At Koko, a refillery and sustainable living shop based in Columbus, Ohio, sustainability is made easy and accessible. Founded by Aidra Hall, Koko is dedicated to reducing single-use waste by providing customers with a place to refill their household essentials, such as soap, shampoo, and lotions, using their own containers.
With a focus on creating a supportive and educational environment, the Koko team is always ready to answer questions and help customers on their sustainability journey. The aesthetic of the shop, combined with the personalized shopping experience, makes Koko a welcoming destination for all.
Koko is designed for a customer experience so everyone can continue their sustainable journey and keep it personal. Aidra shared how Koko builds a supportive community for everyone. The last thing they want to encounter is people being afraid to ask questions because what’s right for one person might not be useful for another.
As a leader in the fight against plastic waste, Koko understands the impact of supply and demand on the production of waste and is committed to minimizing the global problem through its local presence. With two shops in Columbus and events held throughout the city, Koko is building a community of individuals who want to positively impact the environment. Koko’s sustainable products can be purchased through their website for those outside of Columbus. Join the movement and make a difference with Koko.
Koko already has two shops within Columbus – the original shop in Hilltop and their second shop in Clintonville. They have events held at their shops and around Columbus, so tune in to their website. Meanwhile, people outside of Columbus can still get their sustainable tools and daily needs through their website.
Follow them to know more:
Or visit their shop:
3023 Indianola Ave
Columbus, OH 43202
15 N Westmoor Ave
Columbus, OH 43204
[00:00:10] Adam: Welcome to People Helping People, the podcast for social entrepreneurs who want to build a social impact business and increase their sustainability footprint. I'm your host, Adam Morris, and I can't wait to share Aidra Hall's story about Koko, a local sustainable living shop and refillery. All the crazy distractions of 2022, this episode has been some time in the making, but the work that Aidra has done around sustainability is awesome and worth the wait. So let's dive right in. Aidra, welcome on the podcast.
[00:00:41] Aidra: Yeah. Thank you. I'm so excited we finally get to do this.
[00:00:45] Adam: Can we start off, can you just tell us a little bit about what Koko the shop, is?
[00:00:49] Aidra: Yeah, so Koko is a sustainable living shop and refillery based in Columbus. We have two shops and an online presence as well. Uh, usually when I give that explanation to people, they have to get some definitions, right? So some people say sustainable living shop, what is that? And I just say eco-friendly because I feel like that's the buzzword, right?
That people, people know and connect with. And then a fillery is a concept to that, up until a couple years ago, I feel like most people hadn't heard of, um, it's a shopping. Experience in which you can fill and refill anything from toiletries, like shampoo, lotions to cleaning supplies like laundry detergent dish soap, hand soap, all from us in, we buy them in bulk. And you can either fill up your own containers and jars if you're a jar hoarder like me or you can purchase new bottles from us. And the whole point is allowing people the opportunity to reduce their single use plastic waste.
[00:01:59] Adam: Question for you. I've always wondered this about a refillery. Like you get the products itself, like in, in boxes and shipping containers. Like how does that help with sustainability overall?
[00:02:10] Aidra: Yeah. So we usually get them in the biggest quantity that we can at the time. For example, a customer peeked in the back, he said, is that a 55 gallon drum the other day?
[00:02:22] Adam: 55 Gallon drum.
[00:02:24] Aidra: yeah. It's a big, it's a big boy. I can fit inside. Don't ask me how we know. But the whole idea being. You know, you are getting one huge quantity of something in that piece of plastic as opposed to, you know, hundreds of smaller bottles with other pieces, maybe recyclable, maybe not.
and. We also reuse and mostly reuse, recycle when we can't reuse them, but we reuse all of the buckets and containers that everything comes in to try to make it as closed loop as possible. And really it cuts down on carbon emissions. And most importantly, I think, is people don't realize that plastic is just like everything else.
It's supply and demand. If you are constantly going out and buying plastic tide jugs, they're gonna produce more plastic tide jugs. And so for us, and we're just one very small piece you know, in the sustainable marketplace, but for us, this is something that we can do to cut down on that demand by offering people a different way to shop.
[00:03:39] Adam: Got it. And how do, what do people use to refill soap and things like that? Like what, what
kind of things do they, they actually put it
[00:03:46] Aidra: that is truly one of my favorite parts of it. We have had everything from people filling their shampoo and ketchup bottles. Still one of the best two people putting like our plastic free laundry pods in Pringles, like they had a Pringles container in their car. So we are like You know, if we had an unspoken motto, it would be like, you bring it, we fill it because we have filled just about everything.
