Lentils & Lather: Plastic free shop
This blog is the fourth in the series of ‘Plastic free Manchester: Meet the shop owners’ interviews. Previously, I've spoken to Goodness Zero Waste owners, Lucy and Tshepo, Plentiful owner, Abbie, and Earth Friendly Rocker owner, Lauren. You can read more about why I decided to start this series here.
In this post I'll be chatting to the owners of Lentils and Lather, Carl and Paulina. This Manchester based couple opened the shop in Withington in September 2019 and haven't looked back since! The store is stocked with more than 550 different lines, from household food staples, to plastic free beauty products, refillable household cleaning products and much much more.
Tell us about your Lentils and Lather journey...
We’ve always been big lovers of the outdoors, which has played a major role in our desire to manage our impact on the environment. We used to do things like buying big containers of products like washing up liquid so we could keep refilling and reusing our bottles at home rather than throw them in the bin each time, or driving groups of mates to the Alps for holidays rather than flying to minimise our carbon footprint. Many years ago, back when we first got together, we even came up with an idea to have a door-to-door refill business where we’d cycle to people’s houses with containers of liquids and fill up people’s bottles on their door-step, thus helping to reduce the disposal of empty plastic bottles. It even had a name: ‘Recycl-a-bubble’!
Recycl-a-bubble never materialised, but we kept the spirit with us and after a relatively big health scare a couple of years back and working in our previous jobs for many years, we were all set for a new challenge. We asked a few questions, did some research, identified a gap in the market and, consequently, Lentils and Lather launched!
We stock what seems like an ever-expanding range of products that we group into three main categories: food and drink, personal care and household. We try our best to source ethical and sustainable products and, of course, very little plastic is sold (certainly no single-use plastic!). We go by the motto “Let’s pick a sustainable future” which we think sums up what we want to enable with our shop.
If you could choose your 3 favourite products from the store what would they be and why?
That’s a tough one, we’ve got lots to choose from - a quick count tells us that we’ve got more than 550 different lines! However, the way we group our products makes it a little easier to do this task.
Favourite food & drink item: Has to be our range of pasta, which we source from Pastificio Carleschi in London. They produce organic pasta made using British grains such as spelt, emmer and einkorn and we currsell conchiglie, fusilli, gigli and rigatoni. Being dedicated to British production means that the food miles involved in getting the pasta from grain to plate are much less than most other pasta that is available on the UK market. Better still, they distribute it in large 5kg paper sacks so there’s no plastic waste involved!
As you can imagine, it tastes fantastic and if you follow Pastificio Carleschi on Instagram you can pick up some authentic Italian tips on how to use it.
Favourite personal care item: We really like Upcircle’s ethos on waste: they harness the benefits that are still contained in discarded coffee grinds, chai blends and fruit stones and incorporate them into skincare products. Upcircle’s soaps, moisturisers, scrubs, creams and cleansers are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and aromas that are derived from things that would otherwise have been thrown away - a model which is akin to the way the older generation used to extract every useful ounce of goodness from a resource, something which has been somewhat lost in today’s disposable culture.
Favourite household item: For this one, we’d like to highlight a range of products that are produced in West Yorkshire by a company called Miniml. Miniml supply us with things like washing up liquid, surface cleaner and laundry liquid in large 20-litre jerry cans, which we then dispense from directly into customers’ bottles. When they’re empty, Miniml collects containers to be taken back to their factory where they’re cleaned, refilled and reused. This is a truly circular system that capitalises on the properties that plastic offers: it’s durable so can be used many times over and it’s lightweight so it’s great for transportation. It’s been in the news recently that some of the bigger brands are looking at how they might do something like this, but it’s great to see a small, local company leading the charge.
What would you suggest is the easiest place to start for people on a budget who are trying to reduce their waste?
For a start, look in your cupboards and figure out what you use the most of, then identify a suitable container to bring to the shop to refill. You don’t need to go out and invest in fancy new Tupperware, things like takeaway trays are ideal for a lot of food products and empty squeezy bottles are best for liquids! There’s also no need to buy something you already have, so use what’s in your cupboard first.
It’s probably more manageable to switch a few things at a time rather than refill everything all at once. That way, you can check out our aisles too and see what other changes can be made...though be careful not to get too distracted by our vegan truffles or fresh bread.
The great thing about shopping like this is that customers can buy as much or as little as they need. You can come to our shop and literally buy a portion of rice if you want to, something that’s impossible to do at a supermarket because they pre-pack their products in quantities that are probably determined by large-scale buying patterns. We make sure we’re competitively priced so that we’re accessible to the whole community, because this isn’t going to work if it’s just a playground for the wealthy.
Community is important to Lentils & Lather, what local initiatives are you supporting at the moment?
We live locally and support local businesses and initiatives where we can. Particularly, we want to support those who have an ethos like ours to address environmental and social issues.
One partnership that we established recently and is going very well is with Veg Box People. Veg Box People is Greater Manchester’s fastest-growing organic veg box scheme and we act as a collection point for their customers who live near to our shop. The scheme allows people to purchase fruit and vegetables that are sourced as locally as possible, which helps to support independent farmers and producers across Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cheshire.
Chorlton Bike Deliveries is another project that we support. They started out during lockdown 1.0 with an aim to help people that were self-isolating to get supplies from local shops, delivered by eco-friendly e-cargo bikes. As keen cyclists, we loved the sound of this, so we got in touch to see whether there was any interest in working together. Thankfully there was! Chorlton Bike Deliveries are a community-driven organisation that supports local independent business to connect with customers. They deliver to people living in and around Chorlton (Stretford, Sale, Whalley Range, Old Trafford etc).
Alongside these two things we also regularly use our buying power to donate to a local food bank/homeless shelter and try to act as a communications hub for a range of projects that may be of interest to our community.
What’s next for Lentils & Lather?
The way this unpredictable year has gone, it’s quite difficult to say what’s next; a pandemic certainly wasn’t in any of our business projections! Our ambition, however, is to expand and have multiple shops, therefore increasing our impact on the causes that we align with. We’ll no doubt learn a lot more on the way and develop new relationships with other like-minded individuals and organisations, so anything ethical and sustainable could happen. For now though, we’ll keep on listening to customers’ needs and helping people to reduce the amount of plastic waste they produce.
Thank you to Carl and Paulina for taking the time out to answer my questions. Go and give Lentils and Lather a follow on Instagram and check out their shop if you're in the Withington area.