A business is a business
You have to be aware that any business, even a creative or mission-based one is still a business and needs to be treated like that.
The plant-based revolution is here. As consumers globally are shifting towards more eco-conscious and health-oriented choices, the demand for plant-based products has never been higher. From food and beverages to cosmetics and clothing, the plant-based industry is blossoming with opportunities. But how does one tap into this growing market? What are the key ingredients to launching and scaling a successful plant-based product business? In this interview series, we are exploring the world of plant-based entrepreneurship. We are talking to founders, product developers, industry experts, and innovators who have successfully navigated the plant-based business landscape. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Annika Scheer.
Annika is a natural yarn dyeing artist, writer and educator. She writes about simple living, natural dyeing and creating a handmade wardrobe on her website www.rosemaryandpinesfiberarts.de.
Since 2018, Annika has been meticulously honing her expertise in natural dyeing, selling her sustainable, hand dyed yarns and teaching others how to naturally dye yarn themselves.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Igrew up in a rural area in Germany with two younger siblings. From an early age, I liked to express my creativity, mainly through painting, knitting, and sewing. We also spent a lot of time being outside and connecting with nature.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
As an entrepreneur, you have to be open to new ideas and be willing to constantly learn something new. For example, I am a chemist by training. And while I learned a lot during my years at the university, most of it wasn’t useful when I founded my company Rosemary & Pines Fiber Arts. I didn’t know how to set up a website. I didn’t know how to optimize blog posts for SEO purposes (so someone would actually be able to find them on Google). I didn’t know how to take appealing pictures, for that matter. But if you are willing to commit to take one step after the other and grow your knowledge a little bit each day, you will inevitably get better and better over time.
My company and the products I offer are part of the do-it-yourself (aka DIY) niche. Creativity is an integral part of it. But at the same time, being a creative, artistic person is not enough to run a successful business, even a creative one. Having an analytical mind is an essential trait for me. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to create easy-to-understand step-by-step yarn dyeing tutorials for my readers and be able to adequately share my natural dyeing knowledge with them.
Another key aspect in this industry is to be a person of integrity. The people who are interested in plant-based products are usually eco-conscious and want to support sustainable, trustworthy businesses. If you lead a mission-driven business and share the same values as your customers, they will sense this connection and appreciate you for it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I strongly believe that everyone should fulfill their dreams. My biggest fear is to come to the end of my life without doing what I dreamed of accomplishing. I would rather fail along the way. With that being said, one of those big dreams for me has always been to write a book. And while I have had this idea in my head for years and years, I finally took courage and decided to simply get started.
I hope that my novel will be a source of inspiration to others and a thought-provoking impulse about what is actually important in life.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview about creating a successful plant-based product business. What inspired you to enter the plant-based product industry? Did you have a turning point or eureka moment that led you into the plant-based industry? Can you share some key milestones that helped shape your journey to success?
After becoming a mother in 2014, my whole world changed. I specifically remember one day, when I was sitting on the couch, holding my precious newborn baby and suddenly it struck me. I started to question my life and the values I had been living by.
I shifted my focus towards sustainability and set out to reduce the waste and ecological footprint of my family. At that time I also became interested in knitting and sewing to create a handmade wardrobe. Avoiding yarns and fabric containing synthetic material (e.g. nylon, polyester) has been important to me from the start. But this proved to be a challenge with ready-made clothing and conventional yarns.
This is why I started dyeing yarn with natural materials like plants. It became clear to me very quickly that I greatly enjoy the process of yarn dyeing. I have been meticulously honing my expertise in natural dyeing since 2018. The uniqueness of the colors that botanical dyes are able to produce is still simply fascinating to me. Dyeing yarn with natural dyes is like creating a work of art that stands the test of time.
When I founded my company in 2019, I originally started solely selling my all-natural, hand-dyed yarns. However, I quickly realized that I also wanted to inspire and empower others to learn how to dye yarn with natural dyes themselves. This is why I started writing weekly blog posts about natural dyeing on my website. In order to provide even more support, I published my first ebook about different yarn dyeing techniques this year. Since the feedback on this ebook has been so overwhelmingly positive, I plan to create several more ebooks on various natural dyeing topics in the future.
What do you believe are the key factors behind the recent surge in demand for plant-based products, and how can aspiring entrepreneurs authentically tap into this growing trend?
These days, the discussion about climate change has reached the general population. People are questioning the consumer culture more and more. They are looking for a path to happiness and, fortunately, they are becoming more eco-conscious along the way. We only have this one, precious Earth, and people are really starting to understand this.