A tic tac container once with essential oils. It's fun to see. It's fun to see what people bring in, but uh, that's the other piece of it, right? Reusing something that, you know, maybe you'd recycle it, maybe you wouldn't, maybe it can't even be recycled, but you are giving it just a little more usefulness so that that piece was not created.
[00:04:33] Adam: so if Somebody was to walk into the shop, can you paint a picture of what they would see
[00:04:38] Aidra: Yeah, absolutely.
It is something that a lot of people are unfamiliar with and haven't done or seen before. So it's really important to me that when people walk into the shop, they are greeted with kind of the details. Of how everything works right off the bat, because I think one of the things that keeps people from doing something more sustainable or making a change, just like with any habit, it's the fear of looking stupid.
Or not knowing what you're doing, not being an expert. So Koko is kind of built around the concept that you know, we're, we're walking along the journey with you and there are no stupid questions. And you're not silly for not knowing You do what you can with the information you have when you have it.
So that education piece and kinda a more intimate shopping experience is really key for us. So you'll walk in, you'll probably. Right off the bat, notice the refillery. Not only because. Stunning. Aesthetically I said that, but because, uh, it looks different, right? So we have all of these different, usually one gallon growlers is what we fill from glass, growlers, either amber or clear glass.
And those are filled with all of our products. So , at our highest capacity, we. Somewhere around 70. Usually it's around 60 different bottles of things that you can fill and refill. You know, even like shaving cream, we have that in a little jar. So you'll see all of that. And then you'll also see our bottle bar.
So for those of you who don't wanna fill your ketchup bottle with shampoo we have a bunch of different. And aluminum containers that people can fill up. And then we just take you through the bar and kinda tell you about the products, where they come from, why we chose them you know, how to use them, and then kind of let people just explore.
[00:06:36] Adam: And it's a really beautifully decorated and designed like, I don't know, something about all the, the warm colors and, uh, this glass bottles are amazing to see them all stacked up.
[00:06:47] Aidra: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I was joking, but that really is another piece of it. You know, I think, um, People have this idea in their mind of what eco-friendly is or what it looks like and it's earth tones and It's got the idea behind it. That's a little boring. Or it's not patterned, it's just plain.
But that's something that I wanted, I wanted Koko to be different in that way. I wanted to show people that they could do this and they could change their products, maybe change their habit. Uh, and not have to give up their personality. So you'll definitely see that in the store. We've tried to make it bright and warm and inviting.
And my husband would tell you it is also homey because it, both of them contain several items from our actual home that I, uh, you know, steal and put in the stores. Cause I want people to feel that. I want people to feel comfort.
[00:07:37] Adam: How did all this get started? What's the origin story of Koko?
[00:07:41] Aidra: Yes, I love that. The origin story of Koko is really that you know, it all started with my mom when I was young. People would call what she did and does sustainable. But back then it was just kind of what I knew and what she did. She's a little bit of a crunchy hippie.
Um, she, you know, didn't use paper towels and made her own cleaning supplies and all of these different tiny little things, they're what I would call the tiny changes is what we call them now at Koko. But that I didn't really think anything of growing up because it's all I knew. And then when I got, uh, you know, on my own and I lived with other people, I realized, uh, that it was actually somewhat unique.
Were brought up in a society of convenience. And so some of the things that I was doing, they were a little, uh, kooky or a little weird, but I liked them and I wanted to continue them as an adult, especially when I got pregnant, with my first baby, I really. I was looking for products that had not only cleaner ingredients because you know you're pregnant and you're scared that everything is, uh, detrimental.
So not only clean ingredients, but also packaging wise that they fit the build. Because you have this moment, or at least I did, where you're so worried about why you're gonna leave them, And, and what's gonna be there for your children when, when you're gone. And so I was searching for all of these products, and this is probably over, you know, a, a 10 year span.
My oldest is gonna be eight soon. So it's been a while. I was always searching for products and having a really hard time. Finding them definitely locally, but even online, uh, it just wasn't, it wasn't a thing yet, but I was traveling a decent amount for work at the time. And I, I worked in corporate retail, so I would travel to stores across the country and in bigger cities.
And on the coast they would have like these little tiny. Like mom and pop, kinda like health, but old school health food stores. But they had the products that we were looking for and a lot of them didn't have a refillery in the sense that Koko has a refillery, but they had some bulk items mostly food, but you know, some, some toiletries and cleaning things.
