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Female Disruptors: Deb Singer and Karin Heck of BRINGiT Bags On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Karin: Not sure I can pull out “the best”… My mentor, David, gives me great stuff every week. I digest, share with the team, internalize and start living it. I think the best advice is one that helps you understand the problems you are facing, and how to best handle them. And there are new problems every week in the life of a startup…

Deb: Something Seth Godin says resonates strongly for me as well, “People don’t want what you make. They want the way it will make them feel, and there aren’t that many feelings to choose from.” In creating products, it’s key to focus on how they will make consumers feel. People want to love what they buy. If you can get consumers to forge an emotional connection with your product, you have their attention!

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karin Heck and Deb Singer.

Karin Heck and Deb Singer started BRINGiT Bags PBC in 2021, after meeting and discovering their shared vision for a world without plastic bag waste. Karin is an accomplished operational leader with deep consumer product experience. Her family had been living a zero-waste lifestyle for some time; she was eager to scale that interest and make a more significant impact. Deb, who pioneered Whole Foods Market’s plastic bag ban in 2007, wanted to focus on eradicating plastic produce bags. Together, they lead a passionate team dedicated to inspiring change and making a difference, one bag at a time.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Deb: I had my big “aha” moment in 2007 while working on the leadership team at Whole Foods Market. I created and implemented the “Whole Living” program — a groundbreaking range of private label, green living products and lifestyle solutions. As part of the project, I was empowered to conceptualize, develop and roll out The Better Bag. This initiative was the catalyst and first-of-its-kind national reusable shopping bag program that led Whole Foods to ban plastic shopping bags company-wide. It became the gold standard for all US retail chains and ignited an international movement that continues to this day. I went on to form Singer Sustainability, a consultancy devoted to developing and growing zero-waste brands that inspire change in consumer behavior.

Karin: I had my first midlife crisis when I was 25 while working at P&G, and realized I wanted to do something more worthwhile for humanity. That sparked my interest and work with museums and educational organizations. Two years ago, after hearing my daughters raise concerns about the future of the planet, I realized I had to do more, so I made a career change into the sustainability sector. Shortly after, I connected with Deb Singer and we clicked over our shared mission of eradicating plastic bag pollution. Together, we started a nonprofit (www.bringitforabetterplanet.org) to lead consumers to embrace reusable bags as a permanent lifestyle. We then saw the opportunity to create our own plastic-free reusable bags, sparking the idea for BRINGiT Bags (BRINGiT), which launched in November 2021.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Karin: We are giving people a superior everyday bag solution, addressing all the needs they have without having to make sacrifices:

Functionality: Our shopping system holds and organizes all the bags you need for a shopping trip, and every detail (strap length, pockets for keys and wallets, etc.) is crafted around deep consumer insights

Sustainability: People are catching on to the fact that single-use is bad. However, the conversation around the implications reusable bags can have on the environment are only just beginning. A lot of the products out there talk about being plastic-free when they are still made of plastic! And, as the New York Times reported earlier this year, cotton totes have become part of the problem rather than a solution. Our bags are made from wood fibers, and are not only much better for the environment during production, but are also home compostable at the end of life.

A lot of the sustainable solutions look very boring. Or super colorful and “fun”. Consumers told us they wanted something stylish, elevated, and more neutral to easily complement any outfit for everyday use, informing the overall design of our collection.

Deb: All of what Karin said. In addition, the most disruptive aspect of BRINGiT Bags is the fabrication. We’ve taken a fiber that’s well established in the sustainable textile industry by brands such as Patagonia, Allbirds, Eileen Fisher, among others, and reimagined it into an entirely new product category. Nothing exists on the market that is ultra functional, reusable, and sustainable. Our shopping bags are made from trees. They are from the earth and return to the earth when they have served a useful life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We wanted to be approachable, so we posted our email addresses on our website. Lesson learned — there are a lot of people out there that will try to sell you anything and everything if they can.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

We are all huge believers in mentorship, and have made that part of our DNA. Each member of the Leadership Team is fortunate to have access to amazing mentors from all facets of industry, from sustainability experts and business leaders to supply chain experts and organic food pioneers

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

The move to single-use plastic packaging disrupted how consumers shop, making shopping so much “easier”. Obviously, now we know that the impact of plastic pollution on oceans and land is catastrophic. In addition, the impact on human health from the chemicals and microplastics released is just starting to be understood. On the positive side: As more is being understood, product solutions like ours are being introduced to empower consumers to break free from all the single-use plastics with products that are not only more sustainable, but also work better with the consumers’ lifestyle.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Karin: Not sure I can pull out “the best”… My mentor, David, gives me great stuff every week. I digest, share with the team, internalize and start living it. I think the best advice is one that helps you understand the problems you are facing, and how to best handle them. And there are new problems every week in the life of a startup…

Deb: The best and most relevant for me is this: “Trust yourself and never be afraid to say you don’t know.” It will almost always lead to growth or new learnings. Something Seth Godin says resonates strongly for me as well, “People don’t want what you make. They want the way it will make them feel, and there aren’t that many feelings to choose from.” In creating products, it’s key to focus on how they will make consumers feel. People want to love what they buy. If you can get consumers to forge an emotional connection with your product, you have their attention!

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We have a long list of products we are ready to roll out as we grow, which will provide better options for all sorts of single-use bags. After that, we are looking at other storage opportunities…

Of course product innovation is a critical part of BRINGiT’s work in the world, but there are also many habits of “sustainable” companies that need to change for them to be truly sustainable. BRINGiT is planning to challenge those habits and help them truly walk the talk.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

We have had many conversations with potential partners and investors, in which they tell us how we should run the business while they have little or no experience doing something similar. We love to learn from more experienced people, hence all our mentors. But having to start all these relationships by having to convince and prove ourselves without hurting egos is time consuming. We suspect this wouldn’t happen as often if we were men…

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Karin: Not a specific one. But I think the whole team would agree that the articles and podcasts we’ve read and heard about Allbird’s journey have been helpful in validating and focusing our strategies. Their proposition and journey is very similar to what we are going after.

Deb: I recently listened to Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast on the science behind change. She interviewed cognitive scientist Dr. Maya Shankar on courage in the midst of change. When change knocks you off your path and how you not only get back up, but through courage, find a new way to be in the world. It very much impacted me and restored my faith in courage as a navigation tool.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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.

Karin: I am fortunate in that this is exactly what we are working towards with BRINGiT: providing consumers with a shopping bag solution that leaves no footprint on our planet.

Deb: I’d have to say that, for me, it’s around the simple idea I formed my previous company on which is “Simple Acts — Big Impact.” If we all incorporate acts of sustainable behaviors and practice kindness towards the planet’s health everyday, collectively we truly can change the trajectory of climate change and the health of our planet. When I say “we” I mean not just individuals, but corporations and the government. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Karin: I actually don’t like those… People are so multifaceted, and each life is so unique…

Deb: There are infinite lessons, thousands of masters of all sorts of things that impart wisdom, so it’s pretty impossible to choose. Where I am in that particular place in my life is critical to what resonates with me. At this moment in time, as we are just launching BRINGiT, I am drawn to bravery and courage. This quote from the brilliant and esteemed John Lewis speaks to me. We are clearly looking to “get in the way” of the dangerous trajectory of single-use plastic pollution we are on. “You must be bold, brave, and courageous and find a way… to get in the way.” — John Lewis

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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