If you are interested in starting a sustainable, plant-focused business, authenticity is key. I strongly believe that customers are able to sense the real motivation behind any brand. If you truly believe in and stand behind the values of the products you want to sell, you will be successful.
How do you envision the evolution of consumer preferences in the next 5–10 years?
I think the people are oversaturated and they are starting to realize it. In this day and age, you can get everything you want, whenever you want.
But what if the thing we are all striving for isn’t actually a thing and cannot be purchased at all? When this statement will have general validity, consumer culture will be turned upside down. Companies will have to start to produce high-quality, long-lasting items out of sustainable materials again. The demand for consumption for the sheer thrill of consuming will fade away. I am not sure if we will already be at that point in 5–10 years, but I sincerely hope that everybody will discover the joy and feeling of freedom that comes when being content with less.
What is your favorite plant-based product (not necessarily your own) and what makes it stand out? What can we all learn from the appeal of that product?
There are so many wonderful plant-based materials and products available that it is hard to choose. But if I had to pick only one, it would be clothing made out of 100% linen.
Linen or flax is an awesome fiber that is derived from the flax plant. It is very strong and absorbent. Linen production also requires a lot less water and pesticide use compared to cotton making it a more sustainable alternative.
I also really liked the relaxed look and pleasant feel of linen clothing. It can easily be dressed up or down while always exuding an effortless aura of understatement. And isn’t this something we all want to embody as well?
Based on your experience, what are some of the biggest myths or misconceptions people have about the plant-based industry?
People mistakenly assume that plant-based products are less durable than products made out of synthetic materials. Personally, I don’t understand how this misconception came to be. After all, the production of plastic materials started only about 160 years ago. Consequently, humans have been living without synthetic products for thousands of years.
In addition, consumers often assume that there are simply no widely available alternatives to the non-plant-based products they are used to. Whereas in fact, all it really takes is to educate yourself on different materials in order to be able to make an informed decision about which kind of products you want to support with your purchasing decision.
Developing and marketing plant-based products often involves unique challenges, from sourcing quality ingredients and sustainable packaging to building a brand that resonates with consumers. What strategies have you found most effective in overcoming these hurdles?
When you are first starting out, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. My best tip is to pause, recall the values and goals you have for your company and take it one step at a time.
Personally, I started formulating my company’s mission statement first. When I was clear about what products I wanted to develop and offer, I moved on to sourcing the ingredients. For me, this meant finding a local supplier of all natural wool yarn. It can be tempting to go for the most readily available or cost-effective option. But I think it makes much more sense to invest a bit more time into the research phase and find sustainable, high quality ingredients.
Always make sure to recall your key values and ask yourself if they are reflected in your products and the materials those products are made out of.
Remember, nothing is set in stone when it comes to running your own business. There’s always time to look for additional suppliers later on if you feel that you are at a stage where you can expand your product range. Change the packaging or even shift the focus of your business if you find an option that is a better fit for your brand. Adapt as you evolve. For example, when I first started out, I didn’t expect to branch out into the field of becoming a natural yarn dyeing educator. I simply noticed the demand for it and acted accordingly.
Getting better at marketing your products and finding your own voice when it comes to your brand is a skill that naturally develops over time. I can only encourage you to accept the fact that not everything will be — or has to be — perfect right from the beginning. Everybody has to start somewhere.
The plant-based market continues to evolve and grow. What advice can you offer to individuals looking to launch their own plant-based product businesses? Are there any critical lessons or insights you’ve gained along the way that you’d like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs in this field? Based on your experience can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful Plant-Based Product Business”.
Here are my top 5 tips when it comes to creating a successful plant-based product business:
1. Have a clear mission
Every new business starts with the spark of an idea. It should be an idea that really excites you and makes you feel like you absolutely have to share it with the world because it is simply too valuable not to. You will have to face ups and downs in your business, everybody does. But if you have a clear mission that you truly stand behind, it will make the down phases a lot easier to navigate.
When it comes to my own company, I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to inspire and encourage others to move away from fast fashion and towards a sustainable, curated wardrobe. Every product I offer, from hand dyed yarns to knitting patterns to natural yarn dyeing tutorials, is in alignment with this goal.
2. Be a visionary
We are in a phase of change when it comes to consumer preferences. The demand for plant-based products is increasing, but it is still not the norm to go for the natural instead of the synthetic option.
When it comes to running a plant-based product company, you have to have a strong vision of what you want the world to look like. Don’t limit yourself to the current status quo. Be creative in your thinking and develop and offer products that will provide value not only now but also in the future.