And I thought, ah, man, this is so great. I wish this was closer to home. And I'm from central Ohio, not from Columbus, but I'm from central Ohio and I am a big fan of Columbus, and I think Columbus has so much cool stuff going on, and I just, I couldn't it didn't make sense in my mind that this big, big old city with all of these people in it and all of these brilliant minds and cool things going on wouldn't have access to resources like this.
So, uh, I built.
[00:10:40] Adam: What was it like opening a shop?
[00:10:42] Aidra: The idea percolated for a while, but I filed the papers in February, 2020. So that timing should tell you what it was like opening a shop because we were slated for a Earth Day opening that year. And as everybody knows, about a month after I filed those papers we went into lockdown here in Ohio.
So, uh, you know, it's, it's been a little chaotic I think. Anyone who has opened a business or even just ran a business during Covid knows, um, you're just constantly adapting. You're just constantly changing things and being flexible and figuring out what works. Cuz things look different from one month to the next, from one year to the next, You know, I think it's probably in the long run a good thing because we're so used to having to be adaptable. But it's been, it's been a wild ride.
[00:11:39] Adam: Now question. Right? So you, you opened one shop right at the beginning of the pandemic and then you open a second shop not long after.
[00:11:46] Aidra: Yes. We now have a shop in Clintonville as well. It just turned a year in September, so we have two.
[00:11:54] Adam: It's only been open for a year.
[00:11:56] Aidra: Yeah, a little over a year. It's like kids, you know.
[00:11:59] Adam: That's really cool.
[00:12:00] Aidra: Yeah. It's challenging to have the two for sure. But it's cool because both of them are very neighborhood centric stores. We definitely have destination traffic. People who will travel to them, but a lot of the people who come are in that neighborhood and it's cool to see the different vibes between the two and connect with the regulars in each.
[00:12:21] Adam: How is starting a store and diving into sustainability changed you as a person?
[00:12:26] Aidra: I think just like what I was saying about having to do all of that during the pandemic, I I don't think 10 steps ahead anymore. I have had to force myself to be much more in the present. And I think that's probably good for somebody who is always strategizing, always, you know, trying to think about what next, what next, what next?
It has forced me to live more in the moment and make decisions more in the moment. And, um, I think it's given me so much of an appreciation for community, especially, you know, not just the neighbors and the the customers that come in, but other small businesses and brands that we either sell or have popups.
Just connect with it's, uh, it's hard being a little guy, and I think any small business could tell you. We're here on giving Tuesday just a few days after Black Friday. And. It is rough to look at the Amazons and the targets and see, you know, 50% off or, you know, you look at something that is similar to a product you sell and you're like, how, how, how are they selling that for that?
Where do they get it? I know like the, the quality is different. But it's just sometimes it feels hard to compete. and you know, even just like the, looking at some of the displays and the signage, it's just different as a small business and especially one who tries to do things as sustainably as possible through all facets.
It is rough, and, and lonely. because you feel, you feel, uh, like you're othered a little bit and that you, you're always having to try and try and try and so I think that's why I just super appreciate other people who are doing the same hustle. It's a, you know, a sense of comradery.
[00:14:25] Adam: Yeah, I've always been blown away just from, diving into retail sales of other retailers and just seeing how much consumption there is of just how much stuff people sell and when I look at my own spending habits, you know, it's hard to put that in perspective, but when you multiply that by a million people and just how much pressure there is for companies to reduce costs, to sell more goods, and then most of which end up in the landfill, it's like how do you step back from that and say, Hey, wait, here's another way.
It might be slightly more. . But it's much healthier for the, the planet. I think there's a really interesting challenge there of changing our perspective with how we consume and realizing what we spend our money on has an impact of the health of the planet, and so being able to make better choices.
[00:15:17] Aidra: You know, even I get caught up in it, right? I, I get the ads and I see them and sometimes, you know, even on Black Friday I was working and running around in the stores and doing all those things, but I thought to myself, should I look at the deal? You know, like, I've got two kids and should I see what's on sale?
And, you know, doing the panic scroll. Uh, but what I try to do, and, you know, sometimes people ask me for advice with this. Taking a pause, right? I think people would be so surprised, like how just not giving into the panic buying or the initial, whatever happens in your brain when you see something that feels, uh, flashy or like value driven and you're like, I need this.
I want this. Just taking that pause to kinda, uh, Logic and, other decisions and other factors come into play. That's been huge for me. For example, we're redoing our playroom, so I'm like, I could go bam today on Black Friday. I'm like, I could go crazy, but I should probably go to the Habitat for Humanity Restore first.
And so that's what I did. Uh, and maybe have a little bit of fomo, but the thing. Everything that you could ever want is probably available, used for the most part. So that's just what I try to do. But it's a hard, uh, it's a hard place to compete as a business, I think.
