By Marina Liao published
In a bi-weekly series, we're asking female executives, founders, CEOs—basically, boss ladies—about their "power suit" a.k.a. the outfit they wear every day for easy dressing to conquer whatever the job throws at them.
For those of us who have never thought about the environmental impacts of our at-home cleaning supplies, spending 30 minutes with Sarah Paiji Yoo, co-founder and CEO of Blueland, will change your entire perspective. Her eco-friendly cleaning supplies are both effective and affordable, limiting the amount of single-use plastic that enters your household and our planet. It's a passion that grew from a motherly instinct to protect her child.
"When my son was born, I became much more aware of how plastic impacted our food and water supplies," she says. "I was researching the water that I was using to make his formula, and looked into using tap versus bottled water. I was pretty horrified to learn that even bottled water contained microplastics. I started realizing all this plastic we're using everyday just ends up in our water." (According to one study, an individual consumes an average of five grams of microplastics a week, the equivalent weight of a credit card or a plastic bottle cap.)
Paiji Yoo decided to cut back on her own plastic use, but realized it was very difficult, if not impossible, to avoid plastic entirely. That's when her entrepreneurial side kicked in. She decided to create products that were packaged in a better way, starting with cleaning supplies, because, "I didn't want to sell people what I felt they didn't need. What I love about the cleaning category is that everyone washes their hands, dishes, etc. They're products people run out of and need to replenish."
Because Paiji Yoo is a start-up veteran (she started her first company Snapette in 2011, sold it in 2013, then went on to create Launch, which birthed direct-to-consumer brands M.Gemi and Rockets of Awesome), creating Blueland wasn't out of reach. But the process was still arduous, from finding the right chemist and manufacturer to developing cleaning tablets, not liquids—something that had never been done before—to using non-toxic ingredients that wouldn't hike up the price. The formulas themselves took more than a year to make.
Blueland's beloved clean essentials kit is $39; refillable tablets cost just $2 a piece. All you need to do is fill the bottles with water and drop in the tablets to "DIY" your own cleaning solution. The tablets come wrapped in paper packaging—Paiji Yoo had to go to Europe in search of this material—and the pretty, colorful bottles remain reusable for life.
During our chat, Paiji Yoo acknowledged how fortunate Blueland has been in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in NYC, since it has adversely affected many business. (Presently Blueland employs 12 people and is headquartered in New York City with some members of the team, including their scientist, on the west coast.) "We had a slew of support in our first year from people passionate about the environment, so 2019 was an exciting year in raising awareness," she says. "In March and early April [of 2020], those shopping Blueland were coming to us because they couldn't find their conventional brands in stores, so consumers were kind of forced to try us. It has been an incredible opportunity though, for us to help people during this period."
Lately, Paiji Yoo spends her days on Zoom calls figuring out Blueland's next steps in dominating the cleaning category, as the most eco-friendly, effective brand out there. (Blueland most recently launched dish soap and dishwasher products to its line.) She shares what she wears while getting the job done, ahead.
Her Morning Routine
"I typically wake up around 6:45 a.m. My son tends to wake up around 7:30 a.m., so I like getting up before him and having that quiet time to myself. I brush my teeth, have my morning coffee, set my intentions for the day, and reflect on things I'm grateful for. Recently, I've been putting on a hair mask because now I don't have to rush out the door. Before [the COVID-19 pandemic], I was rushing out the door at like 8:15 a.m. and now there is no pressure to be ready by a certain time, or really ever.
With a child, everything is about economy of scale, so I'll just typically eat what he eats. We keep it simple to either cereal or, during this quarantine period, I learned how to make yogurt, so we have that because usually [store bought] yogurt comes in plastic packaging. A new thing that I'm trying to do in the mornings, right around 9 a.m., is take a walk and get outside for at least 20 minutes while my husband provides childcare coverage. I've found that it's my version of caffeine and really wakes me up, especially because I miss my 30-minute walk into the office."
Her Getting Dressed Strategy
"My getting dressed strategy since becoming a mom has become pragmatic. What I wear is really important to me, however, as it impacts my mood and my confidence. I also recognize how I dress impacts how I'm perceived by others, so I definitely take that into account based on my plans for the day and dress accordingly. Within those buckets, I have my go-to pieces. If it was a day where I have internal meetings, my go-to are mom jeans, a basic or vintage t-shirt, and an occasional blazer. I like to keep my outfit comfy and casual, while a blazer is a nice way to tighten it up. For outside meetings, I'll dress up a bit depending on the situation. I have a lot of blazers and silk blouses in rotation there.
Her Work Uniform
"At home, I've been wearing a lot of whites and brights. I think this has made me feel comfortable at home while not having to be in my pajamas or workout clothes. I have a few pairs of white linen shorts and pants I wear along with a white t-shirt or a comfy top. Reformation has a great basic tee, I have a handful of vintage rock and roll tees, and For Days has good shirts too. I love the brand's mission because it's a closed loop system [of purchasing clothes] since there is already so much waste in the fashion industry.
The pants I'm wearing these days, I got two years ago from a trip to Japan, but [some other labels I love] are Mara Hoffman and Eileen Fisher. I am also usually in socks. My friend is the incredible founder of Comme Si, so I have all the socks in all the colors and they've been a nice mood brightener for me. I like to keep my look bright during the day and feel like there is some seasonality happening in doors.
I always have earrings on, I don't take them off. I have a few necklaces and bracelets that I always wear too. The only thing I haven't been wearing as much are my rings while I'm at home. For jewelry, I've been supporting other female founders and start-ups. Aurate is one I love because they focus on using recycled gold. I have some of their earrings. For bracelets, I love The Last Line. Since I have a straight-forward approach to dressing for the day, it's fun to add in some colorful pieces from them. I have some earrings from them as well."
The Three Words That Describe Her Power Outfit
"Comfy, light, and bright."
"My dad has always said, 'how do you eat an elephant?' and the answer is of course 'one bite at a time.' I've always loved that saying because it's not just the start-up [business], but so many things in life, that can all feel overwhelming. It's important to have the perspective to take things one day at a time, one thing at a time and celebrate the wins as they come. You do not have to run a marathon all at once. As long as you're moving and you keep moving forward, it's great."
Shop some of Paiji Yoo's favorite brands, below:
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