When I decided that I wanted to offer hand dyed yarns, I didn’t want the standard wool/nylon sock yarn blends that most hand dyers use. Instead, I aspired to create something more sustainable. So instead of doing what everybody else was doing, I intensely looked for suitable, high quality wool yarns without any synthetic content. I even took it a step further and focused on local yarns from German sheep, even though Germany is not a country that is particularly known for its wool. But importing a Merino yarn from Australia made absolutely no sense for me from a sustainability standpoint. The result is a range of all natural yarn bases exclusively from German sheep wool that is unique and sustainable and that I am very proud of.
3. Remember that plants are unique
The uniqueness of plants is both fascinating and challenging at the same time if you are running a plant-based product business. You have to learn how to work with nature and not against it.
For example, I use plants as a natural dye source in my business. And this naturally means that I will never be able to completely predict the final color result. Natural colorways are influenced by many different factors like the season when the plants were picked, the location where they grew, the freshness of the plant material and many more. No batch of naturally dyed yarn will be exactly the same. Instead of being annoyed by this fact, I chose to embrace and treasure it.
4. No Greenwashing
Greenwashing is defined as a behaviour that makes people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.
I can only encourage you to stay away from this. People will be able to tell if you truly care about nature or if you are only trying to market a product as environmentally friendly in order to increase sales.
To clearly position my business and my products, I always try to lead by example. I regularly share snippets from my own life with my readers and newsletter subscribers that are in some way connected with the products I offer or the sustainable values of my company.
5. A business is a business
You have to be aware that any business, even a creative or mission-based one is still a business and needs to be treated like that.
I totally get the feeling that your work is a passion project and you are convinced of the positive qualities of your products. I feel the same way about Rosemary & Pines Fiber Arts. But in order to get people to find out about your company, you need to be visible. And it is not enough to hope that people will somehow find you in the vast ocean of the internet. Learning about search engine optimization (SEO), setting up a website and entertaining an email list are just a couple of important topics you need to focus on.
How does your business align with sustainability and ethics in the plant-based industry, and how does this alignment impact your brand’s success and customer trust?
Sustainability is one of the core values of my company. And since it is also a major priority in my personal life, it comes rather natural to me to integrate sustainable practices all throughout my business. But this also means that I prioritize purpose over profit. Getting people to buy more things they don’t need or use just to maximize sales wouldn’t be very sustainable, after all.
We have to keep in mind that people who are interested in plant-based products usually do so due to an eco-conscious mindset. They don’t want to mindlessly consume and are in general more intentional about their purchases. This is important to keep in mind when marketing a product. If you treat your customers with respect and don’t try to persuade them to buy something just to make a sale, they will appreciate you for it.
What certifications and regulations are essential for new plant-based brands to uphold their values as they grow?
This highly depends on the kind of plant-based product you are offering.
In my niche of natural yarn dyeing, I focus on using ethically sourced/sustainable materials (yarns and dyestuff). But this is rather due to my own sustainable standards and not bound to regulation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“One of the truly great joys of life is spending our time working on something we believe in, are excited about, and are proud of.” — John Strelecky
Reading John Strelecky’s book “The Cafe on the Edge of the World: A Story About the Meaning of Life” forever changed the way I think about life. Since then, I have read all of John Streleckys books and continue to feel inspired by him. His words ultimately encouraged me to give my life a different direction. I don’t think I would have ever considered founding my own company which is so deeply connected to my values if it wasn’t for him.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My dream for a mass movement would be moving away from fast fashion towards a life where clothing is not a consumer product, but treasured and taken good care of. In my ideal world, people own only a few classic, high quality clothing pieces made out of natural materials. Handmade clothing would be the norm and not the exception.
Right now, garment workers in third-world countries have to work under inconceivable conditions while only 2% percent of them make a living wage. The textile industry also often uses child labor to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond (see this article from The Guardian for more information).
This has to end and we, as consumers, can make it happen.
This is what we call our “matchmaker question”, and it sometimes works. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a power lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would absolutely love to meet John Strelecky. Like I already mentioned, his book “The Cafe on the Edge of the World: A Story About the Meaning of Life” was one of the key drivers that influenced my decision to ditch my corporate job, found my company and pursue a life that is in line with my values and priorities.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best way to connect with me is via my website www.rosemaryandpinesfiberarts.de. If you sign up for my newsletter, you can follow along for inspiration on creating a handmade wardrobe with a focus on natural materials and sustainability.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!