Meet Genia: Founder of Been London, making beautiful bags from waste

Meet Genia: Founder of Been London, making beautiful bags from waste - KANKAN

We had the pleasure of spending one sunny morning with Genia, at the home of BEEN hearing all about biz and seeing her lovely collection for ourselves

How did your step from ‘normal job’ to being a founder come about?

Ah it was the most illogical move ever! I had a lovely career before setting up BEEN London, first as a journalist at the BBC and then as a communications consultant working with some amazing organisations including the UN and Change.org. But a documentary about waste has ruined it all! Haha. The more you know about a problem the more you want to do something about it. So I ended up speaking to pretty much every recycling facility in the country, collecting over a hundred various recycled materials and enrolling into a Sustainable Value Chains programme at Cambridge. It definitely was not really meant to be a company or a brand, but more of a test to see if making a cool product entirely from waste was even possible. When it turned out to be possible and the first bag prototype was ready, a lot of my friends wanted to buy one! This really is how BEEN London was born… so I’m definitely more of an accidental entrepreneur. 

How would you describe your day to day?

8am start, breakfast with my husband and kids, school drop off and then a lovely 15 mins bike ride across London Fields and Victoria park to the BEEN London studio in Hackney Wick. Our working day usually kicks off with a daily 10am meeting - we’re a small team so these are great 10-20 mins chats to plan our day. Then it's either more calls with partners, material innovators or collaborators or going over content plans and photography briefs with our Comms and Partnerships Manager Ellie. In the afternoon I might pop into our workshop in Stratford - this is where all our bags are made - to drop off and pick up materials and discuss new designs or have a look at current production. I’m usually at home by 6 to cook dinner and will often finish working once the kids are in bed after 8. 

What was the big idea originally started  and has it changed any since then?

The big idea was to close the loop! Using waste as a starting point and turning it into a product designed with end of life in mind, so recyclable once it's even served its purpose. The core principle hasn’t changed, but has become more complex - we now measure the carbon footprint of everything we do to make sure our products are really environmentally sane. Our latest life cycle analysis showed our CO2 emissions are 87% lower than a high street equivalent bag which is really really impressive. Basically we’ve become more geeky and data driven over the last couple of years. 

Describe your business/service in 5 words; then describe your customers in 5 words or less.
Impactful, fun, practical, genuine, female! And our customers are smart, fun, caring, sophisticated, of course stylish!

What is the hardest part of your sustainable goals to do as you grow?
Putting processes in place that will help as we scale - that psychological move from being a tiny team to a smoothly running brand!

What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve learned about your industry/niche so far?
That it attracts the most curious, caring and brilliant people!

What’s your first goal when you think about your brand in 2022?
Finding the equilibrium between wanting to do everything and jump at every project and taking care of our wellbeing as a small team.

What does a good day at work look like?
Pretty much everyday!

What would transform your working day/ London life
Being able to have a bigger team would be great, but apart from that I’m really happy with both work and life in London, it really is the best place to grow an impact fashion business.

In your best dream, who is enjoying your product/service, and what are they saying about it?
In my best dream it’s definitely to randomly spot a customer out and about locally who’s getting complimented on their bag and they get to mention that it’s handmade in London and made entirely from waste! A bag full of surprise and style (and a great conversation starter)

How do you relax after your day?

A date night with my husband, discovering a new restaurant with a friend, cooking a big meal for friends (the more the better!) or just a long bath!

What is your ‘in the know’ place to go in London that makes you feel joy?
A big plate of pasta at Lardo in Hackney! 

Where is your favourite place on earth?

That’s an easy one - the island of Serifos in Greece or our garden at home in London Fields!

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