Founder and CEO of The Hive Bulk Foods
As children, how often had we been lovingly persuaded or failing that, scolded to finish the food on our plates instead of letting it go to waste? While only a few of us still nostalgically albeit guiltily carry that lesson to adulthood, for Claire Sancelot it is a mantra by which she lives her entire life as the founder and CEO of The Hive Bulk Foods, Malaysia’s largest zero-waste chain of stores.
But what exactly does zero waste mean? Growing your own edible produce, wearing the same clothes, and living life like a peace-loving hippie will obviously in some part help Mother Earth, but to really make a difference in the zero-waste sense, what one needs to do is to make sure nothing we use will eventually end up in a landfill.
“Since 2010, I’ve been very passionate about zero waste. I’m not going to claim that I eat very clean, that would be a lie, but I do eat normal non-processed food that is package free,” says Claire.
Before setting up The Hive Bulk Foods in Malaysia, Claire had worked in marketing and advertising for more than 10 years in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. On the side, she diligently ran a blog documenting her zero-waste journey for the purpose of sharing her growing knowledge and to reach more people who were interested to be part of the movement.
It was in 2015 when Claire met her husband – who is a local from Bangsar – and found herself setting up base in Malaysia. She immediately saw the potential in the country to start something more tangible on an entrepreneurial scale. The difficulty Claire faced in securing a job despite her professional background only encouraged her more that it was the right decision to be her own boss.
Testing the waters with her Facebook page, Zero Waste Kuala Lumpur, she noticed its growth with like-minded people who were on a quest to also share their zero-waste efforts and tips.
When I wanted to start this zero-waste store in Malaysia, it was the first time that I’ve heard so many ‘nos’ in my life, but now look at The Hive Bulk Foods thriving with the timesClaire Sancelot
“Just like how every entrepreneur starts out, I saw a gap in the market and decided to start the first zero-waste store in Malaysia,” says Claire who opened the first The Hive Bulk Foods in Bangsar. “We started small and when I say we, I mean just me, myself, and I. For two years, we didn’t really have many customers, but through word of mouth and social media, we got there.”
The main ethos of her business is to source and provide ethically produced foods, tools and products, but most importantly, Claire continuously educates people on how to be less wasteful through her composting programmes, workshops and talks. This, says Claire, has not only brought her personal satisfaction towards creating a cleaner and greener Earth, but also recognition when she least expected it.
“Barely a year after I opened my first store, the United Nations gave me a prize for my contributions towards sustainability and promoting zero waste in Malaysia,” says Claire, who has since given a TEDx talk in 2018 as well as on other various avenues as a familiar zero-waste spokesperson.
A firm believer that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity today, Claire wants to continue to promote sustainable living and hopes to see the country she calls home embrace it sooner rather than later.
“It is our responsibility as humans to lower our carbon emission through our daily waste. We all know that in Malaysia, we don’t recycle properly, and we only have a few who are doing a great job with aluminium and paper, but plastics are barely recycled. We need to do more,” says Claire.
Running any business is extremely hard work, but running one that is quite niche and new to the nation must be exceedingly so. Luckily for Claire, she managed to overcome the first five years where many businesses fold, and she adds that she is thankful that her gender and race did not hinder her in any way.
“I am a massive feminist, so luckily I’ve never been discriminated against my gender. Even as the only foreign person for miles around visiting rural factories, I was never treated any differently,” says Claire.
Like every other business out there, the pandemic forced change on The Hive Bulk Foods. Where there were six stores, now there are only three left: in Bangsar, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and in The Intermark. However, business has massively expanded online via their website and e-commerce platforms, and it is even serving customers in the US through Amazon and eBay. For 2021, The Hive Bulk Foods is setting its sights on serving the European market.
“When I wanted to start this zero-waste store in Malaysia, it was the first time that I’ve heard so many ‘nos’ in my life, but now look at The Hive Bulk Foods thriving with the times,” says Claire.
“I guess I’m the type of person who the more you say ‘no’ to, the more I will want to do it and prove you wrong.”