[00:16:47] Adam: For someone starting out on their sustainable journey what are some quick recommendations that you have of like, Hey, here's a good place to, to start looking at your habits and making changes, which can have a bigger impact.
[00:16:59] Aidra: One of the things that I tell people a lot and talk about a lot is that it's gonna look a little bit different, just like everybody doesn't, have the same routine or create the same waste your sustainability journey should look different in that same way. I think people, when they ask that question sometimes want me to tell them like, oh, well you need to buy bees wax wraps and you need to, switch out your toothbrush and you need to um, and I think if I did, People probably would have products that they don't use, products that they're nervous about, feel like they were checking things off a list, and then maybe feeling bad about where they are on that list, you know?
Getting that feeling of eco anxiety, like, I'm not doing enough. Uh, so I always tell people to look at their own habits, and I always say like, dumpster dive in your own trash can. And really I think the first step is just seeing how much waste you create and where. So for example, I did this years and years ago.
And found out we were using like a ton of paper towels, way more than a family of, three at the time now four could possibly need to use. And so that was the first thing that I tackled one thing at a time. Tiny changes. I, we still use paper towels. People might be surprised. I think sometimes people are surprised by that.
I have a. A very normal husband who is he? He's a paper towel guy. But we also have switched out to a ton of reusables. And not only that, but I figured out a system for, my children and myself so they know where to get the clean ones. Where did the dirty ones go? We had to move around some things in our kitchen to make that work.
You know, we have a laundry basket in there now. We have a little basket full of our Swedish dish cloths and, uh, reusable towels and cloths and things. And that takes a little bit of thought. It takes a little bit of work. And if I'd been trying to do that at the same time as changing a bunch of other things, I think I probably, it's just like, New Year's resolution where you are like, ah, I'm gonna go to the gym two times a day.
And then you're so overwhelmed that you don't go at all. But being able to kind of stare stuff, it like that, I think that that's, that's the key for people. So looking around, seeing where you create the most waste and then tackling those things one at a time as you have the like mental space to do it and the budget to do it.
If it requires budget, a lot of it doesn't. And then just go on from there. Also, kind of seeking out those resources, so other people on social media who are doing something similar shops like ours that share information and education about why those things are important. Just so that you can, sometimes you don't have people in your life who are on board but kind of knowing that other people are on the same journey, I think is always really helpful too.
[00:20:11] Adam: Are there specific places people can go to really find those resource?
[00:20:15] Aidra: Yeah. So here in Columbus, I I'm biased because I am on the the city's capital the waste work group which tries to figure out solutions to different things waste related in the city, waste reduction as part of our climate action plan. But there are a couple organizations, even just here, hyper locally in Columbus who share a ton of information.
Keep Columbus beautiful is one. Like the Clintonville and Columbus Green Spots are another. Uh, even the Sustainable Columbus government page is always pointing towards different things. One of my favorite organizations here in Columbus is SWACO. The education that they do around recycling and waste reduction, I think is just so helpful.
And it's one of those recycling's, one of those things where people are like, I'm not doing it right, so I'm not gonna do it at all. But they make it so. , they make it so easy and simple for people to actually kind of hop on board with it. And then just different influencers, I'd say even just looking up, you know, like sustainability on Instagram or TikTok or wherever you are and seeing who comes up.
And there are different things that are important to different people. So taking a little scroll and seeing, if things being vegan are important to you, finding somebody who also does it, you know, in, in that. Um, if, uh, if seeing people of color in this space is really important to you, there are amazing influencers who are, who are doing that too.
So just finding somebody who kind of aligns with your personal values and makes you feel comfortable along the journey, I think.
[00:21:58] Adam: Do you see anything cool on the horizon in terms of new things coming out in the sustainability world, either products or services or shifts that you think will happen in the next five or 10 years?
[00:22:10] Aidra: just in general, you know, sometimes I'll. I'll go into a major retailer and I'll see a tiny end cap on the back that's got like just your big old brands, right? Your Colgate or your Dove, or you know, whatever it may be. And they're making these, tiny shifts.
So maybe it's a, a bottle that you reuse the top half of it, or I saw that Colgate is doing some sort of reusable toothbrush called the toothbrush. I think it's Colgate. And I think you'll see a lot more of that because I think people are starting, to really demand it. This is a really interesting time to be both a consumer and a, a business because you can see how, Uh, consumers are kind of driving the marketplace in, in what they're asking for and what they want from a brand. It's not, there are so many options now. It's not just, you know, well, everybody's buying the same, blah. There are a million options, a million different viewpoints, a million different missions.
