Sharing an article I was commissioned to write last year by Seima for their product magazine.
Asking your customers to wash their clothes in dirt seems like a big ask, but for Frankie Layton, it’s a gamble that’s paying off.
When Frankie Layton became dismayed at the lack of sustainable laundry liquid options in her supermarket aisle, she decided to create her own. No small feat for someone working in advertising with no laundry product development experience, but fortunately, she didn’t let that stop her.
Juggling a part-time job to keep the bills paid, Frankie embarked on a creating a product that uses only organic or plant-based ingredients cleaning ingredients, is 100% biodegradable and is delivered in sustainable packaging.
The result is Dirt – a laundry liquid that not only ticks all of the boxes, but is also affordable, working out at about 33 cents per load.
“We realised that people are never going to choose what’s more difficult or what’s more expensive. Mostly your internal needs govern your choices and that’s ‘Can I afford it? Is it there when I need it?’” Frankie says.
To solve that problem, Dirt is available on subscription so that it’s always there when you need it. It comes with an aluminium dispenser bottle that is reused, the liquid delivered in pouches that can be posted back to the company for reuse.
“If you participate in the Refill Return program, it’s a zero waste system. If you don’t, you’re still reducing plastic per wash by up to 90 percent compared to supermarket liquid laundry detergent,” she says.
Why Dirt? “We wanted to sit firmly in our own philosophy of less harm by focusing on the essential, of calling it as it is, and having some fun while we do it.
“We don’t see dirt as something that you need to be afraid of – it’s part of what makes the magic in life. Our motto get messy, clean with Dirt.”
Did she ever imagine she’d be creating laundry liquid? “Not in a million years. Do you know why? Because I am such a grub. I’m that person who arrived at work having already spilled coffee down my top,” she says with a laugh. However, she’d always dreamt of creating something that made a positive difference to the environment.
It took nearly two years to get the product on the market. Frankie brought in two co-founders for their expertise and spent the time, as she says on the website, “creating formulas, exploring packaging options, building websites, washing clothes, doing business plans, designing and washing more clothes”.
She launched it via the website and it took about six months to take off, with sales flooding in so fast around Christmas that she questioned whether the business was ready to handle it.
“We spent a long time thinking about how to execute the details of our concept, but the plastic issue that we’re crusading against and the sustainability message – making products that do less harm but still work – that was a simple place to start. People just got it straight away.”
She decided to commit fully to The Dirt Company, and gave herself six months to make it work. It wasn’t easy – things were on the brink of selling too fast for a couple of months, a problem when you have to order supplies up to 16 weeks in advance.
“You can have a good idea, a good product and good intentions and you can still get it wrong.”
Through those hard times, it was the customers that kept her on course. “They just lift our spirits so much. How often do you write an email to a brand saying, ‘Thanks so much I really enjoyed your product’, especially in a category as basic as ours. That’s our source of energy. We often pinch ourselves and go, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got laundry detergent fans!’”
The business is now going strong, and Frankie is looking at expanding the product range into other cleaning products.
“Our mission is to make products that do less harm. If you’re buying something, you’re having an impact, so we want to make sure that we offer choices that reduce harm and still give customers what they need,” Frankie says.
“You’ve got to buy things. You’ve got to clean things. Products are a part of life. Choose the product that does less harm.”
First published for Seima magazine, issue 2.