, new exciting stories.

Sam (32:04): Perfect. Well we will put all those things in the show notes. And I want to thank you again, Isabelle, for taking the time to join us today and all the best in the future with lost objects.

Isabel (32:12): Thank you. And thank you for having me.