Ep.82: Non-Toxic Laundry with Stephen Ezell
Today we are talking to my friend, Stephen Ezell, who owns MyGreenFills (now called TrulyFree). Our discussion today is all about non-toxic laundry products. You will learn some high impact, most important, most low-hanging fruit things that you can do to clean up your home and lifestyle.
This was recorded as a video interview for The Toxic Home Transformation Summit, which is a joint venture between me and Ryan Sternagel. Ryan and I interviewed more than 30 experts in what is causing toxicity in our lifestyle inside our homes, inside our pantries, in our energetic environment, and we asked each speaker for clear and actionable ways to clean it up so that we can live healthy lifestyles even in this modern world. Enjoy!
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Join us at the Toxic Home Transformation Summit: Click Here
Robyn: Hey everyone! It’s Robyn Openshaw, and welcome back to Vibe. I just love doing these podcast episodes. I learn so much. I hope that you have rated and reviewed this show on iTunes. I think we’ve been podcasting for about a year and a half now. It’s been such a fun, exciting adventure. I hope that you’ve learned things here that make a difference in your life, and help you be healthier and happier and living at higher vibrations. But I would very much appreciate your rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes. It means the world to me.
Today we are talking to my dear friend, Stephen Ezell, who owns mygreenfills.com. It’s nontoxic laundry products and if you think that this is not an important subject, you’re going to be in for a treat as you learn some things that show this to be one of the most high impact, most important, most low-hanging fruit things that we can do to clean up our home and lifestyle.
This was recorded as a video interview for The Toxic Home Transformation Summit, which is a joint venture between me and Ryan Sternagel. Ryan and I interviewed more than 30 experts in what is causing toxicity in our lifestyle inside our homes, inside our pantries, in our energetic environment, and we asked each speaker for clear and actionable ways to clean it up so that we can live healthy lifestyles even in this modern world.
The Toxic Home Transformation Summit will air for free in June. So if you’d like a free seat in this online event, go to greensmoothiegirl.com/summit. This interview today is an audio excerpt from the summit with one of our experts.
Robyn: Welcome to the show, Stephen Ezell.
Stephen: Happy to be here, big sister.
Robyn: So why did you get into trying to help people be less toxic in terms of the products in their home? What’s your whole story around nontoxic stuff?
Stephen: Well, it started… man, it’s almost 10 years ago now. Actually, it is 10 years ago. When my oldest son was this little bitty baby, he was only a few weeks old. He actually just turned 10 last month. He broke out in a head to toe rash. I know you have some kids and when a first-time parent’s infant gets sick, everyone’s freaked out. I remember walking up to his crib, “Is he still breathing?” “Yes, he’s still breathing.” Now we have four kids and as long as everyone is breathing and they’re not bleeding, everyone’s fine.
But I remember when he was this little infant, he broke out in a head to toe rash and we couldn’t figure it out. I took him to the ER and we went to a dermatologist. We went to all these places and they were like, different creams and all these different steroids and all this craziness. And a friend of the family says, “Hey, what do you use for laundry detergent?” I’m like, “What do you mean? It’s the big fancy orange bottle. That’s what Grandma used. That’s what I have to use.” She’s like, “Well, why don’t you try something that doesn’t have perfumes and all this other stuff?” I’m like, “Okay, sure.”
We actually stripped the clothes. We took her advice and stripped the clothes and washed all the baby clothes in this nontoxic green product and within a couple days, no rash, and it was over. That was really the spark that lit the candle for me. What’s in our food? What’s in the laundry room? What’s under the kitchen sink? What’s everywhere? If something so simple as laundry detergent can make my baby son sick, what else is out there that this is happening? That was really what started my journey off now 10 years ago.
Robyn: It seems really innocuous, what you’re washing your clothes with. A long time ago, I thought, well, it’s just washing out. There’s a rinse cycle. But it’s been really amazing to me to learn that the flame-retardants that we sell to brand new parents, that we put on their baby clothes, are super, super toxic for the baby. Is it a good idea when someone gets new infant clothes to wash with your products a couple of times before even wearing the stuff?
Stephen: Absolutely. But there is the unfortunate reality that flame retardants are mostly bromide-based chemicals which are fairly impossible to wash out. There are some ways to get them out, but usually the ways to get bromide-based flame retardants out of fabrics, you have to use such amazing amount of toxic chemicals to get them off and then get those chemicals off, so it’s really, really tough.
