There is no doubt that a green revolution is taking place around the world and, thanks to the tenacious efforts of forward-thinking entrepreneur Sophie Rae, Cardiff is no longer an exception. Highly aware of the fact that consumer behaviour is shifting slowly but surely towards zero waste shops, Sophie opened Ripple Living at the end of November 2018 with the aim of inspiring the local community to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Sourcing high quality, natural and organic products from a mix of local makers and ethical brands, Sophie has managed in a short period of time to turn Ripple into a beacon of inspiration sending out waves of positive change across the city of Cardiff and beyond. We caught up with Sophie at her shop on Albany Road and went for a lunchtime wander around Roath Park, chatting about the ethos behind her conscious entrepreneurial initiative, about Cardiff’s green identity, and what makes Ripple a hotbed for zero waste shoppers.
For people who don’t know you, who is Sophie Rae? Tell us a bit about your background.
So many labels could be used here; at face value, I’m a white, 30-year-old female entrepreneur, living in Cardiff. I could tell you about my childhood (happy, adventurous and filled with Vienetta from nan’s deep-freeze), or perhaps my travels to Europe (I recall I ate a lot of gelato there too), before I went to university in Aberystwyth. I could tell you about my career in journalism, or my brief stint in the world of corporate (I cried most days in the toilets). My friends would tell you I’m loyal, passionate and hard-working. I’d tell you they’re right. Those who don’t like me would tell you I’m arrogant, loud and relentless. I’d tell you they’re right, too. Deeper than that, I’m simply a human who’s figuring out how to navigate a world that feels so unstable.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Sitting on my nan’s kitchen countertop, licking chocolate cake batter straight off a wooden spoon, while she wasn’t looking.
When and in what context did you discover your passion for sustainable living?
I’ve often thought about this and the truth is I can’t pinpoint a specific moment when it hit me. Like with most of life’s biggest lessons, it took many months to realise I had changed the direction of my moral compass at all. In 2017, I discovered that with every conversation I had, or a news story I read, I disagreed more with the messages that were being fed to me. I no longer believed that it was up to society to educate me, so I took it upon myself to learn all the facts about how I consumed.
Tell us about the inception of Ripple. How did it all start and what inspired you to embark on this journey?
Working in magazine journalism, I had experienced zero-waste stores opening across London. I couldn’t believe more people didn’t know about them, and so when the time came to move back to Cardiff, I knew that the city was ready for one. I was disappointed to see that my home city wasn’t actually living up to its green credentials. As a capital city, I hoped it would be leading the way with sustainability for Wales. After much inner conflict, eventually the moment came when the risk of not doing something became greater than the fear of doing it.
What makes Ripple a must-visit destination for zero waste shoppers?
Apart from offering 120 bulk refillable whole-foods and a fresh nut butter machine, there’s also cleaning supplies and beauty products available to refill. In our first seven months of trading we’ve served close to 50,000 customers and helped keep close to half a million pieces of single-use plastic out of circulation, by offering sustainable alternatives. Above all of that, the store is a no-shame zone, so coming into the shop means being welcomed into a non-judgemental environment, where we engage and inspire our customers to make small changes to the consumer habits. Plus, our playlists are legendary!
Ripple opened its doors at the end of November 2018. How do people who enter the shop respond to Ripple’s ethos? What’s their reaction like?
Generally, they’re always shocked at how busy is it! Many people wander in because they’re intrigued about the concept; it’s a great way to start conversations and explain our mission. We have a core foundation of regulars, many of which have become friends, so there’s always lots of chatting and laughter. I see people leave looking that bit lighter; they’ve had a chance to take a breath, touch and smell new products, engage with the team and make eye contact with real people. It’s the furthest experience away from clicking ‘Add to Basket’ on Amazon; it’s personal.
How do you work with your local community and how do you develop a relationship with your suppliers?
