Glass Straw Making to Reduce Plastic Waste with Simply Straws’ Chanelle Sladics

February 6, 2015


Chanelle is a part of the Simply Straws coalition of four family members: mother and co-founder, Cyndi Sladics, father and craftsman, Steve Sladics, and brother, Trent Sladics. The family created Simply Straws as a way to address the enormous waste (500 million daily used and disposed in the U.S.) from plastic straws.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. We’re here at the Green Festivals in San Francisco, and we’ve got a very special guest with us today, Chanelle Sladics. She’s a professional snowboarder, but she’s also an eco-preneur, the co-founder with her family of Simply Straws. Welcome to Green is Good, Chanelle. CHANELLE SLADICS: Thank you. That was a wonderful introduction. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Happy to have you here. You have a great story. Before we get talking about Simply Straws, and we’ve got some of the straws right here. I just took a sip out of one before we started. I’m going to take another one right here. The straws feel great in your mouth. Let’s talk about the Chanelle Sladics story. Talk about your journey before becoming a family founding member of Simply Straws. Talk a little bit about what led up to this. Was your family always environmentally concerned? Is this something that happened while you were in school, or did it come from your being in touch with nature because of your snowboarding? CHANELLE SLADICS: You led that well. I’ve always been immersed in nature. My family, we were campers. Every weekend we got out of our beach scene and got into the woods, whether it was up north or at our cabin in the lake. I wouldn’t say that we were very ecologically aware until I started traveling on tour and getting introduced to older professional athletes that educated themselves on the impact that everything was having, and they started mentoring me and opening my eyes and feeding me documentaries to watch. All of a sudden, I just hit the ground running. I was like, this is real. This a real problem. How do we make this fun? How do we make this a conversation? So I started doing it with my video projects and snowboarding with One Life. We did TV shows, we did little feeds of content out there. I also started my own snowboard competition that’s the first zero waste in the world for a high-caliber event and full Eco Festival with it. My mom called me one day because she was getting arthritis in her hands. She’s been a dental hygienist for 33 years, so she’s rock and roll in the dental world. She said, “You know what? I figured out what I want to do, now that my hands are breaking down on me. I want to bring back the glass straw. We used to have it when I was super young, and I have to recommend straws to my patients for everything but water. Everything else creates staining, teeth sensitivity, and erosion.” So she would recommend straws, but then she’s like, “But don’t drink in heated plastic because of the toxins. Also, it’s very wasteful, so try to reuse them.” She really didn’t feel like there was a good solution out there, not to say that there aren’t glass straws out there, but it wasn’t something that was in our face. She brought the idea to me. We did a little research, saw that 500 million plastic straws are used and disposed daily just in the U.S. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Unbelievable. CHANELLE SLADICS: Yeah, so it’s just a huge niche plastic that we’ve been overlooking for a long time, and it’s kind of like the plastic bag everybody knows is an issue and is starting to get banned. That’s what we hope to help initiate and legislation as well. That’s something we’re working on now with two non-profits, Surfrider and 1 to 1 Movement. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So what year did Simply Straws start? CHANELLE SLADICS: We started, I believe, in 2002. I think the idea was in 2011. I was still competing heavily, so it’s all a bit of a blur. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So in 2011 you started commercializing the products? CHANELLE SLADICS: Maybe 12. JOHN SHEGERIAN: 2012. CHANELLE SLADICS: Actually, we launched our brand at Green Festival in L.A. We had no idea. It was our soft launch. We didn’t know how people would receive our product or our brand, our colors, whatever, our bins. We had a line like the Apple Store, it felt like. It was really cool. We were ecstatic. Actually, a regional buyer at Whole Foods saw us and cut in front of the line, gave us her card, and said, “I want these in all our stores,” the very first day we went in business. That was really cool. It was really neat. She saw that it worked, she saw people jived with our vibe and what we were doing, the brand. I was already aligned with a lot of non-profit work beforehand, so I kind of brought in this campaign called Straws for Cause. Every color straw that we have is associated with a different non-profit. For pink, we’ve got Keep A Breast Foundation. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s the green one for? It’s in my hand here. CHANELLE SLADICS: Protect Our Winters. We just brought the yellow, so we don’t have anyone aligned with that right now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Beautiful. And they’re all different sizes. CHANELLE SLADICS: Yeah, we’ve got three lengths, we’ve got three diameters. You can go bends, no bends. We’ve got these great little Mason jars that we’ve customized to make them very travel-friendly, whether it be a carabiner or a fair trade cozy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s actually great, and it feels great in your mouth. CHANELLE SLADICS: Yeah, I mean, once you go glass, you never go back. Who likes to drink out of a plastic water bottle? No one likes it, you just do it because you’re thirsty. Glass really preserves the flavor of water, but also it’s just a really beautiful product. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It feels so beautiful and it feels sturdy in my hand, but it also feels like glass. I guess it’s not breakable. CHANELLE SLADICS: Lifetime guarantee. It’s totally breakable. Glass is breakable. Glassware is a lot less strong than the resin borosilicate, which is what Pyrex uses for their products and for high-temperature compatible. I can probably drop it on the ground and it would have a chance of surviving. I did that before, but I’m not going to do it again. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How do we clean them? How would our viewers and our listeners clean these wonderful straws, then? CHANELLE SLADICS: We’ve got three different sized brushes, which is an option, but they’re dishwasher safe. One of the things we also love about glass is it’s non-porous, so it’s really easy to clean. I travel 10 months out of the year. I don’t even travel with a brush. I just sip water through my smoothies when I finish them just to kind of clean them out, and you’re good to go. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re here today with Chanelle Sladics. We’re talking about Simply Straws. To find her great products, go to www.simplystraws.com. You mentioned a little while ago, Chanelle, Straws for a Cause. Can you share a little bit what that is? CHANELLE SLADICS: Yeah, basically we’re 1% for the Planet certified, so we commit to a minimum of 1% of our gross profit or income towards these six different non-profits. We have Keep a Breast Foundation, Non-Toxic Revolution, 5 Gyres, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Protect Our Winters. We started working with 1 to 1 Movement and Surfrider a bit, but they’re not official partners yet. Long story short, we really wanted each color to resonate a cause, that are all aligned with educating and activating against plastic pollution because, really, community is a solution. There are other companies out there that do similar products. That’s great because we can’t be everywhere all the time, so let’s just all move towards that positive solution and get away from all this waste. That’s kind of our jam, and it’s been fun to do as a family. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about the family thing. This was a little bit of your mom’s epiphany. She came to her daughter, and then how about dad and brother? Talk about that. CHANELLE SLADICS: Dad is just a handyman. He’s been in construction my whole life, and he figured out how to make them, how to bend them, how to work with the glass because glass is an art. Even though it looks like a simple product, every single one of these are handmade, hand bent. Because the borosilicate material is so durable, it takes a while to heat it up before you can bend it. You can only streamline it so much because it is a handmade product. My dad spearheads and oversees all of our manufacturing in-house, and then my brother is kind of like a floater. He oversees the inventory side of things and kind of fills in wherever it’s needed. We’ve got a good team of 10 employees now, and now we’re kind of moving into more of a management position. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Out of California? CHANELLE SLADICS: Yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And where are they manufactured? CHANELLE SLADICS: Newport Beach, California. JOHN SHEGERIAN: They’re manufactured right in California. CHANELLE SLADICS: Yes, it’s a made in America product. We actually just got certified as a B Corporation. I don’t know if you’re very familiar with B Corporations. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about that. Why a B Corporation? You bring up a great point. A lot of entrepreneurs want to know what kind of corporation they should do, so why a B? CHANELLE SLADICS: B is incredible. Simply Straws is an LLC until California passes B Corporation, and then our business switches into a B Corp through the government. I would hope at some point, there are incentives that come through that channel, tax breaks, things like that, because it’s businesses that use the force for good, whether it be socially and/or environmentally. I think they spend about $1 million creating this very detailed assessment test, how you’d run your company, where you source your materials. You can’t just say, “I source them here.” They do an auto-checkup. So they’ll be like, “We need to know where your straws are sourced. We need to know who makes them and where.” It basically validates in detail that you’re a legitimately cause-based for-profit business. It’s an incredible community to be a part of. Patagonia, Clean Canteen, I’m trying to think of some names that might come to mind. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So you’re in great company as a B Corp. CHANELLE SLADICS: Yes. I actually just got back from their retreat on the East Coast, and we got to tour some of the businesses that are multimillion dollar businesses compared to our little company, and just sharing how they manage their business. There are management systems in-house, so that we can become a better business. That’s just so neat to have that kind of community and elevate each other. These are the types of businesses that are going to create solutions for the future. The Secretary of Labor actually came and spoke and said, “Hey, you guys are the future for solutions for the United States and beyond.” It’s pretty neat. They’re being heavily recognized for what they’re doing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about your ambassador program. Why is that important? CHANELLE SLADICS: As a professional athlete, I have a lot of wonderful friends and musicians and different people I’ve met along the way who are also passionate about preserving the places we love. They’ve come onboard and help us spread our message. We’ve got Olympians from all different countries, all different places in the world. We’re about to start a fundraising program with our ambassadors to help them with their causes and do recycling centers at their schools that they went to when they were younger. There’s just a really cool engagement with some really dynamic athletes and musicians and artists and things like that, filmmakers, Angela Sun, who just did a Plastic Paradise DVD. We just got some rock and roll humans that are aligned with our message, which is cool. They help us during Earth Month. We do a Pledge Against Plastic Straws, and we give away a straw for every pledge that comes on deck, so that’s a really fun month for us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about the launch of the company, Whole Foods signing up the first day, a long line of people being at the Green Festivals, where we are today in San Francisco, that was the Green Festivals in L.A. How has the company evolved and how are sales going? What’s the future of Simply Straw? CHANELLE SLADICS: The future for Simply Straws is going to be some patent products that can go with our existing products. We’re always going to focus on the straws, but we love these gateway products that accompany our straws that make them really travel-friendly. I think we’ll be focusing on that and really engaging with the community where we started our business. Like I said, we met the buyer who was on the East Coast of the United States that brought us into all of their stores right away, but we still aren’t in our own stores in Southern California. We’ve just been going wherever people have asked for us. Now we’re like, hey, let’s tap into our neighborhood and get to know everyone and share our product. That’s really where our focus is. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So where can our listeners find Simply Straws? We have listeners and viewers around the United States and around the world. Where is the best place to find your great products? CHANELLE SLADICS: I’m going to take you to simplystraws.com because it’s got our whole product line. In retail spaces, it’s always limited on what you have access to and what the buyers decided to choose, so I would definitely say our online. If you sign up for our newsletter, we do these 24 hour power sales, that are kind of like Groupon deals that happen really quick. That’s a good way to get a good price. We actually have a green radio coupon that we wanted to kick off today and just open our products to you guys for a 15% discount. It’s called GREENRADIO14. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How do they do this? CHANELLE SLADICS: Go on simplystraws.com, pick out your products. When you’re at the checkout, put GREENRADIO14 in the coupon code area, and you’ll get your discount. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So they’ll get a discount for buying Simply Straws, saving the planet by coming to your site, and just putting that coupon code in there. CHANELLE SLADICS: Absolutely, and just being a part of eliminating one of those 500 million a day. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Chanelle Sladics, we thank you for coming on today. We thank your family for working together to change the world and making it a better place. We thank you guys for putting Simply Straws out there. Again, it’s simplystraws.com. Chanelle Sladics, you are truly living proof that green is good. CHANELLE SLADICS: Cheers. Green is Good, my friend.