As a parent, and now our very large community of members at MyGreenFills, we talk about this subject a lot. Really, the answer to that quandary is to stay away from fleeces, microfibers, and synthetic garments because they’re almost guaranteed to have flame retardant chemicals. And really opt towards organic cotton-based fabrics that haven’t been laced and impregnated with all these crazy chemicals. By law in the US, all these garment manufacturers don’t even have to let you know that there are flame retardant chemicals. There’s no law or any regulation on it. So it’s really a messed-up thing that flame retardants; it just is what it is.
Robyn: Yeah, we had another interview where we talked about, I think it was with Jason Prall, and also Andy Pace, where this stuff is sprayed on our furniture and so you can actually get upholstery on your furniture that is not sprayed with flame retardants. The carpet is a harder matter, especially if you’re in a home that already has carpet. I’m in the same boat, moving into a home that has regular carpet in it this fall in my new home.
Robyn: But I think what you’re saying is, the laundry products that we use are part of the solution; and we’re going to get into that. But we also have to buy different stuff. So Jason Prall said one of the low-hanging fruit, one of the most important things you can do is stop sleeping on sheets. Stop using products on your bed that are off-gassing these flame retardants. That was news to me.
You just said organic cotton clothes as well. You just said don’t buy, what, polyester, synthetic…?
Stephen: Yeah synthetic-based fabrics. So fleeces, polyesters, all of those. The things in the synthetic family. Actually, one of the things that’s also deceiving: lots of companies are promoting bamboo linens, another little side note that there is really not a whole lot safe about bamboo linens. Those fibers do come from bamboo, which is awesome as sustainable source. But in order to get that pulp to become a fabric, they have to spin them in a rayon fashion and there’s synthetic chemicals that are added to that process.
Really, organic cotton is the way to go and it’s not the synthetics.
Robyn: How very sad, since bamboo is so sustainable. I had not heard that. I bet that 99.9% of people don’t know that. So organic cotton, and just a little side note here, the reason organic is that a lot of cotton is genetically modified at this point, yeah?
Stephen: Yeah. The large majority of it is, and also in the bleaching process there’s just a whole lot of different chemicals in the chlorine family that are added to the cotton-making process. A lot of those things leave residual chemicals behind; although organic cotton’s expensive, it’s hard to find. Regular, 100% cotton, even those chlorine-based chemicals that are in that bleaching process, you can get out. Our products will get those chlorine chemicals out. But most of them are not treated with flame retardants. So you’re in good shape there.
Robyn: Good to know. Okay, you’re sort of unusual being in this business because you actually have a background in the chemical industry, don’t you?
Stephen: Well, now it’s kind of by osmosis. My background is actually in the restaurant hospitality industry. But again, 10 years ago when my oldest son got sick, it sent me on this quest where I voraciously studied labels. So food labels, chemical labels. Here’s the drop quotes: if you can’t pronounce what’s in your food, if you can’t pronounce what’s in the products that you’re putting in your home, don’t use them. That’s all. So if you can’t pronounce it, there’s a really good chance that it’s not safe, because all of the plant-based products that Earth has created for various reasons like food and cleaning, you can pronounce them.
That was my first rule and the ones I couldn’t pronounce, I just went to Google university. EWG was a great source for me. I spent a lot of time on the Environmental Work Group site and learning what was in all these things. Then fast forward a few years, I was at a local angel investor pitch night here in northern Michigan and met my amazing partner, Ruth. A few years went by, trying a few different business models, and we felt really passionate about our mission and knew that we weren’t able to educate people the way that we wanted to with our products on our store shelf. So we literally fired hundreds of stores and went online just so we can teach and create a movement that is absolutely needed in our industry.
Robyn: Okay, so you produce these different substances that go in laundry products. What are you doing there? I read that the average fragrance, a perfume that a woman or a man might buy, has an average of 14 unregulated, not-on-the-label, nobody can see these ingredients, toxic chemicals or potentially toxic chemicals. Because by now, anybody listening to this summit knows that the vast majority, like 98% of the chemicals in our environment, have been tested by no one and at this point, we can’t pull them out to test them because they’re all over in our environment, especially the volatile, organic compounds or VOCs.
So talk a little bit about why you choose what you do in your laundry products that you make and what kinds of things you avoid.
Stephen: Yeah, it’s weird. Here I am preaching this anti-chemical message and we’re a chemical manufacturer, right? It’s real easy. Again, we’ve been in business now for it’s almost eight years. We’ve been online now for three and a half years. We’re a very successful business. We’re growing really fast. Guess how many times somebody’s walked through our doors to validate our label in the last eight years?
Robyn: I am so afraid to guess that it’s been zero.
