Maintaining a green business Smithsonian Voices

Pollard swims near the Placencia producers’ cooperative farm, where he procures his algae. Photo by Nick Perry, Coastline Studios

Jolie Pollard’s grandfather made the best seaweed shakes in Placencia Village. She would never have guessed that one day she would like to use the key ingredient in her hair.

Many Belizeans, who once saw seaweed as a healthy addition to traditional dishes, now recognize its potential as an environmental and economic solution. The promising seaweed aquaculture industry is helping marine farmers around the world capture carbon, maintain fish populations and maintain a sustainable source of income.

In Placencia Village, a fishing community turned into an ecotourism destination, seaweed enables locals to tackle challenges that are often beyond their control – from the rising cost of living that pushes Belizeans out of their homes to care. for curly hair while surrounded by moisture and salt water.

Pollard launches Ikooma – a cryolized name for Eucheuma isiforme algae, which she uses in her natural hair care products – as a creative way to use the algae grown in her community. Pollard will bring samples of seaweed – along with her popular Ikooma products – to the National Mall for the Earth Optimism x Follife Festival, hoping to introduce the world community to the Belizean specialty.

We met Pollard through Zoom to learn from her experience in running a green beauty business. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to start using seaweed in your hair care products?

Belize algae are among the highest quality in the world because they grow so far from the shoreline that runoff from the land cannot affect them. Our algae are very clean, very nutritious, so they can offer very good things.

I knew the value of seaweed to the environment and I knew that growing seaweed had great potential for our local economy. Lowell “The Japanese” Godfrey, a pioneer in the seaweed industry in this country, has always believed that this would be a great alternative form of income for the fishing industry and would give local people a sense of autonomy.

In 2015, I hosted Sarah Ali, a researcher from the Netherlands, in her apartment. Her work has connected her with a variety of nature conservation and fishing industries, including the Japanese and the algae farm he runs, the Placencia Producers’ Cooperative in Little Water Caye. While she was doing this, we talked about algae.

We both happened to have curly or wavy hair. I love to swim, so I wanted a product to help my hair in a place where I am exposed to salt water and moisture. With very limited opportunities around us for natural products that do not damage our hair, we tried to make our own.

One day we had seaweed jelly in the fridge so we could scoop small spoons into our smoothies. I don’t remember why, but that day we decided to put jelly in our hair.

We both had an a-ha moment after realizing how good we felt in our hair and how great it made us look! I started adding seaweed to the cream I was working on, and everyone who tried it thought it was really effective. Then I knew that algae changed the game of hair.

Two people swim in bright blue-green Belizean water.

Pollard swam as he toured Placencia’s farm with Godfrey in March 2021, a few months before Godfrey died. Pollard continues to supply algae there.

Nick Perry, Coastline Studios

What challenges do you face in building your business?

Inventing sustainable packaging that will not break the bank for the consumer is a big challenge. The green beauty industry can be very elitist, leaving people in lower economic groups to feel as if they have no choice but to be the bad guy and buy the chemical-filled product in the plastic bottle.

I often wonder what we communicate to these people. How does this affect their morale to participate in the fight against climate change? I think they feel abandoned.

It can feel very hypocritical to press an ingredient that is so beneficial to the Earth when I wrap it in plastic, but it is difficult to produce without plastic. Instead, I wanted to sell my products in glass, but since I live in a remote place where everything has to be sent by plane, I knew that glass would be too expensive and no one would buy it here.

To deal with this problem here in Belize, I started using biodegradable bags that customers can order for refilling. This is a plastic tactic to reduce, not yet a tactic to eliminate. I received several glass jars for the Folklife festival, but to comply with FDA requirements, I had to have a sealed plastic lid. I had to compromise, which was really hard, but it was the best I could do right now.

I know that there are many companies in the world today that look at algae as a bioplastic material. It would be my ultimate dream to have an algae product in an algae product! I’ve actually contacted a few of them to see if they have bottles or jars, but the challenge is to make them strong and durable enough to transport liquids or soft ingredients.

Consumers are becoming more demanding about what is in the products they buy. What distinguishes the market for sustainable beauty?

Green and sustainable beauty sells much more than natural ingredients. He sells stories, sells ethics and helps protect the people behind the brand.

It takes a lot of people to make a product. It is a connection between the person who produces the product, the people who provide the raw materials, and the conscious consumer who supports us. I have an advantage with my brand because I produce it here, in my community, where I know their history.

I am very proud to know that I buy seaweed directly from farmers and pay them exactly what they charge. Of course, I believe they may be willing to work with me on pricing, but as another small business owner, I understand how difficult it can be. I will not feel more comfortable at their expense

Two people hold a lock of algae while swimming.

Farmers keep a tuft of seaweed near the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association.

Cleveland Davis

What advice do you have for another ambitious eco-entrepreneur?

Just be honest with your users. Transparency sells! Today it is really difficult to get rid of the consumer’s lie – they will dig it up and find out if you are honest.

Many eco-entrepreneurs are people who really care about the planet. I think a lot of these people struggle with the feeling that we have to be perfect. I know that broke me in the beginning. This made me wonder – should I do this at all?

It’s hard, but you’ll have to tell yourself you’re trying, you’re trying. Just remember that many other companies don’t even consider any of these things. I buy plastic containers for myself, but I have biodegradable refill bags, so this is one bottle less that someone could have used and disposed of.

Obviously, you will have to make money to support your business. As you grow, you will find that you have more of the resources and strength to improve your product.

Running a small business can be difficult – especially when you’re trying to keep it green! What gives you optimism to continue?

My favorite thing about what I do is the confidence it gives my users. Sometimes, when I start to feel a little worried about my difficulties, a customer tells me how wonderful my product is – how it is the best thing they have used, how much it helps their hair, how they struggle to find something that works for them, how they feel so happy that they have something that can affect their children. Or I hear that a child who is struggling with his curls feels much better about himself and his curls now.

This encourages me because I can get trapped in these other things and forget that I make a product that people like and put in their hair and really like. This brings me back to why I did this in the first place – because I wanted a good product for my own hair. As the saying goes, you need to know your “why” and you need to keep coming back to your “why” when you get lost along the way.

What are you most excited to share at the folklore festival?

After living in the United States, I know that there are many different algae on the market, such as algae in beauty products or algae that you would eat in sushi. I’m sure there will be many people who have not heard Eucheuma isiformewhich is the kind I use in my products!

I am excited to show them what it looks like and the benefits it can offer – both as a business owner who uses them in their own product, but also as a member of a community that can really take advantage of its economic potential without doing so. compromise our local environment.

We all look for solutions without feeling like we have to deprive ourselves. I think this is a big challenge with climate change – people feel they can do better, but they don’t want to be deprived of something good. I think algae respond to this in many ways. We can make money, we can produce things, we can have production, but at the same time we do not harm the environment. We can do better.

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