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Making Washing Organic on a European Scale

Retail

Who said startuppers should have an age cap of 20-something? Two middle-aged couples certainly weren’t bothered by stereotypes when they set up their own innovative venture, Herbow.

The idea to start experimenting with natural detergents stemmed from Tünde Takács-Rusznyák, who was determined to replace chemical-based materials as her daughter had sensitive skin. Three years and 4,500 kg of washed clothes later, the right formula was born in form of a so-called soapnut ball, and hence Herbow was founded to launch production in 2016.

“Soapnut has been used in India and Nepal for thousands of years for washing purposes, but its true potential is only being discovered now,” explains managing director András Szabó. Initiatives to use it for mass production exist in China, for instance, but it hasn’t been embraced worldwide yet.

Herbow’s edge is the ball invention itself. On its own, soapnut is not that practical for washing since it’s hard to calculate the right amount. It also needs to be dried before it can be used again. Now all that hassle is gone.

“The ball can be used like a washing capsule, sponge cubes packed in it intensify the end effect, and we managed to get rid of the typical sour smell too,” explains Szabó. “After all, freshly washed clothes are associated with great and mild odor.”

The product is gaining in popularity for many reasons, but environment-friendliness tops the list. It is organic, free of chemicals, recyclable and economical: one ball can be used for up to five washing occasions. On the other hand, since it is free of chemicals, those with skin issues will find clothes treated with it extra gentle.

Organic Does the Job

“We’re not offering a magic tool here, though,” adds the managing director. “Heavily contaminated textiles would still need strong chemicals for a convincing result. But in 80% of the time this is not the case, and organic does the job.” The pricing policy follows the rules necessary to stay in the game against global behemoths. And in the meantime, a rich product portfolio has been put together with washing perfumes and stain removers among them to further increase revenue opportunities.

“For Herbow, soapnut was the inspiration which is the source of further endless opportunities to do product development,” notes inventor and co-owner Takács-Rusznyák who leads the product development process. Unlike many similar startup efforts, Herbow’s online shop is just one of the sales channels. “We are present on the shelves of several multinational chains in Hungary which helps raise our visibility,” says Szabó. Cross-border expansion has also started. Partly thanks to a total capital injection of HUF 171 million from state-owned VC investor Hiventures and Reditus Equity, operations have now been extended to the Czech, Slovak, Slovenian and Austrian markets will be within reach from September on. “Such a change requires a lots of background work to ensure adequate manufacturing capacity, but we are up to the challenge,” says the managing director.

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