Stephen: It is zero. It is absolutely zero. No one has ever walked through the doors and said, “Hey. Let me actually see your formulation and see what goes through there.” If you’re in the food production business, fortunately, there’s a lot of regulation. The FDA spends a lot of time in food manufacturing facilities to validate that what people say that is in the label, is in the label. You have to send it out to a nutritionist, ingredients.
But in the chemical industry, there’s very little regulation. The only time you really do get regulated is if you hurt somebody. If you hurt somebody, if there’s a lawsuit against you or someone gets hurt or claims that your product hurt them, then you will have at least one of those agencies that’ll walk through your door saying, “Hey, what are you doing?” But if you’re a good actor and you actually you haven’t hurt anybody, then no one walks through the door.
It’s kind of like a self-regulating system and there are, I’m sure, plenty of people on this summit and that you’ve met over the years that talk about the fragrance loophole, which is a really hot topic. It should be because there is a loophole in the law that it states that if you have a chemical that’s less than 1% concentration, that you can literally loop that into one great thing called fragrance, parfum. You can hide up to 14, which is a low number. Sometimes you can have 70 or 80 or even greater chemicals that are looped under this under 1% concentration and we could, too. We absolutely, unequivocally could.
Robyn: Well, this just goes to show, you’re saying nobody ever comes and checks whether your marketing claims and what you’re saying about your ingredients actually is true or not. That means that we have to buy laundry products where we trust the manufacturer. I’ve gotta then trust you that your heart is so in this, that you are so personally committed to creating a nontoxic product that I can believe in you.
I think that’s where we are as consumers these days. So much marketing, some of the marketing words on food and products are meaningless that it makes it that much more important that we educate ourselves about the ingredients. We can’t know everything that a chemist knows, but we need to know that we can trust you on that.
Stephen: We’ve taken a step further. Again, we could easily because we have developed a very proprietary set, which for years, by the way, we never did. For years of our company, we never had a fragrance, we never put a smell on our clothes. It was like “You don’t need it. It performs no cleaning capacity.” We always use essential oils. But essential oils are volatile. They evaporate. They cannot survive 10 to 30 gallons of water in a wash cycle then the dry cycle. Your clothes will never smell like anything, and we never did. And if I kept going that way, we’d be out of business.
Because literally, we have been as a society completely brainwashed through our nose. That olfactory sense that if it doesn’t smell like something, it can’t clean. I can’t tell you how many times. We have a membership site. We give a jug, we sell refills. It’s only a membership-based program and I can’t tell you how many times people would get the products, they’d mix it up, and they’d say, “I cancel. I quit.” “Well, why?” “Your products can’t work.” “Well, why? Have you done any laundry yet?” “No. It doesn’t smell like anything.” Literally, the smell was a huge deciding factor.
So we went back to the drawing board. We hired another chemist to come work for us, to work for Ruth, and we developed a line of scented products, using a majority of essential oils. We do use plant-based, synthetically derived oils and that’s only because the molecule structures are [tight], the tighter the structure, the [more they] evaporate and they won’t stay. So we blend essential oils with plant-based oils so that they can carry through the wash cycle. So people have a really good sensory experience at the end of the wash without putting toxic chemicals on them. Even so, our scent doesn’t linger that long because it evaporates over time, unlike perfumes.
I have some sitting next to me right now, and it’s giving me a headache. The whole office right now stinks of this stuff. I’ll go into my demonstration in a second. Those are designed not to leave. Those chemicals are decided to leave a film. They’re designed to leave a sheen on the fabrics to serve a couple purposes like UV brightness — so UV brighteners and perfumes and dyes and different things. So they’re chemically designed to leave a film on the fabric, where ours is not.
Robyn: Okay. You brought up several things that the reason I’ve fallen in love with your products isn’t just one thing. But one of them is that you send … It’s behind you. I can see it. If you can grab one of those. You get that detergent or the rinse and then the whole idea is, it’s the last one you’ll ever buy. That makes me really, really happy that there are no more big orange jugs. We’re avoiding saying brand names for some obvious reasons. But no more big orange jugs are going to the landfill.
All I do is, I fill that up with water and dump a little refill packet in and I don’t have to throw anything away except for that little paper packet. All the products are like that. It makes me feel a lot better about my own footprint and the impact I’m having. But let me tell you another thing.
Our good buddy, yours and mine, Dr. Eric Z has four kids like you do and like I do. But he has a baby in diapers and they use cloth diapers. Before I started using your product, I had ordered it but I hadn’t started using it. He said, “Robyn, we do our diapers in his product and no smell, gets it white.”