We’re lucky enough to have an ethical cooperative less than 50 miles away from Ripple, so they provide the majority of our bulk whole-foods. Non-food items are curated from a mix of local makers and ethical brands who are doing amazing work to ensure they pay a fair trade and raise up their workers across the globe. I spend a large portion of my time researching, connecting and pitching to businesses who I want to work with. There’s nothing in Ripple that I haven’t tried-and-tested myself. That honesty means that I won’t always stock a popular brand, despite being asked by our customers. Sometimes, that’s because I’ve found a smaller independent that I’d like to support, but quite often it’s because that brand which everyone knows, has grown a rapid and hollow following amongst the distorted marketing tool of greenwashing.
Do you have any recommendations for people who find it difficult to go zero waste, for example, people who can’t always shop in bulk or who rely on buying conveniently from a supermarket?
This is a tricky one because convenience is one of the deadliest words in our lexicon. ‘Busy’ people will tell you they don’t have the time to worry about the environment, but we each have the same hours in the day. We prioritise what we care about. We’re all co-tenants, renting from a shared home. Our planet, and its finite resources, won’t care when we say “I didn’t have the time”.
That said, I hope that supermarkets are listening to the loud chorus of conscious consumers demanding change. Many stores are now waking up to that transition, by allowing customers to take their own containers to counters, and leave plastic packaging at the till. It’s important to remember that while the notion of zero waste can be daunting, and practically impossible in 2019, it can be held as an aspirational goal. Having the courage to say, “I know I’m being wasteful in this area of my life, but right now, this is the best I can do” is much more helpful than not acknowledging our impact at all.
Cities around the world have different sustainability identities. How would you define Cardiff’s green voice among other cities, and what more can be done to make the Welsh capital a greener city?
As the capital city, it saddens me that Cardiff Council still isn’t cohesive in its message about sustainability. The city is granted the honour of hosting exciting global events, which is a big win; meanwhile streets are lined with litter, recycling bags are contaminated by ill-educated residents, and the city centre and main shopping district is always full of events and promotions that encourage the use of disposable products. As a tourist in the city, I’d hope they would want to respect the city they’re visiting, but I’m unsure if their first impression is always a good one. As with all societal change, I believe in the power of the collective, so I think systemic change will come from the grassroots programmes being led by the communities, including Ripple’s impact on the city. I hope that policy makers in the Welsh Government will join in the conversation we’ve started and see this change we’re making.
Why do you do what you do and what makes it all worthwhile to you?
It’s 2019, humanity is more advanced than we ever imagined, and yet I don’t think we’ve ever been so disconnected from our path. My work has become my life calling. Not because I wanted the title of ethical entrepreneur, but because I couldn’t see anyone else doing what I knew needed to be done. I wanted to see women leading consciously, with heart-led compassion and empathy for both the people and the planet. And so, that’s what I do. When one person steps into that role, it allows another to be brave, too. I honestly don’t know if I could go back to being so disconnected from everything. Showing up every day in both business and life, with an open heart, is the only way I know how to live. The authentic connection that brings is what makes it all worthwhile.
Where do you go or what do you do when you feel the need to relax or get inspired?
The ocean; I am forever called to be near water. Whether I’m watching waves crash or submerged under them, I feel instantly at peace. Water is life-giving, and the expansiveness of our world oceans makes me confident that we have time to reflect and change the direction of our habits to protect them.
What’s your recipe for good living?
Don’t be a dick! It’s a running joke in the shop between our team, but pretty sound advice. Be kind. It really is that simple.
When you think about the future of Ripple, what are you most excited about and why?
The possibility of change, for good. I measure Ripple’s success on impact, not profit. So the sooner Ripple can close, the greater its success, as the message will have spread far and wide. The notion of sustainable living isn’t a trend; for it to be felt across the globe, it has to be taken into the hearts of nations. The possibility that I may be a part of that conversation is exciting. It means I was on the right side of humanity. The side that saw the problem and decided to do something about it. However many years of my life I give to that conversation, I won’t ever regret using my voice.