FoundHer: Tara Button, BuyMeOnce
Updated: Nov 14, 2019
BuyMeOnce is a one-stop-shop of long-lasting products; an ethical emporium of environmentally conscious and guilt-free goodies. Think clothing, kitchenware, electrics, furniture, home decor and beauty – many products of which come with a lifetime guarantee (including…wait for it…socks!)
The principle that drives Tara Button, the founder of the business, is: “To throw away our throwaway culture.” Tara, once a spendthrift ad executive, has written a successful book, A Life Less Throwaway, and launched an international business, all inspired by a Le Creuset pot she was given on her 30th birthday.
Storytellhers caught up with Tara at her office in Sustainable Bankside, a funky London workspace that houses a collection of sustainably driven businesses.
Have you always been eco-anxious?
I’ve always been an environmentalist but at some point, I lost my way. Aged 8, I conceived a plot to project “Save the Earth” onto the moon – at school we’re taught about the ozone layer and pollution, and I wanted to highlight it! But through a focus on pure individualism (that we’ve all been told is the right attitude) I forgot that passion for the environment. It became all about ‘my life, my dream, and screw the rest of the world’. But we can’t live in a vacuum - we live in an ecosystem. What I do affects other people.
How did you find yourself in advertising then?
I wanted to be a writer, and the best way I could do it and make money was to be a copywriter in an ad agency. So I found myself trying to persuade mums to give kids chocolate for breakfast, to treat cars as fashion items, and to constantly refresh their homes: “Go on, chuck out your old sofa and get a new one!” This, I realized, was not helpful to my community. I loved being creative and following that ambition, but the self-centric idea conflicted with my real values that are very much community-centric.
How did you make the change, and think up BuyMeOnce?
Slowly, the community-centric side of me started to win over. One of the brands that I worked with was Le Creuset and I asked my sister for a pot for my 30th birthday. The experience of owning it made me realize everything else I owned up to that point was very transient – it wasn’t worth taking care of for a lifetime. This pot was off my shopping list forever, it was truly made to last and that got me thinking. So many products are built to break, or to go quickly out of fashion - a practice called "planned obsolescence". This practice is causing horrific waste and pointless pollution. It was then, when I started to make the connection between long-lasting products and climate change, that I got really passionate about longevity. I realized I had a solution to help our planet that no one else was talking about. I set up a blog called BuyMeOnce to be an ‘everything’ store for the longest-lasting things, and I believed it could be game-changing.
BuyMeOnce attracted a lot of attention instantly, didn’t it?
I had about 100 products when it went viral – it was a very basic site but the intention was clear. A journalist found me on Twitter, and she wrote an article. 600k people came to the site in 4 days so I thought I better quit my job - that was a good day! Then the idea of a book came up and there was a bidding war. More recently, I featured in the last ever print issue of Marie Claire as one of their “Future Shapers”, so that’s a fun claim! Social enterprise is now fashionable, so we’re being brought into a space with those who we’re at war with. Fashion magazines are embracing us because we’re the latest thing – picking us up because we’re new and exciting – but our raison d’etre is the polar opposite to theirs. One of the messages in my book is “Quit all your fashion magazine subscriptions!” and now ironically I’m being heralded by them.
What is the driving principle behind the business?
Our mission is to change consumer behaviour globally. Our value proposition is that buying for the long term saves you money, stress and the environment. Once you’ve Marie Kondo’d your house, how do you make sure it stays that way? And how did it get that way in the first place? What are the powers and manipulations that have got us - almost without thinking – to accruing 200,000 products in our homes? We need what I call ‘Mindful Curation’. It’s about the individual pieces and the whole collection. We need to shop mindfully for the feeling it gives us and the meaning it creates. BuyMeOnce products are more durable than their competitors, and where possible ethically made using sustainable materials. We give priority to products with fixing services, ‘no quibble’ and lifetime guarantees. We try to steer clear of fads - we choose classic products so that they won’t go out of style quickly.
This would be a big adjustment for a consumer who enjoys fashion, right?
There’s nothing wrong with appreciating beautiful clothes, however, I believe we all need to get off the trend treadmill. We are being manipulated by messages we’re given! The cure is to proactively research your style – what fabrics you want to feel against your skin, and what colours suit you. Having a colour standard can transform you, as you’re free from ‘colours of the summer’ that just might not look good on you. Everyone’s vying for power: magazines, influencers, designers. Knowing before you shop which shapes flatter or makes you feel confident puts the power back in your corner. There is nothing wrong with people creating things, but the idea that we should be buying a new thing every week is wrong. Brands like Primark feed the newness addiction: they’ve ramped up the treadmill so fast it’s created an ecological, economic and moral crisis. A crisis isn’t even a strong enough word – it’s an apocalypse. The trouble is when social acceptability around clothing is so extreme: you can’t be seen in the same dress twice on Instagram and that, for me, is the height of wastefulness.
Can you put the BuyMeOnce success into current figures for us?
The site became transactional in 2018 and - with no marketing budget - we tripled revenue and doubled the value of goods sold. We did a raise through Crowdcube of £550k. BuyMeOnce was easy for investors to understand – as a writer, I could communicate it clearly and it had the advantage of being environmentally driven. The Green Angel Syndicate came onboard, and because they are professional and do their due diligence, it gave credibility to the company. We want to be a large global enterprise. Profit is not our driving force - it’s a byproduct of fulfilling the mission. But I need this business to be highly successful as I don’t think we’ll be able to change consumer behaviour globally without becoming profitable.
We’re now working getting the raw data to communicate our value proposition. For example, “if a frying pan lasts 100 years then the price per year for the consumer is X”, or “You could save £600 in your lifetime by buying one, long-lasting umbrella”. If you give consumers data that they trust, then they will make good decisions for themselves.
Lastly: I’ve got two boys who are drawn like magnets to big kaleidoscopic plastic toys and I feel guilty buying them (and not buying them!). Can you give some advice?
The constant tidal wave of plastic crap that comes into our homes stresses parents out, but we think kids need more than they do. Fewer toys encourage them to use their imagination, allowing collaborative play which is so important. It’s also been shown that kids get overwhelmed the more toys they have. I recommend paring right down and having a ‘one in, one out’ system: “Do you want this new toy? Then which old toy would you like to donate to charity?” Then they make a value choice and it fosters the idea of contribution.
I’m passionate about protecting kids from marketing messages as we know that a materialistic mindset leads to lonely, unhappy children who even do worse at school. Try to give them an ad-free environment as much as possible. Teach them to mute ads and choose books over magazines. I’m aware of the irony as I was once the very person creating these ads, but because of this, I’m very aware of advertising’s ability to get into the subconscious of us and our kids and make us connect our value as people with the things we own. This is never healthy.
And you can read more about Tara's last point on her blog post: 9 Ways to Protect Kids From Consumerism and Why It's Important