I gave you a hard time about the ingredients. Just as in, I’m not promoting anything until I look at the ingredients. I’m going to ask questions about it. We kind of went back and forth. I wanted to know exactly what was in it. I’m not just going to take the word of a manufacturer that their product is nontoxic because we’ve learned from some of the interviews on this summit and in other places that most words used to describe products are marketing words, not actual, quantifiable, evidence-based lack of toxicity.
What I also like … it sounds to be like you used to be no fragrance at all, but consumers demanded fragrance because they’re so used to the big orange jug of toxic crap, so you’ve got fragrance in there. My clothes smell good. I didn’t have to give up that my clothes actually smell lightly fragranced. If people don’t really like a hardcore lavender essential oil smell or whatever, it doesn’t smell like that. It smells like what we in America are used to things smelling like. I really, really like that.
I think that’s really honest of you to say, hey, we wanted to have a no-smell kind of product but then, consumers were like no, that’s not going to work. I want to tell you this, too. Sorry, this is your interview. But I was buying stuff at the health food store and when I was out of refills — this is why I like your subscription service because you can just get it sent to you every month or every three months or whatever — I ran out and so I was like, “I am not going back to the big orange jug.” Now I know.
I went to the health food store and, Stephen, I bought the product there. It was all green and non-GMO and whatever. I came home and everything that came out of that batch of laundry… I have, one by one, had to get something out of my drawers and I’ll put it on, I’ll be like, “Oh no. That was in that batch.” You know how you have that sour laundry smell? That’s kind of why we need the fragrance because it didn’t have any fragrance and my laundry had that yucky sour laundry smell, which I can’t wear that. I can’t wear that. I take it off and throw it back in the laundry.
Stephen: Yeah. A lot of those, even the eco ones, there’s a lot of really great brands that are there, doing really cool stuff, which I’m a big fan of. But a lot of that plant-based technology or soap, old-fashioned soap technology even though they’re plant-based surfactants which are suds-making surface-reducing agents, they leave a sheen behind and they’re breeding grounds for bacteria. So that smell that you’re smelling, it’s not a chemical smell. It’s literally bacteria and that’s why these big manufacturers they sell washing machine cleaner because they don’t want your washing machine to stink because they build up film. That’s all they do.
We have multiple patents filed on our technologies, not only from a packaging standpoint, but also chemical technology because we found a way to do stuff that even these big giants never found a way to do. I think that really comes out to I have a great partner, Ruth. She’s an amazing formulator, but she didn’t come from that chemical background so she didn’t have to unlearn something. She just knew what she didn’t want and she learned from the ground up. I think that’s one of the reasons why we created such an amazing system.
Robyn: Yeah, and I’m excited about you doing a little demo for us which, of course, you’ll talk us through in case someone is listening and not watching. But I want you to talk about what ingredients are in cleaning products that we should be looking out for and show us.
Stephen: Yeah, so we are about to launch a whole bunch of other lines from surface cleaning, kitchen, bath and body. We decided to start with laundry because in our opinion, I believe that laundry is the most toxic area of the home. Now there are other chemicals that people purchase, oven cleaner for example. Very, very toxic, solvent-based, crazy chemicals. But the human exposure or the environmental exposure to those chemicals is very acute. You have a dirty stove, you want to clean it. You spray it, you clean it. It goes in the trash. You inhale it. Your natural detoxification process in the body will rid most of that stuff.
But then, when’s the next time you pick up that oven cleaner? Six months, months. Some people, never. Or a year. So our exposure to those really toxic chemicals is very small. Where with laundry, you know like what Jason was talking about, what are you sleeping on? What are we wearing? Our exposure to laundry chemicals is extremely vast. It’s in contact with our body and our dermis all the time. So we’re breathing it, our largest organ is constantly in contact with it.
Laundry products that have high surfactant bases — that’s a fancy word for suds makers — they’re slimy, they’re goopy, they create a lot of suds. They clean. They’re oil-based chemicals. Oils attract oils. It’s the basis of cleaning. But a lot of the chemicals, if they bury those chemicals, say non-ionic or anionic surfactants, and they don’t disclose which surfactants that are on the label, I would stay away from them. We’re crazy enough where we literally list our whole formula on the label, which from a business side is really not a smart idea. If we were smart business people, we would hide like other people would, behind group names. Fragrance-
Robyn: But that is the transparency that the consumer is looking for. That’s why I had you come on this show rather than others because I don’t see that on labels.
