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Meet Abigail Forsyth of KeepCup in the Arts District

Today we’d like to introduce you to Abigail Forsyth.

Abigail, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Like all the best kinds of revolutions, it started in a café.

I was a solicitor for years, but was always interested in the hospitality industry, so when the opportunity to open a café with my brother in Melbourne’s laneways presented itself, I couldn’t turn it down.

We opened Bluebag in 1998 – a series of healthy cafés in the CBD that offered sandwiches, salads and coffee in a convenient, prepacked format. Over the years, we became increasingly concerned with how much waste we were creating. In particular, we saw the rise and rise of disposable coffee cups – and the amount of waste created by this convenience was hard to reconcile.

I remember it dawned on me one day, while giving my young daughter some warm milk in a ‘sippy’ cup, that I would never dream of throwing away a disposable cup every time I fed her – so why was it okay for me to do the same thing with take away coffee cups twice a day?

We looked around for a reusable alternative, but in addition to the fact that the cups we found were pretty unattractive, none of them were user friendly for a barista in a busy café environment. They didn’t fit under the group head of the coffee machine, and they didn’t have the same internal volumes as disposable cups to allow the barista to dose the coffee correctly. So, we decided to make our own.

The fact that we wanted to design something that works behind a coffee machine, as well as in front of it in the hand of the customer – that was really key.

We came at the design from a number of perspectives; the user, the café owner, the barista, freight and logistics and end of life. We engaged industrial designers, brand designers and sourced the manufacturing ourselves.

Aesthetics were – and are – so important to us. The principles of using a KeepCup are totally grounded in sustainability, but the reason that you use it was never just going to be ‘Oh, it’s the right thing to do.’ It had to be fun, it had to be beautiful, and it had to be something that you would want to carry and feel attached to.

In the beginning, we had one 3D prototype; it was solid, hand painted, and you could not remove the lid or rotate the plug, but I thought it looked fantastic. We sold 11,000 KeepCups using that prototype. And that leap of faith from those people who committed to buying from that hand-painted prototype, it really goes to show how much of any purchase is emotional, and that my passion and commitment were as important as the product.

That was in 2009, and now – more than 8 million KeepCups converts later – we’re a brand with a global presence, including here in LA. Alongside Australia and the UK, the USA is in the top three largest consumers of specialty coffee in the world, so having a presence here is important to us.

Beyond being a part of the LA coffee scene, we’re also passionate about creating a sustainable story in every market we work – and this includes our supply chain. So having a hub here helps us to stay true to our values.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have definitely been struggles along the way.

While we were originally working on our prototype, a designer described the product to me as “the stupidest idea they had ever seen”. We didn’t let that stop us, we pushed ahead.

We had problems with our first production run; some leaked and were too hot to hold once they had coffee in them. People were calling to say they couldn’t accept them. We went back to the drawing board, and progressed the design to solve the issues.

We then had a beautiful, functional product, but many cafes refused to allow their customers to use KeepCup, worried they were illegal for health reasons. So we had to get legal advice from one of the leading law firms in Melbourne to say that using a reusable cup would not contravene health regulations.

All of this taught me, that it pays to be persistent – if people believe in you, they will help you if they can. We’ve come a long way.

KeepCup – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
KeepCup was and still is the solution to a problem – disposable cups are rubbish. Sustainability is the reason we exist, and it underpins all the decisions we make as a business.

We tap into people’s desire to do good, while also taking into account their preference for ease, simplicity and good design.

You buy the KeepCup because you like it – and we work really hard to make the design and the product enjoyable to use – but unless you can use it, you haven’t had a positive environmental impact. So part of our business is about engaging people and ensuring they actually reuse.

I think what’s important to us is to communicate that sustainability is a journey – it’s not an end point you reach.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I’m not sure what I’m most proud of. Seeing people on the street with their KeepCup, seeing the commitment they’ve made, that always gives me such a thrill. In 2009 our mission was to see reuse rates climb to 30%, and many communities around the world have achieved this.

At the moment I’m thinking about the post-disposable world. I’m going to be most proud of our part in the next phase – single use free.

Pricing:

  • KeepCup Original: From USD$13.00 (for 8oz size)
  • KeepCup Original – Clear: From USD$15.00 (for 8oz size)
  • KeepCup Brew: From USD$18.00 (for 8oz size)
  • KeepCup Brew – Cork: From USD$24.00 (for 8oz size)
  • KeepCup LongPlay: From USD$28.00 (for 12oz size)
  • KeepCup Mini: USD$9.00 (4oz size)
  • We also have limited edition Star Wars and Sea Shepherd KeepCup series (prices vary depending on materials)

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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