Um, and you have to be the one that's doing it. And for the reasons that that consumer wants you to do it. And they hold a lot more power, I think, than they used to, which is amazing. They can ask for things like, Pepsi's customers can say, I want you to do blah, blah, blah, and. They're working on a biodegradable bottles now or something.
I saw a couple about a year ago. So I think that that is one thing we're gonna see that major shifts in the way that corporations think about sustainability, I think we will have a lot more funding government wise, toward positions that enable that to happen across organizations. I know in Columbus here, we're working on that too.
More green jobs. And I think just in general, more people and more makers are thinking about ways to reduce packaging. So I think you'll see a lot more reusable, a lot more package free. Or kind of unique ways like everybody's heard of Blue Land, right? The tablets. I think you'll see that kind of concentrated product in either reusable packaging or, you know, something that can be reused over and over again.
I think that will continue on as people, as consumers become more aware of the packaging aspect.
[00:24:55] Adam: Ah, that's beautiful. I love it. It's exciting.
[00:24:58] Aidra: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I hope, hopefully, I know that sometimes people think that this is crazy, but hopefully more refilleries too, right? And more opportunities to buy things in a different way locally. I think in an ideal world, refilleries would be like cvs, right? They'd be on every corner. . And it would make it so that it's so easy to shop in a way that is better for the planet.
It's not a trip out of your way. It's just an unconscious thought to do it because it's there. So I hope there's more. I, I really, really,
[00:25:35] Adam: What's your vision for Koko in the future?
[00:25:38] Aidra: Yeah, right now we're just enjoying where we're at. I've been working on I've been working on an online fillery concept for a long time now. Almost as long as Koko's been around. Uh, as a pandemic baby, as if you will. I think we have had to kind of really examine the way that people are shopping and the way that, that very beginning of the pandemic where, you know, you were just ordering things online like a crazy person.
Cause you're like, I don't know if we can leave the house or, If everything's gonna be gone, if all the resources in the Earth are gonna be gone, I think that that will have a long term impact. I know that it will because it has. And so I think part of doing this is meeting people where they're at and where they're shopping.
And so having. Having more visibility online and allowing people to convenient shop, but in a way that's better for the planet is the move. So yeah, that's, that's a project that is, that is in the works. It's a lot of work. Uh, but that, and just enjoying the stores and I think. Continuing to just, I'm constantly researching, I'm constantly looking for things for new products different brands doing the work so that our community and our customers don't have to.
So hopefully we'll see some cool things come in the new year that we can share.
[00:27:12] Adam: How did people find you?
[00:27:15] Aidra: I would say most of our community, because it was built in a time where no one could leave the house is on social media. So either on Instagram, at Koko, the shop, or TikTok at the same place, Koko the shop. Online@Kokotheshop.com. Listen, we're making it easy. And then of course we have our two stores.
That is my absolute favorite because then we get to see faces and that human connection. But we have one in Clintonville on Indianola app and one in the Hilltop on Westmore. Yeah, and uh, any way that somebody contacts us, I would say. We're always just overjoyed. We get so many dms because I've opened the business up to that, right?
I love to answer those questions and usually it's something that I'll reshare out to the whole group because I think it, a, it shows that it's okay to ask questions and it might be information that other people didn't know. And I, uh, I love doing that, so definitely people can always contact us.
[00:28:17] Adam: You also do a lot of popups around town as well, correct?
[00:28:20] Aidra: Yeah we're always rubbing elbows and try to be in places especially at times like this, the holidays where other. Businesses are other small businesses, other makers just meeting people and going to the areas of town that, that we're not physically in to meet customers.
Cuz I think part of the thing is, people don't know what they don't know. So if nobody knows that our fillary exists they're not gonna come see it. So sort of just trying to spread the word and just, just connect with.
[00:28:53] Adam: That's awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks for jumping on and sharing your story and sharing some neat tips about sustainability.
And if you're listening, definitely go check out the shop.
[00:29:04] Aidra: Yes, please do. We would love to have you.
[00:29:06] Adam: It's, it's a fun shop. The one in Hilltop is right around the corner from Third Way Cafe, so you can grab a nice cup of coffee while you're there to, um, another social enterprise in the, that neck of the woods.
[00:29:17] Aidra: Yes. My, my downfall
[00:29:19] Adam: uh,
[00:29:21] Aidra: every week. every day maybe.
[00:29:24] Adam: Coffee and sustainability. great. Thank you so much.
[00:29:27] Aidra: Yeah. Thank you for having me.