Stephen: So that’s one. If labels have group names to them, I would stay away from them. Because if you have something to hide, there’s usually a good reason for it. On the laundry side-
Robyn: Group labels. Explain group labels.
Stephen: Right. So if you see perfume, stay away. If it says fragrance, parfum, stay away. There’s no reason to hide behind those. When you see groups of just surfactants, plant-based, ionic, anionic surfactants without listing which ones are actually in there — where you can go to Google, you can go to Environmental Work Group, you can go to the EPA and see what those things are — if they have any toxicological impact, stay away from those.
Robyn: So plant-based isn’t good enough. Plant-based doesn’t mean it’s clean, it’s good, it’s nontoxic.
Stephen: And again, and the reason why is because even plant-based products can be synthesized and laced with petrochemicals in order to get that desired outcome. For example, one of the most largest commodity-produced chemicals is sodium lauryl sulfate, SLS. It is one of the largest commodity-based surfactants that are manufactured. It’s in toothpaste. It’s in laundry products, in dish soap. It’s actually between sodium lauryl sulfate and triton 100, they’re actually in vaccines. They put some of these chemicals in vaccines just so that it can lower the surface tension of your cellular walls so that it can pass blood-brain barriers in vaccines.
Triton 100 is a commodity surfactant. I could buy it by … I can literally have a tanker show up and pump it into a holding tank. It’s one of the cheapest surfactants that are made. And it’s in vaccines. So it’s pretty crazy. I would say, that’s where I would start.
The next group of chemicals that I would really fall into is things with color. So UV brighteners. By law, because most UV brighteners you only need such a small amount, and you need such a small amount of dyes and such a small amount of optical enhancers, you don’t have to list them on a label. You can’t only label look, you also have to look at the color of the product. So laundry product, glass … there’s no reason why anything should have a color. Period.
The reason why these big bottles and the laundry aisle stinks so bad, because they’re built to leave the sheen and one of those is optical brighteners. It tricks the eye. It gives an optical illusion under fluorescent light as if your clothes are brighter. So if you remember the marketing messages of the ’80s and ’90s, it was the clothes flapping in the wind and it was, “We have the brighter brights and the whiter whites”, because that’s what people wanted. They were taught through focus groups that that’s what people wanted. They wanted whiter whites and brighter brights
Now that message has shifted. Because one of these very large companies hired a bunch of social scientists and social psychologists, and they found that, through all these studies, that that’s not what people wanted. That’s what they articulated they wanted. What people really wanted was smell. So now the message has shifted from the whiter whites and the brighter brights now to the greatest smelling stuff. Now the aisle is filled with these beads and boosters and all this craziness.
There is absolutely no way, unless you have a plus $100,000 gas spectrometer, to reverse-engineer what chemicals are in there. And even if you have those, because they’re in such minute amounts, and when you combine chemicals together, they create new ones, and you can’t really reverse engineer a lot of those things so it’s just really a scary space.
So anything with color, anything with words you can’t explain, or groups of words. I would say those are the top three things that I would recommend. You can’t read it, you don’t know what’s in it, it doesn’t share, don’t do it.
Robyn: And specifically, sodium lauryl sulfate, it’s just in, it’s in everything. If that brand isn’t really trying to be nontoxic and gearing itself towards people like us who are educated enough to make a different choice, it’s in there. And propylene glycol is another one. I don’t know if it’s in laundry products, but sodium lauryl sulfates and propylene glycol are so hard to get away from. They’re known to cause kidney and liver damage. They are known carcinogens.
But again, like you pointed out, it’s not that these companies want to foist all these toxic chemicals on us, it’s that we demand it. We want shampoo that sudses really big. Well, those are some serious chemicals that are doing that. Or we want toothpaste that sudses up. Well, you’ve used the really nontoxic toothpaste that’s made of clay. There’s going to be no suds. But we have to start thinking a bit differently if we want to get away from these products.
I really appreciate what you said. I hadn’t really thought about that, that laundry is one of the best low-hanging fruit things to do in our laundry list of many, many topics that we’re covering in the Toxic Home Transformation Project here. But it’s such an important one because, like you said, your clothes are on you all day long and you are breathing it constantly. So these are one of the easiest, most high impact things we can do is just change our laundry products.
We’re not just decreasing our own toxic body burden and putting fewer chemicals into our own bodies, we’re also putting fewer into the groundwater. I think anyone who adopts this practice should be proud of themselves for making effort. One more thing, you’re not even spending more. I’m really impressed with what your product costs. What I get out of it in addition to not having to put all those plastics in the landfill.
You’re wondering where the question was in all that. I know you have a demo for us.
