BYOC Co., a sustainable refill shop that sells everything from shampoo bars to laundry detergent, held its soft opening at 255 E. Liberty St. this weekend. Guests are encouraged to “bring your own container” to fill up on essentials and reduce plastic waste.
Owner Emma Hess, University of Michigan alum, said the idea for the store came in August while she was living with her brother during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hess said she always had a passion for sustainability but as a college student had difficulty finding the time and money to live sustainably. With BYOC Co., Hess said she hopes to change that and make the lifestyle more accessible.
“There’s (more than) 40,000 students that we have access to, but we also have an entire Ann Arbor community,” Hess said. “If even just a small portion of those folks can come here to refill, we’re diverting such an enormous number of bottles from the landfill that you really just can’t even imagine the numbers.”
Hess said her main goal in opening BYOC Co. is to reduce single-use plastics. Though the store encourages patrons to bring their own containers, they also provide free donated ones for customers who forget.
Hess began BYOC Co. in August as a pop-up in Chelsea, MI. Since then, Hess estimated BYOC Co. has run 25 to 30 additional pop-ups in Washtenaw County and has diverted around 1,000 plastic containers from being placed in landfills. Hess said BYOC Co. has run into some issues with the pandemic, such as having limited customers and needing to transition her business to outdoor pop-ups, but the business has been able to adapt accordingly.
“I don’t know anything about running a business not in a pandemic,” Hess said. “I think that’s a strong suit, too, because I don’t know what business as usual looks like.”
LSA senior Brianna Morigney, who is a close friend of Hess, shopped at BYOC Co. during the soft opening and said she noticed the store was both accessible and affordable for college students. Morigney purchased makeup remover pads, hand soap and lotion and said the store made it easier to integrate sustainability into her own life.
“I know this past year has allowed me to think more about how I need to be better about waste,” Morigney said. “I also don’t always know how to start that journey, so I think it’s helpful to have it in town so I know where to get products that I need.”
LSA freshman Prachi Shah said Hess and the rest of the BYOC Co. staff made the process of trying to search for sustainable products less intimidating, especially for college students.
“I bought a bunch of stuff and the owner was really helpful,” Shah said. “She answered all my questions because I was a little bit lost, and it was really nice to have a bunch of (options).”
Hess has an eco-friendly home and body products brand called Low Waste Louise that she sells at BYOC Co. Currently, Hess only makes lotion bars and toilet cleaning products, but said she hopes to begin making more products soon.
Hess said the activism and forward-thinking nature of the University made Ann Arbor the perfect place to start her business.
“We are such a progressive university, I think there’s so many opportunities here to make a statement and actually do projects outside of just selling things,” Hess said. “We can do so much more than that, and I’d love to do cleanup days and things like … work(ing) with student groups.”
Hess said in addition to reaching out to student groups and working with the greater Ann Arbor community, she hopes to expand her business, teach classes and run workshops on sustainable living, including on how to make some of her products.
Morigney said Hess has always been very service-oriented and served as a mentor in community service for her.
“She has a big heart and I think she wants to help a lot of people,” Morigney said. “When she (decided to open the store) … I was not surprised. … She’s a go-getter and she tries her hardest to help and be there for people.”
BYOC Co. plans to open permanently on Monday, April 19.
Daily Staff Reporter George Weykamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.