As we all try to live more sustainable lives, our relationship with food is changing.
Aberdeen has seen a flurry of new zero-waste shops popping up over the last few years, and Refillosophy is one of those leading the way in promoting sustainable living in the city.
The store sources a variety of food and goods products from local suppliers, with its customers encouraged to buy loose products using their own containers to cut down on packaging.
For owner Gina Adie, a former nurse who opted for a career change after becoming a parent, a family ethos is at the heart of Refillosophy.
From her four-legged shop mascot Maya to 17-year-old daughter Rhiannon who hand drew Refillosophy’s logo, family has given Gina’s business its arms and legs which have reached out to the local community since opening last year.
Society talked to Gina to find out more about Refillosophy.
What inspired you to change your career from nursing to opening your own zero-waste business?
I loved nursing, but by the time I had my son, I was ready for a change. I took a few years off being a stay-at-home mum, then reading about other zero waste shops, and holidays in Toronto and Berlin, where zero waste shops are more commonplace, planted the seed.
I’d say that my own journey into sustainability accelerated after becoming a parent. I read A Life Stripped Bare by Leo Hickman, which really forced me to look at my lifestyle and make several changes. Reducing food waste was a real motivator for me, along with reducing the amount of single use plastic that was making its way into our recycling bin every week. News reports showing that much of this plastic was making its way across the world to be dumped, rather than being recycled as we thought, really made me sit up and pay attention. I realized that recycling is not the panacea to the plastic problem. We have to cut off the tap.
What was it like to open in the middle of a pandemic?
When I found the premises in 2019, I never thought that it would take quite so long to open. Covid hit during the renovation process, so opening in July, as the first lockdown eased, was extremely worrying. However, in many ways it has helped us. People are thinking more about where their food comes from. They want to support local businesses, and many feel more comfortable shopping in a small shop with a limited number of customers allowed in at any one time. We strive to be as Covid secure as possible with plenty of hand sanitizing stations and surfaces being cleaned regularly.
Would you say that there’s a real family ethos at Refillosophy?
Definitely. My husband and children have been extremely supportive. My children are extremely environmentally conscious like many of their peers. My 17-year-old daughter helps on Saturdays and during school holidays. My son Ewan also helps from time to time and my husband Gordon is constantly being called upon to build shelves for me. And of course, Maya, our dog, is the shop mascot.
What’s been some of the main challenges you’ve faced on your journey as a business so far?
There are so many things that I have wanted to do but simply just haven’t had the time for. I would like to be open more hours, but juggling the work/family balance is not always easy, especially when the children were also being home schooled. Hopefully now that I have recently taken on staff, these things will become a reality soon.
What do the team enjoy most about working at Refillosophy?
They really enjoy listening to customers and discussing their positive ideas for eco living. There’s always a friendly and relaxed atmosphere in the shop and I also think they enjoy working for a company that is trying to promote sustainability and ethical living.
What kind of food products do you usually offer in store?
We have fresh baked goods from the Vegan Bay Baker, The Cakerunner and from Bakery Lane. There’s also fresh fruit and vegetables (both organic and conventional from Lembas Farm, CFINE and TPS); fresh duck, hens and quail’s eggs from Katy’s Eggs in Torphins, and fresh milk and cream in returnable glass bottles from Invercamey Dairy in Turriff.
We also have a variety of dried food products – those store cupboard essentials that everyone needs such as pasta, rice, pulses, breakfast cereals and dried fruit. All sold loose, we encourage customers to bring along their own containers to fill up but we do provide paper and compostable bags for those who forget.
How do you go about building relationships with local food producers?
We are so lucky in the north-east to have so many high-quality producers on our doorstep. Cutting down on food miles is hugely important for us. Many local producers deliver in person, and it is lovely to have a chat and get to know them when they are dropping off deliveries. Often customers will be in store during deliveries which gives the producers a chance to get direct feedback.
Refillosophy is the antithesis of the supermarket. We may not always be as cheap as supermarkets, after all we do not have their buying power, but we care about where our products come from and choose products with ethics in mind.
How have the local community responded to Refillosophy so far?
The response from the local community has been amazing. We have so many lovely regular customers who enjoy finding lots of local products in store and being able to buy products without excess packaging.
Has your own passion for sustainability grown since the store has taken flight?
Absolutely. Once you fall down the sustainability rabbit hole, it is difficult to climb back out!