Stephen: The reason why it comes to price is because most of the cost, whether it’s for us or whether it’s for one of the big mega giants, the two biggest contributors to cost is packaging and distribution. So because we only ship the big package once and the expensive packaging once, and because we don’t ship water and we only ship the active ingredients, we basically mitigated a massive amount of cost because we can take those costs and we can spread that over the life of a member and we just pass those savings directly on to our members. That’s how we did it.
One of the reasons why I think we’re growing so fast is because I don’t think there’s anybody else that creates more value than us.
Robyn: I love that you have these little Dryer Angels. They’re cute but they’re also … people don’t realize that their fabric softener, those sheets that you put in the dryer, that stuff’s staying on your clothes. Talk a little bit about yours; we haven’t gone through each of the different types of products but dryer sheets are pretty big bad guy, aren’t they?
Stephen: Yeah. Again, I don’t want this to be a MyGreenFills pitch session. I really want to create value for the community because that’s why we started this company, to create a revolution. Dryer sheets in particular; it depends on who you talk to but there’s a lot of research that’s coming out that’s showing that the VOCs that come out of dryer sheets are absolutely crazy. There are 14 known carcinogens that are found in the average dryer sheet market. Fortunately, lots of those are listed on the labels because dryer sheets are not heavy, they go above that 1% rule. Because it’s total weight of the product and because dryer sheets so light, if it’s less than 1% or it’s a known carcinogen, you have to list it on the label.
So if you actually go to the back of these dryer sheets — and there’s some eco ones, too, that are using different silicone derivatives to attract the ions to reduce static — those things are documented carcinogens. I would say absolutely, they’re crazy chemicals to stay away from.
We had to solve that problem, too, because people want smell in their laundry. So we came up with a product years ago called Dryer Buddies. It was a teddy bear where it was filled with essential oils and you threw the bear in the dryer like a wool ball. Our manufacturer went out of business here in the States, so we did what any good business would do. We went to China and said, “Hey. Can you guys make a teddy bear for us?” We found a manufacturer ready to sign a purchase order and that very day I felt like just a check in my spirit that I really shouldn’t. I didn’t know why.
I just wrote an email to the manufacturer who we were ready to do a deal with. And I said, “Can you promise me that you don’t have any child labor in your factory that are going to make my products?” And they never sent another email back again. I was like, “Wow, thank you.” I was so grateful that I had this check in my gut because we were about to make them for pennies on the dollar, would have been great margin, good business. But I knew that it just wasn’t the right move, so we didn’t.
Now Ruth and I are like, “What are we going to do now?” So we pivoted the product to Dryer Angels. Dryer Angels. We found this really amazing ministry in Jamaica that houses and now employs deaf women and it’s a whole deaf community that formally were living off of Christian donations. We asked them, “Hey, do you guys have a sewing machine there?” And they said, “Yeah.” Well, we got them a couple more. So now we employ, I believe, up to, we have five full-time deaf women that have a very colorful past, what they’ve been through. Don’t want to go through that publicly. It’s their sensitive information. But something we’re very passionate about.
Now we’re creating jobs in other places that’s paying life forward. Not only do we have a really cool product that leaves your clothes smelling right, we do static and really good stuff using essential oils, but we’re now creating jobs for women that really need it. That’s what that product is all about.
Robyn: This is one of the reasons why I trust you, Stephen, and I’ve adopted you into my little tribes of 10 brothers. The six that were born into my family and the four that I’ve adopted, all of whom are friends of yours as well, is that you’re doing good work in the world outside of just building conscious capitalism inside your business. But I also know that in addition to employing vulnerable populations like these deaf women (and I see your eyes light up when you talk about that) you also donate your product to laundromats.
Stephen: Yeah, so the Laundry Project is another one of my pet ideas and projects where we provide large format concentrates to laundromats, homeless shelters, and so forth all around the country that are providing clean laundry days for people in need. So we have a bunch of outreach here in northern Michigan that we’ve been doing for years and we’ve really in the last year decided to expand that. So now we ship these big concentrated envelopes to a five gallon jug where we have homeless shelters in various places around the country that are clean laundry. Because there’s so many kids that get bullied and one of the reasons is why, their clothes are dirty. They have impoverished looks about them and they get bullied.
We heard about this. We can do something about this. So we are — not to the scale that we want or that we will — but we’re just fired up about it. What does laundry soap have to do with human trafficking? Nothing. It has nothing to do with those things, but to me it’s everything. That’s what gets us up every day, the startup journey and building a company the way we’re doing it. Real bootstrap. Just having purpose is what makes this whole journey worth it.
If we weren’t having the impact and the purpose, I don’t know if I could have withstood the storms of startup life, if it wasn’t for the lives that we know we were changing.
Robyn: Well, it’s remarkable and I’m honored to call you my friend and little bro because it means a lot to me, and it’s important to me that our work isn’t just a thing that we do so we get dollars to pay the bills, but also that we make an impact. I like watching you become a true educator, too, and step into proudly new roles educating people about the toxicity of their products. Whether they use your product or other products, how can a consumer know that their ingredients are safe?
Feel free to do your demo and talk people through it who are only listening, not watching.
Stephen: Sure. So I have here a couple bowls of water. We have two identical bowls of clear water that just came from the sink a few minutes ago. This is a very simple demonstration. This is one that you could do at home. If you’re using conventional blue, green, colored products and so forth, here’s a really good test you can do at home, even with the kids. If you have a towel, hand towels which are super absorbent, this is a great, great demo.
We washed this morning (I’m going to put some gloves on here). This morning we washed a couple shirts. I grabbed some shirts from my son’s drawer here. I washed … man, this stuff smells so bad. Well, to normal people, it smells so good, but, oof, thank God it’s not smellavision. So I took a couple shirts. We washed them in some conventional, the big fancy bottles. They own 80% of the store shelf for two colors. I grabbed two of those and we did a load of laundry and washed some fabrics in those right there.
Robyn: So that’s a white shirt that you’re putting in water so we’re not going to see any dyes coming off of it because it’s-
Stephen: This is just a white shirt in water. That’s it.
Robyn: Oh my gosh. The water’s getting all cloudy.
Stephen: So if you do this at home, you’ll see that if you’re using conventional cleaning chemicals, over time, if I really agitated this, you could see there’s a bunch of suds in the top. They build up. You see how it’s nice and cloudy. This is conventional chemistry. These are not. These are just cleaned with simple MyGreenFills products and we can get these going. Doesn’t matter how much I go, it’s going to stay clear. The reason why is because we’ve designed products that don’t leave a sheen behind.
If you get … I don’t know how close, how good the camera’s seeing this but this thing has a blue kind of green haze and that’s because the chemicals are designed to leave a blue and green haze for optical brightness. So it tricks your eyes into believing that your clothes are brighter.
The unfortunate reality is, yes, the clothes smell great and yes, they may have the appearance of brightness, but they’re chemicals. And they’re left behind and they’re allowed to be put on your kids’ back. Does your kids sweat once in a while? Yeah, of course. A kid runs around. Kids sweat. We perspire and what happens is, just like this here. This water’s turned a cloudy, sudsy blue or green. That’s what’s happening on your skin. You’re creating micro suds and a microfilm of these chemicals on your body. We’re sleeping in them. We’re living in them.
In a day and age where we see various cancers and different hormone disruption, endocrine, all these reasons… why is that? The female body, the mammary glands are designed to detoxify through the armpits. That’s why you don’t use aluminum or alum-based antiperspirants because you’re clogging the pores that are designed to detoxify and more so, because it’s such a porous area for detoxification, those chemicals are now being leached and put into your body. So don’t use those.
But the same thing happens, not just with laundry, but the perfumes and scents that we put into lotions. You go into the department stores to the fragrance aisle. These chemicals are unregistered. You can take an extremely toxic chemical that if you took it in its liquid form, which smelled like absolute toxic waste, but if you put it in the parts per million, it may smell like toasted hazelnuts. Seriously. This is how perfumers make their living, finding things and mixing them with other things so that it has this perception of smell.
And in laundry, that’s what happens. These chemicals, they don’t belong in our body. I wish we can clean clothes without chemicals. I’d go into another business. I have plenty of ideas. We put chemicals, stains on our clothes. We gotta get them off. So we help people in doing so.
Again, if you don’t know what your cleaner labels, do this little experiment at home. And for those that are listening on a podcast or listening to this, take a bowl of water, warm water, fill it up. Put your clothes in it and shake it up. Agitate it. If you cannot see the water crystal clear, you don’t want those chemicals on you or your family. Period. You just don’t want them.
Robyn: Okay, so push down on the one that’s using MyGreenFills product. Push down on it because look how clear that is. It’s just clear water. And then, you don’t have your glove on anymore, but I think anybody watching can see how cloudy and clearly full of chemicals [this is]. Ugh. Yeah, that’s really telling. I think this would be a great experiment to do with your kids; we have to be educating our kids.
I’m about to finish my parenting career and I’m reflecting a lot on things I didn’t tell my kids, the talks we didn’t have. I had dinner with my children last night and they were all riffing about the sex talk I had with them when they were six or seven. I thought I did such a great job and they were all making jokes about the impressions that they came away with that were not at all what I intended. Also, one of my children’s complaint about my educating them about sex was, “Mom, you gave me this big download when I was seven and then you never talked to me about it again.”
I think things like this, that make it visual for kids, will help them when they go out on their own make better choices about what you’ve shown us, is a really, really high impact, easy, inexpensive tip — that’s the whole reason we’re doing this summit is that I’ve been saying to our audience, look, if you listen to these talks and you implement five — pick the five easiest or whatever, pick five things — they could have a very dramatic impact on your health. That’s what we’re excited about.
Thanks for the demo. I hope that we’ve explained it well enough for folks who are hearing it and not seeing it or reading it. But I bet you have some things that I haven’t asked you, Stephen. What’s important to educate that remains? What issues remain that we should talk about before we go?
Stephen: Well, if you’ve ever gone to our site, if you’re a member of MyGreenFills, you’ll see on the back of our jug and on the back of everywhere we have this creed, and it’s comprised of 31 ideals. We don’t have a mission statement, we have a credo. It’s basically the embodiment of the lens in which we filter everything through. One of the biggest things that are in bold are: ask questions and question everything.
I think in this seemingly toxic world that we’re living in, there is hope. There is hope. The reason why we got here is because we as a society enabled it through our wallets. We did. I would say, if there’s one overarching thing that I would pass on to our communities, it’s to ask questions and question everything. Don’t take anything for face value. Trust but verify everything. I think if we all did that in a more regular basis: what’s in our food? What’s in our products? As we started off today, do my clothes have flame retardants? Simple little things.
One simple move at a time and I think you can accomplish. What I do know, being a capitalist and being an entrepreneur, and having to pivot my companies many, many times over the years, is the market creates demand. We as the market, with our wallets, create the demand. And if we question things and if we take companies like me, companies like mine to task. I want to know what’s in your products. I want to know what’s in these things. What happens is, companies will adapt. Companies will move. They will shift.
The reason why the big stores now have huge organic, green aisles and organic this and organic that, is not because they’re philanthropists. There’s not philanthropy involved. It’s about market demand. Because 15 years ago, when we were just a bunch of weird quote-unquote “hippies” that wanted organic spinach. Now, organic spinach dominates the market because the market figured a way to make it at scale in a way that they can sell it and compete. That’s how markets get created is through us. We drive markets through our wallet.
If you ask questions, question everything. Make commitments, one at a time as you can afford, on your budget that fit you and your family. The market is created by us. So ask questions and question everything and then make those micro decisions and those micro commitments one at a time to take and incorporate more organic foods into your diet. Start incorporating more organic fabrics into your wardrobe. Start incorporating more plant-based, nontoxic cleaners into your home. One at a time, on your budget, that fit your family.
And what will happen if enough of us do that, if enough of us tell our friends and our family what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and encourage and empower and inspire them to do it, the market will meet that demand. Period. That’s what we need to do.
Robyn: I absolutely agree with you and it’s a grassroots movement. I’m super proud to be in it with you, educating people who will vote with their dollars. That’s another positive thing that we’re doing when we buy green laundry products. Just like your example of spinach, same thing. When I went online as Green Smoothie Girl in 2007, 11 years ago, you had to work to find the organics and I have a video. It’s a very old video, at least 10 years old where I say, “Okay, you gotta figure out how much more you’re willing to spend or able to spend on organics.”
Now I’m able to say, “Guess what? Organics don’t even cost more.” Costco is full of them. Costco has hundreds and hundreds of organic products, and we now have triple washed organic greens that there’s no reason why somebody can’t do a green smoothie every day. You can make it with all organic produce and it doesn’t even cost you any more. The exciting news is, things are afoot, that the world is getting better, and it’s exactly what you said: that we vote with our dollars.
As I said multiples times during interviews in this summit, we cannot sit around and wait for our government to protect us from glyphosate, from our infants being exposed to flame retardant. The government is not protecting us. They are not protecting us from some medical practices like how early and how much garbage is in our vaccines that our babies are shot up with. So many things that we have to become educated in.
Love being a part of it with you, bro. Keep on doing what you’re doing and keep making us great products that we can trust. I think now this audience knows you a little bit better. I’m slow to trust people but I think the world of you and thank you for everything that you’re doing that is both humanitarian as well as conscious capitalism.
Stephen: Have an amazing day everybody.